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Can Time Be Circular And Eternal, Rather Than Linear And Finite?

Dear Ben,

I am a skeptic and I have recently read your article "Escaping the Matrix And Other Possible Worlds" in which you deal with René Descartes' famous abstraction on skepticism (sometimes called the "brain-in-the-vat" argument). There, you make a very strong claim about the impossibility of any conceptual world being "beginningless" or eternal. I have to admit that the argument sounded pretty convincing. But I don't wish for you to advance it in an unchallenged way. I like to look at all the possible options and give every involved concept its due diligence. I’m a huge fan of drawing religiously unbiased conclusions (wherever possible). Now, you are a very intelligent person, and you seem very sure of your position. But what if you're wrong? For example, how can you be sure that the true nature of time is really linear and beginningless? What if the true nature of time is really circular and eternal? Couldn't that be possible as well? In that case, how does your argument fair? Please respond.



Hey Mark!

Thank you for your kind inquiry. Of course, I am certainly willing to explore alternatives. Lest there be some suspicion of my having advanced but one plausible solution amongst a larger set of competing alternatives, here is my reply.

First, concerning Descartes' basic argument, it's important to understand that any solution we offer needs to be “axiomatic” in nature. This is true because there is no other way to resist skepticism—a point which would make any solution we offer (including yours!) impossible to establish. For this reason, the solution I offer in my article is based on an important primitive truth predicate—namely: “If propositions (such as the existence of God) can be shown to be axiomatic, then it follows that such propositions are objectively true.”

Now, because of the obvious constraint this poses to our discussion, our solutions (whatever they be), need to accord to with that which is "logically possible." This is crucial to understand. My insistence that the range of possibilities we consider be coherent is not some kind of intrusive “subjunctive requirement” which I have awkwardly inserted into the middle of the exercise. It is rather a predicate to the whole challenge from the get-go. And it is one which precludes the possibility of circular time. Permit me to explain why...

Let's say that I start with a blank white board. I then place my pen on the surface and render a simple, colorless circle. Now, if I am to complete the shape of the object, I must arrive, back where I started. This will be true, no matter which direction I render the circle, whether to my right or to my left. In both cases, I must arrive back where I started. Otherwise, I have not closed the circle. Nor could I be said to have drawn a true circle without closing it.

Now—take the same circle and place it on a rectilinear diagram. This will also give us the ability to plot as many intervals as we like along the circle's curve. In this way, time can be observed to be uniformly measured. And that will be handy to our experiment!

Lastly, let's arbitrarily choose a point on the circle and call it “T0” (a canonical title for “initial time”). This will prove critical for us as we move through the circle. For every other proceeding point on the diagram may then be subsequently titled: “T1” “T2” “T3” etc...

Now...notice that at as we move along the circle, no matter how many finite points we plot along the diagram (short of constructing an infinite set), we will eventually arrive back at “T0” (initial time). Moreover, once we do, time is now redundantly tracing all the same, previous points (“T1” “T2” etc...). This raises some significant philosophical problems. For now we are beginning to wonder which direction time was moving in the first place, since from the start of T0, we were already moving “back to the future.” Yet we were undoubtedly moving forward in time as well since our numeric set clearly increased in value (i.e. “T1” “T2” “T3” etc...). This therefore seems to demonstrate that our model was prone to yield self-contradictory answers from the get-go, which makes it suspect.

But there’s more… Let's say that we decide at the outset of our second pass ‘round the circle to relabel all our integers as “prime” (i.e. “T1 prime” “T2 prime” “T3 prime” etc.—in order to somehow disambiguate each interval). But this only raises additional problems. For while seeming to be a solution to the above set of issues, it could also be reasonably argued that we are simply reverting back to lineal time again, in which case, why call it a circle at all? The diagram is now conceptually indistinguishable from “normal” time. And so that’s why there are obstacles with circular time being a feasible defeater to the theistic solution I have offered in my article.

So I hope that helps! And thanks for your question! Stop back anytime.


Ben Fischer <><

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