Friday, 6 May 2011

St. Augustine-On Time

In discussing the creation of everything physical, Augustine asks,” What is time?” Answer this question as would Augustine.”

Augustine would say that time is a logical construct that conditions and expresses the perceptions of created things. That is to say, as Augustine did, that man is temporally conditioned, but God is not. He grapples right away with the substance, if I may say substance, of time,” What is it?”

            In order to answer this he has to figure out where it begins and where it ends, and so he looks quite naturally to the creation itself, because God alone is uncreated and time is not God. So, Augustine knows that he will find the answer in those things which are created. He asks of God,” How did you create heaven and earth?” He, in his meditative style, takes a hard right and says that if God were to grant him the boon of being able to speak to the prophet Moses, surely Moses could tell him!

            Yet, here he make’s a hard left as if to say,” No, only you can teach me God!” He makes this hard left by pointing out that only God can educate him by use of the language ‘mentalese’ necessary to understanding the answer. He says that if Moses did know the answer and could tell him it wouldn’t profit him at all, because the answer would be in another language (Hebrew, perhaps) and to Augustine would be nonsense syllables. 

            Here he makes the differentiation between the ‘outer’ physical ear and the ‘inner’ spiritual, soulish, or mental ear. That is, the mind may become aware of something in the tangible realm through external sensation, but sensation does not mean ‘understanding’ in the mind. After external sensation, the interior sense affecting (acting upon) the sensation, translates the knowledge into ‘mentalese.' Finally, God speaks to us or we use our reason and thereby give assent to certain things and reject others. So, what happens, according to Augustine, is that a thing is sensed, Moses’ voice in this case, by the outer ear. Then, the interior ear can make nothing of it; id est, it cannot be translated into mentalese. Ergo, there being no way for Augustine to make sense of what Moses would tell him about the creation and/or creation itself, he cannot apply his reason to it in order to give assent. But even if Moses was speaking the same language as Augustine (Latin) so that the sensation of Latin could be translated into ‘mentalese,’ then as may be discerned from the above, God would still have to teach Augustine’s soul in ‘mentalese’ in order that he could give assent to Moses’ words which would have been translated by the inner ear. 

            Therefore, Augustine comes to it again and declares that only God can teach him the answer; all this only in the hopes that if he understood “how” God created everything, he might then use his reason to understand “what time is.” In doing all this, Augustine is making the assertion that God is the only being that teaches us from within. He’s in part declaring this, because he needs an answer that gets beyond creation.

            It’s this ‘getting beyond creation’ that Augustine comes to next in his thoughts. He addresses the issue of ‘framework.’ By framework I mean {s-t}space and time, the ‘stuff’ of creation. He notices that questions addressed ‘towards’ things of {s-t} which would make sense, become nonsense when addressed ‘about’ {s-t}. This brings us back to what he noticed at the beginning: that he, Augustine, along with all other men, is temporally conditioned. He realized that things made sense for temporally conditioned beings inside the frame work of {s-t}, but that outside of the framework of {s-t} things made no sense. For instance, to ask about the beginning of things ‘in’ time makes perfect sense, but to ask about the beginning of time makes no sense, because it predicates a time before time… which is nonsense. This is why he believed that God, who is not temporally conditioned, who ‘teaches from within,’ would have to bypass his temporal conditioning, so that Augustine could project his assent onto that which God (Holy Spirit) had revealed upon temporally conditioned things, i.e. creation.

            From this he constructed a schematic, or rather elaborated on Christian ‘truth,’ by stating that there was a temporal realm and an eternal realm. He had to figure out how things “were” in both of these realms. He postulated, or rather asserted, that the only things which really exist are in the ‘now.’ They’re really real, really happening, really being. The ‘now’ was or seemed to be predicated by the past, and the future was anticipated by the now. Further, the past was collapsible into the present, or ‘now,’ through memory, and the future was collapsible into the present through anticipation. That they could be collapsed meant that they ‘were.’ He explains this by stating that everything that is, was, and will be a ‘now’ is a static point in God’s view in the eternal realm. In this way, God is in all time, and yet timeless. 

            The things which follow necessarily from Augustine’s conclusions that the only things which really exist are in the ‘now’ and that all ‘now’s’ are static points in the eternal realm is that time is a mental construct designed to measure the non-existent portions of time. Time is a proverbial ‘zero’ designed to give us a set of reference points between events. You can’t measure what doesn’t exist, yet that is precisely what we do with time, if all that really exists is in the ‘now.’ 

           Each ‘now’ is self-destructive and pregnant with the future. I would attempt to improve upon that merely by stating that each now is the “self-destructive child of the past that is pregnant with the future.” But it is self-evident that even this is temporally conditioned, because in the eternal realm, according to Augustine, each “now” is an independent static point. 

            If we participate with the constructs of the eternal and temporal realms that Augustine lays down, we see that it is inevitable that time really is only a mental construct. This is because if the past ‘is not’ and the future ‘is not,’ then the present is not temporally conditioned, but only a static point. This theory satisfies that God is always creating and never in flux of any kind; He is always creating ‘now.’ And if now is all that exists, then time which includes more than ‘now’ must be a logical construct… like ‘zero.’
"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~

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