Last weekend I was watching drag racing with my father in law, which is pretty much the only interest we share, and he was explaining to me how modern time-gauging technology allows the winner of any given race to be called, if necessary, by the millionth of a second.
Me being me, I dwelt upon the philosophical implications of such a statement.
A millionth of a second.
That is some tiny duration. And then I thought to myself, ‘Why stop there?’ I mean, what exactly is the shortest duration of time whereby there is no such thing as anything sooner?
After pondering this for a moment I decided that there was no such thing as the shortest duration of time, literally speaking. Of course, practically speaking the shortest duration of time is the amount beyond which no one gives a shit. A trillionth of a second? Let’s just call a tie or do the race over. Am I right?
But again, I’m not really interested in “practical applications” of truth, I’m interested in truth, period. Because absolute truth will drive the practical applications of it, ultimately. In order for there to be a duration beyond which no one gives a shit we must first concede that no ACTUAL duration of the “shortest amount of time” really exists. If we do not concede that, but rather believe that there is a literal “shortest amount of time”, then clearly we cannot be satisfied with a millionth or trillionth of a second time interval gauging the difference between the winner and loser of a professional NHRA drag race, with hundreds of thousands of dollars, tons upon tons of fuel and equipment, and dozens of human livelihoods at stake.
No, in order to actually determine a winner, in the interest of fairness and justice, we would need to do our due diligence and pursue a technology capable of calculating the time differences down to the absolute shortest duration. Only then can a true winner be established (except when the winner is obvious, of course). The technology may be years away, but until it is acquired, how can we ever really call those races which may be too close to call by the stopwatches of today?
But if we understand that time is not actual, then it is merely a matter of deciding when time is short enough. A millionth of a second should be adequate for all practical purposes, at least within the motorsports industry. Beyond that I think we can all agree that calling it a tie is totally acceptable. For in this instance, a millionth of a second verses a trillionth of a second is merely equivocating what is a tie for all practical purposes. By organizing the environment in order to affirm and promote man’s survival and ongoing existence, conceptual abstractions are supposed to make human life easier, not harder, remember? Once we begin to parse millionths of seconds… well, unless we are in the throws of some exacting scientific experiment or perhaps performing some forensic exercise, the whole thing just gets tedious…not to mention ridiculous.
Okay, where the hell am I going with this?
Something relating to the above drag racing story can be found in two of Zeno’s paradoxes (Zeno was another ancient Greek philosopher, of the Parmenides pain-in-the-ass variety; for those of you familiar with him, I agree with his premises but not his conclusions; relative truth is still truth, thus man’s concepts are not UNtruth, they are relative truth, and are proved true by the observable preservation and perpetuation of his existence and comfort). One is a temporal dichotomy paradox, while another is a positional paradox. The temporal paradox says that a slower runner who has a head start can never be overtaken by a faster runner because he/she will always have some manner of time difference to overcome. Since the slower runner is constantly moving, whenever the faster runner arrives at the place the slower run has just been, the slower runner will have moved on from that point, meaning that there will be a temporal discrepancy the faster runner will need to surmount. But since the slower runner is moving constantly, the faster runner will never arrive at the place the slower run is, but only where he/she was. Meaning that regardless of the speed difference, the faster runner will always be behind the slower runner.
Now, this paradox was thought up thousands of years before Einstein’s theory of relativity showed us that speed is not independent of time, in which case the paradox falls apart (well, sort of…but I’ll get to that later). Since the faster runner ages less relative to the slower runner, the faster runner naturally makes up any temporal discrepancy because he/she can cover more distance in less time, relative to the slower runner.
Thus, the reason the faster runner can overtake the slower runner has to do with the relationship of speed and time. Arriving at a location in space is a function of both speed AND time, not just time, is the salient point. So, if the unit of time duration is x, then, for example, when the slower runner arrives at the halfway point he/she is 3x old; but when the faster runner arrives at the halfway point he/she only is 1x old. Which means, of course, that he/she arrives at the halfway point existentially sooner than the slower runner. Follow this to its logical conclusion, doing the requisite calculus if you are so inclined (and I am not, because fuck that math), and you can see just how the faster runner overtakes the slower runner. It isn’t because they are faster, in a sense, but because speed translates into a relative age difference whilst existing at the same point in space (spacetime), which means the faster runner is also the younger runner; and that is the root of the spatial/positional difference between bodies moving a different speeds. The faster runner can arrive at the same location before the slower runner even though he/she started from behind, because positionally/spatially “before” is a function of age (the relative passage of time), which is a direct function of acceleration.
The positional paradox is similar to the temporal one. This paradox says that one can never arrive at a single location because there are an infinite number of fractional distances he/she must cover in order to get there. For example, in order to arrive at location x, one must travel half the distance to x, but in order to get there, one must go half the distance to half x. And in order to get there, one must go half the distance to half of half x, and so on…the paradoxical conclusion being that one can never arrive at the objective location because he/she must traverse an infinite number of distances to get there. And traversing infinite distance is impossible.
Again, when we input Einstein’s theory of relativity into the illustration, the paradox falls away. Understanding that there is an inseparable relationship between speed and time, one can see that it isn’t a matter of traversing a distance, necessarily, but rather a result of speed mitigating time, and time is merely a way to describe the relative difference in states of existence (“before” is a temporal distinction, not a positional on; one can arrive at the location before he or she would need to cover an infinite number of distances because movement means that existentially they age less relative to the location to which they are going).
Since the movement of one translates to a smaller temporal existence relative to a static other (the location), it is possible to arrive at a location by shortening the distance of one’s existence relative to the location, since motion itself is merely a change in relative existence between to bodies (labeling the location as a “body” in this instance; the train station, or the bus stop, for example). The faster you go in the direction of the location, the younger you are relative to it, which means the location of YOU (your existence) relative to the location to which you are heading is different. It is possible to arrive at the location by changing your relative position to it via speed, which reduces your existential “footprint” relative to the location you want to go to, thereby allowing you arrive there by mitigating time which reduces, existentially, distance (since time and speed and distance are all inexorably a function of relative existence and thus are all a function of the the agent, thereby making them interrelated).
Hmm..how is that for a mind bender?
So, the question is, is there truly a paradox present in these examples? Well, when we apply Einstein’s theory of relativity, we can see that the paradox is resolved. But Einstein’s theory only goes halfway to truly unraveling the ostensible contradiction. There is still more to go. In order to completely dismantle the paradoxes we need to examine the nature of time and speed as removed from the context of the material universe, its objects and agents. When we do that, we don’t need Einstein or his calculus to straighten out what appears to be crooked. It becomes purely a matter of reason. And thank goodness, the fucking calculus is superfluous.
To that end, are these examples truly paradoxical (forgetting for a moment Einstein’s inseparable fusion of time and acceleration)? Only if you concede that time is actual, which it is not. If you concede that time is merely a concept created by man’s conscious mind to organize a specific qualification of the relative movement of objects and agents in man’s environment, then you can understand that it isn’t a paradox at all. It is merely that the nature of conceptual abstractions are inherently paradoxical (contradictory) when we assume that they somehow exist as real entities which are distinct from the material context. When that happens, all concepts ultimately boil down to a value of either zero or infinity, which means that they must at some point contradict and conflict with the material universe. But if they don’t actually exist then they cannot actually be paradoxical, because they cannot actually BE anything. They are purely abstract, and serve man’s cognitive organizational needs, period. Full stop. Any “paradoxes” are irrelevant.
Let’s examine this further in the next post.