Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year and the Nature of Time

What better time than New Years to think about time. Many people making resolutions, is there any point? Is the future open? Are the events that will take place in the year to come, much less the time after that predetermined by the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the universe?

If you take, for example, Newton's theory of motion and gravitation, then given a certain arrangement of objects with specific masses and velocities there is one and only one way the system of objects could come out. If there is a comet whose path takes it into the Earth's orbit, then we can figure out based upon where it is, how heavy it is, and how fast it is going whether its trajectory will result in a collision. That would be a fixed fact of the universe. It would be a future event that would happen -- the future in that sense would be closed, fixed.

We are collections of physical bits and pieces and even our mind states arise because of chemical, biological, and electrical impulses. Does that mean our futures are closed in the same way? Are we fated to break our diets? Did we have any choice but to go to the gym? Is it just a lack of ability on our part to "see" the future that gives it the appearance of being open or are humans fundamentally different sorts of beings? Are we, unlike comets, planets, and billiard balls, able to shape our own futures? Is human time open in a way different from that of pretty much everything else in the universe?

Happy philosophical new year everyone! I'd extend wishes for good health and well-being to you all, but I'm not sure it would matter...

Would it?