John Ellis McTaggart (1866 - 1925) was a fellow and lecturer in philosophy at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1897 to 1923, and teacher to Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore. McTaggart, an idealist philosopher, is best known for his paper The Unreality of Time (1908). To quote McTaggart: ". . . . nothing that exists can be temporal, therefore time is unreal."
Eschatological preaching views the present time in the light of the future and it says to men that this present world, the world of nature and history, the world in which we live our lives and make our plans is not the only world; that this world is temporal and transitory, yes, ultimately empty and unreal in the face of eternity.
[ Jesus Christ and Mythology (1958) - page 23 ]
In Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles of the Philosophy of Nature (1687) time is absolute, and absolute time has two aspects:
(1) it is the same for everyone
(2) it is of infinite duration
Both aspects of absolute time have been abandoned by modern physicists, the first by Albert Einstein in a 1905 paper entitled: "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies", and the second by general agreement among physicists that the universe must have had a beginning. In Einstein's theory of relativity, the lapse of time between two events is different for two observers A and B in relative motion. A's clocks tick more slowly when observed by B, and B's clocks tick more slowly when observed by A. Thus the effect is reciprocal. This gives rise to the well-known phenomenon of time dilation and the so-called "twin paradox" in which a twin B travels out into space and returns home to find twin A much older. The twin paradox is controversial and has been raging for half a century. Actually, there is no paradox within the theory of relativity because twin B decelerates to a halt, turns round and then accelerates until the original speed is reached leading to a recalculation of time. Thus, time is relative and finite.
Time to eternity is zero
Let's spend a little time discussing them. Postulate I says that the physical cosmos has no reality in relation to the eternal. This idea may be disturbing because it's natural to regard solid things as real things: what is solid is real, and what is real is solid. Therefore, the world we live in - being solid - must be real. This argument is at the foundation of materialism and is frequently employed to maintain that the dissolution of the physical (i.e. real) body is the end of individual existence. But the argument is a tautology, like saying A = B therefore B = A. In fact, what we call "solid" is our subjective experience of conglomerations of atomic particles - called "matter" - and atomic particles are mostly empty space. The constituents of atoms - protons, neutrons and electrons - can only be understood as fields of force. At the subatomic level such notions as "solidity" are meaningless.Thus, our experience of solidity is really an illusion of the physical senses without reality at the most fundamental level of nature. Materialism - which proclaims the physical world to be the real world - is, therefore, based on a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of matter. But, those who are not convinced should consult the book by Professor Paul Davies and Dr. John Gribbin, The Matter Myth (1992), especially Chapter 1: The Death of Materialism.
The illusory nature of the physical cosmos - though recognized at an intellectual level - is not fully grasped by the individual until the physical body is discarded at "death". When this happens the physical world is seen to be unreal and the new world we find ourselves inhabiting becomes the "real" one. At some point in the evolution of the self, that world is left behind and the next world becomes the "real" world, and so on towards the infinite eternal. These worlds are not physical in the sense that the earth is physical but are interpenetrating spheres of consciousness, each with its own sense of "solidity" and experience of time. As such they may be referred to as temporal worlds. The physical cosmos is one of an infinite number of temporal worlds, but ultimately, none of them are real. Only the eternal is real. This idea is fundamental to all the great religions but expressed in different ways:
Hinduism the temporal cosmos is the Great Maya i.e. the Great Illusion
Buddhism only nirvana is real
Islam "All that is with you passeth away, but that which is of God abideth" (The Koran)
Judaism "Unhappy is the man who mistakes the branch for the tree, the shadow for the substance" (The Talmud)
Christianity "The things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians, 4:18)
That the physical cosmos has no ultimate reality has been eloquently expressed by the Lutheran theologian Rudolf Bultmann:
It's ironic that the so-called "Theory of Everything" - popularized by Stephen Hawking - which purports to explain how the physical cosmos created itself out of nothing, is really a "Theory of Nothing" because - ultimately - only nothing can emerge from nothing! This leads to a natural interpretation of the theory, namely, that the physical cosmos is nothing i.e. has no reality.
One of the most surprising features of the refutation of reincarnation is that it is not necessary to comprehend the nature of the eternal or even the nature of the temporal - merely the relationship between them and this leads to a most interesting result: if the temporal cosmos has no reality in relation to the eternal, then time to eternity is zero. Since this result is fundamental to the refutation we shall highlight it:
It is a common mistake to equate eternity with infinite time i.e. time without beginning and end. Time is necessarily finite and, according to modern physicists, begins and ends with the physical cosmos. If time is finite then eternity must be timeless (See, for example, Paul Helm's Eternal God: A study of God without Time (1988). Professor Helm builds his thesis on the premise that eternity is timeless).
The formula: 'time to eternity is zero' is the quantitative equivalent of the unreality of time, an idea popularized by the twentieth century philosopher, John McTaggart and, much earlier, by Greek philosophers, Parmenides of Elea, Plato, Aristotle, Sextus Empiricus and by the Christian theologian, Augustine of Hippo. Although time seems real enough when it's being experienced, it can be shown to be unreal. The best argument, to date, is in Augustine's Confessions. Augustine demonstrates that time is unreal by proving that the present moment doesn't really exist.
(See also, Davies and Gribbin, The Matter Myth - Chapter 3: The Mysterious Present)
In physics time is measured not defined. But measuring something and calling it "time" does not mean that time is real any more than sticking a horn on a donkey and calling it a "unicorn" means that unicorns are real. Actually, physics is moving away from the notion that time is real. In A Brief History of Time (1988) Stephen Hawking - discussing the technical difficulties of solving Feynman's quantum equations - proposes that time be made imaginary. To quote Hawking:
Can the unreality of time be demonstrated in more mundane terms? The simple answer is yes because the most common measure of time - clock time - is a fiction. Clocks - whether digital or mechanical - are pre-adjusted to match the motion of the earth. When 24 "hours" have elapsed, the earth has made one complete rotation on its axis. If the earth rotated at half its normal speed, and clocks adjusted accordingly, the standard unit of time - say one second - would seem twice as long. When about 365 of these rotations have been made, and the earth has completed one orbit of the sun, one "year" has elapsed. But, these measures of time are purely conventional. If the motion of the earth stopped completely, clock time would cease, although the subjective experience of waiting would continue. So there we have it; time is the subjective experience of waiting.
It is sometimes argued that regular movements - like the arm of a metronome - correspond to regular times, but how can we know that the movements are regular without some independent measure of time? It is a common mistake to associate change, or motion, with time. In the Journal of Philosophy, 66 (1969) Sidney Shoemaker says: "The claim that time involves change must of course be distinguished from the truism that change involves time." If it is a truism that change involves time, then change can be used to measure time. We shall show that if change is used to measure time, then time cannot be used to measure change without contradiction. Let's suppose that time passes when something changes. Consider a car moving along the road. As the car moves from A to B, the total distance travelled changes from a smaller to a larger amount. Let the change in distance be D and the time elapsed be T. Since we are assuming that time passes with the motion of the car we can use the motion of the car to measure the passage of time. Let's suppose that the time elapsed is proportional to the distance travelled i.e. T = kD. Furthermore, let's define the units of time so that k = 1. We then have the simple formula T = D. Suppose the car is travelling with a speed of, say, 5 metres per second. Since speed is distance (D) divided by time (T) we have D/T = 5. But, we already know that T = D and this implies that D/T = 1. We have proven that 1 = 5! Conclusion: change cannot be used to measure time. Hence, change does not involve time. An example of change without time can be found in the field of mathematics. For example, the digits 1, 2, 3 . . . to infinity change from 1 to infinity in no time at all; but counting them involves the subjective experience of waiting.
What are we left with? The subjective experience of waiting. But, the subjective experience of waiting is illusory - like the "solidity" of matter. Waiting for an urgent phone call may seem interminable, but if the mind is otherwise engaged the same amount of clock "time" will pass in a flash. Six weeks in a penitentiary will seem longer than six weeks in a holiday camp. For someone under a general anaesthetic, an operation will happen instantaneously. A whole life-time may pass before the eyes of a drowning man. The list is endless. But, if time is illusory within the mind, and has no reality outside the mind, then time is unreal.
Postulate II states that all things belong to the temporal or the eternal. It is not necessary to comprehend the nature of the eternal nor even the nature of temporal in order to accept this postulate. One need only accept that the categories exist and that anything can belong to them. If something belongs to either of two categories one would assume it doesn't belong to both, but in logic "either or" can include "both." Thus, as the postulate stands, something could be both temporal and eternal. However, it can be proven (Refuted - Proposition A, p. 101) that the temporal and the eternal are mutually exclusive. In other words, if something is eternal it cannot be temporal, and if something is temporal it cannot be eternal. But, can something be neither temporal nor eternal? Not according to Postulate II which states that all things belong to one or the other. Hence, the temporal and the eternal are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. An important consequence of Postulate II and Proposition A is that anything belonging to the temporal is of finite duration, and anything of finite duration belongs to the temporal (Refuted - Proposition B, p. 101.)
An eternal quality may have temporal manifestations but, when these manifestations have withered, the eternal quality remains. For example, divine love may manifest itself in the temporal as personal love; but when personal love has passed away, divine love remains. The human self is immortal (Postulate III) but manifests itself in the temporal as a physical body. When the physical body dies, the immortal self remains. Although the manifestations of the self are temporal, the self is not extant in time. (Refuted - Proposition C, p. 101). We, thus, identify a principal fallacy in the doctrine of reincarnation. If the self transmigrates from one physical body to another then it transmigrates along a notional time line because physical bodies exist in time. But, if the self transmigrates through time the self must be extant in time and anything extant in time must belong to the temporal. If the self belongs to the temporal it must be of finite duration (Proposition B) and anything of finite duration cannot be immortal. Hence, reincarnation implies that the human self is mortal. (Refuted - Proposition F, p. 440.) This is summed up by saying that reincarnation and immortality are logically incompatible.
To counter the above it might be argued that because the transmigrating self is eternal it manifests itself in time without being extant in time. But, if such is the case then its manifestations are simultaneous because to an eternal being all events are simultaneous (Refuted - Proposition D, p. 102). If all its manifestations are simultaneous then the self is not uniquely expressive. This is a violation of Postulate IV which insists that the self does not incarnate in more than one physical body simultaneously (see below). Thus, either the self transmigrates through time, in which case it violates the postulate of immortality (Postulate III), or it does not transmigrate through time, in which case it violates the postulate of individuality (Postulate IV). Either way, reincarnation is untenable. This result is the substance of Proposition G, p. 440 of Refuted which states that all theories of reincarnation violate Postulates III or IV. Since the postulate of individuality cannot be disputed by rationally minded people - individuals are not flocks of pigeons or colonies of termites - transmigration must be a temporal process. Hence, the previous assertion - reincarnation and immortality are logically incompatible - stands. This shows that reincarnationism is not very different from materialism. In one case the self is annihilated after one incarnation, in the other, it is annihilated after a finite number of incarnations. But, their similarity shouldn't be surprising because neither offer anything beyond the physical body.
Postulate III - immortality - is probably accepted by a majority of humankind in one form or another. Materialists maintain - on the basis of what evidence? one may ask - that the dissolution of the physical body leads to personal annihilation, but in their heart of hearts they probably believe otherwise. (Death-bed conversions are legion!) But, it must be said at once, entertaining the notion of personal annihilation is a strange and self-contradictory activity at best. How can one be, and then not be? In the words of philosopher, Ayn Rand "existence is", and what is does not need to be predicated by anything. If Postulate III is not true, then the human self belongs to the temporal (Proposition C, p. 101 - Refuted), and if it belongs to the temporal, it has no reality in relation to the eternal (Postulate I) which is to say it doesn't really exist. If, on the other hand, Postulate III is true then the human self belongs to the eternal which is to say it's immortal (Proposition C, p. 101 - Refuted). Thus, we have only two alternatives:
(1) the human self doesn't really exist
(2) the human self is immortal.
In effect, the materialist is saying: "I don't really exist," which places him in the absurd position of having to explain how a non-existent self can proclaim its own non-existence! All this is very reminiscent of the creation-out-of-nothing dogma. Interestingly, one can say "I am immortal".
The reasonableness of human immortality can be established by a modified version of Pascal's wager. Pascal's wager was originally applied to belief in God, but it can be applied to belief in immortality. Assume that immortality produces an infinite gain, and personal annihilation produces a zero gain, and each have an equal chance of being true. Then,
(i) Probability of an infinite gain (if the human self is immortal) = 1/2
(ii) Probability of a zero gain (the human self is mortal) = 1/2
(iii) The expected value of the wager = (infinity x 1/2) + (0 x 1/2) = infinity
Thus, any finite wager in favour of immortality will have an expected value of infinity, and any finite wager in favour of annihilation will have an expected value of zero. Therefore, any finite wager in favour of immortality must be superior to any finite wager in favour of annihilation.
Survival of bodily death is often equated with immortality, but the two things are quite different. While immortality implies bodily survival, bodily survival does not imply immortality. The latter assertion has been demonstrated above in the case of reincarnation. Thus, those who busy themselves promoting reincarnation as the "golden road" to survival are - like good materialists - promoting the "golden road" to annihilation. Survival of bodily death is a relatively easy thing to establish - see the Case of Jasbir - and does not need the doctrine of reincarnation nor endless investigation nor endless wrangling. The real issue is immortality. But, then, immortality is just a rational way of looking at the world. "I am" is a timeless utterance, and what is timeless is eternal. Thus, to say "I am" is to assert one's immortality.
Postulate IV - individuality - says that the human self is uniquely expressive. On earth, individuality is expressed through the physical body, that is to say, one individual one body, not one individual many bodies. But, this is a statement of the obvious. No rationally-minded person would believe that a group of people living and working at the same time are one individual. Individuals have the power and inclination to make choices, to think freely, to agree, to decline, to give, to take, to love and to hate, and to be distinct from one another in host of different ways; and, herein, lies the clue to the refutation of reincarnation. Contemporaneous physical bodies are coexistent in space and can be perceived by the physical senses as different individuals, but non-contemporaneous physical bodies are not coexistent in space and cannot be perceived by the physical senses as different individuals. In the former case, no one would associate many physical bodies with one individuality, but in the latter case they do. The reason for this disparity is that the physical senses have spatial but not temporal vision, that is to say, they can perceive things across space but they cannot perceive things across time. This temporal myopia is behind the doctrine of reincarnation. The solution is to use eternal vision. To an eternal being all events are simultaneous. What seems to be a sequence of non-contemporaneous physical bodies to temporal vision, are co-existent physical bodies to eternal vision. But, if they are co-existent to eternal vision, they are always co-existent and if they are always co-existent they cannot be sequential. Thus, the apparent sequential ordering of physical bodies across time - like the "solidity" of matter - can be seen as a product of the myopic physical senses. To an eternal being, time and space - being unreal - are indistinguishable from one another which means that individuality is expressed across time in exactly the same way as it is expressed across space, namely, one physical body one individual, many physical bodies many individuals. More precisely: there is a one to one correspondence between individuals and physical bodies. For further discussion of this assertion the reader may consult Refuted. Suffice it to say here that if, for example, conjoined twins are thought to be sharing one physical body, Postulate IV would not be violated because each individual would still be expressing itself in exactly one physical body though the relationship between individuals and physical bodies would – in mathematical parlance – now be one to one, many to one. Thus nothing is to be gained by introducing this complication. We shall therefore adopt the convention that the physical body of conjoined twins are two physical bodies joined together thus preserving the one to one relationship.
For those who believe in the immortality of the self, the refutation of reincarnation can be developed as a series of formal propositions beginning with the Four Postulates. The principal proposition - Proposition E - is that the human self does not incarnate more than once. Readers who wish to study the proofs of these propositions may refer to Refuted for details. Note that the problem of karma is irrelevant to the refutation in this setting. For those who do not accept the postulate of immortality - this includes devotees of the Buddhist faith - the analysis of karma alone is sufficient to prove that single incarnation is the only viable alternative. Either way, reincarnation is refuted.
The temporal to the eternal is unreal
All things belong to the temporal or the eternal
The human self is immortal
The human self is uniquely expressive
THE FOUR POSTULATES
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz
To avoid the technical difficulties of Feynman's sum over histories, one must use imaginary time. That is to say, for the purposes of the calculation, one must measure time using imaginary numbers, rather than real ones. This has an interesting effect on space-time: the distinction between time and space disappears completely (p. 134)
Newton's concept of time was attacked by his contemporary, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) because it contradicted two fundamental philosophical principles:
(1) The 'principle of sufficient reason' which states that there must be a reason for something to exist rather than not to exist, or an event to occur rather than not to occur, or something to be true rather than not to be true,
(2) The 'identity of indiscernibles' which states that two or more objects or entities are identical (i.e. are one and the same entity) if they have all their properties in common.
Absolute time contradicts the 'principle of sufficient reason' because if the universe had been created at a particular moment of time, there is no conceivable reason why it should have been created at that moment as opposed to any other moment. If, on the other hand, it had been created at a particular moment of time, then absolute time contradicts the 'identity of indiscernibles' because prior to the creation of the universe all moments of time would be indistinguishable from one another - but in Newtonian theory all moments of time are distinct.
Firstly, Augustine notes that the past and future do not exist because future moments have not yet arrived and past moments are gone. Furthermore, the present cannot always be present because, then, it would not flow into the past but be eternal. But can any time be present? For example, can the current year be present? Since a year can be divided into months, some months are in the past and no longer exist, and some months are in the future and do not yet exist. Hence, only the current month can be present. But since a month can be divided into days, some days are in the past and no longer exist, and some days are in the future and do not yet exist. Hence, only the current day can be present. But since a day can be divided into hours, some hours are in the past and no longer exist, and some hours are in the future and do not yet exist. Hence, only the current hour can be present. But this argument can be repeated for any division of the day, however small. No interval of time, however small, can claim to be present since some part of the interval belongs to the past and no longer exists, and some part of the interval belongs to the future and does not yet exist. In the limit the duration of the present is exactly zero. But if the past no longer exists, the future does not yet exist and no time can be present, then time cannot exist. If time doesn't exist, then it cannot be real.