Does the present exist?

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Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 07:05 pm
I'm sure this topic is beaten to death already, but I didn't see anybody talking about it as of recently, so here's my two cents.

Many people believe that only "the present" is real. It's preceded by the past, which you remember, and the future, which you imagine. I think that's a silly concept. Here's my rebuttal:

  1. The present must lie between a time c seconds in the past, and c seconds in the future, where c is a mathematical constant. This is true because the present by definition is a span of time after the past and before the future.
  2. Units of time are merely a mathematical construct, and may be divided infinitely. Therefore, the present can be said to be ≤ c/∞ seconds in length.
  3. Any constant number divided by infinity is equal to zero. We must conclude that the present is ≤ zero seconds in length.

So, if the present is "a span of time zero seconds long", it effectively doesn't exist. Additional consequence: without the present to separate the past and the future, they become one distinguishable interval, which I choose to refer to simply as 'time'. My conclusion is that all moments in time are equally real.

What do you guys think?
 
prothero
 
Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 07:13 pm
@DaMunky89,
Sounds a little like xeno's paradox.
the past is gone, the future is yet to be, so the present is ......
quanta of time, droplets of experience.
 
DaMunky89
 
Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 07:15 pm
@prothero,
prothero;159741 wrote:
Sounds a little like xeno's paradox.
the past is gone, the future is yet to be, so the present is ......
quanta of time, droplets of experience.

Never heard of that before. I might go read up on it now..
 
HexHammer
 
Reply Tue 4 May, 2010 01:06 pm
@DaMunky89,
Maybe I'm just too ignorent, but why the heck would anyone ask such questions?

Which relevance does it have?
What practical use does it have?
Does anyone actually have a premesis to know the answer?

..isn't this why a chineese emperor buried the intellectuals alive?
 
DaMunky89
 
Reply Tue 4 May, 2010 01:17 pm
@HexHammer,
HexHammer;160081 wrote:
Maybe I'm just too ignorent, but why the heck would anyone ask such questions?

Which relevance does it have?
What practical use does it have?
Does anyone actually have a premesis to know the answer?

..isn't this why a chineese emperor buried the intellectuals alive?

Well, as one example, it has scientific applications. If there is no present, who's to say time passes at all? Time is then just a fourth dimension no more glamorous or mysterious than up, down, left or right. This gives us a new model for how the physical world is structured. We're all fourth dimensional objects, stretching through time from birth to death. It's just that we happen to believe we are moving through time because we only see 3-dimensional slides.

This has important implications in studying and understanding how the universe works. And hey, we'll need to know this stuff if we're ever going to figure out time machines.
 
HexHammer
 
Reply Tue 4 May, 2010 01:30 pm
@DaMunky89,
DaMunky89;160090 wrote:
This has important implications in studying and understanding how the universe works. And hey, we'll need to know this stuff if we're ever going to figure out time machines.
Thanks for the explenation, but I don't really think it's importaint for anything other than worldplay and endulgence.

Imo it simple and selfexplanatory, but shouldn't be elevated as a great matter to dwell about.
 
Termite phil
 
Reply Wed 5 May, 2010 09:01 pm
@HexHammer,
Correct me if I'm wrong, but 1/∞ is not actually 0, but a number approaching it. Dividing a unit of time an infinite number of times would result in the same conclusion (1/∞=0, and thus the present doesn't exist) as saying that time will never end, and instead go on into infinity, so I'll address it that way.

If time is infinite, that would not make the present non-existent. It would make it an infinitely small fraction of eternity, and numerically a number approaching zero, but not actually non-existent.

Sorry if that didn't make sense. My cold-afflicted brain might be making me spout nonsense.
 
DaMunky89
 
Reply Wed 5 May, 2010 09:06 pm
@Termite phil,
No, that made sense.

If you divide 1/∞, the result is infinitely close to (but not actually) zero.

So my argument hinges on the fact that perceptually, human beings cannot experience an infinitely small period of time. It works mathematically, but not in real life.

Just as we cannot in real life create scissors that will divide an item into infinitely small parts, we cannot mentally comprehend an infinitely small period of time. Therefore, because we do mentally comprehend the world around us, I reason that time must not be broken into a string of infinitely small present moments.
 
Yogi DMT
 
Reply Wed 5 May, 2010 09:09 pm
@DaMunky89,
I believe it's just a mathematical technicality you are speaking of similar to the theory that disproves 1+1 equaling two. Math is very logical but when it comes down to the individual functions and such, you can bend math around to come up with something illogical. This doesn't mean it's true. The present is a term used to describe the current state of being, it has no definitive time value. It's an interesting concept but when you look at the situation from a logical standpoint, present is a term not a time era.
 
DaMunky89
 
Reply Wed 5 May, 2010 10:25 pm
@Yogi DMT,
Yogi DMT;160697 wrote:
Math is very logical but when it comes down to the individual functions and such, you can bend math around to come up with something illogical.

But what you're saying is math is internally inconsistent? Personally I don't trust things that contradict themselves.

And it's not really illogical. It's just calculus.
f(x) = 1/x
The value of f(x) approaches zero as x approaches infinity.
If x were to ever reach infinity, f(x) would reach 0.
Therefore, 1/∞ = 0.

Yogi DMT;160697 wrote:
present is a term not a time era.

I agree. But many people believe that "the present" is a span of time. My argument seeks to disprove this in a logical fashion. I am not disputing the meaning of the word itself as a layman's term for "what is currently going on".
 
Fil Albuquerque
 
Reply Wed 5 May, 2010 10:38 pm
@DaMunky89,
It may be the case that the present is all there is with no past neither future...
What is, is forever, and was forever, against what cannot be...Hard Determinism does not have a problem with time, which to me makes yet another score for it to be believed...Smile
 
DaMunky89
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 03:09 pm
@Fil Albuquerque,
Fil. Albuquerque;160712 wrote:
It may be the case that the present is all there is with no past neither future...
What is, is forever, and was forever, against what cannot be...

So basically you're agreeing that time is just one thing? It seems like we have the same conclusion, just that you're calling it "the present" instead of "time".

Fil. Albuquerque;160712 wrote:
Hard Determinism does not have a problem with time, which to me makes yet another score for it to be believed...Smile

I'm not sure whether I put much stock in free will, either, but that's a separate debate.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 03:23 pm
@DaMunky89,
DaMunky89 wrote:
What do you guys think?


Of course there is a present. As you noted, the present simply means a moment between the past and future. If there is no present, there is of course no past or future, since past and future are comparatives. If we claimed that the present doesn't exist but that the past and future do, it would be like claiming the number three doesn't exist but that numbers that are less than three exist and numbers that are greater than three exist. This is just nonsense, as you can see.

Our being able to pinpoint that moment with mathematics, or whatever sort of method, is irrelevant, by the way.
 
DaMunky89
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 03:42 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;160955 wrote:
Of course there is a present. As you noted, the present simply means a moment between the past and future. If there is no present, there is of course no past or future, since past and future are comparatives. If we claimed that the present doesn't exist but that the past and future do, it would be like claiming the number three doesn't exist but that numbers that are less than three exist and numbers that are greater than three exist. This is just nonsense, as you can see.

Our being able to pinpoint that moment with mathematics, or whatever sort of method, is irrelevant, by the way.

Well I sorta am saying the past and future don't exist either.. and that they are all just one block I refer to as 'time'. Since there's really no coherent way of separating them without a 'present'.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 03:48 pm
@DaMunky89,
DaMunky89;160965 wrote:
Well I sorta am saying the past and future don't exist either.. and that they are all just one block I refer to as 'time'. Since there's really no coherent way of separating them without a 'present'.


Of there there is a coherent way.

One year before now it was May 6th, 2009 (past)
Today it is May 6th, 2010 (present)
One year from now it will be May 6th, 2011 (future)

What about that is confusing, or incoherent? Suppose a professor tells you that assignment X is due in three weeks. Are you sincerely not going to understand that the assignment is due in the future, and not now?
 
DaMunky89
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 04:28 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;160971 wrote:
Of there there is a coherent way.

One year before now it was May 6th, 2009 (past)
Today it is May 6th, 2010 (present)
One year from now it will be May 6th, 2011 (future)

What about that is confusing, or incoherent? Suppose a professor tells you that assignment X is due in three weeks. Are you sincerely not going to understand that the assignment is due in the future, and not now?

Did you not read my original post? Sad

May 6th, 2010 is not "the present", from a mathematical/temporal standpoint. It's something more like May 6th, 2010, 6:22:2300000000010001000000000-etcetera to infinity. The parts of May 6th before that are "the past", and the parts after are "the future".

You cannot mentally comprehend the "present time" to full precision. This is because the present time is an infinitely small time span, whose length is effectively zero in value, for real world purposes. You would need an infinite number of digits to accurately represent any given present. I am therefore stating that if time actually functioned like past/present/future, the human mind would not be able to comprehend it.

Because I can comprehend a phrase like "3 weeks from now", I believe time must work some other way. I am proposing that it is static, and does not pass. Our perceptions merely flow smoothly along the timeline, presenting us with 3-dimensional snapshots of what is actually a 4-th dimensional fixture.
 
Pangloss
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 04:44 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;160955 wrote:
Of course there is a present. As you noted, the present simply means a moment between the past and future. If there is no present, there is of course no past or future, since past and future are comparatives.


Not exactly. Einstein's relativity has done away with the notion that we can experience the present moment in time. An observer may only access past moments of time; any event observed as being in the "present" really happened in the past. This explains the relativity of simultaneity -- that simultaneous events can not occur, in any absolute sense. It also makes necessary the use of the Lorentz transformation when relating spacetime coordinates as observed by multiple frames of reference. So, in a sense, the present does not exist to the observer, though this does not at all hinder his movement along the worldline.

Wikipedia wrote:


At a given event on a world line, spacetime (Minkowski space) is divided into three parts.
  • The future of the given event is formed by all events that can be reached through time-like curves lying within the future light cone.
  • The past of the given event is formed by all events that can influence the event (that is, which can be connected by world lines within the past light cone to the given event).
  • The lightcone at the given event is formed by all events that can be connected through light rays with the event. When we observe the sky at night, we basically see only the past light cone within the entire spacetime.
  • The present is the region between the two light cones. Points in an observer's present are inaccessible to her/him; only points in the past can send signals to the observer. In ordinary laboratory experience, using common units and methods of measurement, it may seem that we look at the present, but in fact there is always a delay time for light to propagate. For example, we see the Sun as it was about 8 minutes ago, not as it is "right now." Unlike Galilean/Newtonian theory, the present is thick; it is not a sheet but a volume.
  • The present instant is defined for a given observer by a plane normal to her/his world line. It is the locus of simultaneous events, and is really three-dimensional, though it would be a plane in the diagram because we had to throw away one dimension to make an intelligible picture. Although the light cones are the same for all observers, different observers, with differing velocities but coincident at an event or point in the spacetime, have world lines that cross each other at an angle determined by their relative velocities, and thus the present instant is different for them. The fact that simultaneity depends on relative velocity caused problems for many scientists and laymen trying to accept relativity in the early days."
World line - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 05:38 pm
@DaMunky89,
DaMunky89 wrote:
May 6th, 2010 is not "the present", from a mathematical/temporal standpoint. It's something more like May 6th, 2010, 6:22:2300000000010001000000000-etcetera to infinity. The parts of May 6th before that are "the past", and the parts after are "the future".


As I noted, that's irrelevant. Let's concede that the exact point's time in whatever measure we choose is even uncalculatable. What does that matter? It doesn't mean that there wasn't that exact point in time, does it?

Quote:
Because I can comprehend a phrase like "3 weeks from now", I believe time must work some other way. I am proposing that it is static, and does not pass.


I don't see how it follows that because you can comprehend "3 weeks from now", time must act in some other way. If time does not pass as you say, then it is a wonder why people plan schedules, get old, or even die. You must find it absurd when people refer to dates, or to measures of time like seconds and minutes. Is this position widely held? If so, can you provide a link?

Pangloss wrote:
Einstein's relativity has done away with the notion that we can experience the present moment in time.


Our being conscious of an exact moment, and that exact moment actually existing are two different matters, aren't they? You may not experience an exact moment (whatever that may mean), but that does not mean that that moment did not exist. It did. And, of course, there are moments before and after that moment too.

When we say "now" or "at this moment", it is obviously understood that we aren't attempting to have absolute mathematical precision (like the above poster mentioned). I still don't see how this is relevant.

By the way, I don't see how what you posted from wikipedia discredits anything I've said. Not trying to be sarcastic.
 
Pangloss
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 06:05 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;160994 wrote:
Our being conscious of an exact moment, and that exact moment actually existing are two different matters, aren't they? You may not experience an exact moment (whatever that may mean), but that does not mean that that moment did not exist. It did. And, of course, there are moments before and after that moment too.

When we say "now" or "at this moment", it is obviously understood that we aren't attempting to have absolute mathematical precision (like the above poster mentioned). I still don't see how this is relevant.


It's incredibly relevant. If we are going to speak of something called "the present", then we should be able to agree upon certain events, measurements, or observations that define this moment in time. As two observers can not agree on events being in synch, or even on how long an event lasts, due to relativity, it's perfectly reasonable to ask whether or not the present actually exists. Sure, it does exist as an abstract notion within the mind of each person. But such is the case also for unicorns, God, and Satan.

The point is that, according to physics, there is no "exact moment" that we can call the present. So, if you're claiming that "that moment did exist", I will ask for your proof, and you will not be able to come up with any. And just because the measurement of this phenomena may require "mathematical precision", does not make it any less relevant when discussing the fundamental nature of spacetime.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Thu 6 May, 2010 07:05 pm
@Pangloss,
Pangloss;161010 wrote:
It's incredibly relevant. If we are going to speak of something called "the present", then we should be able to agree upon certain events, measurements, or observations that define this moment in time.


The definition of the word is agreed upon, and people use the term "present" quite frequently. If you don't believe me, you ought to look the word up.

Quote:
As two observers can not agree on events being in synch, or even on how long an event lasts, due to relativity,


This is clearly false. Of course people can agree on events and their timings. You and I can both look at a watch and agree that X person was at Y location at Z time.

Quote:
Sure, it does exist as an abstract notion within the mind of each person. But such is the case also for unicorns, God, and Satan.


There is of course the concept of "present" which exists, but then there is also the exact moment that the person who uses the word is referring to (which is not the concept). Just as I can have a concept of an elephant, but the elephant is not my concept.

Also note that if unicorns, God, or Satan did exist, they would not be concepts. I hope we're clear about this. There would of course be concepts of unicorns, God, and Satan, but as noted, the concept is not the thing referred to.

Quote:
The point is that, according to physics, there is no "exact moment" that we can call the present. So, if you're claiming that "that moment did exist", I will ask for your proof, and you will not be able to come up with any.


I think you understand how the phrase "the exact moment" is used in language. You'll ask proof of what exactly? That I perceived a certain moment? I could come up with loads of evidence that I perceived something at some time, just as you can. It's obviously situational.

To be consistent, you must not believe countries, states, government or really any abstract notion exists. If I tell you Poland exists, and you responded consistent with what you were just alluding to, you would say, "Well, since there is no "exact location" which is Poland, it does not exist. Where does Poland start and end; you can provide me coordinates, but that's not enough!".

I know what Poland is, just as you do. I know what governments are, just as you do (just examples; there are plenty). And if someone says "now" or "the present", I believe you understand what they mean. I believe you already know this (I'm just reminding you) - you have the ability to understand what people mean when they reference times. For instance, if your friend asks you to be at the park at 1:00pm tomorrow, I'm sure you could understand what your friend means. And tomorrow at 1:00pm when you show up, you could say to your friend, "We're now at the park", and I'm sure he would know what you mean. I don't understand what is confusing about this.
 
 

 
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