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Does McTaggert or anyone say this about the A series? Would it be nonsense to do so?

The past exists now [because now is the end of the past] but no time always exists now: so the past that exists now won't always be the past

  • Is there any chance you could explain a little more about the origin of this utterance? Did you hear someone report this about McTaggert? – Joseph Weissman Dec 12 '15 at 17:08
  • oh it was my own nth interpretation of an intuition i can't die :-) – user6917 Dec 12 '15 at 17:32
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I would like to suggest that the notions of past, present, and future are all nonsensical.

A complete scientific description of the universe would not tell us when now is. The "present moment" cannot be endowed with any special property that is not shared by any other temporal moment.

Thus, the concept of now appears to be a purely subjective one, and one which is obviously very important to the way the world appears to us. Yet we never seem to experience the present moment. The processing of sensory information takes time. Our perception of the world around us must travel through our nervous system along the various neural pathways to our brain. There it must be integrated with the disparate sensory information we are receiving to form a coherent representation of our experience. Yet once this process is complete and the information is cognitively available to us the moment has passed.

  • According to the Theory of Relativity past, present and future are relative concepts. Relative to a given point in spacetime, i.e.relative to a fixed event, the light cone of the point determines the point's past, present and future. Hence I agree with you that these concepts have no absolute meaning. – Jo Wehler Dec 12 '15 at 21:02
  • I disagree I think the present is primitive – user6917 Dec 12 '15 at 21:36
  • @MATHEMETICIAN When you say "primitive", do you mean primitive in the sense of being independent of a conscious observer? The literal notion of now would certainly be primitive in the sense that it is not reducible since it has no temporal extension. – Nick R Dec 12 '15 at 22:08
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I'm not sure what the statement means or what its context is, but it seems consistent with the A-series definition of time, though highly dependent on our interpretations of "the" and "always."

In the tensed view of time, the past is not static, of course. It continually changes as things become more distant from the reference horizon of the present...becoming "more past." And in the "block universe" A-series, the quantity of things that are "past" always increases.

Thus, the "past that exists now" will not always be "the past," in the sense of the same past. It cannot be, obviously. Can it become "not past" in the sense of becoming the present or future? Not sure.

But I don't think that is a characteristic of McTaggert's A-series or of a Hericlitean stream, unless we assume a finite material universe and a Hericlitean recycling "fountain." But I suppose it is more likely in an A-series than in a B-series, where it would be ruled out, I believe.

But again, not sure what is meant by "won't always be the past." Both "always" and a singular thing called "the past" invite all sorts of curvaceous, paradoxical turns. I don't think there is proper license in A-series time for an "always" that is not synonymous with "now."

  • thanks for the interesting comment on the term "always" though i didn't quite follow the idea of there being no "singular thing called the past" cos that maybe seems to suggest something like McTaggert's infinite regress – user6917 Dec 12 '15 at 21:39
  • i tidied it up with the assumption of an A series [containing past present and future times]: The past exists now [because now is the end of the past] but no past time exists now for every A time [else the past is just now and there is no A series]: so the past that exists now will not be the past [else the past is not a past time and there is no A series]. – user6917 Dec 12 '15 at 22:13
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McTaggart apparently was something of a Hegelian, so probably well read up on ancient ontology - Hegel does mentions this specifically in the introduction to his Logic.

The definition of now - the present moment - for Aristotle, is:

The now is what holds time together, as I have said, since it makes past and future time a continuous whole, and it is a limit of time, in the sense that it is the beginning of one time, and the end of another.

ie this moment, right now, is the end of the past, and the beginning of the future - thus, also it's limit.

Notably, he says it divides time potentially, and not actually; as it must be otherwise the world wouldn't be causally connected.

But it would be well to source a quote...

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It was brought to my attention that now is not unequivocally the past because now is also the beginning of the future. So it doesn't work out. But I kept plugging it so will post that for any comment.


But also the end of the past is not unequivocally in the past [it can be now] and so the end of the past can always have the same non trivial [perhaps there is no end of the past: so it isn't now] A time. That means there are tensed expressions [the end of the past is now] that are true at every A time: that there are A facts [about the end of the past] with every A time. And the end of the past is not more primitive than the past [which then also has every A time]: McTaggert is right

  • It took me a couple of seconds to parse 'not inequivocally', until I worked out it means equivocally. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 14 '15 at 0:11

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