Physical and Psychological Time (part one)

Our model of the Universe supposes that after the Big Bang there was no sentient life for billions of years during which time the Universe cooled and changed. The time of Physics was a succession of nows although the glue connecting earlier and later states were chance and necessity, that is to say randomness and causality. As far as the model goes this almost endless unfolding was not experienced anywhere.
With the evolution of sentience, there were the beginnings of an awareness of a disappearing recent past, a vivid present, and an anticipated rapidly approaching future. Psychological time had this triple aspect which was different from the abstract succession of nows which are found in the equations of physics where time is a variable. Which description of time is the more fundamental? Here we have the dividing of the ways between a realistic and idealistic picture of the world. The pivotal figure, Immanuel Kant tried to occupy a middle ground and did so sufficiently successfully for arguments as to whether he was a realist or an idealist to have continued ever since the publication of his Critique of Pure Reason. I do think there is an indispensable concept in Buddhism, ‘Co-dependent arising’ which helps here. Without an external world there is no sentience, without sentience there is no external world – they come into being together. Kant had another way of putting it – ‘Concepts without intuition are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.’ Arguably this gives a slight tilt towards idealism, which is fine by me.
I think the next great step for physics is to give an adequate account of mind. To employ a term of Freud’s, it will be a ‘return of the repressed.’ I don’t anticipate this happening soon because the methods of physics are extraordinarily ill suited to the task.
We are all, at times, haunted by the remorselessness of the passage of time. Shakespeare’s sonnets are drenched with this feeling. There is a passage in Volume 2 of Proust’s masterpiece which I find comforting:-
‘It is quite possible that, even in what concerns the millennial existence of the human race, the philosophy of the journalist, according to which everything is destined to oblivion, is less true than a contrary philosophy which would predict the conservation of everything.’ I suppose this is Platonism, but for those who never get over grief, which, I suspect, is most of us, it is worth meditating on these lines by a writer of uncommon sensitivity and intellect.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

2 thoughts on “Physical and Psychological Time (part one)

  1. the most ‘awful’ (in the sense ‘amazing’) part of the early Universe was the complete absence of light. We equate comfortable understanding with ‘seeing things’ and the idea of the Universe blindly developing is a terrible thought. i know that today the Universe doesn’t give a damn whether it’s seen or can see what’s going on, but……..

    Liked by 1 person

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