THE ARROW, TRIANGLES, HUW PRICE AND THE WILD & BEAUTIFUL SALMON OF TIME’S OCEAN
“The arrow of time!” A book called The Scientist As Philosopher attributes this notion to Arthur Eddington, physist/philosopher/scientific observer. Apparently he coined this term “the arrow of time” in 1927 in a book titled same. I’m still hunting this text down but in theory it’s the ‘get’ you’d expect:
Let us draw an arrow arbitrarily.
Anything that begins this way is already a winner, no?
If as we follow the arrow we find more and more of the random element in the state of the world, then the arrow is pointing towards the future; if the random element decreases the arrow points towards the past. That is the only distinction known to physics.
Ah! Wikipedia found this for me. He goes on:
- It is vividly recognized by consciousness.
- It is equally insisted on by our reasoning faculty, which tells us that a reversal of the arrow would render the external world nonsensical.
- It makes no appearance in physical science except in the study of organization of a number of individuals.
Well the idea’s not new. It seems to be borrowed from a kind of common sense, but this individual is known for putting things succinctly. I think it’s awesome how close this sounds to something Kandinsky published 16 years earlier in his book Concerning The Spiritual In Art, which I’ve said before is the most compelling cluster of essays I read this year. Kandinsky says:
The life of the spirit[ualized mind] may be fairly represented in diagram as a large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal parts with the narrowest segment uppermost. The lower the segment the greater it is in breadth, depth, and area.
The whole triangle is moving slowly, almost invisibly forwards and upwards. Where the apex was today the second segment is tomorrow; what today can be understood only by the apex and to the rest of the triangle is an incomprehensible gibberish, forms tomorrow the true thought and feeling of the second segment.
Kandinsky is talking more about the progressive resonance of abstraction, mind and art in relation to time than he is about a practical model for understanding and predicting the flow of this thing we call time. Nevertheless, Kandinsky shows that the same metaphor can be applied to other aspects of mind and consciousness with recognizable results that cause me to speak, “ah, yes! This is my kind of speculation!”
I have the image now of our species at the bow of a ship, the insects of chaos breaking to pieces against our faces.
You know, time’s arrow may be pointed for-ward and up-ward. Time itself, however, (so it seems to me this morning) is either entirely stationary or perhaps even a free-flowing current, gyring at times and casting itself in waves at others. Rather than our species being carried for-ward on a raft of moving time, we’re wading upstream through the current, displacing it ourselves.
And if I let myself float, unattached to conventional reason, I find it difficult to understand how time can be broken down into two datapoints, past and future, when what we see of the atmospheres in which animals live is they tend to surround and blanket rather than trail off or self-generate. Even seemingly linear structures like streams are representational of a compromise between solids and the seemingly effortless concrescence (whitehead) of water.
So not a stream, then, but an ocean of time. We all swim around in an ocean of mind anyway, right? If I’m stoned enough this all seems pretty reasonable. The past is a memory, the future is a hologram. We wedge ourselves tightly between two dreams.
I find myself thinking a social experiment aimed at moving “for-ward” into the “past” might be possible through group consensus alone, but I have to change my mind quickly because I begin to see visions of your stupid faces wadding up in skeptical righteousness! Look, I too put my pants on one leg at a time and if I want to take them off before I’ve put them on and call it a day who are you to say I can’t? If we’re going to break the illusion of linearity we have to start somewhere!
There are a few books on back-ward causation, a theory posing the possibility that under the right circumstances effect can actually precede its cause. There’s a really good philosophy bites interview with philosopher Huw Price where he deconstructs this idea.
I’d like to find “The Arrow Of Time” but what I’d really like to absorb right now is Causation, Physics, and the Constitution of Reality: Russell’s Republic Revisited, by Price and some other guy. Unfortunate that even the ebook edition lists for 40-50 gold coins.
Is there such a thing as wasted time? I think my stance on that matter is obvious by now.