Ride the Thunder



Here's my retirement plan, friends and neighbors.

By the way, when he says that he never thinks about the next moment when pushing off, he says this: "The past doesn't exist. The future doesn't exist. There's only now."

That happens to be an exact paraphrase of St. Augustine. One of you and I were speaking of this recently, via email. Augustine is right, as we can attest. The now is what does exist: what was "now" even an instant ago is gone, and does not exist in the same way as now. Yet that creates a problem for us: if the past no longer exists, and the future does not yet exist, what to make of how we live our lives? We depend on time, on extension of time, not just on a present instant.
I am about to repeat a psalm that I know. Before I begin, my attention is extended to the whole; but when I have begun, as much of it as becomes past by my saying it is extended in my memory; and the life of this action of mine is divided between my memory, on account of what I have repeated, and my expectation, on account of what I am about to repeat; yet my consideration is present with me, through which that which was future may be carried over so that it may become past. Which the more it is done and repeated, by so much (expectation being shortened) the memory is enlarged, until the whole expectation be exhausted, when that whole action being ended shall have passed into memory. And what takes place in the entire psalm, takes place also in each individual part of it, and in each individual syllable: this holds in the longer action, of which that psalm is perchance a portion; the same holds in the whole life of man, of which all the actions of man are parts; the same holds in the whole age of the sons of men, of which all the lives of men are parts.

(Confessions of St. Augustine, Book 11 chapter 28)
St. Augustine's conclusion is surprising, even shocking: he asserts that time is a creation of the soul. So why is it the same, more or less, for every soul?

That's the kind of question that deserves an answer. It happens that there is a good one; but rather than giving it to you, I'll ask you to give it to me. I want you to think it through.

7 comments:

douglas said...

Well, I figure it's one of two things-

-Our souls reside in some medium which we all share and in which we are all subject to it's influence.

-Our souls are really of one entity in some sense.

At some level, these two models aren't that far apart, but do have significant distinctions.

I showed my son the video. He liked the 'flying squirrel suit'. Wants to do it, but not sure he wants to get that close to the ground. I told him if you do it, you'll be drawn to want to get close to the ground, but he doesn't believe me- yet.

Grim said...

That's very good, Douglas. You hit both models on the first try.

People debate which one Augustine intended. In some of his early writings he speaks of a 'world soul,' which is a (neo)Platonic concept. Individual souls would be, in a sense, folded out from that soul -- but they remained part of it, and at their most fundamental level remained attached.

However, the later Christian writers would develop the idea of God as the "place" of the soul. This was an Aristotelian answer -- as usual, there's a Platonic answer and an Aristotelian one. In Physics V, Aristotle distinguishes between place (topos) and space. Space belongs to the thing, but place belongs to its container. This, he explains, is why we can speak of something else being "in the same place" as the thing that used to occupy that place. Often they share borders (as for example the wine and the jug that contains it have a common border), but the distinction is important to his physics.

Now for Augustine as for the later thinkers God is unextended and simple -- technical terms that mean that he does not occupy physical space, and he is all of one pure nature. Being unextended God cannot be a container in the sense of sharing an extended border. Souls (in the Aristotelian sense of an animating force, the difference between the living man and the corpse) at least appear to be extended: the whole body responds to the animating force. So the soul can't be 'in' God in a perfectly Aristotelian sense, unless we are wrong to think of it as extended.

That suggests to me that the neoplatonic reading may be the better one. Whether the 'world soul' is God or not, it seems right to say that the soul is an outgrowth of an underlying field. It is individual and unique, but connected.

(By the way, Aristotle has another view of time, which is also in the Physics. It doesn't require souls at all, but rather links time to motion. Aristotle ends up asserting that time isn't the same for different things, but that each thing has its own time. This sounds strange until you take it with something like relativity theory, when suddenly it seems actually to be true. The perspective and motion of the thing turn out to be fundamental to its experience of time.)

Grim said...

By the way, I don't know if you noticed, but look at his goggles at 4:58. They are covered in runes of the Elder Futhark.

douglas said...

I think I was mainly remembering some discussion where this came up before as a tangential point.

I think we struggle with the ideas sometime more because we use temporal terms to describe it, and it's probably completely inappropriate terminology. If we use temporal terms, I think ideas like the charge of something with electricity might be a better analogy for the place/space simultaneity. Also, the atomic structures with their clouds of probability presence might point us in a better direction. That's why I opted for a less specific term 'medium' which could be anything really. Perhaps even a non-substantial example, like when you swim through water and hit distinct warmer or colder patches- it would be difficult for you to define the borders of that area, but you know it's there and distinct from the larger body of water. At any rate, I think I too tend to favor the Neo-Platonic model here, but I'm curious now about this other Aristotlian idea you've mentioned. Can you expand on it?

I saw the runes- thought it was interesting, and wondered what it said.

Grim said...

The phrase of the runes is in a language I don't know. It says: "Thejwillp..."

However, the runes also have esoteric implications. It could be a magical sign, starting with the thorn rune that invokes the old god Tyr.

As for Aristotle, he speaks of time as the measure of motion. It is geared to motion, but it represents the counting of the motion of a thing. For that reason, it is individual to the thing: the thing's time is the counting of its motion, and thus it can be faster or slower than the counting to a faster or slower thing.

Augustine actually responds to this in the Confession, and has a pretty compelling argument against it. Here is what he says:

For when a body is moved, I by time measure how long it may be moving from the time in which it began to be moved till it left off. And if I saw not whence it began, and it continued to be moved, so that I see not when it leaves off, I cannot measure unless, perchance, from the time I began until I cease to see. But if I look long, I only proclaim that the time is long, but not how long it may be because when we say, "How long," we speak by comparison, as, "This is as long as that," or, "This is double as long as that," or any other thing of the kind. But if we were able to note down the distances of places whence and whither cometh the body which is moved, or its parts, if it moved as in a wheel, we can say in how much time the motion of the body or its part, from this place unto that, was performed. Since, then, the motion of a body is one thing, that by which we measure how long it is another, who cannot see which of these is rather to be called time? For, although a body be sometimes moved, sometimes stand still, we measure not its motion only, but also its standing still, by time; and we say, "It stood still as much as it moved;" or, "It stood still twice or thrice as long as it moved;" and if any other space which our measuring hath either determined or imagined, more or less, as we are accustomed to say. Time, therefore, is not the motion of a body.

There are two arguments here. The first is that time can't be the measure of motion, because we also use it to estimate how long a thing stood still. If a thing doesn't move for an hour, and then moves for five minutes, we can say that it was still for twenty times as long as it moved. But if we were measuring motion, time would seem to stand still when the object stood still.

There's another problem, which is that it isn't clear how we say that a time was "twice as long." The time that is gone is gone: it doesn't exist any more. The now that does exist appears to be unextended. Thus, time -- insofar as it exists, i.e., the now -- seems not to have extension. How can we say that a time in the past was "longer" than another time in the past? Neither exist, and when they did exist, they didn't have extension (i.e., they were exactly as 'long' as any other moment of time, no longer than 'now').

douglas said...

Aha. Augustine has several problems- though he's not to be faulted. First, we are never still- we are always moving through the universe, though I may be still relative to you, so time may indeed be related to movement. Modern science says it's so, with experiments using atomic clocks, one on the ground, and one in an airplane, where the plane takes off with the clocks synched, but when it returns, the times are not in synch- a verification of Einstein's relativity.

This brings up an interesting question- does time stand still at the origin of the universe, or does it disappear altogether, or something else? This might lead one to conclude that the idea that God is beyond time and space might be exactly right.

Now, let me ask, just to be clear- Aristotle's idea of the world soul- it could apply to either the souls in a shared medium model or the singular, faceted soul model, yes?

Bob said...

My sons afre going to love this video. Thanks! Linked here: http://bobagard.blogspot.com/2012/10/in-split-of-second_3.html