Monday, June 16, 2008

A Sketch of How One Might Acquire a Tenseless View of Time Using Only Tensed Resources

So the mad end-of-quarter rush is finally over. Here's a little bit of something I thought recently (still a bit rough):
Some tensed theorists seem to think that our tensed representations or experiences are the basic ones. I think there's a lot of truth to that. But then many will also say in turn that any ideas of tenseless relations like earlier than or later than and any idea, really, of anything like a B-series are really reducible to tensed determination like past or present and our ordering of things into an A-series. Indeed, they might claim, we can have no idea of B-relations or B-time other than via A-relations or A-time - we have no experience of this tenseless stuff, only the tensed, so there's no way we could acquire tense-independent, objective concepts of mind-independent time.

Now, I think this is all not quite fair, but let's go with it for a moment and accept that our basic experience and primitive representations are all tensed - that we have no direct experience or grasp of tenseless B-relations qua B-relations. So how could we acquire such tense-independent concepts? Are they just reducible conceptually to A-properties as many A-theorists would have it?

Consider how we get our concept of B-space. Our experience is always of A-space, arguably. So how do we get to B-spatial relations? Are they reducible to A-ones? Part of having a conception of objective space (for a spatial agent) - and, by many lights, of even being an agent in space - is knowing how to mentally transform one's point of view into others. That is, knowing what things would be like elsewhere - being able to detach one's point of view from one's current self and place and conceptually 'move it about' to places other than the one one is currently at. This involves seeing other places as possible points for spatial points of views. But the process of objectification in one's ideas of space does not end here. One of the last things to do is now to identify spatial A-facts related to me and my current place to those related to other places. So 'J is here' said by A at place p1, expresses the same fact as 'J is there' said by B at place p2. If one wanted, now, one could form a form of representation free of spatial centeredness to stand in for that very fact which is expressed in both of the two spatially-tensed sentences. And voila, B-relational representations irreducible to A-ones, all on a thin spatially A-representational basis.

A similar story will go for time. Having an objective conception of time involves knowing how to transform one's point of view into others - knowing via memory, imagination, etc. what things would be like elsewhen by detaching one's point of view from the present and freely moving it about. As in the spatial case, this will involve an idea of other times as possible points for a temporal point of view to take up residence. The final steps will be similar - we then identify A-facts relative to the present with those relative to other times. So the fact expressed by 'J is F' said by A at t1 is now identified with the fact expressed by 'J is P' by A at t2. In a way similar to the space story, we can now form a kind of tenseless representation via a sort of abstraction from these two sentences and the fact that they each are said to express the same fact. So now we get concepts of earlier and later and simultaneity, all without these being reducible to A-concepts. Hence, for all that's been shown, the supposed fact that we do not experience time or even at first represent it qua tenseless does not show anything about whether it is in fact fundamentally tenseless or tensed.

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