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A New Approach to Becoming and the Present

1. I am convinced that there should be an objective present. People usually think of the present as those events which are simultaneous (where an event is the abstraction of something happening at a point of space at an instant of time).
 _ The difficulty is that Einstein showed that simultaneity does not give an objective present: observers in relative motion take different sets of events to be simultaneous. However, if we are willing to abandon the tie between the present and simultaneity, Einstein's relativity does allow an objective present.
 _ The clue is to take the present as a fixed set of events, under the condition that an ordinary particle or a ray of light cannot travel between two events in the same present (in other words, the present is spacelike). This was suggested by Nicholas Maxwell in 1985, but priority must go to Fred Hoyle & Geoffrey Hoyle, who discussed essentially the same idea in the preface to their science fiction novel of 1963.

2. Two aspects of time now come into view. I use the relations earlier-simultaneous-later only for events ordered by clock time, and the relations past-present-future only for presents and for events ordered by tense.
 _ The aspect of time ordered by 'earlier than' I call chronos, and the aspect ordered by 'past to' I call kairos, using two appropriate Greek words for time. (For precision of expression, the terms before/after are not used here.)

3. Einstein's relativity, which is needed for physics, envisages the total course of events in the world. In order to allow for various possible futures, I assume (adapting the work of John R. Lucasand others) that there is, in the abstract, a single course of events up to the present and many possible courses of events in the future. This gives us many total courses of events, (as in different applications of Einstein's theory).

4. In Einstein's approach, the course of events is simply set out and we do not have anything to mark the present or its change. To my mind, a model of time is needed in which temporal change actually occurs. Therefore I postulate that change of present takes place by the running of something like a computer program, with a loop like this:

                 1. Time advances by a small amount.
                 2. Go to 1.

This simple form needs modifying. 'Time advances' means the present changes to another present, through all the intermediate presents. This requires a choice of which possible course of events is followed. The choice reaches the program by input of the relevant information (see 5. below).
 _ Another point is that the program is to run in kairos, as a form of time outside the physical world.

5. Who makes the input? I postulate that conscious beings have input into the program, as a matter of free will.

6. How does kairos itself change? Again, I postulate that this arises from the activity of conscious beings. One is reminded of a passage in the Indian epic, the Mahâbhârata, where Bhîshma is teaching Yudhishthira about the four periods of time called yugas, which were considered to have very different characters:

        Does the time cause the [character of the] king, 
             or the king cause the [character of the] time?
        You should not doubt that the king is
             the cause of the [character of the] time!
     Mahâbhârata, critical edition, 12.70.6

Somewhat similarly, I postulate that change of kairos (which in turn leads to change of chronos) arises from conscious activity, rather than the other way round.

* * *

For a detailed exposition of these ideas see A. P. Stone, 'A Program Model of Becoming', Physics Essays 10, 150-163 (1997).

N. Maxwell, Philosophy of Science 52, 23-43 (1985). (back to his suggestion)

F. Hoyle & G. Hoyle, Fifth Planet, p. vii. Heinemann, London, 1963. (back to their suggestion)

J. R. Lucas, The Future, Blackwell, Oxford, 1989. (back to text)

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Copyright (C) Anthony P. Stone 1996. This material may be freely used, provided the author is acknowledged.

Last updated: 04 January 2005