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What would happen to an event in the past, if time itself ceases to exist? Without time, has what existed (such as the writing of this sentence) never happened?


A total disappearance of space-time seems impossible, because it implies the non-existence of something undeniable: that something that happened, happened. We could deduce either that space-time cannot cease to exist or that it is not the real theatre of the events.

Saint Thomas asked himself a similar question (Quaestio quodlibetalis XII), when he asked "utrum Deus possit reparare virginis ruinam", namely whether God can change the fact that a virgin has lost her virginity. Thomas' answer was clear: if the question concerns spiritual matters, God can certainly make reparation for the sin committed and give back to the sinner the state of grace; if it concerns physical matters, God can restore the physical integrity of the girl; but if the question is logical and cosmological, well, not even God can make that what was once done, was not done.

Following Thomas it seems that even if the past could be changed, it does not imply that an event did not happen, but rather that it happened and later it was cancelled.

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    +1 Do you have a reference for the quote from Aquinas? – Frank Hubeny Aug 22 '18 at 13:42
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    If time completely stops, what business do we have saying things like 'happened' or 'never'? In fact, in what sense do we continue to be saying things? or even thinking them? The foundation of the question here is confused. Once a thing has happened, it is still not necessary in the sense of Aquinas, only in the modern sense. Necessity for Aquinas or Aristotle is what could not be otherwise, not something that is contingent but happens to be real. – jobermark Aug 22 '18 at 14:25
  • @FrankHubeny sadly it's a second hand quote, but the author (Umberto Eco) referred to it as Quaestio quodlibetalis XII. – Francesco D'Isa Aug 22 '18 at 15:30
  • @jobermark I fear that my English fails with these difficult nuances. I could riformulate it as: "once it happened, an event was necessary?", or, in detail: "If I had power over time, could I make a past event like it hasn't ever happened, since the very fact that an event happened and then was erased/changed looks unchangeable?". I welcome suggestions to improve the grammar of my question. – Francesco D'Isa Aug 22 '18 at 15:43
  • I find the question rather muddled. There is no existence in the past or the future, time cannot stop and start and it is a common view that it is not fundamental. There is even a widely held view that nothing ever really happens (for a fundamental analysis). Thus the question is tricky to answer. and may concern a problem caused by poor starting assumptions. . . – PeterJ Dec 8 '18 at 13:07
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Suppose event X occurs at t1. Then the statement, (1) 'Event X occurs at t1' is true. If so, then the statement, (2) 'At t2 it is true that event X occurs at t1', is also true. (I leave the tense unchanged.) You can even say that it is necessarily true since no other true statement could invalidate the inference from (1) to (2).

However, no necessity is conferred on event X itself (only on statements about it). It could be a contingent or accidental event. In this sense it definitely does not follow that if an event occurred then it was a necessary event. The only necessity involved is in the truth of the statement that event X occurred.

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    I wonder if the necessity of the truth of the statement depends on the existence of time. The OP assumes time ends. Would that mean the necessity of this statement becomes contingent or that it always is contingent upon the presence of time? +1 – Frank Hubeny Aug 22 '18 at 19:21
  • Interesting. I wonder (but this is maybe another question) if event x occurred at t1 (is necessarily true that event x occurred at t1) and can't be otherwise, from a perspective out of time, or reading in a magic crystal ball at t0, isn't x necessary? – Francesco D'Isa Aug 22 '18 at 20:12
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    @FrankHubeny nice point, in (2) if time change is NOT true that 'event X occurs at t1', it's true that 'event x occurred at t1 and then was erased'. – Francesco D'Isa Aug 22 '18 at 20:14
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Even if time disappears, what has happened will stay as "happened".

For something to have "happened" you require time, but if time disappears after something has happened, it will not undo the event that unfolded before it disappeared. The past does not require time, the present does.

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    I made some edits which you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. If you have any references to people who take similar views that would give the reader a place to go for more information and strengthen your answer. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Oct 4 '18 at 11:22
  • Thank you, I agree with you and St. Thomas. But some questions remains: if I erase the whole block of time, shouldn't I erase with it all the events, present, past and future? Is there a 2-time in which 1-time is situated, a theatre in which it is possible to observe the fact that time was erased? Metaphorically speaking is it enough to hide something forever to make it disappear? – Francesco D'Isa Oct 4 '18 at 13:34
  • Personally speaking, I don't believe that something that has happened in the past, is affected by time anymore, time is like a wave, it flows through you and never turns back removing a block of time, would only remove either the present or the future, for time will never affect a past anymore – Veraen Oct 4 '18 at 13:36
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The first point that i would make is to clarify some notions in Thomas Aquinas.

Saint Thomas uses the notion of eternity as the presence of everything (all time) in one (this comes from Boethius). Is a notion of eternity outside space-time. For God there is no before or after, everything is "in the same time" and present.

So, if you think in eternity as a linear "thing", and God is IN this linear thing, maybe this would be difficult to understand because it is not Saint Thomas notion of eternity.

  • Thank you, that quote you are referring to is from Umberto Eco; he’s a well known scholar of medieval philosophy but I can’t be sure that his interpretation of Thomas Aquinas is correct – Francesco D'Isa Dec 8 '18 at 18:07

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