The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 8th, 2020, 5:31 am 

rajnz00 -

What's true between Proxima b and Earth is also true between Paris and New York.


Absolutely, although I'd be wary of bringing far-off planets into it. People are going to say all kinds of distortions might occur over vast distances in space.

But the 'universal moment' thing still applies. There's only one moment at any time, really, if that makes sense, not many in different places, because everything is now.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby BurtJordaan on June 8th, 2020, 2:19 pm 

charon » 08 Jun 2020, 11:31 wrote:But the 'universal moment' thing still applies. There's only one moment at any time, really, if that makes sense, not many in different places, because everything is now.

The only 'universal moment' that could possibly exist, is the "moment of the Big Bang", and even that is questionable. There is no consistent physics that defines the BB - even less so for defining any other 'universal moment'. In philosophy maybe, but not in physics.

We can formally say: "In this particular reference frame, we define all events that happen at time t as happening simultaneously." Then it is that particular frame's "now" or "moment in time", not a universal one.

But as I said before, this is word mincing and can go in circles forever, whatever the latter may mean...
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby rajnz00 on June 8th, 2020, 3:46 pm 

charon » June 8th, 2020, 5:31 am wrote:rajnz00 -

What's true between Proxima b and Earth is also true between Paris and New York.


Absolutely, although I'd be wary of bringing far-off planets into it. ...


Far off planets is just to apply a magnifying glass to the issue

But the 'universal moment' thing still applies. There's only one moment at any time, really, if that makes sense, not many in different places, because everything is now.


After "Absolutely", and 300 plus posts and me yelling myself hoarse that it makes no sense to talk of a Now unless it is here and Now.

Here's a problem just for you:

Born (Now) in the U.S.A.

Three triplets T1, T2 and T3 Living in
1. Philadelphia 400 N, 750 W;
2. Pittsburg 400 N 800 W; and
3. Miami 250N 800 W,

give birth to 3 daughters, precisely at 12 pm, US Eastern time on the 8th June 2020.

Q1. Which daughter was born first?

Q2. Were there any two daughters born at the same time?
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 8th, 2020, 5:31 pm 

BurtJordaan » June 8th, 2020, 7:19 pm wrote:
charon » 08 Jun 2020, 11:31 wrote:But the 'universal moment' thing still applies. There's only one moment at any time, really, if that makes sense, not many in different places, because everything is now.

The only 'universal moment' that could possibly exist, is the "moment of the Big Bang", and even that is questionable. There is no consistent physics that defines the BB - even less so for defining any other 'universal moment'. In philosophy maybe, but not in physics.

We can formally say: "In this particular reference frame, we define all events that happen at time t as happening simultaneously." Then it is that particular frame's "now" or "moment in time", not a universal one.

But as I said before, this is word mincing and can go in circles forever, whatever the latter may mean...


It's not word mincing and it's not like that at all. It has nothing to do with Big Bangs.

This is why I kept repeating the point, because I knew it would probably be misunderstood. Why, I have no idea, it's extremely simple.

Tap your finger on the desk or something. That moment isn't confined to you and your actions in your immediate environ, it's a general moment in time. At that precise moment everything else was happening too, therefore the moment is universal, it's taking place everywhere.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 8th, 2020, 5:37 pm 

ranjz00 -

Far off planets is just to apply a magnifying glass to the issue


I know, no prob.

it makes no sense to talk of a Now unless it is here and Now.


Obviously, but my point was that your now isn't someone else's now unless it happens at the precise same moment. I'm reading your post now but you didn't write it now, you wrote it before, when it was now for you.

Here's a problem just for you:


I don't do problems, sorry. You solve it!
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby rajnz00 on June 8th, 2020, 8:13 pm 

charon » June 8th, 2020, 5:37 pm wrote:....
I don't do problems, sorry. You solve it!


Okay I will solve it, (and BurtJordaan will correct me if I am wrong).

I gave you the answer in the question. All 3 babies were born at the same time, so none is older or younger than the other, according to US Eastern time, as their clocks have been synchronised according to that time.

But for an astronaut, travelling on a satellite, at breakneck speed, from North to South, along the 800 W longitude halfway between Pittsburg and Miami, Baby Miami is the eldest, followed by Baby Pittsburg and Baby Philadelphia is the youngest.

For another astronaut, travelling on a satellite, at breakneck speed, from South to North, along the 800 W longitude halfway between Pittsburg and Miami, (but at a greater altitude, so that they don’t crash) Baby Pittsburg is the eldest, followed by Baby Philadelphia and Baby Miami is the youngest.

So, as BurtJordaan put it, "the same time" is a coordinate choice dependent statement.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 9th, 2020, 1:31 am 

rajnz00 -

"the same time" is a coordinate choice dependent statement.


Of course it is! What's all this about?
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby rajnz00 on June 9th, 2020, 2:11 am 

charon » June 9th, 2020, 1:31 am wrote:...What's all this about?


Do you believe the future exists? That your end already exists?
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 9th, 2020, 3:21 am 

I don't believe anything. I take actual facts as we know them.

Of course the future exists. I agree that at any point everything might suddenly just go poof! and disappear but I think it unlikely, don't you?

Of course my end exists, death is 100% inevitable for all of us. But exactly when, I don't know.

Today, maybe :-)
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby rajnz00 on June 9th, 2020, 7:19 am 

charon » June 9th, 2020, 3:21 am wrote:I don't believe anything. I take actual facts as we know them.

To me it seems like you believe everything

Of course the future exists. I agree that at any point everything might suddenly just go poof! and disappear but I think it unlikely, don't you?

I think you haven’t understood the question. The question is not if you think there is a future. That Time, the world and the Universe will go on. The question is do you think YOUR future has already been chalked out for you? Every little thing that you do till the end of your life?
Even the stuff you are going to write to me, which quite frankly I struggle to understand.
That the date, time and manner of your end is already known?

Of course my end exists, death is 100% inevitable for all of us. But exactly when, I don't know.

There is a difference between the fact that some day we are all going to die and the date time and manner of your death is already known and there is nothing you can do to change it. Eat healthy or take overdose on drugs, everything is known and like a puppet you just have to do what is destined for you
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 9th, 2020, 7:52 am 

rajnz00 -

I think you haven’t understood the question.


Oh, highly likely!

The question is do you think YOUR future has already been chalked out for you?


I haven't the slightest idea. It's possible.

I could talk about that if you want but, to be honest, if you haven't understood the other stuff about nows and moments, which is pretty simple, you sure as hell ain't gonna get that.

With all due respect.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby rajnz00 on June 9th, 2020, 3:18 pm 

That was a bizarre experience. So much for my Born Now in the USA.

BurtJordaan, could you at least tell me if my analysis was Okay?
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby davidm on June 9th, 2020, 4:09 pm 

I’m not posting to Raj anymore, because it’s a complete waste of time. Just look at how bad this is:
There is a difference between the fact that some day we are all going to die and the date time and manner of your death is already known and there is nothing you can do to change it. Eat healthy or take overdose on drugs, everything is known and like a puppet you just have to do what is destined for you.


I have pointed out again and again the counterargument to this, and all he does is ignore it. Perhaps this discussion is best peeled off to another thread, but it is quite plain to those of us who understand the modal logic of the situation that a fixed future no more imperils free will than a fixed past. What one must first understand is that “changing” the past or future, or for that matter the present, is not a precondition for free will. (That’s right — you can’t change the present, either.) In fact, to be able to change the past, present, or future, would violate the law of noncontradiction, and free will certainly does not demand that one be able to violate logic.

Others understand this very well. This guy gets it exactly, using my own modal logical argument. I could have written that piece, though in places I might have used slightly different terminology. I recommend the linked piece to anyone who wishes to see how free will is compatible with a block universe. I know raj won’t read the paper, because he doesn’t want to be confused with facts. But others might be interested.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 9th, 2020, 8:19 pm 

David -

Nothing is fixed so the article doesn't apply. Life is a movement, change is a constant, everything's moving and changing, it's a flow, it's a river, whatever one likes... but fixed it's not.

I suppose it could be argued that 2+2=4 is fixed but I think that would be nonsense. Laws apply although nothing's fixed.

Free will just means without pressure or influence. Nobody is forcing me to write this so it could be said I'm doing it from my own free will, if you like. I like doing it, nothing is forcing me, there's no gun to my head.

But our free will isn't entirely free, it's constrained by certain things. I can't turn back time, I can't leap into the air and fly. But that doesn't negate the fact I can do what I want up to a point. I'm actually constrained by a multitude of things - manners, good sense, consideration of others, time, and so on and on. It doesn't mean I'm not free.

Of course, it's also a reality that some people can't do as they'd like for various reasons. But no one can imprison their minds, as we all know. Lockdown has constrained people physically but they can still dream :-)

So we have freedom if we want it and nothing is fixed. Life moves on and we can do what we want within certain limits. That's our reality, isn't it?

The problem then is to go beyond that reality, but that's a different issue.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby rajnz00 on June 10th, 2020, 3:00 pm 

charon » June 9th, 2020, 8:19 pm wrote:David - Nothing is fixed so the article doesn't apply. ...

Lol I really had to laugh. That must have pleased David no end. (But at least it took the heat off me)

I was once taken to task for not reading the papers attached to a post while commenting on it.

At least you read the Headline and possibly the first line of the 16 page paper, and even that you got wrong.

You don’t seem to have a clue about what is being discussed.

The argument is about how you can have freewill despite having a Block Universe. In a Block universe the future is fixed, not that no movement takes place. Movement takes place to that fixed future and, also, many argue, that it is totally deterministic. Which means that even though no one is holding a gun to your head, your idea that “Nobody is forcing me to write this” is illusory, as it has been pre-determined what you will do.

Then you argue strongly for freewill, having argued just as strongly against it in your last two posts. Though, to be fair to you, your probably didn’t know what you were arguing about.

Your reply to BurtJordaan’s “The only 'universal moment' that could possibly exist, is the "moment of the Big Bang", and even that is questionable,” with “It has nothing to do with Big Bangs” shows how much out of your depth you are.
rajnz00 - ….What's all this about?

Actually its about the Block Universe and the Flow of Time, though at the moment it resembles a scene from the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland, and though we all need some comic relief in these stressful times, better stick to the topic.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby davidm on June 10th, 2020, 3:49 pm 

charon » June 9th, 2020, 6:19 pm wrote:David -

Nothing is fixed so the article doesn't apply. Life is a movement, change is a constant, everything's moving and changing, it's a flow, it's a river, whatever one likes... but fixed it's not.

I suppose it could be argued that 2+2=4 is fixed but I think that would be nonsense. Laws apply although nothing's fixed.

Free will just means without pressure or influence. Nobody is forcing me to write this so it could be said I'm doing it from my own free will, if you like. I like doing it, nothing is forcing me, there's no gun to my head.

But our free will isn't entirely free, it's constrained by certain things. I can't turn back time, I can't leap into the air and fly. But that doesn't negate the fact I can do what I want up to a point. I'm actually constrained by a multitude of things - manners, good sense, consideration of others, time, and so on and on. It doesn't mean I'm not free.

Of course, it's also a reality that some people can't do as they'd like for various reasons. But no one can imprison their minds, as we all know. Lockdown has constrained people physically but they can still dream :-)

So we have freedom if we want it and nothing is fixed. Life moves on and we can do what we want within certain limits. That's our reality, isn't it?

The problem then is to go beyond that reality, but that's a different issue.


Of course the article applies if the future is fixed, which the entire issue of this thread. The block universe, if it is real, gives us a fixed future, just as fixed as the past. The article is showing you, as I have tried to show in this thread, that a fixed future no more delimits free will than a fixed past. Necessarily, if you write another post tomorrow, then you will write another post tomorrow: ◻(W —> W) However, it is not the case that, if you write another post tomorrow, then necessarily you write another post tomorrow: (W — > ◻W) The latter is is the modal fallacy, and if it were true, then there could be no free will in a block universe past, present, and future. But the former proposition noted above, not the latter, is true, and so free will and a block universe are fully compatible.

Now if you are saying the article does not apply because we don't live in a block universe but a presentist one, then you beg the question. The burden is on you to show that presentism is correct. Perhaps you can do what raj has failed to do.

Your notion of fixity is also confused. Of course things are different from moment to moment — with or without a block universe. No one denies this. When I speak of fixity, I am speaking of events fixed at a time and a place. The Kennedy assassination if a fixed fact of the past. There are fixed facts about the future as well, but we don’t know them yet.

As for your description of free will, it’s standard issue compatibilism. Works just as well in a block universe as it does in a presentist one.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 10th, 2020, 6:37 pm 

rajnz00 -

You don’t seem to have a clue about what is being discussed.


Maybe, but I doubt it since it's all there in black and white.

The argument is about how you can have freewill despite having a Block Universe. In a Block universe the future is fixed, not that no movement takes place.


I know, you can hardly miss it. But I keep saying I don't do ideas and speculations, I do reality. The reality is that nothing is fixed so these ideas don't apply. Which is what I said to David.

I've no interest in playing around with things that aren't real. What possible use is it? The real mysteries of life aren't there, they're in the real, in life itself. That's real philosophy, not what you call philosophy!
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 10th, 2020, 6:39 pm 

David -

The article applies if the block universe is true, if everything's fixed, etc, etc. Since it's completely obvious that nothing is fixed at all it can't be true, so that's that.

The burden is on you to show that presentism is correct


Presentism is an ism. Isms are ideas, mental constructs created by ourselves, so none of them are true. You may as well ask if Humpty Dumpty is true. It's meaningless.

Of course things are different from moment to moment — with or without a block universe. No one denies this.


Ah! Sanity strikes!

When I speak of fixity, I am speaking of events fixed at a time and a place. The Kennedy assassination if a fixed fact of the past.


This is double-think, isn't it? The Kennedy assassination came and went. The date, determined by a calendar system invented by us, is a symbol, a number. Of course it's the same, like 2+2=4 is the same.

So what? All the living things in the world are evolving, changing, moment by moment. We ourselves are. But the word 'living' or 'thing' doesn't change because it's a symbol. The alphabet stays the same, the number system stays the same, so what?

When we decide to change the systems then they'll change; we change lots of things as we go along. That has nothing to do with the subject here.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby Positor on June 11th, 2020, 10:00 am 

davidm » June 9th, 2020, 9:09 pm wrote:Perhaps this discussion is best peeled off to another thread, but it is quite plain to those of us who understand the modal logic of the situation that a fixed future no more imperils free will than a fixed past. What one must first understand is that “changing” the past or future, or for that matter the present, is not a precondition for free will. (That’s right — you can’t change the present, either.) In fact, to be able to change the past, present, or future, would violate the law of noncontradiction, and free will certainly does not demand that one be able to violate logic.

Others understand this very well. This guy gets it exactly, using my own modal logical argument. I could have written that piece, though in places I might have used slightly different terminology. I recommend the linked piece to anyone who wishes to see how free will is compatible with a block universe. I know raj won’t read the paper, because he doesn’t want to be confused with facts. But others might be interested.

I have just read the above paper. Evpak mentions a 'branching' universe (see his comments about the sea battle). I take him to mean that we can freely decide which branch we will follow. Every branch pre-exists in its entirety, but which one we follow depends on the exercise of our free will. I think most proponents of free will would be content with that.

Or is he saying that our choice of branch is itself pre-existent/predetermined? That not only the manifold of branches, but the identity of one's personal (phenomenological) branch is timelessly fixed?
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby davidm on June 11th, 2020, 5:15 pm 

The article applies if the block universe is true, if everything's fixed, etc, etc. Since it's completely obvious that nothing is fixed at all it can't be true, so that's that.


If it is completely obvious that the block universe is false, why do most physicists accept it as a given? This is not an appeal to authority, btw — I am not suggesting that anyone should accept the block universe based on the say-so of physicists. In any case, I have already given my arguments in this thread for a block universe. I am asking you why you think that so many smart people who work in a scientific field connected with this very topic cannot see what you claim is obvious — that the block universe is false? Or could it be that what you think is obvious, isn’t really obvious?

Ah! Sanity strikes!


I have never said or implied that things are not different from moment to moment. This is obviously true, and fully consistent with a block universe. I think you have no idea what eternalism is, or perhaps you have no idea what sanity is.

As to the rest of it, in a block universe, the JFK assassination, and all other spacetime events in history, are timelessly fixed at their own spacetime locations.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 12th, 2020, 12:37 am 

David -

Thanks for replying. You have Positor there who seems more willing to discuss this in a way you'd probably prefer!


I don't know where to begin. The first thing is: it's a theory. You also have Presentism and Eternalism, and all that. I've looked it all up!

I don't know what is true out of any of them. Worse, I'm afraid, I'm not really terribly interested. This stuff confuses my poor brain. Theories, however clear, seem to take off into a world of their own with all sides having a great discussion and all that. It's not a world I'm familiar with and, to be honest, I find it all so unnecessary.

I just go by my own experience which, I'm fairly certain, is the same as everybody else's. Except for cranky people, obviously, but they're a bit odd so probably we can overlook them.

The past has happened. There's no denying it. On the other hand it's no longer real or active, it's gone. It exists only as a memory, as knowledge. As a reality it's no longer active. You'd agree with that, I think. I hope so anyway!

Then there's the present. Well, the present isn't really much divided from the past. The present is the past evolved, continued. There is a passage of time because things are different every day but nothing is static for very long, if at all. And unless everything suddenly grinds to a cataclysmic halt, what is now will further evolve and become the future, which is the great flow continuing.

So there's no actual dividing line between past, present and future, it's all one thing, flowing on. Would we both agree to that?

Now some say time, which we also call this flow of events, isn't real. The past is only a memory, the future isn't yet known, so all we actually have is now at any time. 'Now', then, is the summation, if we like, of all time and existence. So everything is now.

You see, I don't think we all need to be physicists, or great philosophers, or terribly brainy, to realise what's going on. Everyone on earth, except the loonies, thinks in terms of past, present and future. If the idea is we're all completely deluded, living in an illusion, brainwashed by falsehood - as some Eastern-type gurus have proclaimed - I say nonsense.

There are different states of consciousness. Time can have a stop, inwardly speaking. There can be timeless moments when, internally, we are transported beyond ourselves. Again, I'm sure we've all had something like that happen at some time. And some may proclaim that the sense of a timeless now is the true reality - and some may not, of course. They'd say it was only a passing state produced by a certain frame of mind.

So, in the end, one has to ask what really is real? To me that's the right question.

My own reaction to that is that either everything is or nothing is. Either we're living in a complete delusion, including the sense of our own being, or that everything around us is real and actual. Nature, space, our own divided world, the sufferings and iniquities of all our lives, it's all really there and not an illusion at all,.

This isn't to say we can't fall into illusion. Many people do. The mind can fixate on things, various kinds of strange beliefs, and take them as reality. But they're illusory because they're unfactual.

So illusion can also be real. The loony bins are full of people who believe things which simply aren't true except to them. So illusions are part of reality, they exist factually as illusion.

So where is any real reality, if one wants to put it like that? Obviously there has to be a complete freedom from any form of illusion to discover that. That means sanity, clarity of perception, and so on.

I think, if we come to that, then all we have left is now which contains the whole of time. Everything is now, as we said above. But then it's actual and not a theory.

If that corresponds with your block universe idea then good, that's great. But I disdain stuff like that because if everybody knew it as a fact, not a concept, there'd be no necessity for any theory.

Incidentally, the block universe theory was first conceived in 1923. I've no idea why it's made a sudden come-back. Do you know?

Sorry this is long, I've written you a book :-)
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby rajnz00 on June 12th, 2020, 2:50 pm 

Charon

I could talk about that if you want…..

No I don’t want. I have heard your words of wisdom, your universal moments, how ideas are not true etc etc and while they might be very interesting to many people, they don’t belong here.

This discussion is about the Block Universe and things associated with it Eternalism, presentism, determinism, pre-determinism, time, the flow of time.

Ideas and philosophy yes, but within the confines of physics, the Special and General theories of relativity, and Quantum Mechanics.

I don't think we all need to be physicists….

No. But if you haven’t noticed this is a physics forum, so you do need to have some idea of physics, even if you are not a physicist.

Your personal opinions about what is real, what are facts, what is nonsense, who is looney and who is not, though very interesting, do not belong here, unless you can link them up with some scientific knowledge.
I don’t know where to begin...

You have begun enough times. It’s time for a break.

This stuff confuses my poor brain….

I can see

I've written you a book

Thank you. Take your take your thoughts and your beliefs, start a new thread in an appropriate forum, and write your books.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 12th, 2020, 6:11 pm 

...
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby davidm on June 12th, 2020, 6:14 pm 

Positor » June 11th, 2020, 8:00 am wrote:
davidm » June 9th, 2020, 9:09 pm wrote:Perhaps this discussion is best peeled off to another thread, but it is quite plain to those of us who understand the modal logic of the situation that a fixed future no more imperils free will than a fixed past. What one must first understand is that “changing” the past or future, or for that matter the present, is not a precondition for free will. (That’s right — you can’t change the present, either.) In fact, to be able to change the past, present, or future, would violate the law of noncontradiction, and free will certainly does not demand that one be able to violate logic.

Others understand this very well. This guy gets it exactly, using my own modal logical argument. I could have written that piece, though in places I might have used slightly different terminology. I recommend the linked piece to anyone who wishes to see how free will is compatible with a block universe. I know raj won’t read the paper, because he doesn’t want to be confused with facts. But others might be interested.

I have just read the above paper. Evpak mentions a 'branching' universe (see his comments about the sea battle). I take him to mean that we can freely decide which branch we will follow. Every branch pre-exists in its entirety, but which one we follow depends on the exercise of our free will. I think most proponents of free will would be content with that.

Or is he saying that our choice of branch is itself pre-existent/predetermined? That not only the manifold of branches, but the identity of one's personal (phenomenological) branch is timelessly fixed?


Matthew Evpak’s branches are metaphorical. The argument goes through if there is a single universal history — no need at all for a multiverse, such as quantum Many Worlds, for example.

His branches are what are called possible worlds in modal logic, which are defined thus: States of affairs (worlds) that logically possible. Today, we don’t know if there will be a sea battle tomorrow. But we know that there might be, because it is logically possible for sea battles to take place. We know this is true, not just because sea battles have taken place in the past, but because the occurrence of a sea battle does not bring about a logical contradiction. Hence, the modal logician would say that tomorrow, there are possible worlds at which a sea battle takes place, but also possible worlds at which it does not. This means that sea battle is a contingent event.

More precisely, if truth inheres in propositional or descriptive statements about the world, which is called correspondence or Tarskian theory, then the statement, “Tomorrow there will be a sea battle” is truth-valued. The statement is either already true or false, even before the battle does or does not occur. Aristotle denied this — he maintained that true statements about the world become true only at the time the event that they describe occurs — but Aristotle was presuming a presentist metaphysics. Even under presentism, I think Aristotle is wrong, but under eternalism, he is definitely wrong. Since in the block universe the events of tomorrow are ontologically on a par with the events of today (and yesterday) then it is definitely the case that today, the statement, “Tomorrow there will be a sea battle” is truth valued; i.e., it is either true or false.

Further note that that there are necessarily true propositions about the world, such as “all triangles have three sides.” Statements like that are said to be true at all possible world; i.e., they cannot fail to be true.

But a sea battle taking place, since it is contingent, can fail to be true. But now suppose it is true today that tomorrow a sea battle will take place.

If it is true, the author is saying that whatever other way the world looks like tomorrow, it definitely will contain a sea battle, so the sea battle is true at all possible worlds, even though it is not a necessary truth. It is possible for statements about the world to be true at all possible worlds, even if they are contingent truths. For example, the statement “gravity is the same everywhere throughout the universe, and at all times” appears to be true, even though the statement is a contingent truth. It is contingent because gravity failing to hold at some possible world (logical state of affairs) does not bring about a logical contradiction. We know this because we can imagine, without logical contradiction, worlds, (states of affairs) in which objects fall up, or don’t fall at all.

That said, I don’t completely agree with the author’s analogy here, because I would hold that there are possible but non-actual truths, so even if there is a sea battle tomorrow, there remain possible worlds in which there is not: possible non-actual worlds. But this is a quibble. The rest of his analysis is apposite.

In a block universe, the author is laying out a crucial distinction. Suppose it is true today that tomorrow a sea battle will take place. This means that the sea battle is inevitable, but it is still not necessary. This is because no contingently true statement about the world ever becomes a necessary truth. Norman Swartz calls this the principle of the fixity of modal status.

This distinction is important. In the case of necessary truths, such as all triangles have three sides, there is nothing we can do to prevent that statement from being true — it is true at all possible worlds. But there is also nothing we can do to make it be true — I can make a triangle, but I can’t make it have three sides. It just has three sides, in virtue of its metaphysical nature. I cannot construct a four-sided triangle. So the metaphysical nature of triangles it totally outside my control.

Not so in the case of a sea battle. Suppose I am the commander, and it is my decision whether to launch the sea battle. If today it is true that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, and it is true that it will be I who launch it, then I will launch the sea battle — that is inevitable. But I do not have to launch the sea battle, because the sea battle is not a necessary truth, like a three-sided triangle.

The confusion lies here. People assume that:

If it is true today that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then tomorrow there must be a sea battle:

(S —->◻S)

Where S stands for sea battle, and ◻stands for, “It is necessary that.”

But remember the principle of the fixity of modal status. No contingent truth ever becomes necessary, and no necessary truth ever becomes contingent.

As I explained way upthread, there is something necessary about the state of affairs of the sea battle, but the problem is that in the above formulation, necessity is ascribed to the consequent of the antecedent, which modal logic shows to be impossible. The necessity ◻ operator needs to be applied to the conjoint relation between antecedent and consequent, like so:

Necessarily (if today it is true that that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then tomorrow there will be a sea battle.)

Or:

◻(S —>S)

Notice that the sea battle itself remains a contingency. All that is necessary is that the truth value of statements about the future, and the actual events that they describe, must match. Which boils down, trivially, to the assertion that all true statements are true.

Who decides whether the sea battle occurs tomorrow? Well, since I am the commander, I decide it, of my own free will. I am the one who, freely, makes it be the case that today, it is true that tomorrow there will be a sea battle. Nor is this some form of retroactive causation, my doing something today magically making the proposition true yesterday. As Swartz has explained, the relation between an event, and the proposition that (timelessly) describes it, is semantic and not causal. Once this is grasped, there should be no more concern about free will in a block universe. If today it is true that yesterday I launched a sea battle, then no one would question whether I did that freely. Nor, as explained above, should they question my freedom to freely launch a sea battle tomorrow.

People get hung up on the inevitability of the future in a block universe. But this concern always comes down to the same thing: The intuition that to have free will, we ought to be able to change the future. But as I have already argued, we do not change the past, future, or present. Try to change the present. Lift your arm, say. If you lift it, you have not changed the present — you have, rather, made it be, what it is. In fact, to change the future (or present or past) would bring about a logical contradiction, as the author notes here:

… he is complaining that he has no freedom to prevent what actually happens from actually happening. It seems that this is tantamount to complaining that a person lacks the capacity to actualize a state of affairs such that (A & ~A); that is, when the incompatibilist objects in this context that he is unable to act other than as he acts, he is objecting that he is unable to both take a certain action and not take that certain action at the same time. This objection is perplexing at best, for it is a dubious conception of free will which requires that a person be free to actualize contradictory states of affairs.


Bingo! He has hit the nail on the head!

But he key takeaway passage from his paper is:

The incompatibilist, as he may be called, objects "Surely I cannot have free will, for all of my future actions are already set in stone, and I cannot do otherwise – why, even this very sentence was I bound to utter from eternity!" He gestures to a depiction of T whereupon is indicated that he would speak as he just has. But it seems to me that the incompatibilist is here committing a serious and profound error: he has failed to take into account that T reports his utterance precisely because he utters it. The timeline is as it is because of what he does, not the reverse.


That’s it in a nutshell. The timeline does not make me launch a sea battle, just because it is timelessly true (true at all times, before, during, and after the event) that I launch a sea battle; rather, I make the timeline be, what it is, by freely launching the sea battle. In other words, my free act provides the truth grounds for a timelessly true proposition about my freely willed act.

Finally, neither the author nor I are arguing for free will, however defined,simpliciter; there may be other reasons we have no free will. We are simply arguing that a block universe, by itself, does not and cannot preclude free will.

I can’t explain it any better. It’s a fairly complex topic in logic and it has to be thought about carefully. Hopefully for some the pin will drop. The point is that if an event is contingent, it may be inevitable, but it is never necessary. If it is not necessary, then it follows that the event can be brought about by a freely willed act, even in the future of a proposition describing that act before it happens.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 12th, 2020, 6:23 pm 

rajnz00 » June 12th, 2020, 7:50 pm wrote:Charon

I could talk about that if you want…..

No I don’t want. I have heard your words of wisdom, your universal moments, how ideas are not true etc etc and while they might be very interesting to many people, they don’t belong here.

This discussion is about the Block Universe and things associated with it Eternalism, presentism, determinism, pre-determinism, time, the flow of time.

Ideas and philosophy yes, but within the confines of physics, the Special and General theories of relativity, and Quantum Mechanics.

I don't think we all need to be physicists….

No. But if you haven’t noticed this is a physics forum, so you do need to have some idea of physics, even if you are not a physicist.

Your personal opinions about what is real, what are facts, what is nonsense, who is looney and who is not, though very interesting, do not belong here, unless you can link them up with some scientific knowledge.
I don’t know where to begin...

You have begun enough times. It’s time for a break.

This stuff confuses my poor brain….

I can see

I've written you a book

Thank you. Take your take your thoughts and your beliefs, start a new thread in an appropriate forum, and write your books.


If this is a physics forum, stick to physics questions. Issues of time and free will are philosophical because they apply to everyone, not just physicists.

Nor can you assume that trying to answer them in an exclusive area called physics will necessarily produce the right answer. In fact it probably won't, it's too partial a view.

By insisting that only physics answers have any validity to universal questions you're doing what a lot of the scientific establishment does which is to try to run some sort of clique and ostracise everybody else.

You were happy to join in before but got shirty because presumably you had no answer to what I was saying. Not my fault, sorry.

Or, of course, the whole discussion could be transferred to the Philosophy Of Science folder which is probably where it belongs.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby curiosity on June 12th, 2020, 10:09 pm 

Time is just an illusion albeit a very persistent one
Good old Albert already gave us the answer... Maybe this discussion should turn to the nature of the illusion, if that can be worked out, everything else is mere detail.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby rajnz00 on June 13th, 2020, 12:41 am 

curiosity » June 12th, 2020, 10:09 pm wrote:
Time is just an illusion albeit a very persistent one
Good old Albert already gave us the answer... Maybe this discussion should turn to the nature of the illusion, if that can be worked out, everything else is mere detail.


That's not quite what Einstein said. What he actually said was

People like us who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

Not everything that came out of the mouth of Einstein can be taken as gospel.

Carlo Rovelli commenting on this said:

The distinction between past, present and future is not an illusion. This idea has come to be called the block universe: the idea that it is necessary to think of the history of the universe as a single block, all equally real, and that the passage from one moment of time to the next is illusory. And so is this – eternalism, the block universe – the only way left for us to conceive of the world? Must we think of the world with past, present and future like a single present, all existing in the same way? ... Is change only an illusion?

No, I really don’t think so.

The fact that we cannot arrange the universe like a single orderly sequence of times does not mean that nothing changes. It means that changes are not arranged in a single orderly succession: the temporal structure of the world is more complex than a simple single linear succession of instants. This does not mean that it is non-existent or illusory.


Carlo Rovelli also thought that the words were taken out of context. They were not written in a scientific paper but in a letter as an act of consolation to the wife of his good friend who had recently died.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 13th, 2020, 1:21 am 

curiosity -

That's already been answered here. But, and this is one of my points, if theory rules the day, any answer, including the right one, is just going to sound like another one... and the merry show goes on forever and gets nowhere.

Life is movement. Today's not the same as yesterday and it doesn't go backwards. So there's a flow, moving on. When we measure that movement in units that becomes time. Before that happens, there's just movement, nothing more.

If you watch something moving - anything you like, clouds, birds, traffic, anything - there's no sense of time, you're just seeing movement, that's all. But begin to measure it with a system and bingo, now we have time - seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, centuries, etc etc.

So there's that kind of time. I wouldn't call that illusion because movement is real and the measurement of it is real, albeit man-made. And the two have become so conflated they've become practically the same thing.

But there is a sense of time internally, right? But that sort of time is arbitrary. When we're interested it flies, when we're bored it drags. And when we're fully awake and attentive it doesn't seem to exist at all.

So that kind of time is created by our thoughts, by the mind. The more we live in our thoughts the greater the sense of time because thoughts are memory and memory is the past. When we're really excited and interested we forget ourselves and forget time. That's true, isn't it?

So in that sense time is an illusion because it depends on mood, circumstances, all sorts of things. It's real in one sense because we do actually feel it but it has no real basis in a practical sense.

But the measurement of movement is also our invention so in a sense that's not real either, it's just a convenience. But the movement itself is real; it's observable and testable, and all that.

So, like I said to the others, what the hell is real?! What is reality amongst all this confusion?

It's not a great mystery. We'd probably like it to be, but it's not, you just have to be simple and look at life simply and honestly, without guile.

Is time an illusion? Try turning up late for work and telling your boss that it doesn't matter because time's an illusion. So it's not an illusion.

It's that simple.

By the way, Einstein didn't say 'Time is an illusion albeit a very persistent one' Check it out. He said 'Reality is an illusion albeit a very persistent one'. And that needs explaining too because we'll interpret that to mean a lot of nonsense like we do everything else.
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby charon on June 13th, 2020, 1:33 am 

rajnz00 -

Not everything that came out of the mouth of Einstein can be taken as gospel.


Quite right.

I'm not trying to spoil your thread, I'm answering the damn questions!
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Re: The Block Universe and The Flow of Time

Postby Positor on June 13th, 2020, 1:55 am 

davidm » June 12th, 2020, 11:14 pm wrote:More precisely, if truth inheres in propositional or descriptive statements about the world, which is called correspondence or Tarskian theory, then the statement, “Tomorrow there will be a sea battle” is truth-valued. The statement is either already true or false, even before the battle does or does not occur. Aristotle denied this — he maintained that true statements about the world become true only at the time the event that they describe occurs — but Aristotle was presuming a presentist metaphysics. Even under presentism, I think Aristotle is wrong, but under eternalism, he is definitely wrong.

How can he be wrong under presentism?

Since in the block universe the events of tomorrow are ontologically on a par with the events of today (and yesterday) then it is definitely the case that today, the statement, “Tomorrow there will be a sea battle” is truth valued; i.e., it is either true or false.

If tomorrow's events are ontologically on a par with those of today, it needs to be explained how we experience the present as special. Why is it now the year 2020, rather than some other year? If the 'flow' of time is an illusion, how does the illusion arise in a block universe? (If it is said that we become successively aware of different parts of a fixed timeline, the word 'successively' implies a real flow of time.)

But a sea battle taking place, since it is contingent, can fail to be true. But now suppose it is true today that tomorrow a sea battle will take place.

If it is true, the author is saying that whatever other way the world looks like tomorrow, it definitely will contain a sea battle, so the sea battle is true at all possible worlds, even though it is not a necessary truth.

If it is true today that a sea battle will take place tomorrow, then all other future events are also true today; the sea battle cannot have some special ontological status. So, if all future events are already true, there can be only one possible actual world.

People get hung up on the inevitability of the future in a block universe. But this concern always comes down to the same thing: The intuition that to have free will, we ought to be able to change the future. But as I have already argued, we do not change the past, future, or present.

Most ordinary people are probably presentists, so they would say 'decide' or 'determine' rather than 'change'.
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