I'm not sure if this belongs here or the physics section but I'd like to hear your opinion on this. I've recently thought about time and what it actually is, and I'm battling between two arguments: Everything is revolved around time and we couldn't do without it. The other one is basically the opposite and essentially that we would do just fine without time and it is only a thing we made up for some reason. I'm just sharing my thoughts, please respect my opinion and don't hate :)

  • 3
    Hi Welcome to Philosophy.SE! As asked this is an opinion question, can you rephrase it as a question of fact? Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 23:01
  • Might be interested in this question and my answer to that in particular: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/10992/…
    – infatuated
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 7:56
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    Echoing @JamesKingsbery, it shouldn't be too hard to rephrase this so that you ask for pros and cons of viewing time as real vs. illusory. You will get opinions, but they will be philosophical opinions. (Think of a professional medical opinion.) Philosophers love to talk about whether some concept is illusory.
    – labreuer
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 16:50

2 Answers 2


One way of looking at this is both ways.

Early in the history of thermodynamics, folks had a hard time with the idea that all of the laws of physics were reversible, but it time seemed to have a direction anyway, only the Second Law of Thermodynamics seemed to be directional, and it was not very specific, and seemed kind of arbitrary. This is Loschmidt's paradox.

In response, Botzmann, a major name in thermodynamics, proposed that time flows the direction it does only because we are falling away from a state of very high order (Later, we decided the reason for this state of very high order is the Big Bang, that all points in space were identical when they were all compressed into a single point, and time resulted when they began to differ.) So if we were in a more chaotic part of the universe, time would not flow one direction, but would flow the other way for a while, until things were too orderly, and then proceed as we are accustomed. If it oscillated often enough, we would not really get a direction to time at all.

On the other hand "for a while" makes no sense where there is no direction to time. So there is some underlying aspect to time independent of how we might perceive it.

While our time is an artifact of the distribution of entropy, there is still some component of linear order somewhere behind it. That linear order might not sequence things as we see them, and if time were not directional, we might perceive it as a spatial dimension instead.

That is kind of Augustine's vision of divine time, that a divine being could get outside it and see all history laid out in one big tableau. Kant elaborated this better by saying time is just a form of our thinking, and that other beings might have ways of thinking that were not sequential. It also fits with certain ways of looking at relativity.

So if our time is accidental, what is its purpose? The purpose seems to be to facilitate a sense of learning and development, to simplify life so that it can address individual problems in a sequential way.

Hegel looked at this as the reason for physical existence. That some aspect of the bigger picture is assisted by this piecemeal, separated and sequential approach, instead of the more basic time-free reality, and we are charged with working out how this fits into the bigger picture.

So we might be just fine without time, but only, in some sense, if we weren't us.


Michael Tooley has some interesting things to say about time and causation in Time, Tense, and Causation:

    Are time and causation related, and if so how? I first became seriously interested in this issue when I was developing an account of the nature of causation. The conclusions that I reached at that time were, first, that it is both possible, and desirable, to offer an account of causation that does not involve any temporal concepts, and secondly, that, given that there appear to be necessary truths that involve both causal and temporal concepts, the relevant connections between causation and time should be forged via a causal theory of the direction of time.
    The resulting picture seemed very appealing. Upon turning, however, from the question of causation to that of the nature of time—and, particularly, to the question of the choice between dynamic and static views of the world—I gradually came to feel that a full account of the relation between time and causation was not provided by a causal theory of the direction of time. The connection was, I felt, a much deeper one, and in the end I concluded, for reasons that will emerge in Chapter 4, that events can be causally related only in a dynamic world. So causation is tired not only to time, but to tense as well. (vii)

When a philosopher talks about 'tensed' vs. 'untensed' theories of time, he/she is likely talking about A-series and B-series. Now, it is important to note that these are not the only ways to think about time; indeed, of the philosophers surveyed, 58% reject both!

    To sum up, then, the difference between a static conception of the world and a dynamic one comes to this. According to a static conception, what states of affairs there are does not depend upon what time it is. Change, consequently, cannot be a matter of a change, over time, in what states of affairs exist. It must be a matter simply of the possession, by an object or by the world as a whole, of different intrinsic properties at different times.
    According to a dyadic conception of the world, by contrast, what states of affairs exist does depend upon what time it is. As a consequence, the totality of monadic states of affairs which exist as of one time, and which involve a given object, may differ from the totality that exists as of some other time, and it is precisely such a difference that constitutes change in an object, rather than merely the possession by an object of different properties at different times. Similarly, change in the world as a whole is a matter of a difference in the totality of states of affairs that exist as of different times, and not merely a matter of the possession of different properties by different temporal slices of the world.

Something I find particularly fascinating is that there is empirical science which might point toward something closer to Tooley's conception of time and causation than the major alternatives. See the 2010 article Back From the Future:

It bothered Aharonov as well. “I asked, what does God gain by playing dice?” he says. Aharonov accepted that a particle’s past does not contain enough information to fully predict its fate, but he wondered, if the information is not in its past, where could it be? After all, something must regulate the particle’s behavior. His answer—which seems inspired and insane in equal measure—was that we cannot perceive the information that controls the particle’s present behavior because it does not yet exist. (2)

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