Wednesday, July 16, 2008

here and now

There are many analogies between space and time.

I’d like to point out an alleged disanalogy between the import of two essential indexicals: “here” and “now.”

One way to display the (alleged) difference is to ask of “here” whether it is privileged or unique. Of course, there is an obvious sense in which it is unique or privileged. It is both to the one who uses the indexical in the context of locating oneself at a particular spatial place.

However, there is a sense in which “here” is completely generic and promiscuous. There are as many instances of “here” as there are ones who utter (or think) or possibly utter (or possibly think) things such as “I am here.” In an of itself, “here” does not point out any one privileged, particular place independent of users of the indexical. In other words, “here” or the property of hereness is user dependent.

It isn’t at all strange to the ears to hear something like: “If there were no persons, there would be no instances of ‘here,’ since ‘hereness’ is in some sense strongly experience-dependent.” (This is NOT to say that there would be no space or spatial locations minus perceivers.)

The situation appears different concerning “now.”

I think that it’s not too much of a stretch to say that many (perhaps most?) people think that “now” is special in a way that “here” is not. It is NOT merely perspectival as is the case with the utterly perspectival “here.” Instead, “now” seems to refer to a special property that time qua time has independently of persons or their language. My colleagues on the other side of Minneapolis (indeed, my friends as well on the other side of the globe) are certainly experiencing many different instances of “here” than I am, but they are surely experiencing the very same, one and only “now.” Our different perspectives do not appear to affect “now,” and thus the disanalogy.

It isn’t at all strange to the ears to hear something like: “If there were no persons, there would still be a privileged ‘now’ even in the absence of anyone to experience it.”

The importance of “now” is deployed to help make sense of the privileged uniqueness of the present, as opposed to the past and future, and the transition between past, present, and future. It seems undeniable that time passes, for lack of a better term. It also seems that once we leave the past behind, there’s no going back, because the “now” keeps chugging along (at its own pace, interestingly). Again, that’s different than “here,” where I can revisit previous “heres.” I can walk upstairs to the bedroom that used to be a place that I referred to as one of my instances of “here.”

While according well with everyday experience, this commonsense view (about the specialness of “now”) is probably wrong, and the disanalogies are not as deep as they might initially appear.

More on that (a) at a later time or (b) in the future [temporal expressions (a) and (b) do NOT mean the same thing]...
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