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Encyclopedia > Eternalism (philosophy of time)

Eternalism is a philosophical approach to the ontological nature of time. It builds on the standard method of modeling time as a dimension in physics, to give time a similar ontology to that of space. This would mean that time is just another dimension, that future events are "already there", and that there is no objective flow of time. It is sometimes referred to as the "Block Time" or "Block Universe" theory due to its description of space-time as an unchanging four-dimensional "block",[1] as opposed to the common-sense view of the world as a three-dimensional space modulated by the passage of time. Image File history File links Broom_icon. ... The philosopher Socrates about to take poison hemlock as ordered by the court. ... In philosophy, ontology (from the Greek , genitive : of being (part. ... Philosophy of space and time is the branch of philosophy concerned with the issues surrounding the ontology, epistemology, and character of space and time. ... 2-dimensional renderings (ie. ... This is a discussion of a present category of science. ... In philosophy, ontology (from the Greek , genitive : of being (part. ... Space has been an interest for philosophers and scientists for much of human history. ... For other uses, see Future (disambiguation). ... Objectivity has several meanings: Objectivity (philosophy) Objectivity (journalism) This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... In special relativity and general relativity, time and three-dimensional space are treated together as a single four-dimensional pseudo-Riemannian manifold called spacetime. ...

Contents

Issues with the flow of time

Conventionally, time is divided into three distinct regions; the "past", the "present", and the "future". Using that representational model, the past is generally seen as being immutably fixed, and the future as undefined and nebulous. As time passes, the moment that was once the present becomes part of the past; and part of the future, in turn, becomes the new present. In this way time is said to pass, with a distinct present moment "moving" forward into the future and leaving the past behind. The past is the portion of the timeline that has already occurred; it is the opposite of the future. ... The present is the time that is perceived directly, not as a recollection or a speculation. ... For other uses, see Future (disambiguation). ...


This conventional model presents a number of difficult philosophical problems, and is difficult to reconcile with currently accepted scientific theories such as the theory of relativity. Two-dimensional analogy of space-time curvature described in General Relativity. ...


Simultaneity

Special relativity has shown that the concept of simultaneity is not universal: observers in different frames of reference will have different perceptions of which events are in the future and which are in the past -- there is no way to definitively identify a particular point in universal time as "the present"[citation needed]. However, each observer could have an individual flow of time, rather than there being a universal present moment. For a less technical and generally accessible introduction to the topic, see Introduction to special relativity. ... Simultaneity is the property of two events happening at the same time in at least ONE Reference frame. ... A frame of reference in physics is a set of axes which enable an observer to measure the aspect, position and motion of all points in a system relative to the reference frame. ...


Uniqueness of the present

There is no fundamental reason why a particular "present" should be more valid than any other; observers at any point in time will always consider themselves to be in the present. However, every moment of time has a "turn" at being the present moment in flow-of-time theories, so the situation ends up symmetrical.


Rate of flow

The concept of "time passing" can be considered to be internally inconsistent, by asking "how fast does time pass?" However, the question could be no different from "how long is a metre?" — all measurements being equally arbitrary. There is a sense in which relativity allows time to flow at different rates, but it refers to measurements made by one of observer of clocks in a different reference frame. Each observer measures their own clock to be running at the same rate. In physics, the term relativity is used in several, related contexts: Galileo first developed the principle of relativity, which is the postulate that the laws of physics are the same for all observers. ... A frame of reference in physics is a set of axes which enable an observer to measure the aspect, position and motion of all points in a system relative to the reference frame. ...


McTaggart's argument

In The Unreality of Time, J. M. E. McTaggart divided time into an A-series (past, present, and future) and a B-series (before and after). He went on to argue that the A-series was logically incoherent and should be discarded, and that the B-series was insufficient for a proper understanding of time. But while McTaggart's conclusion was that time was therefore unreal, various philosophers and physicists have held that the remaining B-series is all that is needed for a complete theory of time. Wikisource has original text related to this article: The Unreality of Time To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart (1866-1925) was the leading Hegel scholar in England at the beginning of the 20th Century, and friend and teacher of Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore. ...


The Eternalist alternative

Eternalism addresses these various difficulties by considering all points in time to be equally valid frames of reference—or equally "real", if one prefers. It does not do away with the concept of past and future, but instead considers them as directions rather than as a state of being; whether some point in time is in the future or past is entirely dependent on which frame of reference you are using as a basis for observing it.


Since an observer at any given point in time can only remember events that are in the past relative to him, and not events that are in the future relative to him, the subjective illusion of the passage of time is maintained. The asymmetry of remembering past events but not future ones, as well as other irreversible events that progress in only one temporal direction (such as the increase in entropy) gives rise to the arrow of time. In the view suggested by Eternalism, there is no passage of time; the ticking of a clock measures durations between events much as the marks on a measuring tape measures distances between places. Ice melting - classic example of entropy increasing[1] described in 1862 by Rudolf Clausius as an increase in the disgregation of the molecules of the body of ice. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ...


Eternalism has implications for the concept of free will, in that it proposes that future events are as immutably fixed and impossible to change as past events (see determinism). Free-Will is a Japanese independent record label founded in 1986. ... Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and behavior, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. ...


Eternalism makes two assumptions, which are separable. One is that time is a full-fledged real dimension. The other is immutability. The latter is not a necessary consequence of the first. A universe in which random changes are possible may be indistinguishable from the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics in which there are multiple "block times." 2-dimensional renderings (ie. ... The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics or MWI (also known as the relative state formulation, theory of the universal wavefunction, many-universes interpretation, Oxford interpretation or many worlds), is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that claims to resolve all the paradoxes of quantum theory by allowing every possible outcome...


Augustine of Hippo wrote that God is outside of time—that time exists only within the created universe. Many theologians (especially Catholics) agree. On this view, God would perceive something like a block universe, while time might appear differently to us finite beings. “Augustinus” redirects here. ... This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism and henotheism. ... While in the popular mind, eternity often simply means existing for an infinite, i. ...


Philosophical objections

Philosophers such as Lucas argue that "The Block universe gives a deeply inadequate view of time. It fails to account for the passage of time, the pre-eminence of the present, the directedness of time and the difference between the future and the past"[2] John Randolph Lucas (born 18 June 1929) is a British philosopher. ...


The comment summarizes the main problem areas. In more detail, they are:


Subjective sense of flow

Whilst the idea that there is some objective sense in which time is flowing can be denied, the fact that humans feel as though it is in some sense flowing cannot.


Apparent differences between past, present and future

Many of our common-sense attitudes treat the past, present and future differently.

  1. We apparently fear death because we believe that we will no longer exist after we die. But if Eternalism is correct, death is just one of our temporal borders, and should be no more worrisome than birth.
  2. You are about to go to the dentist, or you have already been. Commonsense says you should prefer to have been. But if Eternalism is correct, it shouldn't matter which situation you're in.
  3. When some unpleasant experience is behind us, we feel glad that it is over. But if the Eternalism is correct, there is no such property as being over or no longer happening now—it continues to exist timelessly.

It is open to Eternalists to maintain that these attitudes are mistaken or subjective, but further objections can be made to that response.


Status of conscious observers

Eternalists often appeal to the idea that the flow of time (and other features inconvenient for the theory) are subjective illusions. However, Eternalism takes its inspiration from physics and needs to give a physical account of observers. One could, for instance, portray conscious observers as moving through the block universe, in some physically inexplicable way, in order to account for the subjective sense of a flow of time. However, their opponents could equally claim that the time-flow itself, as an objective phenomenon, is physically inexplicable, and that physics is simply misrepresenting time in treating it as a dimension.


Determinism and indeterminism

Previously, it was noted that people tend to have very different attitudes towards the past and the future. This might be explained by an underlying attitude that the future is not fixed, but can be changed, and is therefore worth worrying about. If that is correct, the flow of time is perhaps less important to our intuitions than an open, undetermined, future. In other words, a flow-of-time theory with a strictly determined future (which nonetheless does not exist at the present) would not satisfy common-sense intuitions about time. If indeterminism can be removed from flow-of-time theories, can it be added to Eternalist theories? Surprisingly, the answer is a qualified "yes" in the form of multiverse theories, where multiple alternate futures exist in a fixed framework, but individual observers have no way of knowing which alternative, or "branch" they will end up in. Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and behavior, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. ... For other uses, see Multiverse (disambiguation). ...


Objections from physics

Eternalism takes its inspiration from physics, especially the Rietdijk-Putnam argument, in which the relativity of simultaneity is used to show that each point in the universe can have a different set of events that are in its present moment. According to Presentism this is impossible because there is only one present moment that is instantaneous and encompasses the entire universe. If special relativity is true then each observer will have their own plane of simultaneity that contains a unique set of events that constitute the observers present moment. ... In philosophy, presentism is the belief that neither the future nor the past exists. ...


Some philosophers also appeal to a specific theory which is "timeless" in a more radical sense than the rest of physics, the theory of quantum gravity. This theory is used, for instance, in Julian Barbour's theory of timelessness.[3] On the other hand, George Ellis argues that time is absent in cosmological theories because of the details they leave out.[4] This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Julian Barbour (born 1937) is a British physicist. ...


See also

While in the popular mind, eternity often simply means existing for an infinite, i. ... According to the Growing Block Universe or Evolving Block Universe or The Growing Block View theory of time, the past and present exist and the future does not. ... The special theory of relativity was first put forward by Einstein in 1905[1]. His aim was to take care of some theoretical concerns about classical electrodynamics, but ultimately he came up with a modification of the laws of mechanics itself. ... Philosophy of space and time is the branch of philosophy concerned with the issues surrounding the ontology, epistemology, and character of space and time. ... In the philosophy of time, presentism is the belief that neither the future nor the past exists. ...

Footnotes and references

  1. ^ Physics does not consider the universe to be block-shaped, though it does consider time a true dimension, and does consider the universe to have a many-dimensional "shape".
  2. ^ John LucasThe Future p8
  3. ^ "Platonia", Julian Barbour's time-skeptical website
  4. ^ Ellis, George - Physics in the Real Universe

John Randolph Lucas (born 18 June 1929) is a British philosopher. ...

External links


 
 

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