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Studying and Revised B-Theory of Time

Little did I remember, when planning to start blogging, and to set a regular schedule that none other than my third return post would be required right at the commencement of exam season. As a veteran of the procrastination circuit this seemed like the best possible way to avoid studying, and blogging at the same time. Then the side of me that totally digs ingenuity realized I could write a post about my first exam and totally kill two birds with one stone.

This entry will be a slight refinement on the B theory of time (outlined below) which I think fixes some of the problems within it. I'll need to do more reading since this is all within the scope of studying for an exam.

As a disclaimer, this post may lack some polish, since it wasn't planned in advance, and probably won't get the usual editor's scythe touch.

Okay, let's end the wordy preamble and get to the musing.

Of particular interest for the philosophy of time is J.M.E. McTaggart[1] who outlines the difference between two concepts of time only to cut them both to the quick and insist that time must be illusory. But his definitions are still used to outline basic theories of time to this day, so we'll use them.

In order to progress with his argument McTaggart must assume that change is in integral part of time. He thinks this is indisputable, though there are a number of authors who are probably quite inclined to disagree. Just a quick Google search brings me to the debate between the Relational versus the Substantival theories, Substantivals arguing that time is substance-like and that it exists independently of relations exhibited by physical processes, and the Relational theorists who will accept our premise that time is change.[2]

Following that assumption we can then examine McTaggart's two temporal frameworks, first the A theory, which attempts to primarily explain the subjectivity of time by stating that things exist temporally as they relate to the concepts we know as past, present in future. An event[3] passes through time by first being an event in the distant future and the progressing slowly toward being present, and then eventually become the past, moving more and more into the past as 'time' goes on. In instinctive and 'folk'[4] philosophy A theory seems to work quite well. However, it doesn't account for the seemingly fixed nature of time, which is to say that it is always the case that the death of Genghis Khan occurs before the invention of the telephone. This would be an example of the B theory, an attempt to bring objectivity into the nature of time. Though from their outset A and B theories of time look very different, McTaggart's goal is to collapse the B theory into the A theory and then demonstrate the A theory as contradictory.

It's with that as an understanding that I'd like to briefly step into support of the B theory, which is the one my wavering will is standing awkwardly beside. The usefulness of the B theory may not be in deterministically outlining a series of predetermined events, that is to say, setting out that Bertrand Russell was born in 1872, and that the same Bertrand Russell died in 1970 but instead designing a framework in which the B theory outlines objective rules that must be followed temporally. So, we instead say that a person's birth must predate a person's death, and other such similar rules.

What does this buy us in terms of theories of time? I suspect quite a bit more than is hinted at. By making our theories rules instead of specifically instantiated occurrences we turn a series of events strung together with conjunctions into a more elegant compilation event rules strung together with a series of conditional statements.

Other benefits to this seem to be that now the B theory allows for change. Within the B theory of time there is often trouble grappling with how change can exist when events are not linked by one particular event occurring before another event (we can't use terms like past, present, and future to link things in time or we fall into the A series). The use of a logic, and temporal rules seems to necessitate change, as if we have event X it necessarily follows that event Y must be true, or occur.

Anyways, there's a taste of a theory on time. More polished entry (hopefully) in two weeks when I'm not coughing out four more exams.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._M._E._McTaggart ↩︎

  2. http://www.iep.utm.edu/time/#H6 ↩︎

  3. Used obviously very technically in all of my readings but without a very clear philosophical definition, of course ↩︎

  4. I have always found the use of terms like 'folk' philosophy to be tantamount in their condescension ↩︎