Arrow of tense

The arrow of time is a concept developed by Arthur Eddington in 1927. It is an arrow that points from the past through the present into the future. One problem with this concept is that multiple futures are possible; it would have to be a many-headed arrow. Another problem is that it could just as well be pointing from the future through the present to the past. The choice is arbitrary and may simply reflect a progressive bias.

One could as well speak of an arrow of place that points from there (where one was) to here (where one is) to there (where one is going). So both space and time have their arrows.

A deeper problem with the concept is that it’s really about tense in language. Different languages have different ways of indicating the time when an action or event occurs, or when a state or process holds. The past, present, and future tenses are one means of doing this. But there are other tenses such as the still sense, indicating that that a state is still the case. And some languages such as Chinese are tenseless.

So the arrow of time would be better called the arrow of tense and understood as a property of language. If the arrow of time is used at all, it should be paired with the arrow of place.