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La structure auto-rfrentielle de la temporalit

Self-referential structure of temporality


Jean Schneider
Observatoire de Paris jean.schneider@obspm .fr

in La Libert de l'Esprit 1987 (Editions Hachette) pages 135-173

Abstract
Time has for human experience two functions : chronology and temporality.
Chronology is represented in Physics and Astrophysics by the parameter t.
Temporality is the flow of time itself, different from irreversibility in Physics.
Here we analyze the logical structure of temporality. We characterize it as a self-referential structure of
instants, where each instant a is a transition between itself and another b. Formally: a=(a,b) where
(a,b) is the set-theoretic pair made by a and b. a=(a,b) is not permitted in standard set theory but
is allowed in non-well founded set theory and in Combinatory Logic. Graphically:

This graphical representation has a disadvantage, it presents two occurrences of a, even though there is
only one a. I therefore replace it by

For a set of instants a, b, c, d, ... it naturally leads to a well-ordering

Chronology, then naturally emerges as the counting of instants.


But this self-referential structure of temporality can be generalized. Indeed, the very root of temporality is
transitionality: each instant a is a transition. It can thus be a transition between two other instants b and c.
Graphically:

a
b c
For a set of instants ..b, a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, ... structured by the set of relations
a = ( .., b) b = (.., e) c = (b, ..) d = (a, g) e = (d, f) f = (c, i) g = (.., h) h = (e, ..) i = (h, ..) etc
the graphical representation is

In this particular example of generalized self-referential temporality, time can be viewed as two-
dimensional and there is no linear temporality. Other types of generalized self-referential structure can
lead to a non dimensional or non linear time. They can for instance be used to give a rigorous model of
backward time or to memory.