Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Augustine and the Measure of Time (Part II)

Since neither past nor future things are now, when we are measuring time they must "somehow exist in the mind, for otherwise I do not see them; there is present of thigns past, memory; present of things present, sight; present of things future, expectation" (246). We are time-oriented creatures through memory, perception, and anticipation. This allows for the beginnings of a solution, since this fills out Augustine's claim that we measure time not as it is past but as it passes. We begin to say a word, say it, and finish saying it; before we said it, it was future. As such it could not be measured, since it did not yet exist; having finished it, we can no longer measure it. Measuring time,then, is something that happens while things are going on, which feeds into the key puzzle. When Augustine says, "Deus, Creator omnium," the verse has both short and long syllables. He can measure a long syllable by a short syllable and find it to be double. how then does he detain one syllable to compare it to another? The measuring of itnervals explicitly requires that the interval measured has already finished; and on this basis Augustine says, "It is not then themselves, which no longer exist, that I measure, but something in my memory, which remains fixed there" (253). He goes on to say:

It is in you, O my mind, that I measure time. Do not interrrupt me by clamoring that time has objective existence! I measure time in you. The impression which things cause in you as they pass by remains even when they are gone. This, which is still present, is what I measure, not those things which have passed by to make this impression. This is what I measure when I measure time. Either, then, this is time, or I do not measure time. (254)

The measurement of time, therefore, is due to our mental capacities for considering, remembering, and expecting in such a way that "what it expects, through what it considers, passes into what it remembers" (254).

Augustine's solution seems to make time something mental. Despite any of the apparent objectsion ("Do not interrupt me by clamoring that time has objective existence!"), there is a certain sophistication to the theory: time is simply a particular way in which we regard changing things. It has the advantage that under it we are not tempted to reify time; and it has the added advantage of fitting especially well with all those of our intuitions that treat time as a measure. If time is a measuring out of entities, however, and that measurment is accomplished entirely by the different attitudes of the mind, time is something mental precisely insofar as it is a measure.

(Part III)

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