Getting a KOM on Strava is a lifestyle-changing moment. You get a luxury penthouse apartment, a Bentley arrives in a big ribbon, the people you fancy will all now reciprocate those feelings, and a suitcase of cash is delivered to your new apartment. Wait, none of these happen? It is unbelievable that people get so caught up in gathering KOMs. They will be even more pissed when they discover that time only exists inside their head.
Immanuel Kant was one of the greatest human minds to have ever existed. In contemporary philosophy, Kant stands in the middle, conducting the whole scene. Kant credited his work as having been influenced by David Hume. Hume was a towering figure in empiricism. Empiricism was the belief that most, possibly all, knowledge comes from experience and observation and that all humans were effectively born a tabula rasa (a blank slate). If you want to be the life and soul of the party, the term to use here is that all knowledge is gained a posterior, which means gained from experience.
The opposite of a posterior is a priori; knowledge is independent of experience. It gets complicated here as some empiricists believe there are a priori concepts but no a priori knowledge. Philosophers, don’t you just love them?
Hume refuted the rationalists’ ideas, who believed in a priori knowledge. The famous argument for rationalism is
- The word “bachelor” means “unmarried man.”
- Socrates is a bachelor.
- Therefore, Socrates is an unmarried man.
The argument here is a priori, as we don’t need to experience the world or ideas to know that the conclusion is true. The problem here is we can get dogmatic, we rely on assumptions and definitions that can’t be proved by themselves. The arguments involved for rationalists get more complex, and we get questions such as: Does the world have a beginning in time? Empiricists had a similar question, but it was: Has the world always existed?
The problem for empiricists is that their position leads them to skepticism. The issue of skepticism was formulated by Hume in that he pointed out that if we could only gain knowledge from experience, then we could never know anything meaningful about the world. You can never truly see causes for action, just correlations between actions, and this is not meaningful.
Kant was a rationalist, to begin with, but Hume’s arguments led Kant to question his beliefs. He didn’t quite believe in rationalism or empiricism, so he created transcendental idealism, as you do. For Kant, the human self, or transcendental ego, constructs knowledge out of sense impressions and from universal concepts called categories that it imposes upon them. This is why you don’t ever want to have to study Kant.
Okay, Neil, this is great, but how does this apply to Strava?
Kant woke up one morning, and he realised that time and space are not truly features of the real world. Time and space are ideas that our brain applies to our observations and were possibly created by Big Alarm Clock to sell us more alarms. Either that or Kant took a big spoonful of Hume’s skepticism and ran with it.
Let us go through Kant’s thinking. Kant felt the idea of space and time are a contradiction when we apply them to the real world. Kant, because he was Kant, had a name for this; he called it the antinomy of pure reason. I am sure you are now all beginning to realise why people in philosophy departments in universities around the world look so depressed. It wasn’t just time and space he believed were contradictions and part of the antinomy of pure reason; he had four arguments, and for reasons of my mental health, we will only look at the first one here.
I’m even more over Strava now I’m writing this
To prove his point, Kant creates a reductio ad absurdum, which, as you can probably work out, is an argument where you reduce something to an absurd outcome. You start with the argument you want to argue against, and you create a simple bunch of assumptions, which conspire to show that if the point you are arguing against is true, then something impossible or nonsense would have to happen.
There are many simple reductio as absurdum arguments, some will bring a smile to your face, Kant though couldn’t be that easy. I’ll give you a classic, simple version here, and that might make Kant easier to understand.
To start, there is a town which contains a barber who shaves every person who does not shave himself. That barber must either shave himself or not shave himself. Suppose that he shaves himself; then he does not shave himself, since he shaves only those people who do not shave themselves. Suppose that he does not shave himself; then he must shave himself, since he shaves everyone who does not shave himself.
See, I said they were fun.
Buckle yourself in, as here comes Kant.
The Antinomy of Pure Reason: First Conflict of the Transcendental Ideas
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (A247/B455—A429-B457)
The world has a beginning in time, and in space it is also enclosed in boundaries.
For if one assumes that the world has no beginning in time, then up to every given point in time an eternity has elapsed, and hence an infinite series of states of things in the world, each following another, has passed away. But now the infinity of a series consists precisely in the fact that it can never be completed through a successive synthesis. Therefore an infinitely elapsed world-series is impossible, so a beginning of the world is a necessary condition of its existence; which was the first point to be proved.
[…] [argument about space omitted].
The world has no beginning and no bounds in space, but is infinite with regard to both time and space.
For suppose that it has a beginning. Since the beginning is an existence preceded by a time in which the thing is not, there must be a preceding time in which the world was not, i.e., an empty time. But now, no arising of any sort of thing is possible in an empty time because no part of such a time has, in itself, prior to another part, any distinguishing condition of its existence rather than its non-existence (whether one assumes that it comes to be of itself or through another cause). Thus, many series of things may begin in the world, but the world itself cannot have any beginning, and so in past time is infinite.
What does this all mean?
Kant talks about infinity a lot here, and it is important because, in a nutshell, for Kant, it is an impossibility to carry out an infinite number of steps. Say you want a cake, but the bakery is down a road that is infinite in length. For Kant, you will never get that super sugary treat, as you cannot travel an infinitely long distance.
Imagine now that each step on this road represents one stage of the world. To get to the present, there would have to have been an infinite number of these steps already, especially if the world had always existed. We have, therefore, reached that bakery that a minute ago we said we could never make. It is then not possible for the world to have had all these steps or world stages. If the world stages (steps) were truly infinite, we could not have arrived at the present (the bakery). The road (world) then cannot have existed forever, it must have had a beginning in time.
That is the first part of Kant’s argument, he now wants to prove the opposite to us. The idea that Kants wants us to understand here is that nothing comes from nothing. We need to expand on our world here to realise that Kant means the universe. If the world exists, then there must have been a time when it didn’t exist.
Kant has a title for this time before things exist; he calls it “empty time.” Which for Kant is quite a simple name, and I’m sure we can all agree we wish he was that simple a lot more often. If nothing exists in empty time, how can we have something later? If there is a lack of things, then there is no way to create causality and have more new things. Empty time will stay empty for an infinite time, and nothing could ever exist.
The world does exist.
The world then has to have been here for an infinite time, as it is impossible for it to have come out of empty time. The follow from this then is that the world cannot have had a beginning in time, as it could not have come from empty time.
If we bang these two arguments together, the thesis and the antithesis, if we want to be truly philosophical, then for time to be real, then the world needs to have had a beginning, and it is also impossible for the world to have a beginning. These two states are contradictions, and therefore, time cannot be real.
There is then no point trying to get a KOM, as time does not exist, and you are only chasing illusions.