Dreadful beyond all fathoming are the mysteries of time. Even I,
the priest and initiate, though wise in the secret doctrines of
Aforgomon, know little enough of that elusive, ineluctable process
whereby the present becomes the past and the future resolves itself
into the present. All men have pondered the riddles of duration and
transience; have wondered, vainly, to what bourn the lost days and
the sped cycles are consigned. Some have dreamt that the past
abides unchanged, becoming eternity as it slips from our mortal
ken; and others have deemed that time is a stairway whose steps
crumble one by one behind the climber, falling into a gulf of
The Chain of Aforgomon by Clark Ashton Smith
The phenomenon of the past proceeds from the development of the
present, the occurrence of the potential future.
The assumption of the existence of a past is completely
superfluous. It explains nothing that would not be explainable
without it as well.
The existence of the past is an extremely unfruitful hypothesis,
perhaps the least productive of all since no inferences can be
derived from it. It explains nothing, it lacks results.
The hypothesis of the existence of a past does even suffice to
explain our documentation of the past (history books, fossils,
sediment layers, Troy, etc). For this, the present development is
I observe a pad with carbon paper. Then I write a 1 one the
first page and circle it in. Then I tear the first page off and
burn it. Next to the carbon copy 1 I now place a 2, circle both of
them in and once again tear off the top sheet and burn it. Then I
put a 3 alongside of it, etc.
The top page of the pad constitutes the present,
i.e. the present condition of the pad. The pages under the top
sheet constitute the future, i.e. the future condition of the pad.
By contrast, the torn off and burned pages are the past.
A historical time arrow, originating in a present-time
1. The present puts its imprint on the future, i.e. present
conditions survive temporally (they are written through onto future
pages) since for their future existence there is a great basic
probability. In the future we will have documents from the
2. For this reason, we will in the future have documents from
the past. This is also the reason why we today have
documents from the past (for Jules Vernes we ourselves were
3. Information from the past stands in a rather specific
Earlier documents are always partial quantities of later
4. The historical hierarchy of documents follows simply from
present development without recourse to a past.
The proof of this lies in the fact that past documents, i.e.
torn-off pages of the pad were immediately burned and thus had no
more effect on the present condition of the pad.
It follows from this:
The “past” (i.e. the existence of a hierarchical order
of documents in the present) is the complete result of the
relationship between present and future. The historical time arrow
is not a product of the past, but a product of present-time
The “existence” of a past does not have to be assumed in
order to get at testimony to a past in the present.
Not the existence of the present, but the existence of the past
is a subjective illusion, an optical illusion lacking a physical,
i.e. measurable basis.
The existence of historic documents in the present
suggests the existence of a past alongside the existence of
The past is over, we feel, and there is nothing to be done with it.
It is unchangeable, and in a certain sense, it is `out there`
still. Our present knowledge of it may come from our records, our
memory traces, and from our deductions from them, but we do not
tend to doubt the actually of the past.
Even our entire grammar pays tribute to this error with its
equally-weighted division of time into past, present and future. A
physical theory of time may not, however, argue on the basis of
grammar but must relate to empiric phenomena.
Such a phenomenon are the annual rings of a tree:
The annual rings of a tree are a historic document of the weather
of past years (thick rings testify to fruitful years, thin annual
rings testify to lean years). Trees grow exclusively in the
present. Although the annual rings thus document the past, they
“come” to a certain extent not from the “past”
but solely from the present.
The annual rings of a tree grow in the present and
document the hierarchical order of time.
Past events do not occur, rather only
present events occur, and the past is only a result of this in the
present (to wit, as a present-day document).
It is exactly the same with all documents from the past. They are
all the present. We in fact know no past at all “outside”
of the present. The past itself does not exist. Precisely this
specific type of non-existence (namely no-longer-existence) is
designated by that word.
But wherever something positive is designated with that word, it
refers to the following: “Past” is another word for
documents which we now possess in the present.
There is no past outside of the