Quora answer: Is time discrete or continuous?

The nondual answer is that it is something other than
continuous, discrete, both and neither (i.e. the tetralemma of Buddhism). Seehttp://nondual.net.

First we should note that the difference between continuous and discrete is not settled. As we look into it it becomes more and more difficult to say what this difference is. But one way to look at it is that it is like the difference between set and mass approaches to things that shows up in language as count and non-count nouns. Our culture has a bias toward set-like approaches which we can see in math where most categories are discrete, with just a few like topology and geometry being continuous. It gets down to the question of what is continuity in the real number line, and I think this is ultimately an open question.

But this topic is a good place to look into how the tetralemma works. Let us say we know how to make a good distinction which holds between discrete and continuous. Then when we apply it to time we normally think of time as linear, something like the real number line of instants. And we think of its continuity or discontinuity in terms of limits in calculus. Its continuity could be an integral and its discontinuity could be a derivative. Of course, that assumes that the line is not necessarily straight. It is something like a geodesic world line.

Planck’s constant tells us that there is a minimal spacetime unit we can distinguish. But when we put Quantum Mechanics together with Relativity theory (not to mention Complexity theory) together at that scale we get absurdities, so we don’t know what to think.

The relation between continuous and discrete may be an uncertainty issue like others in physics and thus it could be that the fabric of spacetime is something beyond the distinction we project on it and thus somehow BOTH, but we only see one or the other depending how we make distinctions.

On the other hand since the reality beyond the distinction we project is hidden to us then it could be something like a noumena, and thus something other than continuous or discrete which is beyond our ability to grasp it.

An example of this might be Dunne’s idea that time is multi-dimensional which comes up again in F theory which is twelve dimensional beyond standard string theories and M theory. I call this view heterochronic. Something beyond our normal understanding of time is to think of it as being a concatenation of orthogonal time lines. But this does not address the question of how we make the distinction, and whether the distinction is there in the world or not, it merely complicates the issue by making us wonder what are the relations between these orthogonal time lines.

However, I think I have at least made a case that it is plausible to apply the tetralemma to time. Of course, it only opens up a can of worms, or perhaps wormholes.

But what Buddhism would want us to realize is that what ever we think time is it is something beyond all these possibilities we can formulate conceptually.

Dogen the Japanese Zen Buddhist calls this Existence-Time.

Existence-time is non conceptual and non-experiential and is in fact identical with emptiness in the Buddhist sense as a nondual state beyond all dualities but not different from the dualities, i.e. Emptiness is form and form is emptiness as the Heart Suttra tells us.

Orienting toward nondual time puts the distinction of continuous and discontinuous out of play, along with their possible combinations, or non-relations to phenomena.

How do we get to this impossible to obtain goal which somehow we already have obtained but just don’t know it? My answer to that is Special Systems Theory. That tells us that empty existence time has its own structure inherent in it. It is not a blank plenum. That structure embodies interpenetration and that is why emptiness is identified with interpenetration in Hua Yen buddhism of Fa Tsang. And we know that because there was a big bang that according to Bells theorem there is entanglement of everything with everything else in the universe in spite of the fact that it is accelerating in its expansion, i.e. that there is dark energy that is acting on everything that is entangled.

See Reflexive Autopoietic Dissipative Special Systems Theory athttp://works.bepress.com/kent_pa… for more details as to the nature of Special Systems Theory.

We are not caught in an either/or position. We do not have to choose between continuous and discrete time. Rather we can go deeper into time and realize its emptiness and our own. Ultimately that leads to the quandary concerning the duality between Buddhist emptiness and Taoist void, and the fact that there are dual nondual interpretations of existence.




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Posted January 27, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

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