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Monday, March 04, 2013


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Some thoughts (as nobody else had any).

Is there a historical connection between the idea that time is really a dimension of space, relativity and all that, and McTaggart's idea of the A and B series? From memory, Einsteinian ideas were being discussed in the late 19C before Einstein. By Poincare I think, who talks about Flatland and so on. In any case, there seems to be an obvious connection. If the time=space idea is correct, it follows that anti-presentism is a scientific position, not a metaphysical or linguistic one. I.e., just as all the points in space exist, so all the points of time exist. Therefore the view that the only things that exist are those which exist at the time of uttering 'now' is false, and an illusion. It would be an illusion comparable to the way that very young children imagine (I suppose) that the only things which exist are those in their immediate field of perception 'here'.

Thus in 'scientific' anti-presentism there is no special sense of 'exist', no tenseless sense vs tensed tense. Caesar really exists – in the normal, standard sense of 'exists', and the view that he no longer exists is a simple mistake, which science shows to be false, just as it showed us that the geocentric view was false. Superficially it is a more straightforward view. No worries about what we mean by 'exist' or 'present'. Everything in space-time exists. We can talk of things which 'exist now', but only in the sense that we talk of things 'existing here' (e.g. in my own house). 'Exists' is univocal.

How much of modern anti-presentism really borrows from this crude scientific anti-presentism? Is it just a dressing-up of it? Just as Wittgenstein's logical behaviourism could be viewed as a sophisticated (and somewhat obscure) dressing up of psychological behaviourism?

I suspect it is not so simple, though. On the scientific view, what sense can we make of a person such as Caesar? A space-time worm? Can a space-time worm be an 'individual'? Can it be happy or sad? Surely not, if Caesar was once happy and at another time sad. Can it be an emperor? Surely not. Can it die? No.

Here is a link to an article on Henri Poincare, confirming his influence on the idea of time being dimension of space (as well his intriguing link to Picasso, thus inspiring a lot of dodgy art as well as dodgy philosophy.


The idea is not that "time is really a dimension of space," but that there is a four-dimensional continuum called space-time one dimension of which is time. Nevertheless, you are not entirely wrong since the B-theory could be said to 'spatialize' time with the idea that all times are equally real just as all places are equally real. Henri Bergson was one who complained of the spatialization of time.

McTaggart, I hope you know, is not a B-theorist. But part of his argument for the unreality of time, namely, that the A-series is contradictory, has been used by B-theorists to support their theory. See Hugh Mellor, Real Time. This is a contemporary classic in the philosophy of time. It is one of the books you have to read to be well-informed on this topic.

B-theorists needn't maintain that A-time is an "illusion," since they could maintain that it is mind-dependent.

As for space-time worms, the B-theory does comport well with the view that objects that persist through time persist by perduring rather than enduring (these are technical terms in the literature), that is, they persist by having different temporal parts at different times. But the issues here are extremely involved and would only muddy these troubled waters further. Same with any discussion of relativity physics and its denial of absolute simultaneity. Let's not go there!

You are mistaken if you think a 4D-ist can't accommodate Caesar's being happy at one time and sad at another. And what is your alternative?

First things first. I can't even get you to grasp what presentism is and how your original argument presupposes it.

The reason I posted on the B-theory was so that you would have a position that is anti-presentist for purposes of contrast.

>>First things first. I can't even get you to grasp what presentism is and how your original argument presupposes it.

We need a clear definition of it first, as I pointed out. I looked at a few papers online (including Markosian's) and even they concede it is difficult to define it.

If someone is claiming that I don't grasp something, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask them to explain it!

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