Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Maudlin on time and the fundamentality of physics


Philosopher of physics Tim Maudlin is interviewed at 3:AM Magazine.  (I commented on an earlier interview with Maudlin in a previous post.)  The whole thing is worth reading, but several passages call for special comment.  On the subject of the reality of time, Maudlin says:

[M]any physicists and philosophers like to say that the passage of time is an “illusion”. In my account of things, it is not at all illusory: time passes from past to future by its intrinsic nature. Further, the fundamental laws of nature are exactly physical constraints on what sorts of later states can come from earlier states. Parmenides, of course, also argued that time and motion are illusions. I think I understand what he was claiming, and think it is just flatly false. I don’t see the modern defenders of the “illusion” claim as in any better position than Parmenides was.

I further believe that physicists have been misled by the mathematical language they use to represent the physical world. Temporal structure is part of (maybe all of!) the geometry of space-time, and the standard mathematical description of geometrical structure was developed with purely spatial structure in view. Space, unlike time, has no directionality and the mathematics developed to describe spatial geometry does not easily or naturally represent directionality.

End quote.  I’ve made points like these myself -- including in my previous post on Maudlin -- and their importance cannot be overstated.  As I argued in that post, a Parmenidean interpretation of relativity is ultimately incoherent; and as I have argued in several places, much fallacious thinking about the implications of physics rests on a tendency to mistake its mathematical representations of the physical world for an exhaustive description of that world.  (That physicists have been misled by their mathematical models into denying the reality of time is also a theme of physicist Lee Smolin’s new book Time Reborn.  Read Ray Monk’s review here.)

Maudlin also makes some interesting remarks about the question of whether physics is more fundamental than other sciences.  Borrowing a line from the Tom Lehrer song “Wernher von Braun,” Maudlin suggests that physics differs from other sciences insofar as there is nothing in space and time about which the physicist can say “That’s not my department.”  This is the case, he says, even though other sciences tell us things that physics cannot:

[D]isciplines other than physics can provide insight or understanding of phenomena that are not given by the physical analysis alone. In this sense, the special sciences can be explanatorily (but not ontologically) autonomous from physics. Here’s a simple example. A particular physical system, which happens to be a computer, sits on my desk displaying a little clock whose hands go round and round. This must be explicable from a purely physical analysis of the system: electricity runs through the wires and chips in certain patterns that yield the image of the clock. The computer scientist can provide a different sort of insight into the phenomenon: she notices that my program has a loop in it. Interpreting the little clock as an indication that the algorithm is still running, she predicts that the clock [will] go round forever without knowing anything at all about the physics of the machine except that it somehow instantiates the computer program. If one only had the physical description, one would miss this insight into the phenomenon.

Still, the physical treatment is in one sense more fundamental. The computer scientist says that unless something intervenes to change the programming, the clock will go round forever. The physicist says that unless something intervenes physically, the screen will go black in exactly 34.7 minutes, when the battery runs out. The physicist, if he has done his job properly, will make the correct prediction, and must modify the physical theory if the prediction fails. The computer scientist can say, when the question of battery life comes up, “That’s not my department”.

So I would say that while phenomena can require, for their most complete understanding, different sorts of conceptual descriptions, these are not really different ontologies. The ontology is all, at the most fundamental level, a physical ontology.

End quote.  An interesting question is what, exactly, “fundamental” amounts to here.  On the one hand, Maudlin tells us that though the “conceptual descriptions” utilized by the special sciences are different from those of physics, the “ontologies” are not, insofar as anything studied by those sciences ultimately falls within “a physical ontology.”  That makes it sound like what really exists is nothing but what physics tells us exists.  On the other hand, Maudlin is no crude reductionist, emphasizing as he does that “disciplines other than physics can provide insight or understanding of phenomena that are not given by the physical analysis alone” and that “phenomena can require, for their most complete understanding, different sorts of conceptual descriptions [from those given by physics]” (emphasis added).  But for a description of nature to offer real “insight” or “understanding,” it surely must be true; if it is true, then the things it refers to must exist; and if they exist but are not captured by physics, then the ontology of physics does not exhaust what exists.  So by saying that physics is “fundamental,” it seems that Maudlin cannot plausibly mean that only what physics tells us about is real. 

Nor can “fundamental” merely mean that the things studied by the special sciences are made up out of the things studied by physics (e.g. particles of various sorts) because the people Maudlin is disagreeing with in making these comments (e.g. James Ladyman, who rejects the notion of a fundamental level of reality) do not deny that.  Nor do Aristotelians, who certainly wouldn’t say that what physics tells us about is somehow more metaphysically fundamental than what biology (say) tells us about.

Does Maudlin perhaps mean that what physics tells about is in some way “more” real than what the special sciences tell us about, even if the latter are also real (to a lesser extent)?  Perhaps in the sense that the existence of the latter is parasitic on that of the former?  If so, then the example he gives doesn’t clearly support such a view.  A computer, famously, can in principle be instantiated in a number of physical substrates (e.g. earlier generations of computers used vacuum tubes and punch cards).  This is one reason why what makes something a computer punch card, or a microprocessor, or a mouse or keyboard for that matter, cannot be understood by reference to the “lower” levels described by physics, but only by reference to the “higher” levels described by computer science.  These parts are what they are by reference to the whole they comprise, rather than the whole being definable in terms of the parts.  If there had never been computer punch cards, there could still have been computers, since they could have been constructed some other way; but if there had never been computers of any sort (or at least the intention of making computers), neither would there have been computer punch cards.  (There might have been cards that looked exactly like computer punch cards, but they wouldn’t have been computer punch cards.)  There is a clear sense, then, in which computers are more fundamental than their parts.

Moreover, there is a clear sense in which a physicist can say “That’s not my department.”  He can say “Qua object made up of particles and operating according to physical law, a computer is indeed in my department.  But qua running such-and-such a program, it is not in my department.  Go see the computer scientists for that.”  (And as Kripke, Popper, and Searle have argued, you are in principle never going to define what it is to run a program entirely in physical terms.)

Of course, the Aristotelian will agree that computers are not fundamental in one sense, viz. that they are artifacts.  But the same point can be made using examples that are not artifacts -- e.g. living things, whose parts must be understood by reference to the whole rather than the other way around, so that they are in one sense more fundamental than the parts.

Nor would it help for Maudlin to point out that computers, trees, dogs, etc. and their parts must at the end of the day still be made up of the sorts of things (e.g. various kinds of particles) that physics tells us about.  That what physics tells us about is necessary for the existence of these things doesn’t entail that it is sufficient for the existence of these things.  And Maudlin himself seems at least implicitly to allow that it isn’t sufficient.  But then, why isn’t what would need to be added to what physics gives us to make for a sufficient condition -- that is to say, what the various special sciences tell us about -- as “fundamental” as what physics gives us?  How are “carrying out photosynthesis,” “digesting a meal,” and “thinking about a philosophical problem” less fundamental -- ontologically as well as explanatorily speaking -- than “being made up of atoms”?   (Notice that this has nothing necessarily to do with whether there is anything immaterial going on in any of the activities in question -- and I would say that apart from the last, there isn’t.)

I would say that they are not less fundamental, and that while Maudlin is careful not to be misled into bad metaphysics by the mathematical models used by physicists, he has perhaps been misled by another aspect of scientific practice, viz. what Patricia Churchland calls the “take it apart and see how it runs” method.  And the problem isn’t that this isn’t an important part of the story -- of course it is -- but that it is still only a part of the story.  It is (so we Aristotelians would say) to focus obsessively on material and efficient causes while ignoring formal and final causes.

But perhaps I’m misunderstanding Maudlin.  Anyway, he is always interesting, even when one disagrees with him.  As I say, give the whole interview a read.

168 comments:

Scott said...

That there is something in the real world answering to the name of "time" is surely beyond doubt. At the very least, temporal relations like "before" and "after" must be real.

Nevertheless it can't simply be the case that things come into and then pass out of being altogether; otherwise we'd be saying something neither true nor false, but meaningless, when we refer, say, to what we had for lunch yesterday. If there's no sense in which "yesterday" exists at the time of our utterance in order to serve as a referent or truthmaker for it, then we're not saying anything capable of truth or falsity. Although "yesterday" of course doesn't exist now, it must exist eternally in order for us to be able to refer meaningfully to it at all.

Moreover, some sort of "eternalism" seems to be required for the view that all times are equally present to God "at once," as it were.

So while I agree that it's not correct to say that time is simply unreal, full stop, I also think that our ordinary, unreflective view of it as involving things coming to be out of nowhere and then lapsing back into sheer nothingness can't be the final word.

JesseM said...

I think Maudlin is distorting the issue a bit by making it sound as if "timelessness" is just an element of mathematical formalism. If relativity is correct, it implies that while one is free to believe in objective truths about simultaneity on a metaphysical level, no possible empirical experiment could ever show that any particular definition of simultaneity is "preferred" by the laws of nature--"true" simultaneity must always be completely invisible to experiment (and a corollary to this is that you could have two possible worlds which differed in their truths about metaphysical simultaneity, but which were perfectly identical in every physical respect). Unless this is falsified by future discoveries in physics, for anyone who doesn't find eternalism to be completely incoherent, it does at least suggest a pretty good Occam's razor type argument for believing in it (or an argument similar to the one Leibniz made against Absolute Space, which said something along the lines of their being no real difference between our world and a world physically almost identical to ours but with every object two feet further to the left in Absolute Space)

smallthom said...

I was on Mount Athos once, and a wizened elder told me, "The substance of the angels is time."

Now, what do you suppose he meant by that, if anything?

JesseM said...

As an addendum to my last comment, I just read the whole interview and I see that elsewhere Maudlin seems to suggest that relativity has in fact cast aside the notion of objective simultaneity:

It has often been remarked that “The Theory of Relativity” is a very bad name for Einstein’s theory. One is told, for example, that in his theory simultaneity is “relative” to an observer or to a reference system. What is correct is that simultaneity is nonexistent in the theory: there just is no such physical relation among events. “Simultaneity in a coordinate system” is just a matter of how we (more or less arbitrarily) attach numbers to events, and has no intrinsic physical interest.

So although he may believe that "time passes" and eternalism is wrong, it sounds like he is not advocating the usual alternative to eternalism, presentism--he probably doesn't believe in any sort of objective "present moment", for example no objective truth about whether an event on Earth and an event on Mars with a "spacelike separation" (meaning a signal moving at the speed of light or slower couldn't get from one event to the other) happened "at the same time" or if the event on Earth or the event on Mars happened first.

I guess to really understand what he means when he says that he believes the passing of time is "real", one would have to learn more about the "Theory of Linear Structures" he talks about having developed...

Jawad said...

Dr Feser,

What are your views on God's relation to time? It's much easier to see how God is related to time if B theory is true, but if there is an objective present, how can we accommodate a timeless God for whom there is no present?

Brandon said...

JesseM,

I haven't looked at all Maudlin's proposals in any detail. But I'm fairly sure that he likes to say that, contrary to popular belief, relativity didn't make time space-like (in the geometrical sense); it made space time-like (if I understand the idea correctly, by tying spatial measurements to direction measured by earlier or later). So when Maudlin emphasizes the directionality of time, he is quite serious about that being the fundamental feature of his view of time -- it is temporal direction, not simultaneity, that matters for an account of time, on his view. Simultaneity, by definition, ignores passage of time itself, and, what is more, makes time a secondary matter (to talk about what is happening 'at the same time' is to talk about what is happening when time can be ignored because it's the same for everything considered).

Such is my understanding, anyway, although, again I might not have it down completely correctly.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Edward Feser As I argued in that post, a Parmenidean interpretation of relativity is ultimately incoherent

When I've seen you argue this in the past, you've discussed an incoherent version of the "block universe" theory of spacetime. In particular, you rightly criticized Weyl's view, according to which there is a 4-dimensional spacetime block universe that is static except for the roving "spotlights of consciousness" that travel up the worldlines of our personal histories.

I agree that this view is incoherent. After all, if there is no genuine "becoming" in physics, then any good materialist will agree that there must, in particular, be no "becoming" in consciousness. For any consistent B-theorist, there can be no coming-to-be and passing-away in the mind any more than in external physical events. All of my states of consciousness must exist equally, "simultaneously", albeit with different time-coordinates.

But there is a standard "block universe" view that incorporates this observation. On this view, the sensation that A-theorists call "becoming" arises from the fact that each moment M of consciousness can compare its store of memories to what M remembers was the store of memories available to previous moments of consciousness. Each moment of consciousness can observe that stores of memories coming from later times include memories that are missing from stores of memories available to earlier times. Roughly speaking each moment of consciousness can look in its own memories and see that moments of consciousness from later times remember more events than do moments of consciousness from earlier times.

Furthermore, memories of events that are recent, relative to the moment of consciousness, have a different character (to that moment of consciousness) from memories of events that are further in the past. The difference of character includes, eg, different degrees of vividness. Every moment of consciousness can remember that the same event was remembered with different degrees of vividness by different past moments of consciousness, with the vividness of the memories usually being stronger for moments of consciousness that were closer to simultaneous with the event (and in its future).

In summary, the store of memories and the vividness of those memories changes in certain reliable ways as time passes, but this "change" can be understood in a perfectly B-theoretic way. Nothing in this account requires that a distinct ontological status be assigned to a particular moving "present", with other times having a different ontological status or not existing at all. Yet this account seems to me to explain the sensation called "becoming" more adequately than any A-theory that I've seen. (In particular, there is no need to introduce an additional "time dimension", with respect to which the "present" is "moving".)

Weyl seemed to be taking the bizarre position of being an A-theorist with respect to consciousness, while being a B-theorist with respect to everything else. Have you given a critique somewhere of the more-consistent position of being a B-theorist with respect to everything, including consciousness?

Mr. Green said...

But then, why isn’t what would need to be added to what physics gives us to make for a sufficient condition -- that is to say, what the various special sciences tell us about -- as “fundamental” as what physics gives us?

From the context, I take it as perhaps along the lines of the foundation of a house: you can't have the house without the foundation, although you can have the foundation without the house. It does not follow, of course, that the attic is "part" of the basement, but it does mean that the foundation is fundamental to the attic in a special way. Similarly, physics would be fundamental to anything physical in a way that other sciences would not be (e.g. every biological organism is a physical thing, but not every physical thing is biological).

Of course, this only works if everything consists of particles... which is not the Aristotelian view: a plant may consist of particles virtually, but not actually. On the other hand, there is also the Aristotelian view (or in the Aristotelian family) of plurality of substantial forms, wherein the parts of a substance can also be substances themselves. So if every physical being also had actual particles that made it up, then physics would be special in this way. (There would in fact be a hierarchy: everything biological would also be chemical; everything chemical would also be physical. So chemistry would be more foundational than biology and physics would be the most fundamental — for material things.)

Anonymous said...

Layman here, with some questions.

Does time dilation presuppose a sort of "time flow?" From my (amateur) readings, it seems to involve talk of time passing "slower" for X and time passing "faster" for Y. I could be wrong, but it seems like time dilation implies that time does "flow," but not constantly or uniformly in our universe.

Also, does it makes sense to talk of "velocity" in a 4d block universe? If velocity is defined as a change in location of an object A with respect to change in location of object B. (For example, object A could be a car, and object B could be the seconds hand on a wrist watch.) However, if there is no real change, then does it follow there is no real change in location for objects A and B? Without real changes in locations, is velocity non-existent as well? If velocity is non-existent, what does that mean for special relativity? (Since light doesn't have any real velocity).

Christian said...

Hey Dr. Feser,

I was wondering if you or any of your readers could point me in the direction of some good resources explaining and defending in detail the hylemorphic concepts of substantial form and prime matter. This post got me and my brother talking about these concepts and I realized how layered and complex they are and weak my grasp is of them. Great post and thanks for the help.

Aloysius said...

@Christian:

David Oderberg is a good place to start. Check out his excellent book "Real Essentialism", which is dedicated to defending hylemorphism.

You can also find some good articles of his on the subject at his website: http://www.davidsoderberg.co.uk/

His Articles tab is here: https://sites.google.com/site/davidsoderberg00/home/articles

There is a lot of good and interesting stuff in there. "Hylemorphic Dualism" is good. "Essence and Properties" is good. Check 'em out.

Jan said...

Hi Anonymous,

The confusions are a result of reading Newtonian concepts into GR and of confusing the mathematical structures with what they model. Both are regularly done in popular articles.

Suppose we want to describe the behaviour of a two particle system. In classical mechanics, we would do be by giving two functions x1(t) and x2(t) from the real line R to the space of positions (which can, but needn't be, 3 dimensional Euclidean space). The 't' parameter is time.

In GR the setting from the start is a 4 dimensional manifold (you can think of it as a surface, e.g. a sphere or a torus, except 4 and not 2 dimensional) called space-time. Particles here are basically paths in this 4 dimensional manifold. Unlike in the classical setting, the parametrization itself (the particular dependence on the real number parameter) is of no physical importance and can be changed to the one that suits our current calculations most.

The time that passes for a particle between its two positions in space-time r0 and r1 is defined as the length of its path between r0 and r1 (remember, particles are paths in space-time). This is independent on the parametrization of the path. Thus, time dilatation corresponds to the simple fact that two different paths between r0 and r1 can be of different lengths. ("Time that passes for a particle" carries in fact philosophical baggage. It's more neutral to say "the number that a clock traveling with the particle would display").

The velocity of one particle observed by another is also defined. I will not do it to not make the comment longer than it it already is.

The philosophical point is that a theory of physics is prima facie only a machine for producing numbers that have to be congruent with the the numbers produced by measurements. Some physicists and philosophers (including Hawking) say this is all that a theory of physics is. Pace this minority view, physics can inform our ontology, but an argument must be made and it must be philosophical.

Statements like "simultaneity is relative" or "time doesn't flow" in no way follow from the basic mathematical formalism. I do not know if there exists a theorem of the form "For a wide class of space-times X there doesn't exist an equivalence relation on the points of space time with modest properties Y that we would call the relation of simultaneity. Perhaps grodrigues knows if such a theorem exists?

TheOFloinn said...

I've always thought of the difference between classic and modern physics as that the former views the universe from the inside while the latter tries to view it from the outside. Viewing the universe from outside space-time, all of history is laid out all at once. Outside space-time there is no passage of time. There is no space, either, so "outside" and "all at once" are used allegorically.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Jan: ("Time that passes for a particle" carries in fact philosophical baggage. It's more neutral to say "the number that a clock traveling with the particle would display").

I agree that talk of "time passing" in GR is probably confusing. However, reducing time just to clock displays is a very instrumentalist definition, which carries its own philosophical baggage.

There is a non-instrumentalist definition of the spacetime interval between two events that I like a lot. I'll state it in terms of SR for simplicity.

According to this definition, the value of the spacetime interval between two events A and B is a measure of how much of spacetime lies "causally between" A and B. That is, the spacetime interval measures the size of the region in spacetime bounded by the future light-cone of A and the past light-cone of B.

More precisely, any 4-dimensional vector space, including Minkowski spacetime, has a unique Lebesgue measure (up to a scaling parameter). So, up to a quadratic scaling factor, the volume Vol(R) of any region in spacetime is well defined. Thus, given two events A and B in Minkowski spacetime, with B inside the future lightcone at A, the region R bounded by the future lightcone at A and the past lightcone at B has a well-defined volume Vol(R) (up to that scaling factor). Define the spacetime interval between A and B to be the fourth root of Vol(R). Then this quantity is well defined (up to a uniform scaling factor) and independent of coordinates (by construction).

George R. said...

Thanks for clearing that up for us, Tyrrell.

Anonymous said...

It's funny that those claiming time to be an illusion are the ones thinking that the past and future exist, and vice versa.

I've been very wary of interpretations of mathematical physics since studying quantum tunnelling and seeing that the tunnelling bit described where the maths didn't work, so to speak.

JesseM said...

Brandon wrote:
So when Maudlin emphasizes the directionality of time, he is quite serious about that being the fundamental feature of his view of time -- it is temporal direction, not simultaneity, that matters for an account of time, on his view. Simultaneity, by definition, ignores passage of time itself, and, what is more, makes time a secondary matter (to talk about what is happening 'at the same time' is to talk about what is happening when time can be ignored because it's the same for everything considered).

I guess what confuses me is that debates about the "philosophy of time" are usually about the ontological status of events or objects at different times--the eternalist view says objects/events at all times all "exist" in the same sense, even if they aren't "here" at our current location in spacetime so we can't perceive them, in the same way we believe objects far away from us "exist" just like objects near us even though they aren't "here" at our current spatial location for us to see. The alternative "presentist" view says that only objects and events now exist, while future and past ones do not, and there is also the "growing block universe" view which grants existence to both past and present but not future objects and events. Both of these alternatives require the assumption of an objective present--is Maudlin's proposal supposed to be an ontological alternative to all of these, or does his argument about the reality of time not really have to do with ontology? (perhaps he is just saying that all paths through spacetime have an intrinsic direction, even if this has no ontological implications?) If you reject absolute simultaneity and accept the light-cone structure of causality in relativity, I don't see how that can translate to anything but an eternalist ontology--for example, it wouldn't really make sense to say "only objects and events in my past light cone exist" since this would give each observer a different definition of what "exists" (or it would require a solipsistic view where only my light cone determines real existence), and ontology is normally understood to be about what objectively exists in a perspective-independent way (or from the perspective of God, perhaps).

Terence M. Stanton said...

A.M.D.G.

I love your work, Dr. Feser. *Going off topic* Are you considering a piece in the future as to why you are a practicing Catholic as opposed to a member of any other religion? I believe you referenced you might do that around the time you wrote "The Road From Atheism".

FZ said...

Anon, I don't think time is being denied, rather the absolute "passage" of time is denied.

Though I don't see why an absolute "flow" of time is needed for change to occur.

Brandon said...

JesseM,

I think Maudlin is more concerned with the implications of relativity itself than ontology; thus one of his points, for instance, is that spacelike lines can be defined entirely in terms of timelike lines (or perhaps timelike and lightlike). However, he rejects eternalism outright; I'm also pretty sure he rejects presentism -- I think he regards both as making false assumptions about time being composed of presents or nows rather than being an objective flow from which we abstract presents or nows by measurement.

JesseM said...

Brandon, as I understand the usual philosophical definitions, eternalism and presentism make no claims about anything but ontology--eternalism is nothing more than a claim that all objects and events throughout time have the same ontological status, and presentism is nothing more than a claim that only present objects exist. Do you have a different understanding of these terms? Do you think Maudlin does?

Brandon said...

Hi, JesseM,

I think the organization of my comment was just throwing you off: Maudlin's position is focused more on philosophical implications of relativity than ontology; however, I'm fairly sure, as a matter of ontology, that he rejects both eternalism and presentism, regarding them both as making false assumptions about time and what it is to say that something is present.

JesseM said...

Does he offer an alternate ontological position about which objects/events in spacetime can be said to "exist"? And if so, are you sufficiently familiar with his position to outline it?

Brandon said...

His position has ontological implications -- hence his rejection of eternalism as spatializing time is linked to his own view that instead space should be temporalized, and the fact that, since he takes the directionality of time (his entire system is based on an analysis of directed lines) to be fundamental, any account of time that primarily relies on a thesis about 'now' or 'what exists in the present' has failed to grasp what is essential. But I'm not sure what the full position is; to be frank, I think he thinks the usual ontological debates are somewhat stupid, not because there is no answer to them, but because any answers to them would follow easily as an implication from, rather than being a necessary precondition for, whatever is the accurate account of time. But, it having been some time since I've read him closely, and that only some of his work, I don't think I can say much beyond such very general things as I've said.

Tony said...

I find it troubling for philosophers to get stuck in the same mental traps as physicists in discussing time. For instance, in defining a "light cone" it is common to specify that it somehow defines causality itself because only events within a future light cone of X can have X influence the event. Philosophers should be wary of this, because they should be prepared to take into account angels who can act "at a distance" and thus can move two things simultaneously. Angels can also, at a human's request, alter an event outside the human being's PHYSICAL light cone, so that the human being can have an effect outside his light cone.

reighley said...

I don't think we should be too hard on physics for being led by its notation. Being led does not necessarily mean being misled. If I assert "that dog is dead", I may indeed be using my terms without careful consideration of their ontological baggage, but just the fact that I am given to saying such things, the fact that those terms seem to have a meaning, is actually evidence that there is such a thing as a dog, and that they are sometimes found to be dead.

Likewise if I suggest to you that the Ricci curvature tensor is proportional to the stress energy tensor, just the fact that I have taken a set of phenomenon and grouped them together under a common name is a point in favor of there actually being such things.

I might say "it is impossible that I should ever see any evidence of unicorns", and then later on you catch me eliding the distinction between that and "unicorns do not exist". It is natural that you would play the devils advocate and point out to me that it is possible for unicorns to exist even if no causal chain starting with a unicorn ever ended with my perception. On the other hand it is best not to get too cocky about it because that statement by itself is in fact a terrible argument for the existence of unicorns.

It is the same way if someone says "the fact of one distant event happening before or after another distant event cannot have any effect on me except insofar as the light of those two events reaches me at different times which is simply not enough information to say for certain which came first". It is shorter to say "it is often meaningless to say of distant events, that one came before the other". Of course there remains the possibility that the operator "which came first" still has meaning for every pair of events even if the answer can never be known to us, but the statement that physics is making here is not as radical as it seems.

It may in fact be the case that there happen two events which do not occur simultaneously, and for which one does not occur before the other. Cases in which the phrase "it came first" has no meaning.

I don't think that, by itself, there is any logical contradiction in that proposition. I also think we had better think very hard before we introduce an assumption contrary to it, facts being what they are.

Anonymous said...

"Likewise if I suggest to you that the Ricci curvature tensor is proportional to the stress energy tensor, just the fact that I have taken a set of phenomenon and grouped them together under a common name is a point in favor of there actually being such things."

So, what if one were to say that change is the transition from potency to act, or that efficient causality can only be made intelligible with reference to final causality?

Tony said...

If someone says "the fact of one distant event happening before or after another distant event cannot have any effect on me except insofar as the light of those two events reaches me at different times which is simply not enough information to say for certain which came first"

they would be, simply, wrong. It would be based on a presumption that the ONLY WAY such a distant even could have any effect on me is through the set of causes that are constrained by physical, light-speed-limited, actions - the light-cone. A physicist (or any other person) would be wrong to make such a presumption because physics, or all of the physical sciences, cannot say whether there are or may be causes independent of such constraints. Whether there are or are not such other causes cannot be answered by physical science. Indeed, natural theology can answer the question in the affirmative - there ARE such cause(s), at least one, God. But even apart from the proof for the existence of God, none of the sciences could in theory disprove the very possibility of non-physical beings, beings who can "act at a distance" and who can, therefore, cause simultaneous acts at a distance or who can be part of a causal chain of events outside my "light-cone" which nonetheless affect me.

reighley said...

@Anonymous

"So, what if one were to say that change is the transition from potency to act, or that efficient causality can only be made intelligible with reference to final causality?"

Isn't that exactly the argument against the most aggressive forms of materialism : that they defy common sense? What I am saying is that theoretical physics has an ontological content because is just a kind of common sense. We should take common sense seriously.

@Tony

"they would be, simply, wrong. It would be based on a presumption that the ONLY WAY such a distant even could have any effect on me is through the set of causes that are constrained by physical, light-speed-limited, actions - the light-cone."

I wasn't trying to argue the theological question, or the physical one. The point is that if I make such a statement then I might be forgiven for thinking that "before" and "after" are not always meaningful terms.

On the theological point, I am pretty sure that God is not outside of anybody's light cone.

On the physical point, the issue is not really whether action at a distance is possible or not. It is whether any meaningful distinction can be made between instantaneous action at a distance and a causal chain simply travelling backwards in time.

Does one event being prior to another in a causal chain imply that it is before (or at least not after) the other in terms of time as measured by a physical clock? I think the answer is probably "no", or at least "not for every clock". At any rate it isn't an assumption we should introduce without a really good reason.

Anonymous said...

"I agree that this view is incoherent. After all, if there is no genuine "becoming" in physics, then any good materialist will agree that there must, in particular, be no "becoming" in consciousness. For any consistent B-theorist, there can be no coming-to-be and passing-away in the mind any more than in external physical events. All of my states of consciousness must exist equally, "simultaneously", albeit with different time-coordinates."

Does that mean there are no qualitative aspects of consciousness? If there are no qualitative features in physics, then from this reasoning it follows that there are no qualitative features in the mind.

a.morphous said...

Temporal structure is part of (maybe all of!) the geometry of space-time, and the standard mathematical description of geometrical structure was developed with purely spatial structure in view. Space, unlike time, has no directionality and the mathematics developed to describe spatial geometry does not easily or naturally represent directionality.

The mathematics of spacetime treat time as a dimension, but one with very different properties than spatial dimensions. Not to get too jargony, but the sign of its coefficient in the characteristic tensor is the opposite of the 3 spatial dimensions, which does in fact impost directionality. See here. This is pretty elementary and I would expect someone with Maudlin's background to know it, I'm somewhat surprised at that statement.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Anonymous @July 12, 2013 at 9:08 AM: Does that mean there are no qualitative aspects of consciousness? If there are no qualitative features in physics, then from this reasoning it follows that there are no qualitative features in the mind.

I would like to set aside the question of whether materialists must believe that there are no qualitative features in physics, because it seems off-topic to me.
Eternalism, at any rate, definitely doesn't seem committed to this position.

The B-theorist doesn't have to think that the mind is like external physical events in all respects. The consistent B-theorist just has to think that the mind, like external physical events, does not undergo "becoming" in the sense that A-theorists think it does.

Anonymous said...

"The B-theorist doesn't have to think that the mind is like external physical events in all respects. The consistent B-theorist just has to think that the mind, like external physical events, does not undergo "becoming" in the sense that A-theorists think it does."

I guess we can leave qualia out.

So, given eternalism, one does not "become" convinced of its truth?

Tony said...

On the theological point, I am pretty sure that God is not outside of anybody's light cone.

The issue is the relationship of causality to time. I am pretty sure that God, and even angels who are not eternal, can cause an effect outside my light cone based on actions of mine, like prayer. Thus my light-cone does not represent the totality of events I can have an effect on.

Does one event being prior to another in a causal chain imply that it is before (or at least not after) the other in terms of time as measured by a physical clock? I think the answer is probably "no", or at least "not for every clock". At any rate it isn't an assumption we should introduce without a really good reason.

One event, cause A, being prior to another, effect B, in a causal sense IS sufficient reason to believe that A should be measured by a clock as being not after B, by any clock that is present to A and B. If it is not so measured by a clock at a distance to A and B, that's a different issue. If we don't think that the clock co-located with A and B should measure A as before or with B, then we have some problems.

JesseM said...

The issue is the relationship of causality to time. I am pretty sure that God, and even angels who are not eternal, can cause an effect outside my light cone based on actions of mine, like prayer. Thus my light-cone does not represent the totality of events I can have an effect on.

Relativity deals only with physical causes, so supernatural causes would not disprove it. And technically relativity does not actually exclude the possibility of physical faster-than-light effects, the hypothetical "tachyon" particles, but it says that if they exist, then either tachyons could be used to send signals backwards in time into one's own past light cone (via a setup called the tachyonic antitelephone), or relativity is false and the laws of physics do pick out a preferred definition of simultaneity (so tachyons can only move faster than light relative to one particular definition of simultaneity, ruling out the tachyonic antitelephone which deals with a pair of tachyon signals that move faster than light with respect to two different frames' definitions of simultaneity).

On the main topic of presentism vs. eternalism, I think supernatural effects are only relevant if you want to make the claim that there are certain supernatural effects that can operate faster than light, but not backwards in time--that would necessarily imply a "true" definition of simultaneity for supernatural effects. I think many Christians would say it is meaningful to pray to God for the outcome of events that have already occurred but whose outcome you don't yet know, since God could take those prayers into account from His timeless perspective (there's a paper about the subject here, which confirms my recollection that C.S. Lewis once wrote in support of such an idea), but I'm not sure what you would say about angels, or whether your earlier comment about an angel being able to "move two things simultaneously" requires a single "true" definition of simultaneity. If you say that properties of angels do require objective simultaneity, I'd be interested to know what theological support there is for this claim about angels.

Tony said...

but I'm not sure what you would say about angels, or whether your earlier comment about an angel being able to "move two things simultaneously" requires a single "true" definition of simultaneity. If you say that properties of angels do require objective simultaneity, I'd be interested to know what theological support there is for this claim about angels.

I am not much concerned with any "true simultaneity", so much as causal order. Yet it seems to me that if an angel is "stuck" in time the way we are, and yet is capable of action at a distance, then the angel itself IS a "referential system" that can validate the simultaneity of 2 events in a way that supercedes the relativistic limitations we have to deal with. If angels are not "stuck" in time the way we are, then the angel's perspective on the actions it causes, while not necessarily temporal in their own nature, are temporal in their effects, and then the angel's perspective contains at least one referential system that is capable of identifying a preferred direction on temporal events. Whether the angel is temporal or not, it is not spatial at all, and so it has a referential advantage over us.

reighley said...

@Tony,

"One event, cause A, being prior to another, effect B, in a causal sense IS sufficient reason to believe that A should be measured by a clock as being not after B, by any clock that is present to A and B."

I see you have introduced that assumption which I didn't want to introduce lightly. It is just not obvious to me that such should be the case. It would be helpful to me if you explained why you thought so.

Anonymous said...

a.morphous,

I think that things like this "Not to get too jargony, but the sign of its coefficient in the characteristic tensor is the opposite of the 3 spatial dimensions, which does in fact impost directionality" is precisely what Maudlin is calling "not easy/not natural." At any rate, I think whether or not Maudlin is in error depends on his definitions/reasoning behind "easy" and "natural."

JesseM said...

Tony, what about my question concerning theological support for this idea of action-at-a-distance by angels? Is there something in the Bible that suggests this, or in any of the teachings of the Catholic Church which Catholics are supposed to take as infallible? Specifically, what's to say either of the following possibilities is not true:

1. Angels are nonphysical but their actions in the physical world must follow a temporal sequence, and God places the limitation on them that each action must lie in the future light cone of the previous action.

2. Angels are not limited by physical time (though they could conceivably still have their own sense of time-order, like a science-fictional time traveler who experiences 1955 "after" having just been in 1985, from their own perspective), so for example if someone learned that their loved one had been in the area of a disaster and prayed that they were safe, an angel could hear that prayer and respond by helping the loved one at the time of that disaster, even though this was in the past light cone of the prayer.

Anonymous said...

I think this quote from the interview also underscores Feser's point:

"Numerical methods were introduced into geometry by means of coordinate systems. This can be extremely powerful as a mathematical tool, but it can also obscure the physical structure under analysis. If my own presentation of Relativity has any virtue, it is this relentless focus on geometrical structure independently of coordinate systems and numbers generally."

This is also interesting:

"The Relativistic account of space-time geometry makes the light-cone structure of space-time a fundamental part of its geometry. This, rather than the “constancy of the speed of light” lies at the heart of the theory. Indeed, all reference to the “speed” of anything, including light, is either about “speed in a coordinate system” (and so is as much about coordinates as about physical reality) or else a completely inappropriate throwback to Newton’s theory of Absolute Space and Time (in which things do have unique objective speeds). Phrases like “clocks go slower as they approach the speed of light” are multiply misleading: accurate clocks do not “slow down”, they always record the objective length of their trajectories, and there is no such objective state as “approaching the speed of light”. Clocks never have objective speeds at all. All of these inappropriate and misleading phrases can be avoided. Relativity postulates an objective geometrical structure to space-time and accurate clocks measure that structure, i.e. the proper time along their trajectories."

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Anonymous @July 12, 2013 at 10:03 PM: So, given eternalism, one does not "become" convinced of its truth?

Yes, but not in the sense that the A-theorist thinks.

For the purposes of illustration, imagine that my earlier comments convinced Prof. Feser to become a thoroughgoing B-theorist. (We haven't heard from him, you see, because he is still processing the profound change that this has wrought on his worldview.) Then, on the B-theory view, there exists, eternally, a time before he was convinced of the B-theory, a time while he was being convinced, and a time after he was convinced. In that sense, he changed from unconvinced to convinced; he became convinced.

Nonetheless, his unconvinced self always existed, his being-convinced self always existed, and his convinced self always existed, albeit at different times. None of these times, none of these moments of consciousness, ever had a different ontological status from the status that it has at the time of my writing.

Anonymous said...

In that sense, he changed from unconvinced to convinced; he became convinced.

So, let's say that in a few days you learn of some intractable problems with B-theory in relation to the mind, and you abandon it. If you were to hypothetically give a description of the case of your awakening in B-theory terms, you would say that there was no 'awakening' at all in the sense of 'becoming'. You simply have a variety of eternally existing points. On points grouped under A, you believed in B-theory. On points grouped under B, you were changing your mind. On points grouped under C, you rejected B-theory.

One question for now. What happens to causality here? Are there causal links from A to B to C? There's no 'becoming', so no time for causality to play out. So what does it mean for you to come to reject B-theory? What does it mean to 'change'? Is change nothing more than A, B, and C having relevant differences?

JesseM said...

"What happens to causality here? Are there causal links from A to B to C? There's no 'becoming', so no time for causality to play out."

Consider what Maudlin says about causality in the interview:

As for causation, everyday causal locutions are highly context-sensitive and subject to pragmatic considerations. One does not want any foundational physical concepts to have these features, so at least everyday causal locutions cannot be translated cleanly into basic physical terms. Furthermore, physics gets on fine without mention of causation: dynamical law does all the work. So there is no need to admit some new irreducible notion of causation to make sense of physics. A deterministic physics might endorse a claim like “earlier global physical states cause later global physical states”, but that claim is of little use for everyday talk of causes.

Even without a notion of true "becoming", there are still regular mathematical rules--Maudlin's "dynamical law"--linking states of a system at different times. So one can still say things along the lines of "a system in state X will, if exposed to influence Y, likely be in state Z at a later time", which captures at least part of the intuitions that go under the term "causality".

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Anonymous @July 13, 2013 at 12:11 PM: One question for now. What happens to causality here? Are there causal links from A to B to C? There's no 'becoming', so no time for causality to play out. So what does it mean for you to come to reject B-theory? What does it mean to 'change'? Is change nothing more than A, B, and C having relevant differences?

There is time for causality to play out, where "play out" is understood in B-theoretic terms. That is, the causality has played out by this much at this time and by that much at that time.

But, pace the A-theory, there is no sense in which the extent to which the causality will have played out in the future has a different ontological status from what it has now.

Presentism runs into bigger problems with causality. For, it must explain how the present is caused by a past that does not exist, and how the present affects a future that does not exist.

(I know that one way to deal with this problem is Aristotle's theory of act and potency. I only point out that, under eternalism, the problem addressed by this theory doesn't even arise, at least not in the empirical world.)

FZ said...

I wonder how potency would play into all of this. For Aristotle, being and non-being were not the whole story. Presentism claims being and nonbeing with respect to time, and eternalism claims just being with respect to time.

Anonymous said...

There is time for causality to play out, where "play out" is understood in B-theoretic terms. That is, the causality has played out by this much at this time and by that much at that time.

Right, but what is causality under this scenario? Is it just that A to B to C is organized, by some immaterial filing system, in a certain order? What does it mean for A to "cause" B and for B to "cause" C? Does it cause things the way frame 22 'causes' frame 23 on a film strip? But that would mean that there is no causality between frame 22 and frame 23. We're just talking about organization.

You say play out, but "play out" is in quotation marks. Obviously it's not that 'time passes' in an A-theory sense. In B-theory, as I understand it, time doesn't pass at all. Every moment in time just exists eternally.

ozero91 said...

I've always wondered, how can there be a "direction" of time under eternalism? Suppose you have the set of equally real time states:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 etc

I don't see how any of these can be the present; labeling any of them as the present seems arbitrary. Same thing goes for declaring a state as the "past" and "future." How do we justify that (for example) state 2 is "before" state 3, rather than "after" state 3?

JesseM said...

ozero91, in eternalism "present" is a purely observer-relative term, like "here". So listing some times and saying "I don't see how any of these can be the present" would be analogous to listing a bunch of cities and saying "I don't see how any of these can be the here"--obviously in space there is no absolute "the here", but different people in each city can refer to there own city as "here" relative to themselves. As for the direction of time, an eternalist could just take "the past" to just mean the direction you have memories and records of, and "the future" to be the direction you don't. In modern physics the ultimate explanation for this asymmetry of records is thought to lie in the "thermodynamic arrow of time" which owes to the fact that the universe shortly after the Big Bang was in a low-entropy state and the entropy has been increasing ever since (see Huw Price's book Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point, or Sean Carroll's From Eternity to Here, for good discussions of how all asymmetries in time are thought to trace back to the thermodynamic arrow).

Anonymous said...

, but different people in each city can refer to there own city as "here" relative to themselves.

I think this just highlights the issue ozero and myself are asking about. A relative, subjective ordering isn't the question. It's the objective ordering.

In modern physics the ultimate explanation for this asymmetry of records is thought to lie in the "thermodynamic arrow of time" which owes to the fact that the universe shortly after the Big Bang was in a low-entropy state and the entropy has been increasing ever since

But that's the thing. What arrow of time? What 'ever since'? In B-theory, there is no 'before' or 'after' in a temporal sense. Sure, you can organize these points like frames on a film strip to go in a certain order. Or maybe you could organize them in a different way. Sure, we may mentally organize a series into 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10, but if no point is really before or after the other, why not organize them as 1 10 2 9 3 8 4 7 5 6? What determines an objective order to the series?

ozero91 said...

"In modern physics the ultimate explanation for this asymmetry of records is thought to lie in the "thermodynamic arrow of time" which owes to the fact that the universe shortly after the Big Bang was in a low-entropy state and the entropy has been increasing ever since (see Huw Price's book Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point, or Sean Carroll's From Eternity to Here, for good discussions of how all asymmetries in time are thought to trace back to the thermodynamic arrow)."

I have yet to read those books, but as of now I don't see how you get an objective direction from entropy. The way I see it, all you get is "in this direction, entropy increases, and in the opposite direction, entropy decreases." No mention of "the" direction. Thus, before vs after also seem observer relative.

JesseM said...

A relative, subjective ordering isn't the question. It's the objective ordering.

The fact that there is no objective "here" in space doesn't mean you can't have objective orderings in space--for example, there is an objective truth about the order of different cities along a North-to-South axis.

But that's the thing. What arrow of time?

For physicists the "arrow of time" just refers to the notion that certain series of events that can happen in a given type of system (like a whole egg cracking and splitting into pieces) are only observed to happen in one direction of time but not the other; it'd be as if each city had one street where all the buildings were always painted red and another where all the buildings were painted blue, and it was observed that the red street was always to the north of the blue street.

What 'ever since'? In B-theory, there is no 'before' or 'after' in a temporal sense.

If time is just treated as a direction in spacetime, sure there is, just like there is "further to the north" and "further to the south" on the surface of the Earth. "Ever since" just means "at all later times", similar to saying "at all points further north".

Sure, we may mentally organize a series into 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10, but if no point is really before or after the other, why not organize them as 1 10 2 9 3 8 4 7 5 6? What determines an objective order to the series?

Obviously you are free to "mentally organize" things anyway you like (it's not as if I couldn't choose to mentally organize a series of dates out of time-order even if presentism were true), but if you want to order them in a way that's consistent with the dynamical laws there's only one way (or two ways, if the laws of physics are time-symmetric) to do it. Similarly if you want to order numbers in order of increasing magnitude there's only one correct way to do it. And in a more qualitative way, if you want to order snapshots of the universe in a way that's consistent with the idea that "later" states have records (including human memories) of "earlier" ones but not vice versa, then there's probably only going to be one way to do that.

reighley said...

@ozero91

"No mention of "the" direction. Thus, before vs after also seem observer relative."

As far as the "entropy" understanding of time goes, that's correct : before and after are observer relative. If you lived in a region of space and time in which the entropy happened to be running in the other direction then your perception would also be running in the opposite direction. I think the idea is that the act of perceiving is by its nature an entropy increasing interaction between the thing observing and the thing observed.

Norbert Wiener put this idea in a particularly picturesque form by imagining that we pointed our
telescopes at a galaxy in which entropy happened to be going the other way. We would never be able to see it, because alas it would be absorbing rather than emitting light!

Which is to say that, the topology of spacetime is such that time has a "sign", and once you have decided which direction the past is then you know the future is the other way. You decide the "past" to be in the direction of the big bang because that is the lowest entropy state of the universe. You only remember seeing the past, because a memory has a higher entropy than the thing remembered and "seeing" is an entropy increasing relationship.

Anonymous said...

For physicists the "arrow of time" just refers to the notion that certain series of events that can happen in a given type of system (like a whole egg cracking and splitting into pieces) are only observed to happen in one direction of time but not the other; it'd be as if each city had one street where all the buildings were always painted red and another where all the buildings were painted blue, and it was observed that the red street was always to the north of the blue street.

Right, but a 'series' here doesn't mean temporal series. The series would be a collection of frames that don't occur before or after each other. They all existed eternally. So which order is the objective order?

If time is just treated as a direction in spacetime, sure there is, just like there is "further to the north" and "further to the south" on the surface of the Earth. "Ever since" just means "at all later times", similar to saying "at all points further north".

But there is no 'later time' without a temporal series. There is no past, present or future.

Obviously you are free to "mentally organize" things anyway you like (it's not as if I couldn't choose to mentally organize a series of dates out of time-order even if presentism were true)

If presentism is true, then C follows B follows A, objectively, so at least there's that'. I'm wondering if there is a similar objective order in eternalism. It doesn't have to be temporal, but it has to be more than a subjective ordering by preference.

And in a more qualitative way, if you want to order snapshots of the universe in a way that's consistent with the idea that "later" states have records (including human memories) of "earlier" ones but not vice versa, then there's probably only going to be one way to do that.

Sure, but it seems that would be no more "real" than ordering the snapshots at random. Maybe it would be instrumentally more confusing, or not subjectively meeting the standard you've set forth. But it seems like those are the only standards available anyway.

JesseM said...

I have yet to read those books, but as of now I don't see how you get an objective direction from entropy. The way I see it, all you get is "in this direction, entropy increases, and in the opposite direction, entropy decreases." No mention of "the" direction. Thus, before vs after also seem observer relative.

Sure, it's a matter of convention. But obviously the established convention is the "past" is the direction we have memories/records of and the "future" is the direction we don't, so I would simply define "past" and "future" in terms of that arrow and possibly some others. Do you think you have a meaningful concept of "future" and "past" which is prior to that and all other observable arrows, so that it would be meaningful to talk about a possible world where all these arrows are still correlated in the same way (the direction of increasing memory is the same as the direction of increasing entropy is the same as the direction of increasing aging of biological organisms, etc. etc.) but they are "really" running in reverse relative to true time, so that the inhabitants of this universe are mistaken in calling the direction of increasing memory "the future"? For a presentist this might be a meaningful possibility, but as an eternalist I don't think it's meaningful, just like it wouldn't be meaningful to imagine a world that was observably physically identical to ours in all respects but where point we humans call "The North Pole" is "really" the southernmost point on the Earth, and the point we call "The South Pole" is "really" the northernmost point. (if you think this is a meaningful possibility to imagine, please tell me!) For me terms like "north" and "south", "past" and "future" are just defined in terms of certain types of interrelated physical observations, they don't have any metaphysical content that transcends all possible physical content.

JesseM said...

Right, but a 'series' here doesn't mean temporal series. The series would be a collection of frames that don't occur before or after each other. They all existed eternally. So which order is the objective order?

That only make sense if you define words like "temporal series" and "before and after" in a way that assumes that the presentist understanding of time must be true for the words to apply. If you accept that one can talk about spatial ordering, like order of cities along a north-to-south axis, then you can define "temporal series" as just an ordering along the time axis in spacetime, which isn't fundamentally different (ontologically) from a spatial axis; "before" and "after" are just words for relative position along this axis, much like "further north" and "further south" are words for relative position on the north-south axis. So eternalists can have their own perfectly meaningful definitions of these words, even if they aren't the same as the definitions that might be used by a presentist.

If presentism is true, then C follows B follows A, objectively, so at least there's that'.

Only if you implicitly define "follows" to mean "follows in time". The fact that you can rely on readers to understand this implicitly without your spelling it out doesn't change the fact that there can only be objective orderings relative to some particularly ordering criterion, like time of occurrence. It's just as true that "4 follows 3 follows 2, objectively" if we specify that we are talking about "following" in order of numerical magnitude, another equally valid ordering criteria.

I'm wondering if there is a similar objective order in eternalism. It doesn't have to be temporal, but it has to be more than a subjective ordering by preference.

Once you have specified your ordering criteria, the need not be anything "subjective" about the correct order relative to that criteria. If you imagine that it is meaningful to talk about an "order" without having an explicit or implicit ordering criterion, then I don't really know what that means (but I might suspect you are smuggling in an implicit "preferred" definition to words like "order" and "follow" without acknowledging it).

Anonymous said...

That only make sense if you define words like "temporal series" and "before and after" in a way that assumes that the presentist understanding of time must be true for the words to apply.

No, that's not what I'm doing. I'm simply asking how B comes after A objectively for the eternalist. Which order is the objective order? The A-theorist has an answer to that, it seems. I'm not denying that the B-theorist can have an answer. I just want to know what it is, and how it's determined that it is objective, given the assumptions of B-theory.

There may be no way, but I'm not defining the possibility out of existence from the start.

Only if you implicitly define "follows" to mean "follows in time". The fact that you can rely on readers to understand this implicitly without your spelling it out doesn't change the fact that there can only be objective orderings relative to some particularly ordering criterion, like time of occurrence.

What makes a B-theory ordering objective rather than subjective? Again, I am not doubting that B-theory can have an objective order just as A does. I think some metaphysical moves will need to be made to manage this.

Once you have specified your ordering criteria, the need not be anything "subjective" about the correct order relative to that criteria.

I think, on A-theory, C follows B follows A regardless of what ordering criteria I use, or if anyone is around to have an ordering criteria. Are you saying that all causality and all 'before/after/follows' talk is subjective?

JesseM said...

I wrote 'That only make sense if you define words like "temporal series" and "before and after" in a way that assumes that the presentist understanding of time must be true for the words to apply. ' and you responded:

No, that's not what I'm doing.

Are you sure? If you don't provide explicit definition of terms like "temporal series" and "before and after" and "objective order" and "follows", but just use them in a way that seems intuitive to you without examining those intuitions carefully and striving for more explicit definitions as a philosopher typically would, then you may not really be aware of what implicit notions are going into them.

I'm simply asking how B comes after A objectively for the eternalist. Which order is the objective order?

I don't know what you mean by "the" objective order. Any order is objective relative to the ordering criterion if, once you have spelled out the criterion clearly, there can be no room for reasonable disagreement about the correct order. If your set to be ordered is the set of numbers {5, 17, 3, 12} and your ordering criterion is that numbers with smaller values must be earlier in the sequence, then the objective order relative to that criterion must be 3,5,12,17. If your ordering criterion is that numbers with larger values must be earlier in the sequence, then the objective order relative to that criterion must be 17,12,5,3. To ask what is "the" objective ordering, as if one ordering criterion is privileged over others, seems meaningless. Are you suggesting that some set of events like The Trojan War, The American Civil War, and World War 2 has an "objective order" that does not depend, explicitly or implicitly, on using the ordering criterion "earlier to later in time" as opposed to some other ordering criterion like "number of soldiers killed"?

I think, on A-theory, C follows B follows A regardless of what ordering criteria I use

And do you claim that is true while also denying that you are implicitly defining "follows" in terms of time-order rather than some other possible order? If so would you say you have some a priori intuition of "following" which is mentally prior to any intuitions about time?

Crude said...

Are you sure?

Yes.

To ask what is "the" objective ordering, as if one ordering criterion is privileged over others, seems meaningless.

Do you think causality is also meaningless? The idea that A objectively causes/caused B?

And do you claim that is true while also denying that you are implicitly defining "follows" in terms of time-order rather than some other possible order?

I think, at this point, all I can do is ask my question again: Are you saying that all causality and all 'before/after/follows' talk is subjective?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Anonymous @July 13, 2013 at 4:17 PM: I'm simply asking how B comes after A objectively for the eternalist. Which order is the objective order? The A-theorist has an answer to that, it seems. I'm not denying that the B-theorist can have an answer. I just want to know what it is, and how it's determined that it is objective, given the assumptions of B-theory.

I endorse all of JesseM's comments. Since he's said much of what I'd have said, I'll take a different tack.

Since I know that this is an Aristotelian forum, I'm trying to understand why the idea of an objective time order within the context of the B-theory would seem mysterious to an Aristotelian.

As I understand it, Aristotelians are perfectly comfortable saying that my memory of a book "points to" that book, a picture of a house "points to" that house, a crater caused by a meteorite "points to" that meteorite, and a shadow of a tree "points to" that tree. The memory, the picture, the crater, and the shadow are all intrinsically "pointers". They all have intentionality, objective and independent of any conventions.

So, the Aristotelian is happy with things pointing to other things. Surely he should also be happy with an event pointing to another event, where, by "event", I mean a certain kind of something that is in a particular region of space during a particular span of time. Thus, my recalling of the memory points to my reading of the book. The development of the picture points to the house as it was at the time when the picture was taken. The crater-at-a-particular-moment points to the event of the collision. The shadow-at-a-particular-moment, perhaps, points to the event of the light, which otherwise would have landed where the shadow is at that time, landing instead on the tree.

That these events intrinsically "point to" the other events seems no more mysterious than the corresponding objects "pointing to" the other objects. In fact, I would expect that any account of how the objects are pointing to the other objects could very easily be extended into an account of how the events are pointing to the other events.

Intuitively, on such an account, events would point to those events of which they bear traces, that is, of which they record some aspect. Explicating this business about "bearing traces" would take work, but it seems that any account of how objects point to other objects would already have done that work. To the best of my knowledge, Aristotle's account doesn't require the objects or events "pointed to" to go out of existence, so I don't see why it would run into any problem with eternalism.

Given such an account, we get an objective structure on events of the sort required by Special Relativity. If event A bears traces of event B, then B lies in the past light cone of A. Just as in the case of objects, this relationship would be objective and independent of any conventions. What more do you need?

Crude said...

Since I know that this is an Aristotelian forum, I'm trying to understand why the idea of an objective time order within the context of the B-theory would seem mysterious to an Aristotelian.

I don't think it would prima facie seem mysterious to an Aristotilean on those terms. If the reply is that B-theory has sense made of it on Aristotilean standards - that there is an objective 'intentionality' at work in nature, and events 'point at' other events objectively, that's great and grand. That's also going to be one hell of an interesting spin on physical theory.

Are you saying that B-Theory is an Aristotilean theory, with intrinsic intentionality/directedness/formal+final causes at work?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

I wrote, To the best of my knowledge, Aristotle's account doesn't require the objects or events "pointed to" to go out of existence, so I don't see why it would run into any problem with eternalism.

Just to clarify, I'm sure that Aristotle's account is often given using A-theoretic language (past, present, future). But could it really not be equally well cast in B-theoretic terms (before, simultaneous with, after)? Is the A-theoretic language really doing vital explanatory work that the corresponding B-theoretic language can't?

FZ said...

Hooray for the principle of proportionate causality I guess.

As an aside, if criteria-making is an intentional activity, then doesn't that mean that any explanation of intentionality that involves criteria is circular?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Crude: Are you saying that B-Theory is an Aristotilean theory, with intrinsic intentionality/directedness/formal+final causes at work?

I mean only that the A-theory vs. B-theory issue is orthogonal to the issue of Aristotle vs. modern materialism. So I was puzzled by why Prof. Feser said that "a Parmenidean interpretation of relativity is ultimately incoherent" and that the importance of this point "cannot be overstated". What exactly hinges on it, from an Aristotelian/Thomist perspective? Feser himself laid out elsewhere an argument for why, even granting the "Parmenidean interpretation of relativity", the theory of act and potency would still hold and would still suffice to support Aquinas's first argument for the existence of God. So where exactly does he see the incoherence?

JesseM said...

Yes.

As I said, if you don't think through the meaning of terms in detail so that you can give detailed explicit definitions (which I presume you haven't, since you didn't answer my request for definitions), then you can't be sure what implicit assumptions lie behind your intuitive use of the terms. I'm not picking on you, I'd say this obviously goes for any human being using any terms whatsoever. Of course it isn't normally isn't important to think about such things because people's implicit understandings tend to agree, but explicitly thinking about these implicit understandings is pretty central when dealing with philosophical disagreements (consider all those dialogues where Socrates questioned what his fellow citizens really meant by words like "justice")

Do you think causality is also meaningless? The idea that A objectively causes/caused B?

No, I don't think it's meaningless. But if you think this question is connected with the notion of "objective ordering" independent of an ordering criterion, then I don't understand the connection ("causal order" is an ordering criterion like any other).

And do you claim that is true while also denying that you are implicitly defining "follows" in terms of time-order rather than some other possible order?

I think, at this point, all I can do is ask my question again:

Not sure why you say that's "all you can do"--what's stopping you from answering my question above? It's a simple yes-or-no question...if you're willing to answer my questions in general but find the one above unclear, please explain what's unclear and I can try to clarify.

Are you saying that all causality and all 'before/after/follows' talk is subjective?

I don't know what you mean by "subjective" since you don't define what you mean by "objective ordering". As I said, I certainly think you can have orderings that are "objective", rather than "subjective", relative to a given ordering criterion (see my example of the objective orderings for numbers in the set {5, 17, 3, 12}), but at times you seem to suggest that no ordering criterion is needed, or that there is a single "objective" criterion that must be used (for reasons you don't explain). Some of this might be cleared up if you could give a yes-or-no answer to my question in bold above.

Crude said...

What exactly hinges on it, from an Aristotelian/Thomist perspective? Feser himself laid out elsewhere an argument for why, even granting the "Parmenidean interpretation of relativity", the theory of act and potency would still hold and would still suffice to support Aquinas's first argument for the existence of God. So where exactly does he see the incoherence?

I won't speak for Ed, but A) even if a view is compatible with an A-T view, that doesn't guarantee its coherency, and B) I'm not sure most people who give a B-theory account of time would be willing to embrace intrinsic 'pointing' quite the way you laid out. That'd certainly be some interesting news.

Crude said...

No, I don't think it's meaningless. But if you think this question is connected with the notion of "objective ordering" independent of an ordering criterion, then I don't understand the connection ("causal order" is an ordering criterion like any other).

I think that if A 'objectively causes' B, then you have something deeper than a subjective ordering criterion.

Not sure why you say that's "all you can do"--what's stopping you from answering my question above? It's a simple yes-or-no question...if you're willing to answer my questions in general but find the one above unclear, please explain what's unclear and I can try to clarify.

Well, what's stopping you from answering my question in turn? Why did mine get no answer, but a failure to answer yours is problematic?

No, I am not defining 'follows' in 'time order' as opposed to 'possible order'. Why would I be? I'm entirely fine with ordered series, even objective ordered series, that are not temporal - think 'First Way', etc.

If that doesn't satisfy your question, I really don't know what else I can say to you.

I don't know what you mean by "subjective" since you don't define what you mean by "objective ordering".

For my purposes here, take 'objective ordering' to mean a causal relation that is not simply a mind-dependent (at least human mind dependent) arrangement.

Let's try this: what does it mean, for you, to say that A causes B? And do you think that, in fact, regardless of human perspective, that A causes B?

FZ said...

"Part of what characterizes the passage of time—and what many philosophers and physicists dispute—is that the temporal structure of the world, independently of its material contents, has an intrinsic directionality. The later states of the world arise from, are produced from, the earlier states. This is independent of, e.g., the direction in which entropy increases. Even if the world were at thermal equilibrium, with constant entropy, still the later states would be produced from the earlier states in accord with the fundamental laws of physics."

Maudlin has some interesting ideas. Anyone know if and where he further develops the above quote?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

I'm not sure most people who give a B-theory account of time would be willing to embrace intrinsic 'pointing' quite the way you laid out.

That certainly seems possible. But I don't think that many would say that the denial of intrinsic pointing is part of the B-theory or eternalism per se. In particular, I don't see why one couldn't subscribe to the "Parmenidean interpretation of relativity" (PIoR) while believing in intrinsic pointing (IP). And if PIoR with IP is coherent in Feser's view, then PIoR without IP (not with its denial, but just without addressing the question) can't be incoherent.

JesseM said...

I think that if A 'objectively causes' B, then you have something deeper than a subjective ordering criterion.

But you haven't addressed my questions about what you mean by "subjective ordering criterion". As I said, the terminology that seems most natural to me is that an "objective ordering" is one that objective relative to a given ordering criterion, such as causal ordering or numerical order (as opposed to a subjective ordering criterion, like putting some paintings in order of beauty), but I don't have any notion that any criterion is itself more "objective" than others (assuming they each yield a unique correct order, unlike the paintings-in-order-of-beauty example). Do you think that some criteria are inherently more objective than others? If so, using what definition?

Well, what's stopping you from answering my question in turn? Why did mine get no answer, but a failure to answer yours is problematic?

As I said in my request to you, "if you're willing to answer my questions in general but find the one above unclear, please explain what's unclear and I can try to clarify." Any question that I haven't answered, I've explained that it's because I find your terms unclear, and asked for clarification, which you have often not given. I can't answer a question about something like "subjective vs. objective ordering" if I am unclear what you mean by these terms.

No, I am not defining 'follows' in 'time order' as opposed to 'possible order'. Why would I be? I'm entirely fine with ordered series, even objective ordered series, that are not temporal - think 'First Way', etc.

OK, but from your comments below, it seems you were just using a different implicit criterion for "follows", namely that one follows another in a causal series. In ordinary speech "follows" can be used much more generally (like one event following another in time with no causal relation between them), so hopefully you can see why your meaning wasn't obvious to me until you stated it explicitly.

For my purposes here, take 'objective ordering' to mean a causal relation that is not simply a mind-dependent (at least human mind dependent) arrangement.

Let's try this: what does it mean, for you, to say that A causes B? And do you think that, in fact, regardless of human perspective, that A causes B?


As I said in my earlier comment from 12:50 pm, I agree with Maudlin that in light of modern physics it's best to take talk of "causation" as a sort of simplified shorthand for the fact that the dynamical laws of physics produce predictable mathematical relationships between states of physical systems at different times. A full account of "why" a system is in a given state at some time would require the full details of everything in its past light cone, but often you can get pretty good predictions using rules of thumb about the consequences of more localized events, and I think these sorts of intuitive rules of thumb account for our everyday notions of "causes and effects" (for instance, if you see a tree in the process of falling you can predict there will probably be a loud crash shortly thereafter, without needing to know the precise physical state of all the particles in the tree). I don't see causality as fundamentally different from any other case where you have something with an orderly mathematical structure, such that information about one part of it allows you to deduce information about another part of it--in this case the "something" is spacetime, the orderly mathematical structure is the laws of physics.

Crude said...

Do you think that some criteria are inherently more objective than others? If so, using what definition?

If that's too obscure to have much conversation about, then let's just stick to talk of causality - that's more of what's at issue here.

I don't see causality as fundamentally different from any other case where you have something with an orderly mathematical structure, such that information about one part of it allows you to deduce information about another part of it--in this case the "something" is spacetime, the orderly mathematical structure is the laws of physics.

Let me try this again.

Give an example account of A causing B on B-theory. One you think serves adequately as a 'true' model.

FZ said...

Wait, if Maudlin really does reject eternalism, then does his formulation of dynamical laws apply between seperate time states?

Also, suppose you have two pictures. In one picture, you have two spheres that are touching. In the second picture, you have two spheres that have some gap in between. Are the spheres in one picture the same spheres that are displayed in the other picture?

Tony said...

reighley said: Does one event being prior to another in a causal chain imply that it is before (or at least not after) the other in terms of time as measured by a physical clock? I think the answer is probably "no", or at least "not for every clock". At any rate it isn't an assumption we should introduce without a really good reason.

I said: One event, cause A, being prior to another, effect B, in a causal sense IS sufficient reason to believe that A should be measured by a clock as being not after B, by any clock that is present to A and B.,

but I also added

If it is not so measured by a clock at a distance to A and B, that's a different issue.

reighley said: I see you have introduced that assumption which I didn't want to introduce lightly. It is just not obvious to me that such should be the case. It would be helpful to me if you explained why you thought so.

I thought that by allowing for the possibility that NOT ALL CLOCKS necessarily measure A as before or with B meant that I did not make the assumption. I thought that's what you were pointing out. If you object even to a clock that is co-located with A and B always measuring A as with or before B, I don't know what to say to you. Isn't the entire theory of relativity about how different frames of reference might show different results? Presumably, the SAME frame of reference as the event always shows the SAME results: the same results that the actual things being touched and observed directly show because they are actually present? Are you suggesting that there is a thought experiment in which we can show A causing B but a clock located at the very same location as A and B, not moving in relation to them, showing A happens after B? I don't even know what that would look like. Please describe. (Without relying on sending a signal out to another location/frame of reference).

Jesse M: Tony, what about my question concerning theological support for this idea of action-at-a-distance by angels? Is there something in the Bible that suggests this,

There is this in Luke: I am Gabriel that stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

Admittedly, this is not sufficient on its own, since "before God" is not itself a location, as "before Zachary" is. Yet it is a step in the argument, since Gabriel is doing an action in a definite location and another action not so located - there is multiplicity of activity, and one object of action is located at a place.

There is nothing in philosophy, I think, that precludes Gabriel acting at any other location at the same moment he is acting before Zachary, if such action were to be for the same object - kind of like a man doing something distinct with each hand - such as to bring two things to bear on each other. If the end in the angel's mind is one, he can seemingly do as many actions as needed to achieve it, and separation by distance is an irrelevancy to him.

Angels are nonphysical but their actions in the physical world must follow a temporal sequence, and God places the limitation on them that each action must lie in the future light cone of the previous action.

Since Gabriel is not physical himself, it would seem inappropriate to his nature that God impose, as an extraneous constraint, a limitation specifically related to the nature of bodies in space-time. If the limitation is related to the very nature of causality itself, then the whole issue is solved and we can go home. If not, there seems no reason for God to impose it on angels.

Mr. Green said...

Tyrrell McAllister: (I know that one way to deal with this problem is Aristotle's theory of act and potency. I only point out that, under eternalism, the problem addressed by this theory doesn't even arise, at least not in the empirical world.)

Eternalists call it a "problem"... everyone else just calls it "reality"...! (But it depends just what is entailed by "eternalism".)


So I was puzzled by why Prof. Feser said that "a Parmenidean interpretation of relativity is ultimately incoherent" and that the importance of this point "cannot be overstated".

I think the issue is what exactly is meant by "eternalism". If it means just that the past still exists (in some way) after it happens, and the future exists before it happens ("to us"?), then it might be compatible. But Parmenides goes further than that and claims that "becoming" is an illusion — there is no change at all. That's incoherent because, well, we're all experiencing change right now. (It might not work quite how we think it does, but it's definitely real.)

Now, I'm not sure if this is the difference you were getting at in an earlier comment. "Block universe" theories that present time as just a (funny) direction of space suffer from this problem that they don't explain change, they just explain it away. Previously, you said:

On this view, the sensation that A-theorists call "becoming" arises from the fact that each moment M of consciousness can compare its store of memories to what M remembers was the store of memories available to previous moments of consciousness. Each moment of consciousness can observe that stores of memories coming from later times include memories that are missing from stores of memories available to earlier times. Roughly speaking each moment of consciousness can look in its own memories and see that moments of consciousness from later times remember more events than do moments of consciousness from earlier times.
[...]
In summary, the store of memories and the vividness of those memories changes in certain reliable ways as time passes, but this "change" can be understood in a perfectly B-theoretic way. Nothing in this account requires that a distinct ontological status be assigned to a particular moving "present", with other times having a different ontological status or not existing at all. Yet this account seems to me to explain the sensation called "becoming" more adequately than any A-theory that I've seen. (In particular, there is no need to introduce an additional "time dimension", with respect to which the "present" is "moving".)


Now I can see how that view handles differences, but not change. At time t₂ I have memories of t₀ and t₁, and at time t₃ I have memories of t₀…₂. If you accidentally drop reality on the floor, you can sort my life back into order. (Unless I go and forget something, oops!) So from the outside, this block-universe looks as good as one that really has change in it (or just as good to a physicist, anyway). But how do I get from t₂ to t₃? If there is no becoming, then the frame at time t₂ is just t₂ forever, and t₃ is t₃ forever, and never the twain shall meet. So It seems we still need some sort of moving-spotlight equivalent (i.e. we need to smuggle in time through the back door), or else it isn't going to work.

reighley said...

@Tony,

"I thought that by allowing for the possibility that NOT ALL CLOCKS necessarily measure A as before or with B meant that I did not make the assumption. I thought that's what you were pointing out. If you object even to a clock that is co-located with A and B always measuring A as with or before B, I don't know what to say to you."

What I am objecting to is the supposition that if A caused B then A did not occur after B as measured by a physical clock. Which is to say that I don't think causality and clock time necessarily go together.

Einstein of course insisted that causality and clock time go together and that is why action at a distance must be forbidden in his view.

If the clock in question is colocated with both A and B, then A and B must be in the same place. So this stipulation makes they whole scenario useless to conversations about action at a distance. That wasn't my point anyway. Restriction it only to local causality is certainly a good start toward making the whole situation consistent with current physics, but it doesn't actually correct the logical problem at all.

Why should I ever expect that cause should follow effect in clock time?

"Are you suggesting that there is a thought experiment in which we can show A causing B but a clock located at the very same location as A and B, not moving in relation to them, showing A happens after B? I don't even know what that would look like. Please describe. (Without relying on sending a signal out to another location/frame of reference)."

I'll do you one better and refer to an actual experiment. The usual Bell's theorem experiment involves quantum mechanical effects over great distances. One sends out two photons in opposite directions and while they still in transit one randomly futzes with the apparatus on one end and fiddling shows up in the statistics on the other end. Does this peculiar correlation count as causation? Beats me.

The point is that as far as relativity is concerned space and time have a lot in common so if we can do action at a distance, we can do action back in time as well.

Instead of sending the two photons out in straight lines, we send one photon through a giant coil of fiber optic cable and let the other one smack into our instruments. While the second photon is still running around in circles on the lab bench, but after the first one has already entered the measuring equipment, I fiddle with the optics. When the second photon finally arrives and I examine the results of my experiment I see that the my fiddling is reflected also in the results of the first photon, even though those results were recorded before I started fiddling.

I believe that this experiment has actually been done (though I can't find a reference unfortunately, and I definitely oversimplified my description of the apparatus). Anyway the result is the same as a normal Bell's theorem experiment, which is to simply baffle everybody.

The important point is that if you admit action at a distance, then you will probably have to admit action back in time. Even if you try to fix the location of the clock. You would also have to fix the time on the clock, ie put event A and event B at exactly the same moment.

On the other hand, what is wrong with action back in time? It does not, by itself, destroy the principle of causality.

Tony said...

When the second photon finally arrives and I examine the results of my experiment I see that the my fiddling is reflected also in the results of the first photon, even though those results were recorded before I started fiddling.

What if you examine the recorded results of the experiment (first photon) before the second photon passes through the optics? Do the results CHANGE after the second photon passes through?

That's kind of why I said "not sending a signal out to another location." I think that using the extension of space in the experiment is disguising something significant.

On the other hand, what is wrong with action back in time? It does not, by itself, destroy the principle of causality.

It doesn't? Can't you rig an experimental cycle where A causes B and B causes C "and then" C causes A (or even skip C and just have B cause A) if you can do action back in time? Isn't that the terrible paradox? It would be fantastically funny if the answer to the riddle all along of a person being their own grandfather was "so? What's wrong with that? Causality is OK with that." No, I think that we must object to the notion that A causes B is explainable by B causing A to cause B. If we get stuck with so-called "logical" conclusions like that, we are more certain that our experimental model is flawed than that the result is established.

Brandon said...

Wait, if Maudlin really does reject eternalism, then does his formulation of dynamical laws apply between seperate time states?

'Time states' are abstracted from the directional line of time, and dynamical laws apply to the line (to put it roughly).

It might be helpful to point out that Maudlin accepts a 'block universe'; it's just a block universe that has a directed dimension, time, that is not really like a spatial dimension at all, and cannot be treated as if it were except at a level so abstract as to abstract away important features of the universe. His view, then, has some of the features of eternalism while also concluding that eternalists draw inferences in the wrong direction, so to speak, from the suggestions of physics.

FZ said...

I see, so he accepts some form of eternalism while rejecting that it leads to Parmenidean consequences.

JesseM said...

Give an example account of A causing B on B-theory. One you think serves adequately as a 'true' model.

As I said earlier there is a distinction between the picture in terms of the full physical states and dynamical laws vs. the approximations and rule of thumbs that emerge from these laws and are more useful for everyday life...but I think your comment about the "true model" means you want a description of the former, right? For the full account one would have to specify the precise physical state of some region of spacetime B, and the precise state of another region A such that no path through the past light cone of any point in B could have avoided passing through A. In this case, knowing the state of A and the fundamental dynamical laws should allow you to make an ideal prediction about the state of B--either a perfect prediction if the laws of physics are deterministic, or the best possible statistical prediction if they include some randomness. Either way, this would be what I would take to be the full account of "causality"--one could stay that the physical state of A (or more precisely, the state of the region of A that overlaps with the past light cones of points in B) "causes" the physical state of B.

reighley said...

@Tony,

"What if you examine the recorded results of the experiment (first photon) before the second photon passes through the optics? Do the results CHANGE after the second photon passes through?"

No. In fact I can't even tell, from just the first measurement, what the arrangement of the apparatus will be when the second photon arrives.

All I know is that there is a correlation between the results of the first measurement and the results of the second even though the results of the second measurement depend on the arrangement of the machine when the photon arrives. So either the first measurement caused the arrangement of the machine to be what it was, or the arrangement of the machine caused the result of the first measurement to be what it was, or there is some third thing invisible to me and without a definite time or place which caused them both.

"That's kind of why I said "not sending a signal out to another location." I think that using the extension of space in the experiment is disguising something significant."

I get that, but part of the point I am trying to make is that as far as relativity is concerned "extension in space" and "extension in time" are much the same thing. The experimental results are similar if rather than running off somewhere, the photon is just waiting for a while.

"It doesn't? Can't you rig an experimental cycle where A causes B and B causes C "and then" C causes A (or even skip C and just have B cause A) if you can do action back in time? Isn't that the terrible paradox?"

I don't see the paradox. The principle of causality requires that A, B and C all have a cause. In your scenario A, B and C all have causes. The loop itself must also have a cause. Which is to say that A cannot be a sufficient explanation of A.

On the other hand, if I say "in order for A to be true, it is necessary that A be true". That is a tautology, not a paradox.

Certainly some kinds of causal loops would be impossible on logical grounds. One could not kill ones own grandfather. I'm not sure I see the problem with actually being ones own grandfather though (except for the obvious scandal with ones own grandmother).

Even if I forbid all loops in the causal chain, I don't see how it would follow that the resulting sequence is the same as the sequence in clock time, except for the causal sequence inside the mechanism of the clock. You would have to introduce a postulate of the form "given a clock, all causal chains involve it".

Anyhow, the key point was that, so far as physics is concerned there is not much difference between causation travelling from one place to another instantaneously and simply travelling backward in time. So if you want to give one power to the angels, then you probably have to give them the other power too.

Either that or forbid angels from being both influenced by and influencing physical systems in such a way that it was possible to build an angel powered clock.

Anonymous said...

Are the objects present in the A spacetime region the same objects present in the B spacetime region? Based on the identity of indiscernables, Id say that they arent.

JesseM said...

Are the objects present in the A spacetime region the same objects present in the B spacetime region? Based on the identity of indiscernables, Id say that they arent.

Some would define "objects" as extended 4-dimensional things--"spacetime worms"--rather than as 3-dimensional snapshots at a particular moment. So if a given "worm" passes through both regions A and B, you could talk about the "same object" having "temporal parts" in both regions. This view is known as four-dimensionalism, and it's distinct from eternalism as an eternalist is not committed to any particular view about the nature of "objects". Personally I doubt there is any sort of real metaphysical truth about how to divide all the fundamental particles (or other basic entities) in the universe into "objects", these divisions always seem rather subjective to me (I got into a discussion about this recently in the comments to the Extraordinarily Ordinary post).

Anonymous said...

Also, if A and B exist independently, eternally and simultaneously, does it make sense to say that A causes B or B causes A? Like, if you had two different rocks that had existed eternally, it wouldn't make sense to say that one caused the other. Or even if you had one big rock that had always existed, it wouldn't make sense to say that one region of the rock caused the other.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Mr. Green: I think the issue is what exactly is meant by "eternalism". If it means just that the past still exists (in some way) after it happens, and the future exists before it happens ("to us"?), then it might be compatible.

Part of eternalism is, as you say, that the past and the future (relative to a given point t in time) "still" and "already" exist, respectively. That is, to assert at time t that they exist is to make a true statement.

But eternalism goes further. Other times not only always exist; they also always exist in precisely the same way, with all the same intrinsic and relational properties. In particular, there is no sense in which a given moment of consciousness (MoC) "sometimes" has the spotlight of consciousness shining on it and "sometimes" does not. Every MoC is always aware, and this awareness always has exactly the same contents. Of course, different moments are aware of different things. Typically, each moment is most vividly aware of itself and its immediate past (with a sensation of direct experience) and less vividly aware of various moments from the more distant past (with a sensation of recollection).

(As you point out, some past moments of consciousness are altogether forgotten. Nonetheless, if our physics is right, each moment bears some trace of everything that has happened in its past light cone. Of course, the vast majority of these traces don't raise to the level of our conscious awareness.)

Now I can see how that view handles differences, but not change. [...] But how do I get from t₂ to t₃? If there is no becoming, then the frame at time t₂ is just t₂ forever, and t₃ is t₃ forever, and never the twain shall meet. So It seems we still need some sort of moving-spotlight equivalent (i.e. we need to smuggle in time through the back door), or else it isn't going to work.

I'm puzzled by why you would think that you have to "get from" t₂ to t₃. You are a temporally extended thing whose temporal extension includes t₂ and t₃. Different portions of this extended "you" are at different moments and aware of different things, typically of their immediate temporal and spacial surroundings.

So that I can understand where you're coming from, do you see a similar problem with physical objects extended in space? Consider your body (at a fixed moment of time). It extends across a region of space that includes a point p₁ in your left side and a point p₂ in your right side. (Perhaps it is better to think of these as small regions of space, rather than as geometrical points). The point at p₁ is just p₁ forever, and p₂ is p₂ forever, and never the twain shall meet. And yet these two different points (or their contents) manage to be parts of one and the same object (your body at that moment) without anything "changing" or "getting from" one point to the other.

Why do you need a concept of "change" that includes anything beyond (1) difference, and (2) some notion of what it means for two different things to be part of the same thing? What, in particular, is added to these desiderata by the A-theoretical concept of "becoming"?

JesseM said...

Also, if A and B exist independently, eternally and simultaneously, does it make sense to say that A causes B or B causes A? Like, if you had two different rocks that had existed eternally, it wouldn't make sense to say that one caused the other. Or even if you had one big rock that had always existed, it wouldn't make sense to say that one region of the rock caused the other.

Different eternalists probably have different opinions about causation, but personally I see it as just a particular case of logical implication. Think of the way a mathematical proposition can be derived from some other proposition or collection of propositions (like axioms)--if the universe is (as I believe it to be) structured in a wholly mathematical way, then one can similarly derive propositions about the mathematical structure of one region from propositions about the structure of other regions (along with the mathematical laws of physics).

Anonymous said...

"So that I can understand where you're coming from, do you see a similar problem with physical objects extended in space? Consider your body (at a fixed moment of time). It extends across a region of space that includes a point p₁ in your left side and a point p₂ in your right side. (Perhaps it is better to think of these as small regions of space, rather than as geometrical points). The point at p₁ is just p₁ forever, and p₂ is p₂ forever, and never the twain shall meet. And yet these two different points (or their contents) manage to be parts of one and the same object (your body at that moment) without anything "changing" or "getting from" one point to the other."

But isn't this what is precisely at issue? That time is indeed a spacelike dimension? Also, conscious states are intentional, whereas spatial regions are not.

JesseM said...

reighly wrote:
Instead of sending the two photons out in straight lines, we send one photon through a giant coil of fiber optic cable and let the other one smack into our instruments. While the second photon is still running around in circles on the lab bench, but after the first one has already entered the measuring equipment, I fiddle with the optics. When the second photon finally arrives and I examine the results of my experiment I see that the my fiddling is reflected also in the results of the first photon, even though those results were recorded before I started fiddling.

I believe that this experiment has actually been done (though I can't find a reference unfortunately, and I definitely oversimplified my description of the apparatus). Anyway the result is the same as a normal Bell's theorem experiment, which is to simply baffle everybody.


You may be referring to the delayed choice quantum eraser experiment. There are some subtleties here though--the entangled photon pairs are labeled the "signal photon" and the "idler", and the total pattern of signal photons that you collect first will show exactly the same total pattern regardless of what apparatus you subject the idlers to later. What happens is that if you use a particular experimental setup that forces the idlers on a few possible routes and then detects them at a few possible detectors, then if you look at the subset of signal photons whose corresponding idler "twins" went to a particular detector, you can see different patterns in this subset of signal photons (either an interference pattern or a non-interference pattern) depending on which type of apparatus you put the idlers through. But there's no way to tell anything in advance about the apparatus used for the idlers by looking at the total pattern of signal photons, before you know which subsets correspond to collections of idlers that went to a common detector. And as it turns out, there are perfectly coherent explanations for the behavior of photons in this experiment in "interpretations" of quantum mechanics that don't involve any backwards-in-time effects, though they do involve other weird postulates, like Bohmian mechanics which proposes instantaneous action-at-a-distance which doesn't weaken with separation, or the many-worlds-interpretation which proposes that detectors (and the human experimenters observing them) split into multiple parallel copies each time a detection is made (but relevant to this discussion, one of the advantages of the many-worlds interpretation is that it can explain quantum experiments in a way that's consistent with relativistic locality--basically, when entangled photons are measured at different locations then each detector locally splits up into multiple parallel versions with different results, but the universe doesn't have to decide which parallel versions over here get matched up in the same "world" with parallel versions over there until there's been enough time for a classical signal from each to reach an observer in the middle).

Tyrrell McAllister said...

But isn't this what is precisely at issue? That time is indeed a spacelike dimension?

Spacelike in certain respects, yes. I'm trying to understand the alleged "incoherence" that follows from that hypothesis.

Also, conscious states are intentional, whereas spatial regions are not.

I thought that Aristotelianism attributed intentionality to all sorts of non-mental things. Why not to regions of space or moments of time (or, if you prefer, to their contents)? Why should such a brand of eternalism be a problem from an Aristotelian–Thomist perspective?

If you are saying that you differ from the A/T-ists' in this respect, then we could talk about that. I need to ask more questions about where you are coming from, though. Mostly, my interest is in why Feser called the Parmenidean interpretation of special relativity "incoherent". It seems to me that it doesn't per se contest that issues that are important to A/T-ists.

Mr. Green said...

Tyrrell McAllister: Why do you need a concept of "change" that includes anything beyond (1) difference, and (2) some notion of what it means for two different things to be part of the same thing?

Because it simply does not explain my experiences. It may be perfectly possible metaphysically speaking, but it cannot be a description of the real world, because it does include "becoming", in the "moving spotlight" sense.

Every MoC is always aware, and this awareness always has exactly the same contents. Of course, different moments are aware of different things.

Which is the problem: I am not aware of just one moment eternally. If the "slice" of me that exists at time t₁ is conscious, it will be conscious of only t₁, never of any other moment. But I do not have a perpetual experience of only t₁, so my consciousness cannot be something that exists in that slice or any other single slice. (Spatial parts are fine, because my left side always experiences what's on the left, and my right side always experiences what's on my right.)

The alternative is that my consciousness is spread across all my slices. But if my conscious awareness is a single thing with temporal parts, then I would be aware of all my times at once. Just as I am aware of what both my left and right sides are feeling, if my consciousness were truly touching all the frames of my life, I would be experiencing them all at once — including my future!

That's why I need to "get from" one point of time to the next: because that's how I actually experience reality. It doesn't matter whether the present becomes past by going away for good, or whether it goes into some sort of "past-tense holding area" where it continues to exist. But it does matter that it "goes", that my experience becomes one thing, and then something else — in short, that it changes.

Brandon said...

I see, so he accepts some form of eternalism while rejecting that it leads to Parmenidean consequences.

Well, he accepts a real block universe, albeit one that's rather different from what people usually mean, and although he argues that the real and objective passage of time is a fundamental and ineliminable feature of the universe. He thinks (if I understand him correctly, which I may not in every respect) that eternalism in the usual sense spatializes time, mistakenly (like presentism, although simply a different account) treats time as a sequence of presents or nows rather than an objective direction, over-interprets the physical theories without looking at the underlying assumptions required to get to the physical theories in the first place, and (again like presentism) approaches the whole subject of time completely backwards. As I noted in a previous comment, I think he thinks the eternalist/presentist debate is in fact a highly artificial opposition created by starting the discussion of time entirely in the wrong place. So even if one considers him an eternalist in some sense, he also opposes any eternalism that's built specifically in opposition to presentism as much as he opposes presentism itself.

Anonymous said...

"The alternative is that my consciousness is spread across all my slices. But if my conscious awareness is a single thing with temporal parts, then I would be aware of all my times at once. Just as I am aware of what both my left and right sides are feeling, if my consciousness were truly touching all the frames of my life, I would be experiencing them all at once — including my future!"

Reminds me of Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen.

FZ said...

Thanks for the reply Brandon. I guess my confusion arises from

"Parmenides, of course, also argued that time and motion are illusions. I think I understand what he was claiming, and think it is just flatly false."

That line makes it seem like he rejects the idea that the passage of time AND motion (change) are not real. Regardless, it's clear that his position can't be understood in terms of mainstream eternalism and presentism. One last question then, do you know where/in which book he develops these ideas in detail? And if it's accessible to a non-physics major? I'm more of a biology guy.

Brandon said...

I think probably the work that discusses these matters in most detail is Quantum Non-Locality and Relativity. I haven't actually read it through (my acquaintance with Maudlin's views is mostly by bits and pieces, which is why there are gaps in my explanations), but from what little I have read it seems to be reasonably accessible -- it's certainly more accessible than most philosophy of physics discussing the topics Maudlin discusses. If your prior reading in the subject hasn't shied away from the actual mathematics of at least the very basics of relativity theory and quantum mechanics, or if you've had at least a class of college physics, I would guess you probably can handle it without much trouble. There's a lot of mathematics, but I don't recall any of it being crazy-making, and Maudlin is famously good at knowing when he needs to bring in examples or extra clarifications.

If you find QN&R not to your taste, the topics are discussed (as very secondary issues) in the highly readable The Metaphysics Within Physics, which is primarily about the status of the laws of nature.

reighley said...

JesseM,

"And as it turns out, there are perfectly coherent explanations for the behavior of photons in this experiment in "interpretations" of quantum mechanics that don't involve any backwards-in-time effects"

I'm not sure either non-local hidden variables or many-worlds interpretations really preserve intact what we usually call "causality". Bohm's cosmology is dauntingly mysterious. Not just time and change would be illusions, but most everything else as well. A many worlds interpretation would introduce a whole universe for every possible arrangement of the world that had a non-zero probability, which would include a lot of weirdness. It would also pretty much strip everything of any causal powers at all, because whatever I did and whatever happened there would be another universe in which I didn't do it and it happened anyway, and still another in which I did and nothing happened. And all of that wildness would be not only possible in a many worlds interpretation it would actually be real.

Anyhow, the choice is this :
(1) relativity
(2) permit action at a distance
(3) forbid action back in time
(4) retain a notion of "action"
One of these must be abandoned.

Einstein would throw out (2). Bohm would throw out (4). Tony seems to want to get rid of (1), and I want to get rid of (3)*.

*Actually I side with David Bohm, mainly because a person who can express mysticism in mathematical language is a rare gift. From a logical point of view though, I don't think enough justification has been offered against introducing time travel options.

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"If the 'slice' of me that exists at time t₁ is conscious, it will be conscious of only t₁, never of any other moment."

Why? Are you not conscious now of (say) having had a sandwich for lunch yesterday? If any version of eternalism is true, all other moments exist eternally for you to be conscious of and refer to.

Anonymous said...

Being at t5 yet experiencing t2 seems like some Matrix type deal to me. If I am sitting at my computer at t5 and eating a sandwich at t2, then I would be experiencing the sandwich rather than the computer...

My body would have one spatiotemporal location (like the bio pod) yet I would be conscious of some other spatiotemporal location, like being at work.

Not sure how to think about this.

JesseM said...

Bohm's cosmology is dauntingly mysterious. Not just time and change would be illusions, but most everything else as well.

Why do you say that? I'm not talking about his later speculations about the "implicate order", which were never really mathematically formalized, but just the mathematically precise de Broglie-Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics which assumes that particles do have well-defined classical paths, guided by something called a "pilot wave" that instantly takes into account what's happening to each particle.

A many worlds interpretation would introduce a whole universe for every possible arrangement of the world that had a non-zero probability, which would include a lot of weirdness. It would also pretty much strip everything of any causal powers at all, because whatever I did and whatever happened there would be another universe in which I didn't do it and it happened anyway, and still another in which I did and nothing happened.

Sure, but some types of worlds would have greater probability than others--different infinite subsets of an infinite set can still have different measures (and it's not clear if the number of distinct worlds would really be infinite, or just very large--probably this depends on whether space is quantized). Besides, the problem here is no worse than a spatially infinite single universe, where if you could know about regions at arbitrary distances you'd be bound to find every possible arrangement of particles in a volume the size of the observable universe, including ones whose history was identical to ours up to some point and then diverged.

Anyhow, the choice is this :
(1) relativity
(2) permit action at a distance
(3) forbid action back in time
(4) retain a notion of "action"
One of these must be abandoned.


Not sure what you mean by "action"--would you say the Bohmian interpretation of quantum mechanics (again distinguished from all his later, more mystical and unformalized speculations) and the many-worlds drop (4)? MWI also drops (2) while Bohmian mechanics retains it, while it's somewhat ambiguous whether Bohmian mechanics could be compatible with (1), since it does seem to require a preferred definition of simultaneity in order for the "instantaneous" behavior of the pilot wave to work, but there is probably no experimental method to detect which definition of simultaneity is preferred, since the empirical predictions of Bohmian mechanics are identical to those of standard quantum mechanics (though it was originally designed to match non-relativistic quantum mechanics, and I've heard conflicting things about whether anyone has come up with a version of Bohmian mechanics that reproduces the predictions of relativistic QM).

Scott said...

"My body would have one spatiotemporal location (like the bio pod) yet I would be conscious of some other spatiotemporal location, like being at work."

Being conscious that that time existed wouldn't be the same as being conscious of existing at that time. To assume that you can be conscious only of the immediate, instantaneous present is to beg the very question at issue. And as I said in the very first post in this thread, we must at least be able to refer truly (or falsely) to times other than the time at which we make our statements, so it can't be the case that those times just fail to exist in the "present."

Timothy Sprigge's (and to an extent John Leslie's) way of dealing with this is to treat the physical world as phenomenal (appearance) and the noumenal reality behind it (or its concrete filling) as experiential—and then to argue that each moment of experience has, timelessly/eternally, a sort of vector quality about it that leads into the next.

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that this:

"If the "slice" of me that exists at time t₁ is conscious, it will be conscious of only t₁, never of any other moment." Mr. Green

Was essentially a restatement of this:

"Different portions of this extended "you" are at different moments and aware of different things, typically of their immediate temporal and spacial surroundings." Tyrrell

So perhaps you could clarify this?

"To assume that you can be conscious only of the immediate, instantaneous present is to beg the very question at issue."

In my example, I never said that t5 was the "present." And although I can't speak for Mr.Green, I think that Mr. Green was assuming eternalism of consciousness for the sake of argument when he stated the above quote.

"And as I said in the very first post in this thread, we must at least be able to refer truly (or falsely) to times other than the time at which we make our statements, so it can't be the case that those times just fail to exist in the "present.""

Mental states can point at things that do not exist concretely, right? Under both presentism and eternalism, our thoughts and statements can be directed at jedi knights.

Anyways, I think we might be talking past eachother, because as I mentioned I'm still not sure about how I should think about this. (Perhaps I should buy Maudlin's book!) I'll let Mr. Green speak for himself, but I think he was trying to show that Tyrrell's account does not successfully explain our conscious experience in eternalist terms, not that eternalism is wrong per se. Also, I haven't read about Sprigge, but

"a sort of vector quality about it that leads into the next"

sounds like a "roving spotlight" type thing.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Mr. Green: Which is the problem: I am not aware of just one moment eternally. If the "slice" of me that exists at time t₁ is conscious, it will be conscious of only t₁, never of any other moment. But I do not have a perpetual experience of only t₁, so my consciousness cannot be something that exists in that slice or any other single slice.

What you write above makes me think that you may be imagining something that eternalism does not imply, or at least the form that I'm discussing does not. It is true that eternalism says that you-yesterday-morning is aware, with the vividness of direct experience, of the breakfast that it is eating. But you may be imagining that, according to eternalism, that poor moment-of-you is still sitting there, trapped like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, forced to experience nothing but that one darn breakfast forever.

"I've been feeling this piece of toast sliding down my throat for hours now (indeed, since forever, but in particular for hours). And here passes another minute of feeling these same exact sensations of this same cursed piece of toast. And here's another minute. And here's another minute. Oh, how I loath that disgusting piece of toast. If only I weren't forced by the very nature of time to experience nothing but this moment for all eternity!"

But this is not what eternalism says. Indeed, the experience described in my hypothetical monologue could not possible be had within a single moment of consciousness. For, while the tactile sensation isn't changing, the monologue describes a running internal clock, within the alleged moment, which is counting the "minutes" during which those sensations are experienced. This clock is advancing, passing through different states, with each state distinguishable from the one that precedes it. The different states of this clock are portrayed as experienced directly, and yet in succession. But this cannot happen within a single moment of consciousness, by definition.

According to eternalism, each moment of consciousness has its experience. And it has that experience eternally, in the sense that it is true for all times that that moment is having exactly that experience. It is true for all time that you-yesterday-morning is experiencing yesterday's breakfast.

But no moment has the experience of eternally experiencing something, in the sense of having the experience of a sensation's being sustained for an unbounded duration of time. Eternalism is not logically committed to that bizarre view. If eternalism were committed to that view, then I would agree that it is incoherent.

The alternative is that my consciousness is spread across all my slices. But if my conscious awareness is a single thing with temporal parts, then I would be aware of all my times at once. Just as I am aware of what both my left and right sides are feeling, if my consciousness were truly touching all the frames of my life, I would be experiencing them all at once — including my future!

You are a temporarily extended object. This object comprises many moments of consciousness, each of which is aware of different things. The temporally extended you has no unique content-of-consciousness or state-of-experience associated to it. You have no overarching awareness that brings together the diverse immediate awarenesses of the disparate moments of awareness and experiences them within one unified consciousness, before one mental eye, as it were. Even if, at the end of your life, you could recall every prior moment of consciousness, that recollection would be a different experience from the vivid sense of direct experience that those prior moments possessed.

reighley said...

@JesseM,

"Not sure what you mean by "action"--would you say the Bohmian interpretation of quantum mechanics (again distinguished from all his later, more mystical and unformalized speculations) and the many-worlds drop (4)?"

I mean by "action" something similar to "efficient cause". I just used the word "action" to square it with the phrase "action at a distance" which we drop so often.

I do think that many worlds interpretations are substituting a new notion of "causation" for the old one. The new causation is simply selecting, rather than actually affecting, a prepackaged universe as it were. Those seem to me to be very different things.

What I know about Bohm's formal system comes from his very last book, "The Undivided Universe". My view is definitely colored by "Wholeness and the Implicit Order" which I read afterwards. I think that he felt that the formalism in "Undivided" squared with the mysticism in "Wholeness", and is not inconsistent with the earlier work. His goal was obviously to retain some notion of causality. He didn't actually manage to do that completely, which is part of the point.

What he is actually doing, both with the development of the pilot wave and of the quantum potential is giving a name and a term in the equation to this uncaused thing that nobody understands. The familiar events and properties now have causes, since we can blame their random motion on a new term. The new term does not have a cause, and it can't. The point was not to correctly interpret quantum mechanics, because Bohm actually thought quantum mechanics was an approximation to an underlying truth. The point is to write out the error term and say "Look there!", rather than just ignoring it.

So I was rather abusing the facts when I wrote that Bohm "wanted" to throw out (4). I think he was actually declaring that causality was lost and demanding that we go find it again.

Ismael said...

" If you reject absolute simultaneity and accept the light-cone structure of causality in relativity, I don't see how that can translate to anything but an eternalist ontology--for example, it wouldn't really make sense to say "only objects and events in my past light cone exist" since this would give each observer a different definition of what "exists" "



I do not think so.

The difference is and always is in OBSERVATION of e certain event, not the even itself.

Like the example (although different in nature) of a guy falling in a black hole, where a distant observer never really sees him fall him, just 'red shift' more and more.

The difference is not in the event, but rather the 'observation' of the even (e.g. receiving the photons an object emits)

The fact that for different observers there is no simultaneity does not advocate at all for the B-theory of time.

On the contrary. We are just fooled to think B-theory might be true, but clearly is not as we NEVER observe things as they are when they exactly happen, but there is always the 'observation buffer' in between (e.g the photons that from an event arrive to our retina or our lab equipment).


I think THAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH PHYSICS: failure to understand what epistemology and ontology are. Failure to understand the difference of 'being' and 'observation'.

It seems to me that more often than not scientists are jumbling these concepts in a muddled way.

That's how bizarre an non-sense theories arise, like the 'many world interpretation of QM' for example. The Copenhagen interpretation, for example, remains the best one: it deals with what we can really deal: observation and epistemology, without non-sense and un-testable speculation.

As a matter of fact the problem with physics today and many of its nonsense theories arise from BAD philosophy and confusion.

Confusion between a mathematical model and the real world. Confusion between being and observation. Confusion between different types of causality.

I’s say that many scientist in certain areas of physics, primarily cosmology, are stumbling in the dark, thinking they are discovering new things, but really just feeding their own delusions.

JesseM said...

Ismael:
I do not think so.

If you disagree with my statement, please provide an alternative--explain to me what it would look like to have an ontology where there was no true "present moment", yet all events/objects throughout history would not have the same ontological status as in eternalism. What would pick out certain events as "existing" where others do not, if not the fact that they are happening in the present?

Or when you said "I do not think so", were you not disagreeing with my statement that a lack of objective simultaneity seems to imply eternalism (which is what I was saying in the statement you quoted), but rather with some other statement of mine like the one that relativity rules out the idea that a metaphysical truth about simultaneity could have any physical implications whatsoever?

The difference is and always is in OBSERVATION of e certain event, not the even itself.

Like the example (although different in nature) of a guy falling in a black hole, where a distant observer never really sees him fall him, just 'red shift' more and more.


Physicists do not define simultaneity in relativity in terms of events being seen at the same time, if that's what you mean--for example, if I see an image of you faraway with your clock reading 9:00, and when I see that image I check my clock and see that it reads 9:45, I would not therefore conclude that the event of your clock reading 9:00 was "simultaneous" with the event of my clock reading 9:45. The procedures that physicists come up with to define simultaneity are intended to avoid issues associated with signal delays.

JesseM said...

I mean by "action" something similar to "efficient cause". I just used the word "action" to square it with the phrase "action at a distance" which we drop so often.

But even in non-quantum physics there is nothing that matches very closely with the notion of "efficient causes"--as Maudlin said in the interview (see the quote in my July 13 12:50 PM comment), the whole notion of discrete "causes" has been replaced in modern physics with the idea of physical states which lead to other physical states via dynamical laws, and this is certainly still true in the many-worlds interpretation where one can talk about the universe's "quantum state" at any given moment, and it evolves in a deterministic way according to the standard quantum equations.

Besides, the evolution of a quantum system can always be simulated on a classical computer, presumably you wouldn't say that running such a simulation breaks causality even if MWI is false in the world outside the simulation? We could also imagine running a simplified type of multiverse simulation where a certain event A causes the computer to make copies of different parts of the simulation and then simulate events happening differently in each part. Wouldn't you still say that A was the "cause" of the computer creating those different copies?

What I know about Bohm's formal system comes from his very last book, "The Undivided Universe". My view is definitely colored by "Wholeness and the Implicit Order" which I read afterwards. I think that he felt that the formalism in "Undivided" squared with the mysticism in "Wholeness", and is not inconsistent with the earlier work. His goal was obviously to retain some notion of causality.

But in physics, the personal opinions of a physicist who came up with an equation are of no special relevance to understanding that equation. The equation governing the pilot wave and the hidden position variables of particles in the de Broglie-Bohm interpretation (and since de Broglie deserves as much credit as Bohm, why are you considering only Bohm's views?) says nothing about any "implicate (not implicit) order" or any of Bohm's other speculations about "wholeness", that's why he searched unsuccessfully for a new mathematical formulation to express these ideas.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

"Anyways, I think we might be talking past eachother . . . "

We may well be. Sorry if I misunderstood what you were getting at.

Sprigge's view doesn't involve any roving spotlight. Maybe the best way to put it, just to get the point across, is that he thinks each moment of experience eternally "feels" itself as part of a series.

Anonymous said...

"the whole notion of discrete "causes" has been replaced in modern physics with the idea of physical states which lead to other physical states via dynamical laws"

Just to clarify, by "lead" you mean something like "point to" rather than "give rise to," right?

JesseM said...

Just to clarify, by "lead" you mean something like "point to" rather than "give rise to," right?

It depends what you mean by "give rise to"--are you talking about ontology, the idea that the later states don't exist until the earlier ones cause them to? If so then it's true that nothing can "give rise to" anything else in this sense if eternalism is true. But I wouldn't ordinarily take an everyday phrase like "gives rise to" to have any definite metaphysical implications, to me it basically just means that something that wasn't there at an earlier time is there at a later time, and that's because of (logically derived from) something else that happened at the earlier time. Anyway, we can use any terminology we want as long as we're clear on the meaning.

Anonymous said...

"I've been feeling this piece of toast sliding down my throat for hours now (indeed, since forever, but in particular for hours). And here passes another minute of feeling these same exact sensations of this same cursed piece of toast. And here's another minute. And here's another minute. Oh, how I loath that disgusting piece of toast. If only I weren't forced by the very nature of time to experience nothing but this moment for all eternity!"

Or you could say that the feeling of time passing is an illusion. The fact that he's feeling a succession if time pass by in this moment if consciousness doesn't mean that anything is actually changing. So why can't this be a single moment?

reighley said...

@JesseM,

But even in non-quantum physics there is nothing that matches very closely with the notion of "efficient causes"--as Maudlin said in the interview (see the quote in my July 13 12:50 PM comment), the whole notion of discrete "causes" has been replaced in modern physics with the idea of physical states which lead to other physical states via dynamical laws, and this is certainly still true in the many-worlds interpretation where one can talk about the universe's "quantum state" at any given moment, and it evolves in a deterministic way according to the standard quantum equations."

When Newton wrote down the second law, the explanation he added in Principia said "If any force generates a motion, a double force will generate double the
motion". In the mathematical expression F = ma, the two terms are symmetric. So we might insist that, as far as physics is concerned it is equally true that the force generates the motion and that the motion generates the force. Yet Newton does not do that, nor do most people. We break the symmetry and though we write F = ma, we seem to be thinking F/m -> a. I am still not exactly sure why this is so.

"But in physics, the personal opinions of a physicist who came up with an equation are of no special relevance to understanding that equation."

As you can see from my doing it again, and quoting Newton, I do not believe this to be case. With pure mathematics this may be true, but physics equations refer to something tangible and I think it best to keep in mind what that tangible thing they refer to is.

"The equation governing the pilot wave and the hidden position variables of particles in the de Broglie-Bohm interpretation (and since de Broglie deserves as much credit as Bohm, why are you considering only Bohm's views?) says nothing about any "implicate (not implicit) order" or any of Bohm's other speculations about "wholeness", that's why he searched unsuccessfully for a new mathematical formulation to express these ideas."

I'm only considering Bohm's views because I only know his. It's his book I got the formalism from so it's his gloss I am reading. He is actually just serving as a foil here for a whole class of interpretations of physical law. The more I think about it the more I think I have not done the man's actual views justice. Let us replace him with an anonymous physicist who feels that in order to give physical law a correct metaphysical reading we must do away with a notion of "cause", which is not something that Newton or Einstein would have consented to.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Anonymous @July 15, 2013 at 8:13 PM: Or you could say that the feeling of time passing is an illusion. The fact that he's feeling a succession if time pass by in this moment if consciousness doesn't mean that anything is actually changing. So why can't this be a single moment?

I'm not sure that I see your point, but you seem to be suggesting a Matrix type of illusion, like when people discuss the possibility that the universe has only existed for five seconds, and we just popped into existence with memories of everything before that. Perhaps you are saying that eternalism amounts to asserting that we labor under an equally bizarre illusion, namely the illusion of time passing when it doesn't.

I believe that the "feeling of time passing" is a real feeling that, when properly understood, amounts to an accurate perception of a real state of affairs. This state of affairs is what I was trying to describe in my first comment at July 10, 2013 at 4:06 PM.

In my view, the feeling of time passing is not an illusion. However, it does seem to be feeling that is often misunderstood or misinterpreted in a way that makes some people believe that B-theoretic accounts of time are missing something.

I think that I know the sensation that A-theorists call "becoming". It is the feeling of the newness of each moment of direct experience to my consciousness. It is the feeling of this moment's being gone as soon as I try to grab hold of it. It is the feeling of contrast between the vividness of my present direct experience and the comparatively muted quality of my recollections of even five seconds ago. It is the fact that this feeling of contrast is sustained, even though the experiences and recollections being compared are different from moment to moment.

I think that these feelings are accurate perceptions of something that is actually the case, of something that is true about the nature of time and of the kinds of beings that we are in time. And since the description that I just gave is entirely compatible with a B-theoretic account of time, it seems to me that eternalism is consistent with our perceptions.

But I confess that I have never been able to grasp why some people are unsatisfied with B-theoretic thinking. It has always seemed to me to be a perfectly natural and intuitive explanation of our perceptions of time. I never went through a phase where I believed in a different account of my perceptions. If I had, perhaps I would have felt like eternalism was telling me that this different account, and hence the perceptions themselves, were "illusions". But, for me, the eternalist picture has always just been what I was perceiving. No illusions. Just accurate perception.

Anonymous said...

"It is the feeling of this moment's being gone as soon as I try to grab hold of it."

But the moment isn't gone under B theory. How then, is this an accurate perception?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

But the moment isn't gone under B theory. How then, is this an accurate perception?

On the contrary, the moment is gone under the B theory.

The moment being grabbed is gone from the moment trying to do the grabbing. The grabbing moment is in a different time, a time in which the moment being grabbed is merely a memory. The memory is of a time when certain events had the vividness of direct experience. But, for the grabbing moment, those events are only memories; they lack that vividness, however much the grabbing moment might desire it.

It's small comfort that, on the B-theory, those events are still vivid for the moment originally experiencing them. What good is that to the grabbing moment? It must be content with experiencing the earlier events in memory alone. It tries, but fails, to sustain the full vividness and immediacy that the original moment enjoyed while experiencing those events.

What I mean by "trying to grab hold of each moment" is, trying to sustain that vividness. This feeling of trying to sustain this vividness, and the feeling of failing at this effort, is one way in which the sensation of become manifests itself.

Mr. Green said...

Anonymous: Yes, it sounds like you understood what I was getting at.


Scott:Although "yesterday" of course doesn't exist now, it must exist eternally in order for us to be able to refer meaningfully to it at all.

Why can't we refer to it like any piece of fiction? That is, the ideas exist (now) in our minds, but not outside them [any more].

Moreover, some sort of "eternalism" seems to be required for the view that all times are equally present to God "at once," as it were.

That's trickier. But since I can't imagine what the view from eternity is really like, I'm not sure if there's really a problem or it just feels like one to me.

Are you not conscious now of (say) having had a sandwich for lunch yesterday? If any version of eternalism is true, all other moments exist eternally for you to be conscious of and refer to.

I'm conscious of having had it, i.e. of the memory — not of the experience itself, which I would be if my consciousness were "still" there having it. It's not the referring to that's the problem, it's the lack of referring because I'm right there, "always". Either a part of me is having the same experience forever (eternally), or all of me is having all of my experiences simultaneously (in the eternal "now").

Mr. Green said...

Tyrrell McAllister:
"I've been feeling this piece of toast sliding down my throat for hours now (indeed, since forever) [...]" But this is not what eternalism says.

But how can it not be? If I have an experience, then I "always" have it, in the eternal "now". So either I am eternally aware of that piece of toast halfway down my throat or I'm not aware of it all. And since I have different experiences, I must be having them all "now" — except of course I'm not... I have one, then the next, then another.

But no moment has the experience of eternally experiencing something, in the sense of having the experience of a sensation's being sustained for an unbounded duration of time.

Sure — that would be the equivalent of feeling that my left hand was my entire body. Clearly, it's only a part of the whole me, and I experience it as such. Your last explanation was helpful; I think I see what you're getting at now: just as I experience different spatial parts, and experience them as being in different locations, so I also experiences my different temporal parts, and experience them "as" being different "times" (i.e. being different temporal locations). That's clever, but it isn't quite enough.

I think that I know the sensation that A-theorists call "becoming".

Since you are presumably not some kind of advanced robot, I'm sure you do! But of course, it's not really a sensation — that is, the sensation is just how we experience a certain reality. I just don't know how else to explain it, other than saying "becoming".

It is the feeling of the newness of each moment of direct experience to my consciousness.

There is such a feeling, but that's not the experience (or relevant part of it) that I mean.

It is the feeling of this moment's being gone as soon as I try to grab hold of it.

That's not it either. (Maybe the same as the previous one?)

It is the feeling of contrast between the vividness of my present direct experience

And definitely not that. That doesn't seem like a particularly meaningful or significant aspect even.

[B-theory] has always seemed to me to be a perfectly natural and intuitive explanation of our perceptions of time. [...] No illusions. Just accurate perception.

But there is still an illusion remaining for the B-theorist. If time is just a sort of space, then why does it "move" forward? This isn't simply a matter of direction; my spatial parts "go" from left to right, so to speak, because they are connected together that way. And I experience them as laid out in a continuous sequence from left to right. Or from right to left: there's no matter, there's no fixed way to experience myself spatially that goes only in one direction. But temporally, there is. I always experience things from past to future, never from future to past. And I always experience them continuously in sequence. I can't skip around my experiences with random access. Under eternalism, this must be an illusion, but there's nothing that could cause it.

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"Why can't we refer to it like any piece of fiction?"

Perhaps I should be emphasizing not reference but truthmakers. A successful reference has something in the real world that "makes" it true, including references to fiction.

If the past doesn't exist in any sense whatsoever, what is it in the world that makes my belief about yesterday's lunch true (or false, if I'm misremembering what I ate)?

Anonymous said...

Digestion?

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"I always experience things from past to future, never from future to past. And I always experience them continuously in sequence. I can't skip around my experiences with random access. Under eternalism, this must be an illusion, but there's nothing that could cause it."

Actually that's pretty much what eternalism says should happen: your experiences seem to go in sequence because they really are part of a sequence. At each moment you have memories of (some) previous moments and none of any future moments.

Even if it were meaningful to talk about skipping around in time (a question I'm not addressing here), it wouldn't matter how you "got to" any particular moment; your memories at that moment would be your memories at that moment. You'd remember events that were "past" with respect to that moment, not any hopping around you might have done to get there.

So if we're going to imagine skipping around in time, "lighting up" this and that moment in some sort of meta-temporal sequence, why not also imagine that all the moments are eternally "lit up"? Is there even a way to distinguish those two cases? (That's not a rhetorical question, but I'm doubtful that there is such a way.)

Anonymous said...

"why not also imagine that all the moments are eternally "lit up"?"

I think Mr. Green addressed considered that in an eariler comment.

"The alternative is that my consciousness is spread across all my slices. But if my conscious awareness is a single thing with temporal parts, then I would be aware of all my times at once. Just as I am aware of what both my left and right sides are feeling, if my consciousness were truly touching all the frames of my life, I would be experiencing them all at once — including my future!"

It's really hard to characterize consciousness, but consider that you have a line of bulbs. The bulb on one end lights up, and then goes out as the adjacent bulb lights up, and this continues until the bulb on the other end lights up, and then goes out. Sure, the light bulbs are all there for eternity, but the "sequential lighting" is a change.

Scott said...

"I think Mr. Green addressed considered that in an eariler comment."

I disagreed with that comment, and Tyrrell McAllister has already replied to it sufficiently.

"The bulb on one end lights up, and then goes out as the adjacent bulb lights up, and this continues until the bulb on the other end lights up, and then goes out. Sure, the light bulbs are all there for eternity, but the 'sequential lighting' is a change."

Eternalists (including me) don't believe the lighting of the "bulbs" is sequential.

At any rate the point of my reply to Mr. Green is that even if we do somehow imagine the "bulbs" being lit in some sequence, still each of the "bulbs" has whatever memories it has, no matter when (in this "meta-time") it gets lit. The effect is just the same as if they're (as the eternalist says) all lit at once, so there's no conceptual advantage to introducing a level of "meta-time" for the lighting of the "bulbs" to take place in.

Scott said...

. . . and the rest of the point was that the directionality of time doesn't involve any illusion for the B-theorist. Each "bulb" feels itself to be part of a sequence because it is part of a sequence. The relations of "before" and "after" are real, even if they aren't exactly what the A-theorist takes them to be.

(And indeed I'd say that they can't be what the A-theorist takes them to be, because for an A-theorist the two terms of either relation would never co-exist; at any given "now," there wouldn't be two terms to relate!)

Anonymous said...

Can you (or Tyrrell himself) perhaps expand on Tyrrell's reply? It seems unclear to me.

“You are a temporarily extended object.” Okay.

“This object comprises many moments of consciousness, each of which is aware of different things.” Okay.

“You have no overarching awareness that brings together the diverse immediate awarenesses of the disparate moments of awareness and experiences them within one unified consciousness, before one mental eye, as it were.” This is where I get lost. What rules this out?

“Even if, at the end of your life, you could recall every prior moment of consciousness, that recollection would be a different experience from the vivid sense of direct experience that those prior moments possessed.” Wouldn’t recalling every prior moment of consciousness include the “vivid sense of direct experience?” If no, then why not?

Scott said...

"'You have no overarching awareness that brings together the diverse immediate awarenesses of the disparate moments of awareness and experiences them within one unified consciousness, before one mental eye, as it were.' This is where I get lost. What rules this out?

Eternalism simply doesn't say (or entail) that we do have such an overarching awareness.

Somebody could perhaps have such an awareness—and if so, God strikes me a likely candidate. Alternatively, perhaps the very idea of such an awareness is incoherent.

Either way, eternalism by itself commits us only to the view that (as Tyrell puts it) "it is true for all time" that "you-yesterday-morning is aware, with the vividness of direct experience, of the breakfast that it is eating," not that there's any moment at which all those moments are experienced "at once."

"'Even if, at the end of your life, you could recall every prior moment of consciousness, that recollection would be a different experience from the vivid sense of direct experience that those prior moments possessed.' Wouldn't recalling every prior moment of consciousness include the 'vivid sense of direct experience?' If no, then why not?"

I think you're asking whether remembering a previous moment also involves remembering it as including a "vivid sense of direct experience." If so, then I'd say the answer is yes, but the actuality of that "vivid sense" is "located" somewhere further back in the series of experiences; remembering a moment as directly experienced at some earlier time isn't the same, and doesn't "feel" the same, as directly experiencing it now. (Of course the moment of recollection includes its own "vivid sense of direct experience," but that's another matter.)

JesseM said...

So if we're going to imagine skipping around in time, "lighting up" this and that moment in some sort of meta-temporal sequence, why not also imagine that all the moments are eternally "lit up"? Is there even a way to distinguish those two cases? (That's not a rhetorical question, but I'm doubtful that there is such a way.)

How about imagining a God's-eye-perspective in which the spotlights do move along one's worldline, but instead of a single spotlight you have a continuum of them, each lighting up a different point on the worldline at a given "moment" in God's vision? Then even though the spotlights are continually flowing along the worldline, from God's perspective there is no real "change" since at each moment ever section of the worldline is lit up. I suppose if you imagine distinct spotlights having distinct "identities" then there is still change of a sort since where a particular spotlight is located will change, but one could perhaps imagine that this is really the same spotlight but God is somehow seeing each point along its journey at once. Just an intuitive picture rather than a rigorous philosophical argument of course, but it makes it seem not impossible to me that eternalism could be compatible with the idea of subjective "flow" from one moment to the next (and since I'm inclined towards panpsychism for reasons similar to those of Sprigge and Chalmers, I don't want to completely dismiss the subjective experience of time and change, even if I don't think it represents an ontological change).

Ismael said...


Physicists do not define simultaneity in relativity in terms of events being seen at the same time, if that's what you mean--for example, if I see an image of you faraway with your clock reading 9:00, and when I see that image I check my clock and see that it reads 9:45, I would not therefore conclude that the event of your clock reading 9:00 was "simultaneous" with the event of my clock reading 9:45. The procedures that physicists come up with to define simultaneity are intended to avoid issues associated with signal delays.


Physics is all about observation.

To talk about physics without talking about "observation" is in a way a contradiction in terms (and perhaps many physicists today do not even realize that).

Anyway Simultaneity between two frames of reference might be meaningless, or rather: relative, yet physicists CAN find the 'position' in space-time of events, or rather the space-time interval (which is invariant between frames) between them. So there is STILL some kind of ‘absoluteness’ in space-time.
Indeed Einstein did NOT like the name of ‘relativity’ for his theory.

The point, of course, is that time is not an 'absolute' as in Newtonian mechanics, but behaves more like a 'spatial dimension' in certain ways.

Yet that, by itself, DOES NOT support eternality (although I see how one could come up with it), especially if you take in account other facts regarding (special) relativity. Especially sine there still an asymmetry between time and space in space-time, as it can also be seen in the equations. Anyone who claims otherwise, I’d say, is wrong and the facts (observations) we have prove him wrong.

For example the fact the information (energy, particles, etc...) cannot travel faster than light (something that carries no information, like a shadow, in theory can!) INDEED because otherwise paradoxes would occur.

This to me hints more towards an A-theory of time, rather than B-theory.

JesseM said...

Yet that, by itself, DOES NOT support eternality (although I see how one could come up with it), especially if you take in account other facts regarding (special) relativity. Especially sine there still an asymmetry between time and space in space-time, as it can also be seen in the equations.

I agree there is an asymmetry, but eternalism does not claim that time is just like space in every respect, just in the specific ontological respect that all points in spacetime are assumed to coexist, just like we usually assume about different points in space. The alternative would seem to be that some points in spacetime exist while others don't, but I can't see what would plausibly pick out certain points as "special" aside from "true simultaneity". As I said in an earlier comment, relativity does not actually rule out that absolute simultaneity could exist on a metaphysical level, it just says that it would have no observable physical consequences whatsoever; and while this is certainly not a definitive argument for rejecting absolute simultaneity, I think it tends to make it look more implausible by something like Ockham's razor. Are you arguing in favor of metaphysical absolute simultaneity, or arguing there might be something else besides absolute simultaneity that would pick out a set of events in spacetime as "existing" while others do not, or are you not really arguing for either of these?

Tyrrell McAllister said...

“You have no overarching awareness that brings together the diverse immediate awarenesses of the disparate moments of awareness and experiences them within one unified consciousness, before one mental eye, as it were.” This is where I get lost. What rules this out?

As Scott said, I meant only that the existence of an overarching awareness is not entailed by eternalism, so the fact that we don't observe such an awareness is not evidence against eternalism.

Eternalism per se does not address the question of whether such an entity does or could exist.

(Spinoza's God is such an entity. Aquinas's is not, because his God does not exist in time; it is not temporally extended.)

Tyrrell McAllister said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tyrrell McAllister said...

“Even if, at the end of your life, you could recall every prior moment of consciousness, that recollection would be a different experience from the vivid sense of direct experience that those prior moments possessed.” Wouldn’t recalling every prior moment of consciousness include the “vivid sense of direct experience?” If no, then why not?

I was referring to the difference between (1) perceiving an apple before your eyes and (2) recalling that perception of that apple one year later. These are different experiences. Unless we are laboring under a severe delusion, we are never confused about which one we are doing. In particular, no moment of consciousness experiences both (1) and (2). One moment experiences (1), and another, later, moment experiences (2).

Steven Garmon said...

Some Thomistic back-up would be most obliged here:


http://www.theaunicornist.com/2013/07/christian-apologetics-endlessly-moving.html?m=1#disqus_thread

Anonymous said...

Here's the objection

"If God is pure actuality, then he cannot possibly change; any act of will or mind represents a change in potentiality to actuality, which would by definition include a willful act of creation. If you define God as pure actuality, then you've just conjured up a static being that can have no thoughts and do nothing... which ironically is a lot like what atheists say about God!"

IIRC, didn't Feser mention that it begs the question to claim that something purely actual cannot cause change?

Unrelated, but this paper on phenomenal change is interesting:

http://ap4.fas.nus.edu.sg/fass/phimwp/Pelczar%20-%20Presentism%20Eternalism.pdf

Anonymous said...

Here's another objection.

"This yet again reveals the folly of using a priori reasoning to make empirical claims about reality. I can take any of Aquinas' assumptions, for example, "potentiality is only moved by actuality", and render the entire argument useless by simply postulating, "maybe not". We can quite easily conceive of possible worlds in which objects are always in motion, or in potentiality is not acted upon by some other force."

Steven, do you have Feser's Aquinas? That's where he demonstrates that claiming "maybe not" or that "potentiality is self-actualizing" is conceptually incoherent.

Also, I don't know if it will help, but here's an article on analogy and analogical reasoning:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/reasoning-analogy/#Exa

Anonymous said...

And lastly, Steven, check this article out:

"Traditional theologians did not "merely assert" that God is the "foundation of all beings [sic]." They reasoned deductively from the existence of contingent being that there must be a necessary being, one whose nature just is to exist. This we might call Existence Itself. If Existence did not exist, there would be no be-ings. Duh. Further study of this being led to the conclusion that it was equivalent to the concept of God. That is, they did not start with some being among beings -- this chair, that table, that God, this Spaghetti Monster, Thor, that teacup, etc. -- and arbitrarily decide that one of them would be designated Ground O' Being™. That would be like collecting Fido, Spot, and Rover and asking which one is "dog." The arrows of deduction work the other way around."

http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/07/ismism.html

Steven Garmon said...

Anon,
Yes I do have Feser's Aquinas. I even provided many quotes from Feser in the comments section. But he has brought up some other objections that I'm not sure how to answer. In fact he just posted another one specifically regarding Aquinas' First Way:

http://www.theaunicornist.com/2013/07/aquinas-argument-from-motion.html?m=1

He's a smart guy and he's one that actually attempts to understand Aquinas' metaphysics before objecting to them.

I've asked Feser to answer him before but I'm sure he doesnt have the time or the desire.

Thanks for the link to analogical reasoning.

Anonymous said...

In addition to my comment at July 16, 2013 at 4:13 PM, note that the First Way brings us to an Unmoved MOVER, rather than just "an Unmoved."

Anonymous said...

In regards to that, there's this:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/05/oerter-contra-principle-of-causality.html

In regards to "act" and "potency," see the metaphysics chapter in Aquinas.

The First Way doesn't rely on the Universe having a beginning in time.

Scott said...

"If you define God as pure actuality, then you've just conjured up a static being that can have no thoughts and do nothing..."

That's not much of an objection, is it? "Pure actuality" doesn't have no thoughts and do nothing; it has all thoughts and does everything.

I think our critic is simply failing to understand what Thomism means by "act." In particular he seems to think "act" necessarily involves change over time, rather than logical priority.

(Our home Internet connection is down and won't be repaired until at least the weekend, so please forgive me if I fail to respond to any replies in a timely fashion. I'm posting this during a brief window of opportunity that may not recur.)

Anonymous said...

Gotta give credit to hurlbut, but doing any more isn't worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

"I think our critic is simply failing to understand what Thomism means by "act." In particular he seems to think "act" necessarily involves change over time, rather than logical priority."

I think that's it. The other main criticism is along the lines of "why should I accept the act-potency distinction/"

Mr. Green said...

Scott: If the past doesn't exist in any sense whatsoever, what is it in the world that makes my belief about yesterday's lunch true (or false, if I'm misremembering what I ate)?

Well, it can't be something "in" the world, if the whole changes (and its past thus ceases to exist); but God's knowledge of what happened (or what will happen) is perfectly solid foundation for any claims about the past (or even the future).

Actually that's pretty much what eternalism says should happen: your experiences seem to go in sequence because they really are part of a sequence. At each moment you have memories of (some) previous moments and none of any future moments.

Sure: just as spatially, I am aware that my left elbow is between my left hand and my left shoulder. Even as I focus on one particular part of my body, I know that it is in a particular place, and sense it as such. And I think that the idea that we experience moments of time as being "in order", as "time t₃" gets us closer to time-as-space, but not close enough.

why not also imagine that all the moments are eternally "lit up"? Is there even a way to distinguish those two cases?

It seems to me the distinction is being aware of all of them at once or not. Now, if I understand right, the response is that I am in some sense aware of all my temporal parts "at once" (so to speak), but I am aware of them as being separate temporal slices — just as I am aware that my left hand is on my left and my right hand on my right. I experience both hands together, i.e. at once, but not as being together in a single place. But this is not comparable to my experience of time: I do not experience now and then "together", only cognisant that "now" is one slice of time and "then" is a different one. I am only ever aware of a single slice, a single moment — I never experience anything like the temporal analogue of "both my left hand and my right hand".


even if we do somehow imagine the "bulbs" being lit in some sequence, still each of the "bulbs" has whatever memories it has, no matter when (in this "meta-time") it gets lit. The effect is just the same as if they're (as the eternalist says) all lit at once, so there's no conceptual advantage to introducing a level of "meta-time" for the lighting of the "bulbs" to take place in.

The problem is this still does not seem to describe what I actually experience (which I think would apply even if I had total ongoing amnesia and had no memories at all). It is hard to explain... like claiming that, say, there are no qualitative colours, only quantitative frequencies of light, it is entirely impossible to falsify from the "outside" — I can only protest that I do in fact experience colours, not frequencies. I might even be hallucinating the coloured thing I think I see, but I am not hallucinating the experience of colour itself. So if my experience of "change" or "becoming" is an illusion, what could possibly cause such an illusion in a timeless world? I don't see how even the illusion is possible if reality is truly eternal.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Mr. Green: It seems to me the distinction is being aware of all of them at once or not. Now, if I understand right, the response is that I am in some sense aware of all my temporal parts "at once" (so to speak), but I am aware of them as being separate temporal slices — just as I am aware that my left hand is on my left and my right hand on my right.

I'm not sure about Scott, but this at least was not the response that I made.

My claim is that the temporally extended you (the thing comprising all of your moments of consciousness) has no overarching awareness or consciousness associated to it itself. The individual moments of consciousness do have awareness, but any given moment's awareness omits vast portions of the temporally extended you, especially the portion that is in the future, relative to that moment.

So, yes, you can be aware of both your left and your right hand simultaneously, within one moment and from one location. However, in contrast, you cannot be directly aware, with the vividness of immediate experience, of both you-one-year-ago and you-one-year-in-the-future (relative to the moment of your reading this), within one moment and from one location. (Unless you are Spinoza's God.)

But this is not comparable to my experience of time: I do not experience now and then "together", only cognisant that "now" is one slice of time and "then" is a different one. I am only ever aware of a single slice, a single moment — I never experience anything like the temporal analogue of "both my left hand and my right hand".

I share this experience of time, but I think that it is consistent with eternalism. In fact, I think that this experience of time is the one predicted by eternalism for beings of the sort that we seem to be — namely, beings in which each moment of consciousness directly experiences its present, has memories of its past (which memories are distinguishable from direct experience), and no memory or direct experience of its future.

The problem is this still does not seem to describe what I actually experience (which I think would apply even if I had total ongoing amnesia and had no memories at all). It is hard to explain... like claiming that, say, there are no qualitative colours, only quantitative frequencies of light, it is entirely impossible to falsify from the "outside" — I can only protest that I do in fact experience colours, not frequencies. I might even be hallucinating the coloured thing I think I see, but I am not hallucinating the experience of colour itself.

Eternalism doesn't deny your experience of time. It is just an account of what it is that you are experiencing.

Consider: Electromagnetic radiation really does have frequencies. Your qualitative experience of green is just what it feels like to have a completely accurate perception of a certain frequency of EM radiation, given the kind of being that you are.

Similarly, the temporally extended you really does all exist eternally. Your qualitative experience of Green ( :) ), including your experience of becoming, is just what it feels like to have a completely accurate perception of certain properties of Mr. Green, given the kind of being that you are.

Mr. Green said...

Tyrrell McAllister: The individual moments of consciousness do have awareness, but any given moment's awareness omits vast portions of the temporally extended you, especially the portion that is in the future, relative to that moment.

Yes, though I thought this was supposed to be parallel to my spatial awareness: my left hand does not know what my right hand is doing — when my right hand touches something, my left hand does not feel it. (Likewise, then, my "yesterday self" is not aware of what my "tomorrow self" does or senses.) However, I — the whole person — am aware of all my parts, right and left. My hand is not really aware of anything; rather I am aware of what I am feeling at the location of my hand, i.e. through my hand, and through all my parts. So there should be a parallel awareness on the part of the whole me of all my different temporal parts.

Now, if it doesn't work this way, then the spatial analogy has problems. If my temporal parts are not that much like my spatial parts after all, then I'm afraid the analogy isn't helping me to understand how "temporal parts" are supposed to work. But in any case, if my temporal parts are not part of my own total awareness somehow, if each one is a separate awareness, then even less does it match my experience. To be sure, the slice of me that has toast halfway down his throat is never going to think, "This toast has been stuck here eternally" because as far as he's concerned only a single moment has passed — or rather is in the progress of "passing" right now; he can only think, "This toast is hallway down my throat right now" — and that's all. But indeed, to describe it as "passing" is the wrong word: for with no becoming, there can be no passing. That moment of me is always experiencing that moment, plain and simple. He has, at that moment, memories of previous moments, but his experience is frozen. Yet as a matter of fact, my experience is not of a single eternal moment; my experiences do change, which on the eternal view should be impossible. Temporally, it is as though my left hand started to experience the feelings of my right hand.

namely, beings in which each moment of consciousness directly experiences its present, has memories of its past (which memories are distinguishable from direct experience), and no memory or direct experience of its future.

I accept that eternalism can account for those experiences. But you left out "becoming". Temporally, I experience those thing as well as "change", which has to be impossible on the eternal view.

Your qualitative experience of green is just what it feels liketo have a completely accurate perception of a certain frequency of EM radiation, given the kind of being that you are.

I am fine (at least for purposes of this discussion — I do think it is something possible) allowing that qualities are the effect in my consciousness of certain merely quantitative properties outside me. Different hues, different brightness map onto different combinations of frequencies and so forth, so the purely quantitative causes can have qualitative effects as experienced by me. However, you cannot then say that qualities do not exist. Perhaps they do not exist outside of me; not in photons or anything else that might cause my experiences. But there is no denying that they do exist in my consciousness because that is exactly what I am experiencing. So if you want to say that the outside world, the world of physics, is entirely changeless, I can accept that. But actual, real change, ordinary becoming must still exist — in me somehow.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

But there is no denying that they do exist in my consciousness because that is exactly what I am experiencing. So if you want to say that the outside world, the world of physics, is entirely changeless, I can accept that. But actual, real change, ordinary becoming must still exist — in me somehow.

Sorry for the length of this comment. It's so long that the comment software is making me break it into two parts.

I'd like to take some care here and introduce a distinction, which I'll motivate by continuing the color analogy.

Consider your perception of your perception of green light. This "2nd-order" perception is not a perception of anything being at a certain frequency. Rather, it is a perception of a mind perceiving something at a certain frequency. The qualitative experience of green itself exists and can be perceived, and we might even say that the qualitative experience itself "is green". However, this is not a claim about any light being at a certain frequency, because your perception is not itself made out of green light.

So, the light is green, and we might say that your perception of the light "is green". But these two properties of greenness are not really the same. The "green" of the light is different from the "green" of your perception of the light. One is a property of light, and the other is a property of perceptions.

Let's continue to call the "green" of light "green", but let's call the "green" of perceptions "green-prime".

It would be an error to equate green with green-prime. Both green and green-prime are real. Things out there really are green, and your perceptions of them in your mind really are green-prime. But the perceptions themselves aren't green. Thus, your 2nd-order perceptions of your perceptions of green are really perceptions of green-prime, not of green directly.

Now, back to change. You have a qualitative experience of change. And I maintain that this experience is an accurate perception of something about the nature of time and the kind of being that the temporally extended you is within time. Call this "something" "change". I've argued that change can be described in terms of the B-theory.

Now, your perception of change itself has a property, in virtue of which the perception is a perception of change. Call this property "change-prime", and say that a perception with this property "is change-prime".

This is the distinction that I mentioned at the beginning of this comment. Equating change with change-prime would be an error, like equating green with green-prime.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

(Continuing.) However, I concede that the situation with change is more complicated that it was with greenness. For, perceptions are not, strictly speaking, instantaneous, not even perceptions of "the present". They have duration, during which they can change. So they have the property of change (sans prime) itself, in addition to being change-prime. (This is unlike perceptions of green, which are not themselves green, only green-prime.)

Now, just as in the case of greenness, the perception of the perception of change is a perception of change-prime. But, because of the issue in the previous paragraph, the 2nd-order perception might also be a perception of change (sans prime) within the 1st-order perception itself. This would happen if the 2nd-order perception were "faster" than the 1st-order perception, so that the 2nd-order perception could "catch the 1st-order perception in the act of changing".

But I expect that we often don't catch our 1st-order perceptions in the act of changing. We simply perceive that they are perceptions of change. That is, just as in the case of green above, we only perceive that the 1st-order perceptions are change-prime; we don't perceive their own change. Similarly, when I see the face of a friend, I don't perceive my mind observing first the nose, and then mouth, and then the eyes, and then recognizing that, together, they form the face of my friend. A high-speed camera would catch my eyes darting over the face in that way, so a step-by-step synthesis like that must be happening, but I'm not aware of it. That is, I'm not aware of the evolution of this perception. Likewise, I expect that we often don't see the change or evolution in a given perception of change. We just see the change-prime in that perception.

In particular, when you say that you see change in your own mind, I expect that you're really seeing change-prime in your mind. That's just a guess, and I could be wrong. But you do really see change "out there" and maybe, under unusual circumstances, in your own perceptions of change. Whether or not you do, I don't think that it bears on the A/B-Theory argument.

At any rate, change and change-prime both seem to me to make sense within the the B-Theory, and even to be predicted by the B-Theory for beings like us, as I said in my previous comment. Would you be willing to state your case to the contrary while making the distinction between change and change-prime?

Anonymous said...

"On this view, the sensation that A-theorists call "becoming" arises from the fact that each moment M of consciousness can compare its store of memories to what M remembers was the store of memories available to previous moments of consciousness. Each moment of consciousness can observe that stores of memories coming from later times include memories that are missing from stores of memories available to earlier times. Roughly speaking each moment of consciousness can look in its own memories and see that moments of consciousness from later times remember more events than do moments of consciousness from earlier times."

This seems that it would require constant mental activity. There would need to be a constant comparison going on in my mind/brain. Consciously, of course, I'm not constantly comparing the memory of one moment to the memory of another moment. Even if I tried, I think I would get mentally fatigued/bored/distracted real quick. Wouldn't these comparisons have to be sub-conscious?

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"God's knowledge of what happened (or what will happen) is perfectly solid foundation for any claims about the past (or even the future)."

Only if there's something for God to know—something that makes that knowledge true. If the present moment winks into existence and then winks back out again and that's all there is to it, then God's supposed knowledge of that moment would be false at all other moments. If God's knowledge is eternal, so must its object be eternal.

And again, in order for temporal relations like "before" and "after" to obtain at all, there must be some sense in which both terms of such a relation coexist. If that weren't the case, there just wouldn't be two terms to relate at any given moment. To say that A comes "before" B just is to acknowledge that there's some eternal sense in which both terms are "there" for that relation to obtain between them.

That doesn't mean temporal relations are unreal; just the opposite. It means that in order for temporal relations to obtain at all, time itself must be in some manner eternal.

@Tyrrell McAllister:

"I'm not sure about Scott, but this at least was not the response that I made."

I'm sure about Scott, and it wasn't the response I made either.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Anonymous @July 19, 2013 at 7:59 AM: This seems that it would require constant mental activity. There would need to be a constant comparison going on in my mind/brain.

The perception of change is a perception of something that is always true, as I've described. But the perception of change/becoming as such isn't always happening. In the terminology of my last couple of comments, all things change, but not all perceptions are change-prime.

Taking explicit note of the phenomenon of becoming/change seems to me to be the kind of thing that you might not do if you were tired or distracted. And taking note that you've noted change is more uncommon still.

Similarly, you might not notice that a given ball is green, even when you look right at it, provided that you are sufficiently distracted or fatigued. And noticing that you noticed the greenness of the ball might require that you be even more "on the ball", as it were. You would have to be more self-conscious and reflective than you probably normally are.

Scott said...

And one more brief point while I still have Internet access: surely there's a sense in which God's knowing something to be so actually constitutes its being so. If that's the case, then if God's knowledge is eternal, then so is its object.

At any rate, if all of time is present to God "at once," as it were, as part of a divine "eternal now," then it must exist "all together" in some eternal manner or mode.

Anonymous said...

The continent of Australia isn't in my past light cone (presumably), but I still have reasons to believe that it exists.

JesseM said...

"The continent of Australia isn't in my past light cone (presumably), but I still have reasons to believe that it exists."

Why do you say the continent of Australia isn't in your past light cone? Do you mean Australia as it is "now" (which requires some assumption about simultaneity), as opposed to all times prior to the tiny fraction of a second ago when its world-tube exited your past light cone? All the evidence you could possibly have of its existence (photos, memories of previous trips, etc.) must have come from the part of Australia's world-tube that is in your past light cone. You can of course *predict* that it continues beyond the boundary of your past light cone, but your "reasons to believe" that it exists beyond that boundary will always be just that: a prediction, not something you have direct evidence for (just like the prediction that Australia will still be there 10 years from now).

Mr. Green said...

Tyrrell McAllister: At any rate, change and change-prime both seem to me to make sense within the the B-Theory, and even to be predicted by the B-Theory for beings like us, as I said in my previous comment. Would you be willing to state your case to the contrary while making the distinction between change and change-prime?

Well, when I talk about "perceiving change" I don't mean standing back and looking at some perceptions and saying, "Aha, that's a perception of change!" (Or any other aspect about my experience of change.) It's the experience itself... not as any particular moment, or as the sum of all my experiences — those I think can be viewed perfectly coherently from an eternal perspective; it's the way one moment "turns into" the next, whether I am paying attention to it or not. It's not any particular content, and it's not "awareness of change" meaning "awareness of difference" (as in "can you spot what's changed between these two pictures?"). I am prepared to accept that the difference you mean between "change" and change-prime" can be explained on eternalism.

What I'm trying to get at is the "bias" or lack of symmetry in the way I experience becoming. That is, on an eternalist view, my life is (sort of) like a film, laid out in a series of frames. The frames don't actually "become" anything; but they do form an ordered, progressive sequence. There's no such thing as "the" present — "now" is a word like "here", that can be used to refer to some particular frame as a shorthand in some context, but there's no frame that is the "real, absolute present" any more than there is a place that is the real, absolute "here". The catch is that my consciousness is not arbitrary or symmetrical in that way. There definitely is something special about the present moment, but eternalism has no preferred frame of reference (to coin a phrase), so how can there seem to be one?

Perhaps I can put it like this: I may be mistaken about thinking I see a green thing, but I can't be mistaken about greenness itself. There may be no green thing that is causing me to experience seeing something green (e.g. maybe it's something funny going on in my brain); but it makes no sense to say there is no such thing as greenness, because then I couldn't have the experience at all. Likewise, it might be possible that the present moment is not caused by a changing thing, but "becomingness" still must be something real for me to experience it, even mistakenly. Just as greenness cannot be explained by any sequence or arrangement of sounds, neither can becomingness be explained by any arrangement of eternal things. So if there is no real change, how could we even have the idea or illusion of it in the first place?

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"[I]t might be possible that the present moment is not caused by a changing thing, but 'becomingness' still must be something real for me to experience it, even mistakenly."

And so it is. It's only our ordinary, allegedly "common sense" understanding of it that needs work. As I've suggested (and briefly argued), the reality of temporal relations entails some sort of eternalism; on the very view that "becoming" is real, it can't simply be that one moment passes into existence and then out of it again.

"Just as greenness cannot be explained by any sequence or arrangement of sounds, neither can becomingness be explained by any arrangement of eternal things."

I agree that it can't be explained by any arrangement of eternal things that doesn't include temporal relations. But then those very relations must themselves obtain eternally, and whatever they imply about the reality of change must be understood in a way that is consistent with their eternality.

The point here—and I do wish that more eternalists were clear about it; even Sprigge doesn't go far enough for me in acknowledging it—is that B-theorists are not really saying time, change, and becoming are just unreal, full stop. (McTaggart did say that, but he wasn't a B-theorist, and people who are B-theroists have rejected his argument for the sole reality of the C series.) They're saying that what in reality answers to those terms, though real, is not what many of us ordinarily take it to be.

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"There definitely is something special about the present moment, but eternalism has no preferred frame of reference (to coin a phrase), so how can there seem to be one?"

Because there's something special about each present moment. A key point in Sprigge's argument for eternalism, in fact, is that if that very specialness were something that simply passed out of existence, I'd just be wrong to say things like "I had a toothache last week." A toothache just isn't a toothache without that sense of "presentness," and if that presentness winked out of existence when the moment "passed," there wouldn't be anything for my statement to be true about.

(And although I wasn't going to post again just to correct an obvious typo in my previous post, since I am posting again, let me just say: Ooooops. Of course "theroists" should be "theorists.")

Jack "Vaughn" Bodie said...

Hi Scott

Because there's something special about each present moment.

Pixar got this right in The Incredibles:

HELEN: Everyone’s special, Dash.
DASH: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

The point is you have merely gainsaid what Mr Green said. You haven’t explained why your understanding of B-theory doesn’t commit you to playing statues with Parmenides. Sprigge doesn’t disagree with McTaggart’s conclusion about the unreality of time, only his argument. Your view that the simultaneous and instantaneous experience of discrete memories explains “becoming” is an example of what Dr. Feser talks about as a noticeable bump in the rug made by all the dirt you’ve swept under it. How is it not a contradiction for the same eternal instant of time to have different time co-ordinates? One moment split into different moments? Those might be questions more for Tyrrell McAllister but your positions seem aligned.


A key point in Sprigge's argument for eternalism, in fact, is that if that very specialness were something that simply passed out of existence, I'd just be wrong to say things like "I had a toothache last week."

By the same light, wouldn’t you just be wrong to say something like, “I don’t have a toothache,” if you had had one at any time in the past? Actually, given your version of eternalism, there just isn’t a last week so you’d still be wrong.

Jack "Vaughn" Bodie said...

Hi again Scott

I mangled a sentence in the previous comment. Should have written: Your view that the simultaneous and instantaneous experience of discrete memories and sense knowledge explains “becoming” because of their content is an example of what Dr. Feser talks about as a noticeable bump in the rug made by all the dirt you’ve swept under it.

Sorry for the mistake.

Scott said...

@Jack "Vaughn" Bodie:

"Pixar got this right in The Incredibles:

HELEN: Everyone's special, Dash.
DASH: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is."

My point was that the "specialness" to which Mr. Green is referring seems to be the peculiar "presentness" of a moment of experience, and that since (according to pretty much any version of eternalism) every "present moment" has that sort of "presentness" eternally, there's nothing further to explain. To put it roughly, every moment of experience feels like "now" to itself.

So yes, in a sense that means that no particular "present moment" is "special"—the sense being "unusual." But that's not because we don't really have anything in mind by "special"; it's because we do have such a feature in mind and it really is possessed by all present moments equally. The disanalogy with the line in (the brilliant) The Incredibles is, I hope, clear.

"How is it not a contradiction for the same eternal instant of time to have different time co-ordinates?"

Why would the same eternal instant of time have two different time co-ordinates? I don't think any eternalist in the world has ever contended that noon yesterday is the same instant of time as noon today; obviously it's not. (Nor, as Tyrrell McAllister has said, does it follow from eternalism per se that "you" occupy some point of view outside of time and experience all your moments "at oncer," as it were. And I don't think even any theistic eternalist has ever contended that God's "eternal now" is an "eternal instant of time.")

"By the same light, wouldn't you just be wrong to say something like, 'I don't have a toothache,' if you had had one at any time in the past?"

I don't see why. Eternalism doesn't collapse time to a single point any more than it does space, and I think I've been tolerably clear in acknowledging that temporal relations are real—indeed, in arguing that their reality counts in favor of eternalism. Why is saying I don't have a toothache now even though I had one yesterday any more problematic than saying I don't have a car here even though I have one at home?

"Actually, given your version of eternalism, there just isn't a last week so you'd still be wrong."

I'm puzzled as to why. I see no reason why my (or any) version of eternalism would entail that there isn't a last week; on the contrary, the point of eternalism is pretty much that there is a last week, in a way that doesn't reduce to last week's existing now. It's presentism, not eternalism, that seems committed to denying the existence of last week.

Scott said...

@Jack "Vaughn" Brodie:

"Should have written: Your view that the simultaneous and instantaneous experience of discrete memories and sense knowledge explains 'becoming' because of their content is an example of what Dr. Feser talks about as a noticeable bump in the rug made by all the dirt you've swept under it."

Thanks for the emendation, but as neither Tyrrell McAllister nor I (nor any other eternalist of whom I'm aware) has ever tried to explain "becoming" by the "simultaneous and instantaneous experience of discrete memories and sense knowledge," I still don't see any bump in our rug.

In my own case, I've repeatedly acknowledged that temporal relations are real, just as spatial relations are (though I'm not at all saying they're the same thing!). I've even argued that the very reality of those relations entails that the reality behind what we call "time" must, contrary to some views of the nature of time (mainly some forms of presentism) involve some sort of eternal existence. My toothache of yesterday really does come before my pain-freeness of today, and for that very reason the time series must in some way exist eternally.

In other words, I've never even argued for the existence of a "simultaneous and instantaneous experience of discrete memories and sense knowledge," let alone invoked it to "explain" anything.

Scott said...

Sorry: "Brodie" should be "Bodie."

Jack "Vaughn" Bodie said...

Hi Scott

Thanks for being so clear. It's possible I'm confusing myself by conflating the "roving spotlight of present" with your "all lights on at once" meaning everywhere is "now."

In particular you're quite right here:

And I don't think even any theistic eternalist has ever contended that God's "eternal now" is an "eternal instant of time."

Rather a howler on my part. I'll re-read your to-and-fro with Mr Green with the clarifications front of mind.

Scott said...

@Jack "Vaughn" Bodie:

And thanks to you for the opportunity to clarify. If you want to scroll way up and have a peek at the first reply in this combox, you'll find a short initial statement of my own view.

(I'm tempted to follow up with some remarks about where I disagree with Sprigge, but I'll let that pass. I will say, however, since it's relevant, that where he seems to take himself to be defending the C series, I think the view he actually develops and states is best regarded as a version of B-theory.)

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Mr. Green:

Sorry, another two-parter.

Well, when I talk about "perceiving change" I don't mean standing back and looking at some perceptions and saying, "Aha, that's a perception of change!"

Right. That is exactly the distinction that I was making by introducing the terminological distinction between "change" and "change-prime". When you are "perceiving change", you are doing just that, perceiving change sans prime. When you stand back and look at a perception of change, you are "perceiving change-prime".

The catch is that my consciousness is not arbitrary or symmetrical in that way.

I am puzzled by this claim. Consider a moment of your consciousness at time t₁ and another moment of consciousness at time t₂. Then there is at least a lack of symmetry in the sense that the moment at t₁ does not remember the times t such that t₁ < t < t₂, while the moment at t₂ does (or at least has been causally influenced by them, even if it doesn't remember them).

Did you mean for this asymmetry, at least, to be part of your film strip? Could not the film strip contain, in addition, all subjective qualitative experiences that each moment of consciousness is experiencing, with each of these subjective qualitative experiences appearing only within the respective frames in which they occurred? (This movie was filmed to vibrant Qualia-Scope, you see, brought to you by the inventors of Technicolor and CinemaScope.)

Although such a film technology is far in advance of anything that we call film today, the concept of such a film is entirely consistent with the eternalist picture of time. Or does the idea of a film like this simply seem incoherent to you?

Let me hasten to add that Reality is not just such a film, even under eternalism. The "frames" of Reality really cause one another (asymmetrically). In Reality, whatever is happening at t₁ plays some role in causing what is happening at t₂. But the frames in the Qualia-Scopic film would not be causing one another, any more than a picture of a rock colliding with a window causes the subsequent picture of the window after it had been broken. The film might be a completely accurate and precise description of reality, but a description is not the thing described. The thing described is something that fits the description, which the description itself is not. Analogously, the metalanguage is not the object language.

There definitely is something special about the present moment, but eternalism has no preferred frame of reference (to coin a phrase), so how can there seem to be one?

As Scott said, there is something special about the present moment, to the present moment of consciousness. Your Incredibles rebuttal seems to me not to apply. If every student is "the special-ist student in the class", then, yes, no one is special. But if every student is "the special-ist student in a distinct class", then everyone is, in a sense, special. For example, suppose that seven students study seven subjects, with each subject studied in its own classroom, and each student is the best among the seven students at one of the seven subjects. Then each student can be "the best" in a distinct class.

Analogously, you have numerous moments of consciousness that occur at equally numerous moments of time, and each moment of consciousness has a special relationship to its own moment of time. Thus each moment is special, to a distinct moment of consciousness.

(To be continued.)

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Mr. Green:

(Continuing.)

Perhaps I can put it like this: I may be mistaken about thinking I see a green thing, but I can't be mistaken about greenness itself. There may be no green thing that is causing me to experience seeing something green (e.g. maybe it's something funny going on in my brain); but it makes no sense to say there is no such thing as greenness, because then I couldn't have the experience at all. Likewise, it might be possible that the present moment is not caused by a changing thing, but "becomingness" still must be something real for me to experience it, even mistakenly.

I agree with all of this. Nor do I mean to entertain radically skeptical scenarios, such as that nothing actually is green. I believe that my arguments go through in the "everyday world" in which our perceptions are accurate perceptions of things "out there".

However, while greenness is a real thing, and things out there really are green, our interpretation of what greenness is can be mistaken. Likewise with becoming.

Just as greenness cannot be explained by any sequence or arrangement of sounds, neither can becomingness be explained by any arrangement of eternal things. So if there is no real change, how could we even have the idea or illusion of it in the first place?

Here I disagree. Eternalism explains becoming (and our perceptions of it) to my satisfaction. (Obviously eternalism doesn't entirely explain how it is possible for us to be perceiving beings, but it does as much as can be expected from a mere theory-of-time.)

In contrast, A-theoretical accounts of becoming just seem incoherent to me. I honestly don't even know how to understand what it is that A-theorists are saying is missing from B-theoretical accounts of time. Whenever I really try to pin it down, I find myself imagining a second dimension of time, like this:

*---------
-*--------
--*-------
---*------
----*-----
-----*----
------*---
-------*--
--------*-
---------*

In this picture, the usual time dimension increases horizontally from left to right, and the "second" time dimension increases vertically from top to bottom. Each horizontal line represents the entire history of my life, and the asterisk within each horizontal line represents the "spotlight of consciousness", the special moment of time that is singled out as "the present" with respect to "that moment" in the "second dimension of time". (This is a picture of my understanding of the "moving spotlight" theory. The "growing block" theory would get a similar picture, except that the part of each horizontal line to the right of the asterisk would be missing, so that the whole diagram would be a triangle instead of a rectangle.)

But this is obviously not what A-theorists mean, since the result is just a more-complicated kind of eternalism. So I am just left puzzled.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Mr. Green:

I wrote that "Your Incredibles rebuttal seems to me not to apply." Sorry for mixing you up with Jack "Vaughn" Bodie.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

@Jack "Vaughn" Bodie:

How is it not a contradiction for the same eternal instant of time to have different time co-ordinates? One moment split into different moments? Those might be questions more for Tyrrell McAllister but your positions seem aligned.

I not aware of anyone who's spoken of an "eternal instant of time" that has "different time co-ordinates". I don't know what such a thing would be. Did I write something that seemed to you to be invoking a concept answering to this description?

It is true, at each moment of time, to say that the other moments of time exist. But they exist at their own times, not at the time of the utterance.

The eternalism says that the following claim is true right now:

(*) For every moment M of consciousness, there exists a time t such that M exists at t.

But no one I know is making the following claim:

(**) There exists a time t such that, for every moment M of consciousness, M exists at t.

Claim (**) is false. To infer (**) from (*) would be to commit an illicit quantifier shift.

(After composing this reply, I saw that you're retracting at least some of your comment to reassess the arguments. I'll post this reply anyways, in the hope that it will still help to clarify the eternalist position.)

Mr. Green said...

Scott: My point was that the "specialness" to which Mr. Green is referring seems to be the peculiar "presentness" of a moment of experience, [...] every moment of experience feels like "now" to itself.

Perhaps I confused things by talking about experiences as though of a single moment. The problem isn't that each "frame" of time feels like "now", the way each position I'm in feels like "here" when I'm in it: the problem is how do I get from one "now" to the next... spatially, I get from "here" to another "here" by changing, i.e. this phenomenon is only possibly in spatial terms because of time. But then to explain the same thing temporally, you would need some kind of outer-time.

As I was trying to get at in an earlier post, it's not any particular feeling or any particular aspect of one moment by itself, but the fact that "now" keeps changing. If my consciousness is always consciousness of a single moment, then yes, I can experience this single moment as "now", the eternal instant of a piece of toast halfway down my throat. But how does that consciousness ever "get" to the next moment? Either it can't get anywhere (because eternally, everything is frozen as it is in each frame), or else it's already there — in which case I would be conscious of all my temporal parts at once, just as I am conscious of all my spatial parts at once. But that is not in fact what my consciousness experiences. I experience a single moment of "now" that somehow becomes the next single moment. So it's not difference or memory or nowness or sequence that is the problem, but how the "in-frame" experiences of those things change, how I am able to be conscious of my experiential frames singly AND multiply, at the same, er, time. (Or rather, precisely not at the same time, because that's the only way to make it not a contradiction!)

I agree that it can't be explained by any arrangement of eternal things that doesn't include temporal relations.

But it also cannot be explained by eternal things that include temporal relations — that isn't enough. Change cannot be explained by space, even though space includes spatial relations. And your position is that temporal relations are equivalent to — or completely analogous to — spatial ones, is it not?

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"[Y]our position is that temporal relations are equivalent to — or completely analogous to — spatial ones, is it not?"

Actually it's not; I agree that temporal relations are in some way irreducibly temporal (although I'm not sure all eternalists would grant as much). What I deny is that individual moments come into being out of nowhere and then just pass out of it again; indeed I claim that this can't be the case if temporal relations are real. (I've presented my argument briefly in this thread; a slightly longer, but still very short, version is available here.) But I don't think temporal relations are equivalent or completely analogous to spatial ones (although I think they're partly analogous in some respects); I think that there's some reality "out there" that answers to the names of time and change, and that strict presentism just characterizes it wrongly.

"But how does that consciousness ever 'get' to the next moment? Either it can't get anywhere (because eternally, everything is frozen as it is in each frame), or else it's already there — in which case I would be conscious of all my temporal parts at once, just as I am conscious of all my spatial parts at once. But that is not in fact what my consciousness experiences."

I think this is a false alternative based on an incomplete analogy. You may be conscious of all your spatial parts at once, but you're not conscious of them in the same place. You feel your left leg as being on your left side, your right leg on your right side, and so on; your spatially consciousness is in some way "spread out" spatially. By analogy (to whatever extent it applies), your temporal consciousness should be in some way "spread out" temporally.

As for "becoming," I don't claim to have a final account of it either, but I think it's misleading to think of consciousness as "getting" from one moment to the next. I tend to agree with Sprigge that each such moment of consciousness has a sort of "temporal feel" (my phrase, not his) and experiences itself as somehow leading into or pointing toward the next; at least, I think that's a less misleading way to put it.

Scott said...

I see from submitting my last reply that comment moderation has been enabled for this thread, meaning that it's gone on long enough that Ed has to check the posts. So I suggest that, rather than trouble him further, we table this subject and revisit it in another thread if it becomes appropriate.

Mr. Green said...

Scott: You may be conscious of all your spatial parts at once, but you're not conscious of them in the same place.

Well, as I noted in a previous comment, that just isn't comparable to the way I experience my temporal parts, even accounting for being spread out, so I think the analogy fails. But you say that you don't think time is that analogous to space anyway, so perhaps I misunderstand what "eternal" time is supposed to be for you. (Also, Tyrrell's comment about a second dimension of time sounds more like the typical criticism of eternalism (or the flip side of it?), so perhaps the difference in views is not about the part I have problems with.)

Anyway, thanks for the link, I'll check it out and see if that helps clarify where you're coming from.

Anonymous said...

Isn't "time" simply a measure of motion in space, and therefore a human construct?