Disclaimer

This is a blog, not a scientific journal. I might at some time publish articles here that meet the criteria for scientific articles with respect to form, literature citations etc. I would mark such articles as such. Other articles are just blog articles, i.e. they are entries of a public philosophical notebook. This means, for example, that I will hint at the works of other thinkers without proper citations or quotations and that some of the ideas presented here are in an early stage in their process of development. If you cite from this blog or refer to it, you should bear this in mind.

One topic of this blog is the work of Kurt Ammon. I am fully responsible for any errors I might make in describing his work. If you are interested in his work, reading my blog is no replacement for reading his original works since I might have misinterpreted some of the things he has written. On his internet page there is a contact possibility where you can ask questions to him (see http://www.cproc.org).

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6 comments

  1. Are you familiar with this work? I’d be curious how it accords or discords with your thoughts… http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319104454

    1. Hi Nathan,
      I don’t know this particular book, but I am aware of the discussions going on among physicists about the topic of time. For example, in a recent edition of “New Scientist” there was an article about the problem (see https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23130890-900-metaphysics-special-is-time-an-illusion/). I am not very deep inside these discussions but let me explain my thoughts about it.
      As long as you are trying to describe everything in terms of formal theories, there is no real time. Everything derivable inside a formal theory is derivable all of the time, right from the beginning. Formal theories are, in this sense, timeless, even if they describe processes in time, as physical theories are trying to do.
      This was already seen by Schelling, who wrote (System des transzendentalen Idealismus, Hamburg 1857, p. 258, my translation):
      “…everything that is taking place according to a certain mechanism, or has its theory a priori, is not an object of history at all. Theory and history are totally contrarian. Man has history only for the reason that what he will do cannot be calculated from any theory in advance.”
      (…alles, was nach einem bestimmten Mechanismus erfolgt, oder seine Theorie a priori hat, gar nicht Objekt der Geschichte sei. Theorie und Geschichte sind völlig Entgegengesetze. Der Mensch hat nur deswegen Geschichte, weil, was er tun wird, sich nach keiner Theorie zum Voraus berechnen läßt.)
      There is a tradition in philosophy, starting with Plato (or probably with Parmenides and perhaps Pythagoras), to view the essence of things as primary and their existence as secondary. Examples include Plato’s forms, the ousia (substances) of Aristotle, or the “Wesen” (essence) in Husserl’s phenomenology, which he gains by trying to exclude all aspects of particular existence. The formal theories of physics and of analytic philosophy also belong into this tradition. An example is the Chomskyan view of language, where language is divided into “competence” (i.e. essence, describable in terms of formal grammar) and “performance” which is actually spoken language. Chomsky is not interested in real language. It is imperfect, faulty and not the real thing. As a result, he has to postulate a rather bogus “language acquisition device” and finds language change mysterious (if I recall the preface of his – quite interesting – “Cartesian Linguistics” correctly).
      On the other hand, there is another current in philosophy that states that instead existence has primacy over essence. If I traced the other line back to Parmenides, this one maybe started with Heraclites. Here we have what is known as “Philosophical Anthropology” (Plessner, Gehlen and to some extent Scheeler, although you can also put Scheeler into the essentialist camp). These people described the human being as “world-open” and not having a fixed nature. I don’t know to what extent their writings have been translated into English. The other group also belonging here are, of course, the existentialists, like Kirkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre.
      My own thinking and that of Kurt Ammon clearly belongs into the “Existence precedes essence” camp. There is no complete formal theory of the world, and there is no complete formal theory of human cognition. Humans exist and are able to move out of the scope of any particular formal theory you can make about them. They develop historically, and as a result, human cultures develop historically as well. They exist, but they have no fixed essence. Descriptions like the “Competence” of Chomsky, the structures of the structuralists etc. are always incomplete abstractions of reality. Reality has more features than can be derived in any particular theory. Cognition, Knowledge and Culture develop and become more complex. Formal theories can be developed in hindsight but are always incomplete.
      The creative processes that extend knowledge beyond what can be described inside a particular formalism happen in physical time. They can be described as the application of productive functions. These cannot be built into the formal model or algorithm (or if you do so, the result is a limited formal model again). However, humans as physical systems in physical time can do so. These processes cannot be formalized completely (see Kurt’s most recent paper, https://creativisticphilosophy.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/kurt-ammon-informal-physical-reasoning-processes/). Mathematics contains “objects” (e.g. the set of all total computable functions) that cannot be formalized completely, i.e. every formal theory about these mathematical objects is incomplete. It looks like physical reality has this property as well. I have written about this before: https://creativisticphilosophy.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/laws-and-computability/. If human beings as physical systems are indeed creative in the sense described by Ammon, the description of a the human brain as a physical system must have that property that it would contain non-computable functions, i.e. you would not be able to solve the equations in all instances, although the system actually works according to those equations.
      If I am right, physical processes cannot, in general, be thought of as processes of computation (i.e. a metaphysics of the universe as residing inside a giant computer simulation would be impossible). Physicists might be able to produce sets of equations describing the universe, but they would be unable to solve these equations because they would contain non-Turing-computable functions. This would mean that there are limits to the mathematical description of reality. Reality would contain processes that are not formalizable, i.e. every formal theory of them would be incomplete.
      In formal theories, you cannot capture physical time, even if they describe processes. The “now” does not have any special place. You don’t capture it in the theory. On the other hand, you can’t capture creative (non-formalizable) processes inside formalisms. It appears as if there are no computations beyond Turing machines, and every other model of computation (recursive functions, Lambda calculus etc.) always gives you the same set of computable functions and the same set of what can be formalized (Church’s Thesis). The mistake is that the requirement that the general model of computation should be formal has always put in, and there are indeed no formal computations beyond Turing machines. But if you drop that requirement and you accept that the formalizable is not the same as the real and that there are physical processes that cannot be described in terms of formal theories (just as there are “entities” in math that cannot be formalized), you can get beyond Turing machines. You get creative systems which are not algorithms. These require physical time.
      It appears to me that physical time, as experienced, cannot be captured within formal models. When you build a formal model in which everything is computable, you squeeze the historical aspect of time out of your model (perhaps Heidegger was trying to say something similar in his critique of the essentialist tradition in philosophy – essentialist descriptions eliminate time and they eliminate being in the sense of actual existence in time.)
      In a nutshell, I think time will continue to look strange and mysterious as long as physicists don’t see that there are aspects of reality that cannot be captured inside formal systems. Mathematicians have embraced the limits of formalizability decades ago, and it may be time for physicists to do so as well.

      I think I am going to turn this comment into an article.

      1. Thank you so much for this hearty reply! I sure appreciate your work and knowledge.

      1. again, thank you!

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