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By Brian Skyrms

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For Plotinus, there is a darker side to the idea of mimicry. The emphasis is on the introduction of transience where before there was permanence. Time is aptly described as the mimic of eternity in that it ‘seeks to break up in its fragmentary flight the permanence of its exemplar’. Whatever time ‘seizes and steals to itself’ of the permanent in eternity is annihilated—‘saved only in so far as in some degree it still belong to eternity, but wholly destroyed if it be unreservedly absorbed into time’.

Time would then be understood as a line traversing the path of movement. But, if it thus shares in movement, how can it be the measure of movement? Why should the traversing line be the measure rather than the movement itself ? And why should the mere presence of a number give us time if it is not given by the fact of movement? Time must be something more than the mere number of movement. Some of Plotinus’s criticisms seem to depend on the interpretation of the idea of time as measure which Aristotle himself explicitly set aside—the identification of time with number in the sense of ‘what we measure with’, rather than what is measurable in motion, the measurable aspect of change.

But, if so, while we are measuring it, where is it coming from, what is it passing through, and where is it going? It can, it seems, only be coming from the future, passing through the present, and going into the past. ‘In other words, it is coming out of what does not yet exist, passing through what has no duration, and moving into what no longer exists’ (XI, 21; 269). We are left then with a paradoxical passage from non-existence, through a fleeting, existence-bestowing ‘present’ into non-existence again.

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