Tag Archives: time

Tyler Cowen

Einstein’s theory of relativity suggests that there is no fact of the matter as to when “now” is. Any measurement of time is relative to the perspective of an observer. In other words, if you are traveling very fast, the clocks of others are speeding up from your point of view. You will spend a few years in a spaceship but when you return to earth thousands or millions of years will have passed. Yet it seems odd, to say the least, to discount the well-being of people as their velocity increases. Should we pay less attention to the safety of our spacecraft, and thus the welfare of our astronauts, the faster those vehicles go? If, for instance, we sent off a spacecraft at near the velocity of light, the astronauts would return to earth, hardly aged, millions of years hence. Should we—because of positive discounting—not give them enough fuel to make a safe landing? And if you decline to condemn them to death, how are they different from other “residents” in the distant future?

Tyler Cowen, ‘Caring about the Distant Future: Why it Matters and What it Means’, University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 74, no. 1 (Winter, 2007), p. 10

James MacKaye

Happiness or misery are no better and no worse in the year 10,000 B. C. than in the year 10,000 A. D. If they are, then there is no reason why they are not better or worse on Wednesdays than on Thursdays.

James MacKaye, The Politics of Utility, Boston, 1909, p. 39

Juan José Saer

Un poco más tarde, cuando el trago de café que quedaba en el fondo de la taza estaba ya frío, Leto alzó la vista de las hojas mecanografiadas, y apoyando la nuca en el respaldo del sillón y contemplando el cielorraso, se puso a pensar en el hombre que tenía que matar. Esa atención al objeto que era el blanco de todos sus actos desde hacía varios meses duró poco, porque sus asociaciones lo fueron llevando, lentamente, a pensar en la muerte en general. El primer pensamiento fue que, por más que acribillara a balazos a ese hombre, como pensaba hacerlo, nunca lograría sacarlo por completo del mundo. El hombre merecía la muerte: era un dirigente sindical que había traicionado a su clase y al que el grupo al que Leto pertenecía hacía responsable de varios asesinatos. Pero, pensaba Leto como si hubiese ido sacando sus ideas del vacío grisáceo que se extendía entre la lámpara y el cielorraso, matarlo era sacarlo de la acción inmediata, no de la realidad.

Juan José Saer, ‘Amigos’ in La mayor, Buenos Aires, 1976

Brooke Alan Trisel

[T]he things we have created will eventually vanish once human beings are no longer around to preserve them. However, achievements are events, not things, and events that have occurred cannot be undone or reversed. Therefore, it will continue to be true that our achievements occurred even if humanity ends. One disadvantage of having an unalterable past is that we cannot undo a wrongdoing that occurred. However, an unalterable past is also an advantage in that our achievements can never be undone, which may give some consolation to those who desire quasi-immortality.

Brooke Alan Trisel, ‘Human Extinction and the Value of Our Efforts’, The Philosophical Forum, vol. 35, no. 3 (Fall, 2004), p. 390

Arthur Prior

[H]alf the time I personally have forgotten what the date is, and have to look it up or ask somebody when I need it for writing cheques, etc.; yet even in this perceptual dateless haze one somehow communicates, one makes oneself understood, and with time-references too. One says, e.g., “Thank goodness that’s over!”, and not only is this, when said, quite clear without any date appended, but it says something which it is impossible that any use of a tenseless copula with a date should convey. It certainly doesn’t mean the same as, e.g. “Thank goodness the date of the conclusion of that thing is Friday, June 15, 1954”, even if it be said then. (Nor, for that matter, does it mean “Thank goodness the conclusion of that thing is contemporaneous with this utterance”. Why should anyone thank goodness for that?)

Arthur Prior, ‘Thank Goodness That’s Over’, Philosophy, vol. 34, no. 128 (January, 1959), p. 17

Albert Einstein

Nun ist [Michele Besso] mir auch mit dem Abschied von dieser sonderbaren Welt ein wenig vorausgegangen. Dies bedeutet nichts. Für uns gläubige Physiker hat die Scheidung zwischen Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft nur die Bedeutung einer wenn auch hartnäckigen Illusion.

Albert Einstein, Letter to Vero Besso and Bice Besso, March 21, 1955, in Pierre Speziali (ed.), Albert Einstein: Correspondance avec Michele Besso, 1903-1955, Paris, 1972, pp. 537-538

Arthur Cecil Pigou

[T]here is wide agreement that the State should protect the interests of the future in some degree against the effects of our irrational discounting and of our preference for ourselves over our descendants. The whole movement for ‘conservation’ in the United States is based on this conviction. It is the clear duty of Government, which is the trustee for unborn generations as well as for its present citizens, to watch over, and, if need be, by legislative enactment, to defend, the exhaustible natural resources of the country from rash and reckless spoliation.

Arthur Cecil Pigou, The Economics of Welfare, 4th ed., London, 1932, pp. 29-30