Getting Things Done

The work of a curious fellow

This web page is on a topic that I have wondered about. I would appreciate any feedback that you might be able to provide. Especially errors in concept or calculation. Please send an email to if you would care to comment.

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No wonder it is hard to get things done...

At the end of the preceding page I mentioned that I would think about how people are able to redirect the course of events, altering the future state of the universe. Well I did think about it but my train of thought became derailed when it collided with the notion that there is no time in which action of any sort may take place.

The way we experience the universe includes an evolution of events characterized by an irreversible time order.This order naturally leads us to separate the stream of events into future events that might happen, present events that are happening and past events that have happened, where future, present and past identify the segment of time that contains each class of events. What we experience as the present is actually a slice of the recent past because when we have received sensory input and processed it, time has marched on.

The issue is that past and future appear to lie very close to one another in time, separated only by a "now" which has to span less than the shortest time we can measure because that measured interval could in principle be divided into past and future portions. In fact by this sort of reduction I think I can show that "now" is just an instant of no duration whatever. My wondering about the nature of "now" spawned another whole series of pages under "The Nature of Now", that you might want to look at later.

It seems pretty clear that we cannot act in the past because the past is unchangeable and we cannot act in the future because we are not there yet. The only time we can do anything is "now" and "now" is vanishingly short. As I say in the heading, no wonder it is hard to get things done. I think it is time for the parable of the lazy horse.

Lazy Horse

Once there was a horse who would not pull the cart. Every morning the gentle farmer hitched the horse to the wagon and said, "Giddap", but nothing happened so he hitched up his good horse and went to work, leaving the lazy horse to contemplate his sins. With all that time on his hooves, the horse took to studying physics and learned to speak English.

One day, after the "Giddap" command, the horse turned his head and said to the farmer, "According to Newton's third law, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As hard as I might pull on the cart, the cart will pull back on me just as hard. Why should I waste the effort?"

The farmer was astounded to hear the horse speak but he answered, "Because, if you do not begin pulling, I will hit you with this whip." So the horse began to pull and much to his surprise the wagon began to move.

I suspect that, like the horse's confusion on the application of Newton's third, there might be a flaw in my logic concerning there being no time in which to act. I suspect that my mistake may be in thinking of an act as an isolated event.

Imagine a simple act like taking a sip of coffee. When did that act begin? Was it when my hand moved to grasp the handle of the cup? No, I must have formed the intent to take a sip before the movement of the hand could take place. But what were the prerequisites for forming that intent. Well I had to have a functioning consciousness that had learned what coffee was... you can see where this is going. Every act, however trivial, lies on a continuum of events going all the way back to the Big Bang, when time began. According to my position in favor of free will, the continuum of events contains a long line of passive events up until the time life emerged on earth. Thereafter there was the possibility that intermingled with the passive events were wilful events by creatures of all sorts including humans that supported the coffee sipping event. Once I picked up the cup of coffee, the future of the universe was irretrievably changed - even if the alteration might easily escape our notice.

What I think I have established is that we do not need to find a place to break into the flow of time in order to alter the future course of events. We are immersed in that flow from the beginning. The continuum of events and the continuum of time flow along together. For all I know they may be different ways of looking at the same thing. What we think of as events, like the sip of coffee, are just segments of the ongoing action of the universe. There is no physical significance to the beginning and end of an event. It is just convenient for us to think of our history in terms of finite blocks of time.

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