The Plurality of Times from Groundhog Day



From Groundhog Days – Intercourse on Time

By Melina Costello & David Arthur Walters

10 October 2003

My Dear Madame Melina,

Logic does not prove that life exists on other planets or, for that matter, that any other proposition corresponds to objective reality. But logic can demonstrate that particular propositions in themselves are false or fallacious, at least according to the assumptions upon which the particular logic is based. Static logic is based on the principle of identity and contradiction that, IF A is identical to A, THEN A cannot be not-A. Everything follows from that presumption. Your argument may be illogical or fallacious, but that does not necessarily mean that your hunch is mistaken or that your case is groundless. You might find a better argument or lawyer; in the interim, we have good cause for reasonable doubting.

John Ellis McTaggart in The Unreality of Time doubted the reality of Time as we ordinarily think we know it. He argued that time is unreal, and offered an extended, complicated argument to support his premise that time, the “past, present, and future” contradicts itself. Of course his argument was challenged on logical grounds, sometimes with extended arguments in symbolic-logic language beyond the understanding of most of us. Few time philosophers agree with McTaggart’s position today, yet most consider it a good point of departure because it does not matter whether his proposal is right or wrong, for, in either event, the student will gain considerable ground towards the understanding of what may be the most important subject in the world.

As for unreal time, or time as we think we know it, McTaggart said it requires the time-series triune of past, present, future. This he calls the ‘A series.’

“It is because the distinctions of past, present, and future seem to me to be essential for time, that I regard time as unreal,” said McTaggart.

Now that statement may on its face seem absurd or illogical, since he seems to both affirm and deny the existence of time. Of course we have been around a few blocks, so we expect he will proceed to juggle words and say that one kind of time is real, the other kind unreal; or that we misperceive reality; or that what we perceive is an illusion – we think of the man who tried to jump through a concrete wall because his guru said it was an illusion.

But never mind that for now. McTaggart insists that time as we perceive it must have a past, present, and future. Mind you, some say not: some say only the “B series” of Before and After is essential to time. Never mind that either – we shall take McTaggart’s word for the essentiality of A Series.

Now, then, remember, we who subscribe to Groundhog Days have our own special interest at stake: we are interested in the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence, hence we want to know, What is Professor McTaggart’s position on the logical possibility of multiple universes subject to different times? The Doctrine as we understand it in relation to each individual self would require each universe to have a different present so that someone can die in the present of one time-series, and be at once born again in the present of another time-series, in the identical circumstances of the past, at the time of his birth, of the one he has just left, where survivors of his death are going about their business as usual, while he is a new born babe at his destination universe, where everyone is of course younger or unborn.

McTaggart had no logical problem with multiple time-series although he says nothing about eternal recurrence; that is, assuming for the sake of argument that the time-series of past, present, and future is real in the first place. Multiple or parallel universes are not even required. There can be different time-series going on in the same universe!

“The hypothesis here is that there should be within reality several real and independent time-series. The objection, I imagine, is that the time-series would be all real, while the distinction of past, present, and future would have meaning within each series, and could not, therefore, be taken as ultimately real. There would be, for example, many presents (each point in each time-series is a present once), but they must be present successively. And the presents of the different time-series would not be successive, since they are not in the same time. (Neither would they be simultaneous, since that equally involves being in the same time. They would have no time-relation whatever.) And different presents, unless they are successive, cannot be real. So the different time-series, which are real, must be able to exist independently of the distinction between past, present, and future.

“I cannot, however, regard this objection as valid. No doubt, in such a case, no present would be the present – it would only be the present of a certain aspect of the universe. But then no time would be the time – it would only be the time of a certain aspect of the universe. It would, no doubt, be a real time-series, but I do not see that the present would be less real than the time.

“I am not, of course, asserting that there is no contradiction in the existence of several distinct A series. My main thesis is that the existence of any A series involves a contradiction. What I assert here is merely that supposing that there could be any A series, I see no extra difficulty involved in there being several such series independent of one another, and that therefore there in no incompatibility between the essentiality of an A series for time and the existence of several distinct times.

“Moreover, we must remember that the theory of a plurality of time-series is a mere hypothesis. No reason has ever been given why we should believe in their existence. It has only been said that there is no reason why we should disbelieve in their existence, and that therefore they may exist.”

Therefore we have the Hypothesis for the Plurality of Times waiting for someone to present positive evidence for or against it. McTaggart’s statement in its favor should arouse the hopes and fears of our subscribers: the hopes of those who think the world they are in is the best of all possible worlds and want to repeated it ad infinitum; the fears of those who think this world is hell on earth and do not want another vicious cycle let alone an endless series of hells.

We must admit that if multiple time-series exist, the positive evidence when obtained might not prove the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence. We could respectively be progressing to heaven or hell in a hand basket. Even those Groundhog Days subscribers with a positive mental attitude towards endless repetition have expressed doubts about their portion of progress relative to the progress of the repeated lives of our progeny, and they do not accept the dogma that the progress of all repeated lives are equal. That is no problem for the time being. Pending the receipt of positive evidence, it appears that the Hypothesis for the Plurality of Times suits the hopes and fears of all those who want somewhere to go after death whatever the situation may be there.

Eternally Yours,

Mister Groundhog


Art Credit: ‘Man attempt’ by permission of amazing Cubo-surrealist Darwin Leon


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