Is the universe infinite in time? If no, the universe must have a beginning, which implies that something can come into existence out of nothing. This is an obvious contradiction. But if the answer is yes, then there must be an infinite regress of causal links in the past. This too seems like a problem. What does Objectivism have to say on this?
That the universe exists.
I know that might sound like I am poking fun at your question, but I assure you I am not. The infinite is indeed an interesting concept. However, I am not sure that Objectivism has an answer to your question other than that "existence exists." If the existence of the universe requires an infinite regress of causal links (I will leave it up to the more adept Objectivists to weigh in on that subject), then so be it; if so, then we cannot say there is a problem with an infinite regress of causal links---we cannot cling to a syllogism if it requires denying the facts before us---i.e., existence exists. Either it is not true that the regress is required, or it is not a problem.
answered Dec 06 '11 at 21:45
The original question was: "Is the universe infinite in time?"
Judging by the many comments which this question has provoked, the term "universe" needs to be used extremely cautiously in philosophical discussions. Philosophers may take it to mean "existence," while others may take it to mean "physical world," with "world" interpreted broadly to include all matter (and possibly energy as well) in existence.
One comment provided an excellent reference on axiomatic concepts like "existence," namely, ITOE 2nd Ed., p. 58.
There is an even more extensive discussion of "The Physical World" and "Time" in the same book, pp. 245-251 and 256-260, respectively. Here is a sampling from the discussion of "physical world":
Prof. K: Some philosophers treat our knowledge that existence exists as equivalent to our knowledge that there is a physical world.... Is any variant of this position consistent with the Objectivist view of axioms and axiomatic concepts?
Refer to the complete ITOE2 discussion for the full details of this issue and its relation to the concept of "time."
Whenever someone uses the term "universe," it is essential to be very clear about recognizing that "universe" has two different senses, and about which sense is being used in any particular context. It would be even better to use the term "existence" instead of "universe" whenever "existence" is the intended concept.
Update: The Concepts of Existence, Universe, Change, and Time
There are a number of potentially useful articles on Wikipedia concerning time and the universe, including:
Here is the opening paragraph from "Age of the universe," with some ephasis added:
The age of the universe is the time elapsed since the Big Bang posited by the most widely accepted scientific model of cosmology. The best current estimate of the age of the universe is 13.75 ± 0.13 billion years (433.6 x 1015 seconds in SI units, or 13.75 Gigayears) within the Lambda-CDM concordance model. It is not known if something existed before the singularity that appeared at the moment of the Big Bang, nor if time is linear, since the expansion estimated by Hubble's law assumed a linear expansion, and later work indicates there may have been variations. The estimated changes in expansion are calculated to be both positive and negative, so Hubble and later estimates broadly agree.
This is a good example of what I mean by the difference between "universe," when used in this manner, and "existence" as an axiomatic metaphysical concept. Physicists evidently have learned how to trace the history of changes in the actions and forms of matter and energy all the way back to a point referred to as a "big bang," which is described in the "Big bang" article on Wikipedia as follows (emphasis added):
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly.
Note that the Big Bang theory says nothing about whether or not any matter or energy existed prior to the "bang," although the theory certainly implies that something must have existed, namely, some kind of very hot and dense "bundle" which then proceeded to "explode." So where did the starting "bundle" come from? How did it get there? So far, the Big Bang theory doesn't have any explanation to offer, and doesn't rule out a possible future explanation. There simply isn't enough evidence so far to trace the history of matter and energy back any farther than the Big Bang. It certainly would not be valid to claim that the "universe" didn't exist prior to the Bang; the theory itself implies that it did exist, just in a very different form (hot and dense) than what emerged after the Bang (cooling and far less dense). Furthermore, to avoid confusion with the axiomatic metaphysical concept of "existence," one really should refer to "universe" in the Big Bang context as "the presently known physical universe," or some such similar designation, since the main context of the Big Bang discussion is what came into existence after the Bang and as a result of it, without saying anything one way or the other about whether or not any matter or energy may have existed before the Bang. (From time to time, I've also seen suggestions that the matter and energy in the universe may actually have been undergoing repeated cycles of expansion and collapse, and that the most recent Big Bang may have been preceded by a long period of collapsing rather than expanding, until it had collapsed into the incredibly "hot and dense" state from which the most recent Big Bang proceeded. I have no idea how credible this cyclic "expanding-and-contracting" speculation may be from a scientific viewpoint.)
It is also essential to clarify what we mean by "time" in a context in which the normal earthly frame of reference for that concept didn't yet exist, i.e., the interval between the Bang and the formation of our present solar system. Ayn Rand's explanation of "time" in ITOE2 (pp. 256-260, especially pp. 259-260) may help to clarify how man forms the concept of "time." As I understand it, the facts of reality that serve as man's basis for "time" are the changes in existents that man observes and remembers, including internal changes in matter and energy as well as motions of entire entities relative to each other. All man needs is a succession of changes to form at least a rudimentary concept of "time" (along with the related concepts of present, past and future). Highly cyclic changes are most helpful, such as the earth's rotation on its axis or revolutions around the sun, or man's own heartbeat (which can vary significantly), or invented devices of all sorts, including electronic oscillators that generate highly periodic electrical pulses which other electronic devices can then count and display (as in a digital clock).
When physicists reach conclusions about the "age" of the presently known physical universe, they are doing so by tracing the succession of changes which they can observe and/or infer as far back (sequentially) as the evidence and theoretical understanding will allow. This is entirely a process of integrating available evidence, including inferred rates of change as well as the various types of change that matter and energy undergo as the universe (i.e., the presently known physical universe) develops.
Update: The "Bang," before and after
As of the moment of this update being posted, there have been 24 comments on John's first answer, and another 24 comments so far on his second answer -- mostly from Anthony and (in response) John. I, for one, have found it extremely difficult to discern exactly what Anthony's position is, although the comments have gradually made it more clear, if I understand Anthony's formulations correctly (and I am absolutely certain that he will quickly object most vigorously if I have misunderstood anything he has said in any way).
The essential claims seem to be (a) that physicists are probably correct in concluding that all of the presently understood matter and energy in the universe came from the explosion of an incredibly "hot and dense" bundle of some kind about 13.75 billion earth years ago, and (b) that that event was literally the beginning of "time" as we presently know and understand it. Point (b) evidently is based on the principle of time as relative to motion, and the apparent view (implicit and taken for granted) that no motion existed prior to the explosion in question (known as "The Big Bang").
I see problems with (b), however, and my observations are physics issues, not specifically philosophical issues, except insofar as philosophy underlies all the special sciences. (I can hear in my mind Anthony objecting already, although I can't project what his objections might prove to be.) First, the Big Bang theory in physics, as I understand it (and I grant that my understanding may be inaccurate) says nothing, so far (from the available evidence), about the initial starting "bundle" -- how it came to exist and what might have preceded it. The theory says only that something existed and exploded, and that the initial "something" was incredibly "hot and dense."
Now, being "hot" generally implies motion -- motion of something -- even if the mass is so great that the aggregate gravitational forces are too strong to allow light to escape (as in a "black hole"). The "bundle" that started the Big Bang was apparently teeming with internal motion ("hot"); it was not like a cold, dense rock. (I suppose some might try to claim that it was cold first, but then spontaneously became very hot as the Bang began. In that case, where could the energy have come from to make it get hot? And if we extrapolate backwards before the heating, from the concept of time and rates of change that we form from evidence available after the Bang, how long might the starting "bundle" have been "cold" before it became "hot"? The "time interval" thus inferred may be impossible to quantify without a greater history of change, but at least it would probably be far longer than the interval in which the Bang itself occurred. Again, constructive, knowledgeable clarification would be welcome, if anyone can provide it.)
The Big Bang theory says nothing one way or the other about whether or not the starting "bundle" may have had a prior history (as a black hole does, for instance). Physicists so far don't have enough evidence to say that there either was or was not any prior history for the starting "bundle." But physics certainly can project, from what is known, that an initial something surely must have come from somewhere, somehow, and was not a spontaneous ex nihilo creation. While physics has insufficient evidence and theoretical understanding to affirm the existence of a prior history before the Big Bang, neither can physics rule it out, nor deny that the existence of a prior history preceding the Big Bang must logically be regarded as a definite metaphysical possibility. Such prior history almost certainly would have included change of some kind, potentially leading to a trail of evidence that might eventually be correlated to the passage of time as it has become known to us subsequently to the Bang.
This isn't mysticism; it is a logical projection from existing knowledge, if I understand the physics correctly. (Anthony is welcome to enlighten us, here, if he can do so in an understandable, explanatory manner for what is basically a lay audience.) One must not confuse that which exists with that which man has any means of knowing (if anyone is doing that). Existence exists independently of man's awareness of it, as the history of man's knowledge has demonstrated repeatedly. In many cases, man eventually discovers ways of knowing, and makes startling new discoveries about existence as well as man's methods of observing it.
And if there was a prior history before the Big Bang, which included a "trail" of changes in matter and energy, then one would expect that eventually physics would be able to quantify methods of measuring time intervals prior to the Big Bang without simply assuming the presence of a hypothetical pre-Bang and post-Bang observer who somehow escapes being part of the Bang himself. Again, I welcome constructive enlightenment here from a physics expert.
(Incidently, in answer to Anthony, I had understood Wikipedia's usage of "singularity" to mean basically just a very unique event, which the Big Bang is generally considered to have been. It turns out that in the Wikipedia formulation that I quoted, the term "singularity" is actually a link to an entire Wikipedia article titled, "Gravitational singulatiry," which explains Wikipedia's intended meaning in far greater detail. Those who are interested can check it out. Anthony also challenged the meaning of "moment of the Big Bang." My understanding is that the meaning of "Big Bang" isn't in question. That leaves the term "moment" as the essential issue in question, probably because it tends to imply a time measurement of some kind. Any such measurement would have to be made by means of the history of changes in matter and energy from the Bang to the present, along with projections of rates of change, including projections into the past, prior to the Big Bang. Man's conceptual faculty makes projections possible where no specific measurement methodology yet exists, but potentially could be discovered someday as physicists continue to learn more about the likely nature of the starting "bundle" and how it likely came to exist, i.e., its prior history, in a form capable of exploding.)
Update: Relation of Physics to Philosophy
After extensive additional discussion back and forth in the comments, both recently and two years ago, the most dominant physics claim that I have discerned is the claim that "time," as that term is used by modern physicists, had a specific "beginning," which occurred just a tiny fraction of a second before the "big bang," and that prior to this alleged beginning of time there was nothing that could be called "time," or from which to measure the passage of time, i.e., no motions or changes of any kind in any existents that may have existed prior to the "bang." If any existents did exist prior to the "bang," they must not have been moving or otherwise changing in any way, since such motion or change presumably would give rise to a means of measuring time prior to the "bang."
This claim about a "beginning of time" evidently is an implication from modern theories of physics. The key issues for Objectivists, then, are: is there anything in this claim that is inherently (provably) impossible on purely philosophical grounds, and did the physicists follow a valid cognitive methodology in reaching this claim?
Here are some examples of what modern physics reportedly claims, according to comments by Anthony.
... the question which provoked most of the discussion, is whether or not there is a limit to the measurement in time between past events and the present.
... how do you propose to factor in the effects of time dilation? Or do you reject the notion of time dilation as well?
Anthony did not explain what "time dilation" refers to, but I would tend to assume it refers to the effect of strong gravitational fields, and/or velocities of travel approaching the speed of light, on dramatically slowing the rate at which time passes.
I don't reject the notion that no matter how much we discover about the earliest known time period of the universe, we will always be able to discover something previous to it. But that does not imply that something existed 15 billion years ago. The time periods, according to the definitions of time, would get progressively smaller and smaller.
Elsewhere, Anthony explains that "15 billion years ago" is a non-existent length of time, since time began only about 13.75 billion years ago.
The theories state that "the explosion" (I assume you mean "inflation") occurred about 10^-33 seconds after what the theories refer to as the beginning of time.
Anthony didn't explain the difference between "explosion" and "inflation." I used "explosion" as referring to a very sudden and violent "inflating," with emphasis on the suddenness and violence of it.
My understanding is that time didn't start with "the explosion", but started about 10^-33 seconds before "the explosion".
In response to some of the comments by John two years ago, Anthony wrote:
Your comments about "time passing" and “its clock didn't run” seem to stem from a misunderstanding of what time is. Specifically, it seems to me you are treating time as absolute and universal. Have you ever taken an introduction to modern physics class?
I can't speak for John, but I certainly never took an introduction to modern physics class myself. I don't think they had one when I was in school (decades ago). I suspect many other readers of this website may be in a similar situation and, like me, will need further elaboration on what modern physicists are actually saying. Over the years, I've certainly heard of the "Big Bang," but I've never heard the claim that time didn't exist prior to a tiny fraction of a second before the "bang." To me, it also seems entirely consistent with general knowledge and the laws of physics to expect that when the "pre-universe" exploded, something must have existed in order for it to "explode." I haven't heard "big bang" proponents claim that the "bang" was an ex nihilo event, nor has Anthony claimed it. Apparently, then, the "stuff" that preceded the "bang" must have been totally motionless and changeless until it went "bang." That, in turn, doesn't seem consistent with the known laws of physics, as far as my own understanding currently extends. Do the equations of physics really predict that the sum total of all the matter in the entire known universe could have been packed into a tiny volume for a potentially prolonged (or at least unknown) duration without any motion or other change whatsoever? And what about the energy in the universe today? Did it all come from previously existing, motionless matter (perhaps in accord with Einstein's famous E = mc^2 relation)? Did conservation of energy and conservation of matter apply just as they do today (with Einstein's modifications) at the time of the "bang"?
Also, I haven't seen any explanation so far of how it is possible to establish time intervals like 13.75 billion years or 10^-33 seconds if "time dilation" means that the rate at which time passes was subject to radical change at about the time of the "bang," as compared to today. I see these as basic questions for the physicists to sort out (if they haven't already done so), not specifically questions for philosophy to affirm or deny, other than by reviewing the methodology of the physicists and helping to identify any contradictions or other methodological errors.
Update: More on fundamental concepts
In the comments, Anthony was asked the following question and gave a corresponding answer:
[Question:] Just what definition of "year" are you working from?
I believe this Q&A illustrates, unusually succinctly, the difference between concepts like "universe" and "time" as used in modern physics, versus their more general and philosophic usage. Philosophy, especially Objectivist philosophy, does not necessarily view those concepts in exactly the same way that modern physics evidently does, nor does philosophy necessarily mandate that modern physics can't properly offer more precise and delimited definitions for technical terms according to the needs of scientists' observations and discoveries. Many specialized sciences offer specialized definitions of key terms, definitions that are perfectly valid and useful within the scope of those sciences. But endless confusion can arise if the narrow scientific definitions are suddenly substituted for the basic philosophical definitions without clearly denoting which definition is being used.
Consider time, for instance. As a fundamental concept in general usage and in Objectivism, time is a very broad concept that depends primarily on changes of some kind in existents (not necessarily restricted to motion). Ayn Rand offered a very useful description of time in ITOE 2nd Ed., p. 260:
"Time," as the widest or parent abstraction of all subsequent and narrower measurements of time, is a change of relationship. You observe that certain relationships are changed, and you form the concept of "time." Then you can subdivide it into speed or duration or any other measurements. Speed and duration are really two aspects of the same type of measurement.
On page 274, Ayn Rand also reiterates the source of man's concepts:
The whole trick [principle] in talking about anything is to remember what it is you are talking about and where your definitions came from, and are they correct. You always look back at reality -- what do we mean by a given concept, or how did we get it?
Applying the broader, philosophical view of time to the modern physics view, an observer can very appropriately ask: what about the state of existence that preceded the state of "cosmic background radiation" being "isotropic"? If physics has nothing to say about that prior state of existence, then so be it. Maybe an updated theory of physics in the future will fill that deficit. Modern physics does, at least, seem to acknowledge that something must have existed prior to the Big Bang; the "Bang" didn't simply occur out of total nothingness. (The commenter has hinted at times that he doesn't necessarily accept the modern physics idea of a "Big Bang," but other comments by him certainly do seem to endorse the idea of a "Big Bang" of some kind happening just a fraction of a second after the "beginning of time.")
There is also the issue of how "big" in volume the BBM (Big Bang Mass, the "stuff" that subsequently went "bang") was prior to the bang. Modern physics, if I understand it correctly, seems to say that the size may actually have been quite small compared to its size today. Prior to the Big Bang, the BBM may have been an extremely dense mass, more dense than any known black hole.
I do not see why one couldn't perform a "thought experiment" hypothesizing a tiny "observer" existing prior to the "Big Bang," perhaps orbiting around the "Big Bang Mass" (BBM) at a safe distance allowing his own time clock to function and without being swiftly pulled into the BBM cloud. The very process of orbiting around and around could provide a basis for time measurement, if the "observer" has some way to recognize a reference position in its orbit based on non-uniform features of the BBM. One would think that a hypothetical observer of that kind would readily be able to sense the presence of the BBM before and after the "Big Bang," perhaps by gravity if not by light, and perhaps even be able to measure how long the pre-bang BBM existed in that pre-bang state. (Such an observer would be totally blown away by the "Bang," of course, probably leaving no discernible trace that it ever existed. This kind of thought experiment tries to adhere to the laws of physics, but projects what they would mean under physical conditions that may never actually have existed.) Modern physics might say that such a pre-bang observer is impossible because it or he would be "outside the universe." But modern physics would be using a specialized, modern physics view of "universe" in that case; the observer would be outside the BBM but not outside of existence.
Modern physics may also try to claim that such an observer is impossible because modern physics starts out in the "era" in which "cosmic microwave background radiation" is "isotropic," then works backward from that and simply cannot go any farther back than a point which modern physics calls "the beginning of time." But it is not valid to conclude, from that process, that such state of existence can't exist, but only that if it did exist, it isn't reachable (identifiable or analyzable) by the currently known methods of modern physics. It remains as an open challenge for physics to explore further when it become more feasible to do so.
Recognizing a contradiction is a good start. It provides the opportunity to examine one's knowledge for the error.
It is also important to note that in your identification, "which implies that something can come into existence out of nothing.", you are using the concept "universe" in the context of "all that exists", which is synonymous with the concept of "existence".
The application of infinite to time presents a couple of issues. Infinite gets its roots from the Greeks. The 'problem' of the infinite arises first in continuous quantity. Take a line, divide it in half. Divide the half in half. Aristotle points out that the infinite is a potential. No matter how many times you divide the line in half, you are left with something specific. (Note, if you physically cannot divide the line in half, you are done.) In the counting numbers, it is applied a little differently. You count 1,2,3 . . 8, 9 and when you add 1 more to it, you start another column and start with 1 again. If you have a hundred columns and they have all reached 9, you add 1, take the completed group of 10 and treat it as a unit, and add 1 to the next column and so on. If you are left with a 1 to carry, you begin another column. In this case, infinite is "bigger than any specific number", i.e. it is no number, rather it is a symbol for the method.
Time, is touched upon in this thread. If you wish to know how much time has passed, you need to additionally specify between when and when. An useful analogy may be in the consideration of distance. "How much distance is there?" You would also have to ask "How much distance is where?" You have to specify between what two locations.
To address the causal links, we keep in mind that causality links an action to the entity which acts. Leonard Peikoff in his book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand writes on page 16, "An entity may be said to have a cause only if it is the kind of entity that is non-eternal; and then what one actually explains causally is a process, the fact of its coming into being or another thing's passing away."
Time, in this regard, applies to that which is temporal. From the lexicon, to conclude, The universe is eternal in the literal sense: non-temporal, out of time. Harry Binswanger stated it in a slightly different way: "Time is in the universe, the universe is not in time."
The key to the answer of this question is the fact that time is an aspect of the universe, and does not exist outside the universe. Nothing exists outside the universe. The universe is everything, including all time.
Time is a measurement of motion, and motion, is, of course, in the universe.
With this recognition of the nature of time, it's clear the universe was never created, and that it will never stop existing. This is because the universe is whatever is.
The "duration of the existence of the universe" is an invalid idea, for it implies the existence of a time-keeper outside the universe. Nothing exists outside the universe.
The universe has actually existed for all time. There is no need to confuse things by bringing in any notion of the infinite, because the infinite, properly understood, represents a potential, as opposed to an actual quantity.
answered Dec 07 '11 at 10:25
John Paquette ♦
I'm unsatisfied with my first answer. It raised more questions than it answered.
Here's my new answer: The universe is infinite in time.
Time, as such is a potential -- the actual is now. Tomorrow does not actually exist yet, and the past doesn't exist any more. There is no problem with having an infinite amount of that which doesn't exist any more, nor an infinite amount of that which is yet to exist.
The actual, as in the actual amount of mass or energy in the universe, is finite. Anything which is actual is finite.
Time however, as in the progression from the past into the future, is infinite. If you specify any moment in the past, there was a moment beyond it. Likewise for the future. People may live and die, and therefore only experience a particular range of time, but the universe, i.e. existence, i.e. all that there is and was and will be is infinite in time.
That we have evidence that the physical world as we know it underwent a "big bang" in the past is irrelevant, philosophically. Philosophically, the fact that existence exists means that it never started existing. It has always been here. I'll just say that before the big bang, if it happened, the universe was whatever it was. Perhaps big bangs and crunches are cyclic. I don't know. But no physical science of any kind can argue that existence has ever not existed. "The universe" is existence.
The only alternative to "existence has always existed" is the idea that some consciousness existed at some time in the past when no physical form existed. That's the notion of "without form, and void", from the Bible. It's the idea that something non-existent brought the universe into existence.
The version of the Big Bang theory which holds the big bang as the cause of existence is simply secular creationism. The universe was not created, neither by a god, nor by anything else.
Anthony, please fully state your position, clearly.
I'm not going to argue it out of you. Put your cards on the table for all to see.
answered Dec 23 '11 at 11:15
John Paquette ♦
The universe (meaning everything that exists) just IS. It has no cause, because that cause would have to exist, which means it would be part of the universe. The universe is the metaphysically given. It just IS.
Does that mean "infinite time"? Who knows? Time in the physics world is an odd thing. Time certainly can't exist separately from the universe.
answered Jan 07 '12 at 09:51