Sunday, February 08, 2009


I have some questions and I figured my peers might help me answer them without having to do research on my own. That is what blogs are for, right? Ariana Huffington and Perez Hilton can tell me what to think about politics and how to buy Michael Jordan brand steaks.

My questions are about time in philosophy of physics and metaphysics. I realize there are lots of "time issues," but I'm thinking about the question about static blocks vs growing blocks vs presentism, etc:

1) Is the static block model of time by far the dominant position? Not at all dominant? Subject to criticism as often as not? Taken for granted in most writing on the subject?

2) Who, if anyone, are the influential opponents keeping other views on the table?

3) How separate and different are the disciplines and literature in philosophy of physics and, for lack of a better word, traditional metaphysics with regard to the time issue.

Just to give some context, I started wondering about these questions in part because all of the phil physics talks last quarter took the static block model as a starting point. The same is true with the few philosophy of physics papers I've read and understood. Also, my entire fatalism project may rest on the static block view. I just want to see if I have the dominant position on my side. It's like moving to New York and making sure you don't live somewhere where you have to root for the Mets.


Tarun Menon said...

The impression I have (which may well be quite significantly biased by Craig's malign influence) is that the static block model is the most common position among both metaphysicians and philosophers of physics. In a lot of the philosophy of physics arrow of time literature I've looked at, the block view is just taken for granted.

Most philosophers of physics who write about space and time work with a General Relativistic framework, which is just naturally conducive to a block universe interpretation. In most of these papers, this presupposition is not even mentioned. On the other hand, I get the sense that in the metaphysics literature you are at least expected to acknowledge that you are assuming a particular model of time.

There are people who valiantly (but foolishly) continue to resist the eternalist Borg. Prominent examples: Dean Zimmerman and Michael Tooley.

There are also people who argue that presentism and eternalism, properly understood, are not incompatible. Steven Savitt is an example.

Tim Maudlin has an interesting position. He accepts the "block" part of the static block model, but rejects the "static" part. He's with the eternalists on questions of existence, but he also believes in absolute temporal passage.

Nat said...

I'll add one thing which you should take with a grain of salt. This is in response to Per's third question. I think there are roughly two primary strains in the debate. One involves determining whether presentism/ growing-block is compatible with relativity. The other is focused on the semantics and logic of temporal language. And I think you get phil-physics types and metaphysician types writing on both these issues. This is because each side wants to address all their opponents arguments.

Per said...

Thanks guys. Nat your point is interesting.

There are a bunch of arguments in the fatalism literature from the 60s that attempt to avoid fatalism of the sea battle variety by arguing that truth values can change. One guy uses one of those Polish logicians who developed a 3 valued logic in order to argue that the typical change in truth value was from indeterminate to true or false. Statements about the future are indeterminate, but become true or false once the event they are about occurs/obtains.

Is this flatly incompatible with static block models of time? I would think it is.

Are the implications of the static block for the logic of temporal language more complicated that just saying that statements about the future should be understood in exactly the same way as statements about the past and present? Again, I would think that the static block model would force us to treat statements in exactly the same way and that that would prove fatalism (if only the arguments weren't fallacious). Is the literature about the semantics and logic of temporal language as dominated by one position as the eternalist/presentist time literature is?