[time 734] Time as philosophical problem (re [time 724])

Lancelot Fletcher (lance.fletcher@freelance-academy.org)
Thu, 9 Sep 1999 17:55:51 -0500

Dear Matti, Stephen, Hitoshi, et al.:

Because I am too busy with practical affairs to follow this discussion
closely, much less to participate actively, I apologize if the following
comment is inappropriate, but I could not let the following pass without
some comment:

Somebody (I think Stephen) wrote:

> I see LS's as fundamental clocks, and thus it
> should be possible to consider an "ensemble of clocks" as given by a
> ensemble of LSs. But, I am very sketchy in my thinking of this. :-(

To which Matti replied:

> [MP] I cannot say. One should need a quantative model for clock.
> Clock as oscillator is a nice model but based on the existence of
> time! You want to derive time from the existence of clocks, I
> am happy in deriving the existence of clocks from the existence
> of time!

My comment is this: Matti's reply does indeed identify the core issue.
The only problem I have with Matti's comment is that it seems rather
casual, so it doesn't alert the reader to how fundamental the disagreement
here is.

In Hitoshi's first statements on the subject of Local Times one of the
things that attracted my attention (as a philosopher) was his comment that
the problem of time in contemporary physics is essentially a philosophical
problem, not a physical or mathematical problem. Matti's comment here
perfectly illustrates the validity of Hitoshi's assertion about the nature
of the problem of time. What is at issue is really how we understand the
fundamental nature of time. In our joint article in Apeiron, Hitoshi and I
were completely explicit about the fact that our position was in opposition
to the conventional understanding. Here is what we wrote:

 "...the proper clock is the local system itself,
and it is a necessary manifestation of that local system.
In this sense, “clocking” is the natural activity of any
local system. It follows from this that to be an existing
thing in the world necessarily involves clocking, without
which there is no interaction. In these respects, our position
is in complete opposition to the conventional understanding
of time measurement, where time is given a
priori and the measurement of time by clocks is viewed as
an incidental activity of intelligent observers. Contrary to
the conventional understanding, our view is that all beings
are engaged in measuring and observing, and the activities
of measuring and observing are not incidental, but
pertain to the essence of all interactions. If we are permitted
to express it somewhat boldly, we have turned things
completely around: It is not that things exist and their
duration is incidentally expressed by clocks. According to
our formulation, clocks exist and their operation is necessarily
expressed by duration."

(to which we might have added, Time, as measured or counted duration, is
what results when certain local systems or certain sets of interactions are
chosen as the standard in terms of which other durations are described,
much as monetary value comes into existence when one commodity is chosen as
the unit in terms of which the exchange relations of other commodities are

Now, to come back to Matti's comment: It is entirely in order to challenge
Hitoshi and me to flesh out our claims -- to show that we can offer an
intelligible and serviceable, quantitative model of a clock -- and it is
particularly apt for Matti to demand that we show that our model is not an
instance of circular definition. However, I am less comfortable when Matti
says, "I am happy in deriving the existence of clocks from the existence
of time!" The reason I am uncomfortable with that is that it seems to me
that it simply begs the question. I am not saying he is wrong. I am simply
saying that we need to acknowledge that this is what is in dispute. From
our point of view, Matti's claim looks just as doubtful as ours looks to

Lance Fletcher, President
The Free Lance Academy Foundation

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