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CLOCK - How To Read It?

Home > Philosophy > 1997 After Postmodernism Conference > Matsuno (specific 1)

Koichiro Matsuno
Department of BioEngineering
Nagaoka University of Technology
Nagaoka 940-21, Japan

I would like to first address myself to the question of how many clocks are there in this world, who carry them and how to read time out of them.

The question is about the relationship between clocks and time. This question is of course not new. It is definitely more than a century old. One decisive solution attempted so far was due to Immanuel Kant. In essence, what he said was that each individual who can pretend to be a Transcendental Ego has its own clock in its mind, that is invisible. Every Transcendental Ego shares exactly the same clock that remains invisible, and accordingly immaterial. Time thus read out of the Transcendental Clock is and has to be globally synchronized, because every immaterial Transcendental Clock is claimed to be exactly the same. The global synchronization of time is a philosophical pre-condition of giving a consistent talk on our experience. So far, so good at least philosophically.

On the other hand, once we ask a simple-minded question of "Don't we need a real, material clock in our everyday life?", it would be required for us to face a physical problem of the relationship between a material clock and time. The forerunner addressing this physical question seriously was Isaac Newton. His recipe was that there is a universal clock out there, though not directly accessible to us. Instead, time read out of the universal clock is shared by all uniformly and homogeneously. Newtonian time is time for physics and is globally synchronized as with its mentor, Kantian time. In particular, what is more specific to Newtonian time compared to Kantian counterpart is that Newtonian time is explicit in transforming itself in a globally synchronous manner. That is a Galilean transformation. That guarantees a synchronization of our time, say, between in Chicago and in Tokyo. Of course, Newtonian time has its relativistic cousin, in the latter of which the global synchronization of time takes place through the Lorentz transformation in special relativity and through the covariant transformation in general relativity. The global synchronization of time is a physical pre-condition of doing a nice work in physics as we know of it today. That's enough for time in physics.

This quick overview of time both in philosophy and in physics, however, would leave us a little bit uneasy, since experiencing clocks as a brute fact is so obvious and so fundamental to us. Furthermore, at least historically, the presence of clocks preceded the abstraction of philosophical and physical time. This perspective does not contradict the fact that we can make a nice set of clocks out of physics. The point is that physics does work even if such nice clocks are not available right at the beginning.

In contrast, our empirical world is full of a wide variety of clocks. A good example of this is a fantastic array of biological clocks observed in the biosphere in general and in our bodies in particular. Each carrier of a clock can read time out of it while interacting with others as raising the question of what time do you have, constantly. And, if we want to make a nice philosophical or physical story out of a society consisting of a whole bunch of clocks of different sort, the synchronization of time is a must to the society, since the consistent talk always presumes an establishment of global synchronization, anyhow. Our human society on this planet just does this by inventing a social institution of asking everybody to refer to time in Greenwich England in a proper manner. In the same token, if a biological society or organization of any sort happens to be a nice subject matter to talk about not only biologically but also physically and even philosophically, it would become imperative to see whether it could really establish a global synchronization of time at all out of the whole array of clocks by themselves. Otherwise, we would lose our faith and confidence on giving a nice, consistent account on a biological stuff at least philosophically.

The main body of my question is going to touch upon and to see how clocks would come to synchronize with each other. We here notice that time associated with each clock is local and asynchronous with others in the sense that there is no a priori material means to establish a global synchronization. And yet, there must be an a posteriori material manifestation of a global synchronization of time. In short, the issue is whether time could really establish the global synchronization out of locally asynchronous time pertaining to each local clock. Philosophers and physicists haven't bothered themselves with this nasty problem, because they have taken global synchronization of time for granted by assuming the horizon of their time to be infinite. If one claims a global perspective as an externalist, time must also be globally synchronized there.

In contrast, those who bother themselves with how we can reach a global synchronization of time while reading each local clock, are necessarily internal to the process of realizing a global synchronization. The temporal horizon associated with each local clock is finite. Time localized within a fixed temporal horizon is necessarily asynchronous with those outside of the horizon unless communicated. Each local clock as an internalist is now to come to be involved in the activity of precipitating a globally synchronous time. Establishing a globally synchronous time out of locally asynchronous time pertaining to each local clock is a necessary pre-condition for having a sound physical or philosophical talk on the issue of time and any dynamics grounded upon it.

Whatever the phenomenon called life or experience may be, unless a global synchronization of time is available in the first place, the physics of and even the philosophy of life and experience would simply be a matter of fantasy and would be no more than a paper moon. A pressing issue will be to identify clocks to be found in the empirical arena and to trace an actual establishment of a global synchronization among themselves.

Postmodernism has raised a serious and well-taken doubt on the possibility of having a global synchronization. Instead, after-postmodernism is and has to be very earnest in establishing a global synchronization from fragments.

[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyright 1997.]