The illusion of time

During the lifespan of a human being, each one has a birth and a death, a beginning and an end. People generally acknowledge the day of their birth every year and reach closer to death every year. Not only do all men without exception have birth and death in common, but all men use a conceptual instrument to measure and record events and moments during their life. This conceptual instrument is universally known as “time.” However, what is time? Most agree on how time is applied, but not all agree on a universal definition of time and how time may exist metaphysically. Does it exist subjectively or objectively? Time may merely be a concept in mind used to measure the existence of life. If so, then the existence of time depends on the mind and is recognized as a subjective practical illusion.

19th and 20th century British Philosopher JME Mctaggart concluded that time is an illusion. Mctaggart demonstrated the contradictions of time in two theories known as A and B theories. An important principle to gain as a presupposition, and understanding of the theory of time, is acknowledging that “time essentially involves change” (Dummit 497). Furthermore, in addition to time, since time is always in motion, not only does it involve change, but it also involves direction.

Consider first the B theory, or the B series of time. In the B series, temporal events are recognized as before or after, earlier than, or later. For example, consider three different dates; the years 1800, 1900, and 2000. In this time series, the dates are fixed. The year 1800 hundred is always and forever will be before the year 1900 hundred, and the year 2000 will always be ahead of the year 1900 hundred. Time in the B theory is not a valid time series because, as stated earlier, a qualifier of time is that it continually changes. Time in the B series consists of fixed temporal events, which disqualifies change; therefore, making the B series of time incompatible with the properties of time.

Consider now the A series of time. In the A-theory, there are three predicates; past, present, and future. Events begin in the future, which then becomes present, and finally becomes past. This series of time may seem to make sense for some since the flow of time through the three predicates seems to involve constant change through the flow of motion. However, Mctaggart claims that “A series would generate contradiction because past, present, and future are incompatible attributes” (Thomas). They are incompatible in the sense that each moment; for example, moment “D” starts in the future, then becomes present, and then becomes past. Moment “D” with all its properties is a fixed moment as it passes through all three predicates of time. Moment “D” starts in the future, and it remains a fixed temporal moment as “D” flows through the present and past, defeating the qualifier of change. Mctaggart reveals that both the A and B series are contradictory, concluding that time is an illusion.

Based on the idea that time is an illusion, time does not exist ontologically. Therefore, time has no basis in natural substance or anything related to being. Neither does time exist objectively in the philosophical sense, meaning that time is not based on facts or existing independent of the mind. Therefore, if time is going to make sense to the mind, then the existence of time needs to be mind-dependent, existing subjectively. It follows then that time is a concept; it is an idea in man’s mind, which has become a concept developed as an instrument to measure the existence of life. This is important to grasp because, since the concept of time is mind-dependent, then without the mind, or the existence of human life, then time also ceases to exist. Since time’s existence had no ontological or objective existence, then without the mind to give it a subjective existence, time could not exist subjectively and would have absolutely no basis for any existence.

Recognizing time as an illusion does not create any dilemma in practical life. The concept of time is still subjectively practical to everyday life. Time does not need to exist objectively for its practicality. Consider a clock on the wall. The clock on the wall is a mere physical tool used to apply the concept of time in true life practically. Likewise, a measuring tape is a mere physical tool used to apply the concept of distance in actual life practically. Distance is another concept in the mind of man used as an instrument to measure the amount of space between two locations. Distance depends on two reference points; if the two physical reference points are removed, then the concept of distance exists only subjectively, the same as time. Therefore, it follows that, though time is an illusion, it does not hinder man’s mind from attributing this illusion intelligibly and practically in everyday life. In this manner, time is defined as a subjective practical illusion.

It becomes essential to consider how the concept of time as an illusion may change someone’s perspective on the past, present, and future. There are several different theories, but one, in particular, is presentism. Associate Professor at Nottingham University, Jonathan Charles Tallant, defines presentism as; “the thesis that ‘only present objects exist,’ or ‘nothing exists that is non-present” (479). The past and the future do not exist in this theory. Regarding the past, whatever once existed presently, currently does not exist but once existed and is now referred to as the past. The word past then becomes a concept to identify what once was present; therefore, “past” has no ontology

The present or the now moment makes sense as a moment based on conscience observation. For now, to be a reality, it has to have an observer to be conscious of the now moment. It is essential to realize that a now moment does not exist in the way fallible human minds are costumed to comprehending it. When one thinks of now, one thinks of a moment occurring. However, in essence, the moment is not occurring, and instead, it is passed. People’s minds tend to want to make sense of now, as if it were a pausing moment, and to make better sense of now, perhaps that is what may be required. For “now” to exist objectively, in reality, it may necessitate a pausing moment, a moment that one can stop and declare, “this is the now.” Since a moment may never pause, every moment is in the past and no longer exists objectively.

Many ideas are developed by man to effectively and productively progress and communicate through life. Some of the essential ideas developed are conceptual ideas. Concepts such as; time, past, present, and future, are all concepts developed in mind as instruments to account for life’s existence and occurrences, including the conscience observation of the flow of motions or moments. Although some of these concepts may be referred to as illusions and have no fundamental ontology or objective existence, as long as they are understood as subjective practical illusions, they may still be used intelligibly and reasonably in everyday life.

Works Cited

Dummett, Michael. “A Defense of McTaggart’s Proof of the Unreality of Time.” The Philosophical Review 69.4 (1960): p. 497.

Thomas, Emily. “John Mctaggart Ellis Mctaggart.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Tallant, Jonathan Charles. “Defining Existence Presentism.” Erkenntnis 79.S3 (2014): p. 479.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s