Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Presentism and the contingency of time

  1. (Premise) If presentism is correct, it is impossible that something has a timeless existence.
  2. (Premise) Possibly, there is no time.
  3. (Premise) Necessarily, something exists.
  4. (Premise) Necessarily, if there is no time, everything has a timeless existence.
  5. There is a world w where there is no time and yet something exists. (2 and 3)
  6. In w, something has a timeless existence. (4 and 5)
  7. Presentism is not correct.
Premise 3 is pretty plausible. It's accepted by theists (who think God necessarily exists), Platonists (who think abstracta do) and by Bergsonians who think it is a necessary truth that there is at least one contingent being. Presentists thus have to deny 1 or 2 or both.

Here is an intuition in favor of 1. A timeless mode of being is an intrinsic characteristic of a being. Now it should be possible to combine beings with all sorts of possible intrinsic characteristics. Thus, if a timeless mode of being is possible, then it should be possible to have a world much like ours but where there is also a timeless being. But that would be a world where presentism is false, since then existence of timeless beings is incompatible with presentism, as presentness would no longer be coextensive with existence. Now, we make this move: as soon as it is admitted that such a world is possible, what reason do we have to think it's not actual? We are in no position to know there aren't any such timeless beings, given that they could coexist with beings like us. And now, while presentism could be true, we have little reason to think it is. So presentists should accept 1.

Maybe, though, presentists should make this move: Timelessness is just presentness in the absence of anything past or future. In that case, 1 may be false. Timelessness is no longer an intrinsic characteristic of a being, and there could be worlds where all there is is a present. However, it seems to me that it is essential to a present to be evanescent. But timelessness is opposed to evanescence. On this analysis of timelessness, some instantaneous event would be timeless if nothing came before it and after it. But surely that would make it no less evanescent.

So, perhaps, presentists should deny 2. But, the following seems quite possible: there is a time than which there is no earlier. It is also imaginable that there is a time than which there is no later. And there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to combine the two, and have a time than which there is no earlier or later. In such a world, there would still be a time—a single present—but there would be no past or future, no flow of time. Everything in such a world would be maximally evanescent, if there were no timeless beings. But, plausibly, neither God nor Platonic abstracta could be maximally evanescent.

Talking of God brings us to another argument, or, actually, a pair of arguments (it's up to you which version you find more plausible):

  1. (Premise) Possibly, time has a beginning (respectively, an ending).
  2. (Premise) God can have no beginning (an ending).
  3. (Premise) God exists necessarily.
  4. (Premise) If presentism is true in a world, everything in that world is a temporal being.
  5. (Premise) If there is a world where time has a beginning (ending) and if presentism is actually true, there is a world where time has a beginning (ending) and presentism is true.
  6. (Premise) In a world where time has a beginning (an ending), every temporal being has a beginning (an ending).
  7. If presentism is true, possibly God has a beginning (an ending). (8, 10, 11, 12)
  8. Presentism is not true. (9, 14)

11 comments:

Drew said...

I see no reason to think 1 is true. Presentism and timelessness are absolutely compatible if you are a reductionist with respect to time. No changes in the state of affairs = no events. No events = no time.

You begin with an initial, unchanging, static state of affairs where God exists without change and without time. God chooses to act and causes something else to exist. This is the first change in the state of affairs and the first event, and further events, hence time, proceed from that.

Drew said...

And as long as God exists in both the initial and, possibly final state of affairs, then he has no beginning and no end.

Alexander R Pruss said...

What distinguishes the "initial, unchanging, static state of affairs" from just an instant?

Here's one line of thought.
Compare three worlds.

In w1, at t2 you are in bliss. And then God freezes everything at the state it has at t2--no more change.

In w2, at t2 you are in bliss. And then God freezes everything for a while--for a while, no change. Then at t3 things resume moving for a millisecond of bliss, after which God annihilates you.

In w3, at t2 you are in bliss, and God annihilates you a millisecond after t2, during which millisecond you are in bliss.

I now claim that on your view:

1. You're not much better off in w2 than in w3, if at all. Why? Because inserting a static piece of life doesn't really add much.

2. You're very well off in w1, because you end up in timeless bliss, which should be like eternity. It's not like an ending. (Just as God's alleged initial static moment isn't like a beginning.) You're much better off in w1 than in w3, and hence than in w2 (by 1).

3. You're better off in w2 than in w1. Why? Because all the goods you have in w1 you also have in w2--you get dynamic bliss at around t2, you get static bliss. Now, in w2, you also get a millisecond of extra bliss after t3. It's also true that in w2, you get annihilated. But that's painless. And what you lose by being annihilated in w2 is a temporal mode of existence after t3, which temporal mode of existence you don't have in w1 either. So, it seems, w2 is better than w1, or at least as good (maybe you turn up your nose at a millisecond of bliss).

But 3 contradicts 2.

I assume you'll challenge some part of this reasoning.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Here's another way to think about it.

Either it your own changelessness that makes you timeless, or global changelessness.

Suppose first it's only your own changelessness that makes you timeless. Then if you get stuck in one blissful state, while life goes on around you, you have timeless bliss, which is great. But, surely, it would be bad for you to shake you out of the timeless bliss, and then kill you. But you can't have a greater or shorter length of timeless bliss, so it doesn't seem that shaking you out of the timeless bliss and killing you would be bad for you. So this is really weird here.

OK, so it's global changelessness that is needed. But now imagine: you're in bliss, and everything in the universe has become static except that somewhere in another galaxy there is one rabbit that is twitching its nose. So, you don't have timeless bliss. Time goes on. Ten seconds of bliss is better than five, and so on. But why should a rabbit's twitching its nose in another galaxy affect you in respect of your well being? Yet whether you've got timeless bliss or merely temporal bliss surely does affect you in respect of well being (the temporal bliss is something you can have more or less of, but not the timeless bliss).

Alexander R Pruss said...

Maybe, though, it would be different if the bliss were infinite? (As it is in God's case.)

bernardz said...

Taking your statements consider Einstein's observer traveling on a ray of light at speed C. He lives in your world w where there is no time and yet something exists.

> 1. (Premise) If presentism is correct, it is impossible that something has a timeless existence.

He has a timeless existence.

> 2. (Premise) Possibly, there is no time.

There is no time for him.

> 3. (Premise) Necessarily, something exists.

He exists

> 4. (Premise) Necessarily, if there is no time, everything has a timeless existence.

Not true but he will never know that.

> 5.

covered

> 6. In w, something has a timeless existence. (4 and 5)

The observer may hit something and slow down, so causing him to experience time.

> 7. Presentism is not correct.

maybe

Drew said...

"In w2, at t2 you are in bliss. And then God freezes everything for a while--for a while, no change. Then at t3 things resume moving for a millisecond of bliss, after which God annihilates you."

This begs the question. Under the reductionist view of time, the very idea of everything being frozen for a while is incoherent.

Drew said...

"OK, so it's global changelessness that is needed. But now imagine: you're in bliss, and everything in the universe has become static except that somewhere in another galaxy there is one rabbit that is twitching its nose. So, you don't have timeless bliss. Time goes on. Ten seconds of bliss is better than five, and so on. But why should a rabbit's twitching its nose in another galaxy affect you in respect of your well being? Yet whether you've got timeless bliss or merely temporal bliss surely does affect you in respect of well being (the temporal bliss is something you can have more or less of, but not the timeless bliss)."

That also begs the question in asserting that human consciousness and thought can exist in a timeless state. What is human consciousness but a progression of thoughts and conscious states in time?

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. "Under the reductionist view of time, the very idea of everything being frozen for a while is incoherent. "

I am not sure a reductionist view of time is compatible with presentism.

That said, to get out of my original argument, you're willing to admit that everything could be static before some non-static event. And presumably also that everything could be static after some non-static event. So you can have sequences like:
1. static, non-static
2. non-static, static
Surely if you could have a beginning to time and you could have an end to time, you could have both. And then you'd have:
3. static, non-static, static
But then why not also:
4. non-static, static, non-static
And that's what my argument needs.

2. "That also begs the question in asserting that human consciousness and thought can exist in a timeless state"

Well, then, run the argument with God's consciousness. :-)

Jonathan D. Jacobs said...

The presentist should be willing to concede, as should everyone, that there might be two actual temporal sequences that have no temporal relations to each other. Once one allows this, it seems that the two sequences could have different metaphysics of time! One could be presentist, and the other could be eternalist. Or one could be timeless. I haven't yet seen the problem with this view. Is there one?

So premises 1 and 11 should go.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Suppose there are two temporal sequences with no temporal relations. Presumably, at least some of the events in the other temporal sequence are real. Now, either some of those events are real, or all of them are. If only some, which ones? Presumably the present ones. But if "present" is measured relative to our series, then there is a temporal relation between the two sequences. Maybe, though, it's not the present relative to our series, but the present relative to the other. Now, this latter present either changes or doesn't change with the flow of time in our sequence. If it does, there is a temporal relation. So it doesn't. Thus, it has always been true, it is true and will always be true that only one moment is present in the other sequence, with the temporal vocabulary being tied to our own sequence. But now run this argument from the point of view of the other sequence. Some specific moment of our sequence must always be the true present to those of that sequence. Call that moment t0. If it's t0 now, wait a second before continuing with the argument. :-) So, a non-present moment of our sequence, including the events at that moment, is real to real people in the other sequence. But unless reality is itself relative, what is real to a real person is real simpliciter. So past stuff--namely stuff at t0--is real simpliciter.

So, all the events in the other temporal sequence are real. But now look at our sequence from the point of view of someone in the other sequence. That someone is someone real, existent, since events in the other sequence are real, and presumably so must be the beings involved in them. The preceding argument applies to that person. So, all the events, past, present and future, are real relative to him. But he's real, and so unless reality itself is relative, whatever is real relative to a real person must be real simpliciter. So, past, present and future events are all real, contrary to presentism.


A similar, but maybe less compelling, worry can be had in regard to a timeless being. Take what is real in our sequence relative to that being. That either changes or doesn't change. If it changes, it's hard to see how the being is timeless. If it doesn't change, then either only one unchanging moment of our sequence, and the events thereon, is always real, which is absurd, or else all the moments of our sequence, and the events thereon, are real, and presentism is false.


Maybe something can be done with Cambridge change to get out of the arguments?