May 11, 2022
Scientific Questions Then and Now: Time

Allegory of Time, Painting of Three Human Heads of different ages over Three Animal Heads

Titian, “Allegory of Time”. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Contact and Registration

The Lecture Series is open to all interested. If you would like to join a session please contact Anina Woischnig (awoischnig@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de).

About This Series

How are scientific questions posed and answered by scientists, from premodern times until today? Despite radical changes in world views, the apparent persistence of certain recurrent questions in the history of science is striking: examples of such questions include “Where does the world come from?”, “What is it made of?”, “What is life?”, “What is consciousness?”, or “Is the world knowable?”
Our speakers’ series “Scientific Questions Then and Now” seeks to understand the extent to which such recurrent questions have in fact remained “the same”. One key goal of this series will therefore be to determine whether there is, or is not, any core notion of science that remains constant from premodern times to the present, a core notion that would allow for meaningful discussion and communication among representatives of different historic traditions of science.

We will bring together contemporary scientists with historians of premodern philosophy, to ask whether some of these recurrent questions may still be relevant to contemporary scientific research and practice. 

2022-05-11T15:00:00SAVE IN I-CAL 2022-05-11 15:00:00 2022-05-11 20:00:00 Scientific Questions Then and Now: Time Titian, “Allegory of Time”. Source: Wikimedia Commons Abstracts Julian Barbour: Time from Change Link to video Ernst Mach said "It is utterly impossible to measure the changes of things by time. Quite the contrary, time is an abstraction at which we arrive by means of the changes of things." I will show how time emerges from change, including clocks that measure it. José S. Baracat Jr.: Intelligible and Integral Time in Late Platonism Link to video Plato and Aristotle (with a little help from Plotinus) set the scene for a considerable part of later philosophers’ discussions on time, either by providing theoretical principles or creating unavoidable difficulties. This does not mean, however, that later philosophers are devoid of originality – and the theories of time advanced by Iamblichus (3rd-4th centuries), Proclus (5th century) and Damascius (5th-6th centuries) are nice examples of discussions that are grounded in the past but also innovative. So, in this brief presentation, I will expose the counterintuitive (and even at times puzzling) concepts of intelligible and integral time introduced by these thinkers in the history of ideas, showing how they depend on, reply to, and also depart from their predecessors.  Pantelis Golitsis: Indivisible now and indivisible time: Damascius’ conception of time progressing by leaps Link to video In this talk, I will try to explain Damascius’ understanding of the true nature of the flowing time. According to this Neoplatonic philosopher, Aristotle’s definition of time as a “number of motion according to the anterior and posterior”, in which the anterior and posterior is an indivisible 'now', cannot concern the true nature of time but only the way in which time is cognised as an abstraction in the human soul. The true recognition of time requires us to distinguish between the 'indivisible now', which is a limit of time projected by the human mind, from the ‘present' or ‘pending time’, which is never completed. This time is infinitely divisible but only in thought; in reality, it is indivisible and progresses through leaps. Damascius conceives of the leap as covering both whole and part and asks us to think of time as a measure composed by a ceaseless plurality of measures that come and go, each one of which is an undivided divisible; time, therefore, like a quantum, is both continuous and discrete. Karim Thébault: Cosmic Higher Speculations and The Arrow of Explanation Link to video Explanations are expected to be such that the thing to be explained (the explanandum) occurs after the thing or things doing the explaining (the explanans). In this sense, there is an ‘arrow of explanation’ that points from the past to the future. In the context of modern relativistic physics, the arrow of explanation takes on a spatial as well as temporal character since causal interaction can only propagate at or below the speed of light. The explanans of any particular explanandum are thus constrained to a spatiotemporal region, the causal past, such that it is possible for there to have been an antecedent causal connection. With this in mind, when scientists look to the sky, they see a comic scale conspiracy. Observation of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) indicates that there are correlations between regions of the universe that share no common causal past. The arrow of explanation thus prohibits causal explanans for the most basic observational cosmological explanandum. In this talk, I will suggest that this highlights the uneasy relationship between physics and philosophy in the realm of cosmology, and in doing so replay themes from the earlier history of natural philosophy. Sajjad Rizvi: Time and Being: Conceptions of Time and Ontology in Some Islamic Thinkers Link to video  While we often associate discussions of temporality in Islamic thought with the problem of creation as well as selfhood, it is clear that there is a close relationship between temporality and ontology. I intend to examine that using three brief examples: Avicenna whose positions are foundational for Islamic thought, Mīr Dāmād whose novel formulations in early modernity look back to the ancients as well as towards the future, and some Shiʿi thinkers who privilege their political theology over time and being. Europe/Berlin public