There has never been a more obvious and yet elusive concept as time. Days pass, clocks move, and things change, and yet when we ask the question “What is time”, all we can really say is that it is a thing we measure and that it keeps moving. Models have been made to illustrate how time plays into our universe, and time is the reason we are considered to live in a fourth dimension rather than a third. Even quantum physicists claim that time actually doesn’t exist, and so much of what happens depends upon whether they are viewed or not. (1)
So all that said, what can we really know about the concept of time? To answer that we might have to look at what it’s attached to- actions. We can tie the measurements we give time to a certain amount of actions. One rotation of the earth we deem 24 hours (approx), comprised of many smaller measurements. Your microwave might take seconds while your vacation, days. Actions mesh with time, and thus change happens along the ever-forward moving flow of time.
Yet interesting questions arise if we show that it is tied to actions. Should actions cease (if that were really a possibility), could time be measured? If molecules and energy froze, would time exist? Does time begin with actions?
I have a theory that time may be the grand action. Time not be dependent upon actions, but actions upon time. If this however is the case, than time cannot be eternal- It must have begun. Even renown skeptic Richard Dawkins is quoted in a lecture “It is therefore difficult to see how the universe could have been oscillating for an infinite time.” and states instead that time may be an illusion. Whether it is actually our illusion, or an objective thing, time has a stronger case for having a beginning.
Further arguments about the past being infinite are the paradoxes that arise in the reality of infinity. Hilbert’s Hotel is a famous example of the complications. You may check the end of the article for example.
Arguments for the existence of an eternal universe usually revolve around a surrender towards the impossibility of man to comprehend infinity. They find infinity to be a natural possibility and why not? Like Aristotle said (in my edit) “Any past we can conceive, we can also conceive just a little farther back.”
So where does that leave us in the end? Time is either infinite or finite, and may be an illusion either way. Yet there may be a third option- a time with a finite beginning might have an infinite end. The ball may be rolled from the top of an eternally big hill, and may roll eternally (unless it is somehow stopped)
This illustration points out what I found to be the most plausible scenario. An infinite anything reaches problematic conclusions, and yet we can somewhat imagine the infinite right here and right now. Perhaps the non-eternal state of our being can only mesh with the eternal possibility of time because it is a created-construct. Perhaps after death, we may step into the fifth dimension where we can “inconceivably exist apart from time”.
After all, the naturalist finds themselves just as stumped as the supernaturalist on this one- “I don’t know how it works, but I BELIEVE it does.
(2) As there are an infinite number of rooms and an infinite number of guests, every room is occupied; the hotel cannot accomodate another guest. However, if a new guest arrives, then it is possible to free up a room for them by moving the guest in room number 1 to room number 2, and the guest in room number 2 to room number 3, and so on. As for every room n there is a room n + 1, every guest can be moved into a different room, thus leaving room number 1 vacant. The new guest, then, can be accommodated after all. This is clearly paradoxical; it is not possible that a hotel both can and cannot accommodate a new guest. Hilbert’s Hotel, therefore, is not possible.
A similar paradox arises if the past is infinite. If there exists an infinite past, then if we were to assign a number to each past moment then every real number (i.e. every postive integer) would be assigned to some moment. There would therefore be no unassigned number to be assigned to the present moment as it passes into the past. However, by reassigning the numbers such that moment number one becomes moment number two, and moment number two becomes moment number three, and so on, we could free up moment number one to be assigned to the present. If the past is infinite, therefore, then there both is and is not a free number to be assigned to the present as it passes into the past.