Non-Newtonian Time, Memory, and Newtonian Time: The Basis of the Metaphysics of Memory

I’ve read The Economics of Time and Ignorance. The wiki article below tries to capture the critique presented in the book.

From my perspective, I think the perception that time is not a constant is correct. But I do not like the formulation being used by O’Driscoll and Rizzo. It appeals to the “existence”‘ of time.

My metaphysics is based upon memory, the constructs in memory, and the utility of memories. For those people who follow what I write, this is the Metaphysics of Memory I refer to, meaning that “existence” used in philosophy is a meaningless construct. There is a material world out there made of matter, we perceive it, and, based on the properties of our memories, we form objects that are utilitarian. They are utilitarian in the sense that our memories can construct them and make use of them. So existence, in the scientific or Platonic sense, is a meaningless concept. The world consists of matter. Our minds consist of objects, some of which are extremely complex, and some of which are tools for computing and comparing complex things beyond our perceptions: myths, narratives, numbers, logic, and formulae. Existence in any form is a concept of STATEFULNESS that simply is one of the tools we use to calculate so that the objects we can hold in our minds are simple enough to compare.

But this comparison is made simple by removing the most complex element: variation over time.

What we really do, and what we need to do, is compare processes IN time. Using static time is simply a tool for simplifying comparison.

So our formal logic is constructed of things that are applicable to the material world that operates by a fixed time, the time at which the material world unfolds. And that time frame is useful because it is a constant.

But time is different for the mind. It is a variable. People not only perceive time very differently, but they form networks of utility with each object in the network, or each process in the network, functioning at the same periodicity. This is how they make comparisons between objects. One cannot compare an outcome today against an outcome a year from now. These things have little utility in common.

Newtonian time is useful in the physical world. In the human world, in the world of economics, it is a metronome, or a clock which is constant, against which we measure our own actions so that we can coordinate with others. However, time is different, both in perception and in planning, or in the network of objects people use to build their framework of reference by which they grasp and interact with the world.

The very purpose of thought is to compress time, to be able to plan and thing AHEAD of real time. Newtonian time exists to calculate physical things, not mental things. If it were otherwise there would be no point in thinking. Reason would be pointless. One of the reasons that memory must be more simple than the real world is so that we can run models of the future so that we can choose between them and act BEFORE the current reality plays out. So thinking is compressing time.

Specifically, O’Driscoll and Rizzo point to three elements of Newtonian time in standard economic theory:

  1. Homogeneity. All points in time are treated the same (except their temporal coordinate) and thus time can pass without a change in the environment. Endogenous change in economic agents is not given, including learning.
  2. Mathematical continuity. Just as each point in time is static, each point is disconnected from all other points. The mathematical nature of Newtonian time demands infinite divisibility, thus time does not “flow” from one period to the next; it leaps. “A Newtonian system is merely a stringing together of static states and cannot endogenously generate change” (p 55).
  3. Causal inertness. Because time is independent from its contents, all change in the system must be presumed from initial assumptions. Thus Newtonian models lack “genuine change” and “time literally adds nothing” (p 55, emphasis in original).

The authors contrast Newtonian time with real time. They maintain “a Newtonian system is merely a stringing together of static states and cannot endogenously generate change. Each period (or point) is thus isolated. Consequently, either we have the mere continuation of a period (no change) or we have change without the ability to show how it could be generated by the previous period” (O’Driscoll and Rizzo, 55).


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