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TIME IN EXPERIENCE AND SCIENCE IHerbert Dingle Time is so deeply rooted in consciousness itself that it is impossible for the normal human being to contemplate a state of existence apart from it. Mystics, indeed, speak of a timeless state, in which what we call past, present, and future are merged into a single eternal instant, but they are unable to convey their experience to others through the medium of words, and to most of us such a state must remain a mere theoretical possibility beyond imagination . For that very reason, however, time in its full sense becomes almost impossible to define. "What then is time?" asks St. Augustine, and he replies, "If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to a questioner , I do not know." Neither do 1. But what we can do is analyse the uses which we make of the word and so purge our statements about it from error and meaninglessness. To do this completely wouid be far too big a task for an article: our discussion here will be limited to the function of time in physical science. This will, of course, cover a considerable part of everyday life, but it will not touch problems arising in abnormal psychology or the possible phenomena of extra-sensory perception. First of all we must notice that, although time is inseparable from ordinary consciousness, there is an important part of our normal mental activity to which it is irrelevant: the whole field of pure reason. Statements in logic and mathematics are independent of time. When I say that twice two will be four this time next year, I am not making a statement about time although "next year" appears in the sentence. Any other date couid be substituted for it, or I could change the statement to "Twice two are four," and I should be saying exactly the same thing, for the relations between numbers are quite outside the scope of meaning of "time." If they are true they have been and will be true throughout eternity, whatever that may mean; at any rate, we immediately recognize that it is meaningless to say that they are true now but will become false later. 231 This introduces us to the fundamental division in scientific thought, namely, that between the empirical and the rational. It is as good a definition as any of this division to say that it separates what is independent of time from what is essentially temporal. When I say that the Earth rotates on its axis I am making a statement about experience (I may indeed express it differently by saying that the sky revolves about the Earth, but it is the same experience that I am thus expressing). Although practically I have no doubt that the Sun will rise as usual tomorrow, it is still a meaningful, and possibly a true, statement that the Earth will not rotate on its axis after midnight tonight. We can quite well imagine that such a change will occur, and describe some of its probable consequences, as H. G. Wells attempted to do in a well-known story, whereas we cannot imagine twice two as being anything but four at any time so long as words retain their present meanings. "The Sun will rise tomorrow" is an empirical, and so an essentially temporal, statement; H Twice two are four" is a rational, and so an essentially nontemporal , statement. Science is presented with the empirical, the temporal, and endeavours to represent it in rational, non-temporal, terms. To do this it forms certain concepts (e.g., mass, electrical potential, natural selection) which it defines precisely and between which it establishes relations by rational deduction from the definitions. It then looks out on the world of experience and interprets the particular events which are given in observation in terms of its concepts. Thus, what we call a compass needle turning to the north on some particular occasion science describes as an exemplification of the timeless relation between magnetized bodies and a magnetic field. A magnetized body aligns itself with the field because of the definitions of magnetized bodies and magnetic fields. If for once it...


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pp. 231-242
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