Monday, October 5, 2020

Temporary intrinsics and internal time

The main problem the literature presents for eternalist theories is the problem of temporary intrinsics: how an object can have an intrinsic property at one time and lack it at another.

The most common solution is perdurantism: four-dimensional objects have ordinary properties derivatively from their instantaneous temporal parts or slices having them, and since the slices only exist at one time, the properties can be as intrinsic as one likes.

Another solution that has found some purchase is a view on which the properties that we previously thought were intrinsic, such as shape and charge, are in fact fundamentally relational, defined by a relation to a time. Thus, to be square is to be square at some time or other. This results in a more commonsense ontology than perdurantism, but it has the problem of just denying that there are temporary intrinsic properties.

This morning it’s occurred to me that if we say that substances carry with them an internal time sequence that is intrinsic to them, then relationalism can admit temporary intrinsic properties. A property of a substance, after all, can be intrinsic even if the property is relational, as long as the relations that the possession of the property is grounded in are intrinsic to the object, say by being relations between parts or other metaphysical components of that object. After all, shape is seen as the paradigmatic case of an intrinsic property, and yet it is often seen as grounded in the relations between the particles making up an object. But on a view on which substances carry an internal time sequence, the internal times can be taken to be intrinsic aspects of the substance, and then ordinary properties can be seen as relational to the these internal times. Thus, to be square is more fundamentally to be square at some internal time or other.

What kinds of intrinsic aspects of the substance are the internal times? Here, there are multiple options. They could be sui generis aspects of the substance. They could be tropes—for instance, if substances all have beginnings, one could identify a time with the trope of having survived for a temporal duration D.

Internal times could even be time slices of the substance. This last option may seem to take us back to perdurantism, but it does not. For it is one thing to say that I am in pain because my temporal part ARPt is in pain—it sure seems implausible to say that I am in pain derivatively from something else being in pain—and another to say that my being in pain is constituted by a relation to ARPt, which part is in no pain at all. (That pain is constituted by a relation between the aspects of a substance is not at all strange and unfamiliar as a view: a materialist may well say that pain is constituted by relations between neuronal activities.)

Note, too, a view on which intrinsics are relational to internal times also solves another problem with views on which ordinary properties are relational to times: if those times are external, then time travel to a time at which one “already” exists is ruled out.

My own preferred view is that a nested trope ontology. I have a trope of being human. That trope then has an infinite number of temporal existence tropes, corresponding to all the different internal times at which I exist. These temporal existence tropes—or maybe even temporal human existence tropes—are then the internal times. And I can even say what the relation that makes a temporary intrinsic obtain at a temporal existence tropes t is: that temporary intrinsic obtains at t provided that it is a trope of t.


Jonathan D. Jacobs said...

I'd be interested to hear how the proposal of an internal time differ from Ross Cameron's proposal of temporal distributional property plus an age?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I like the temporal distributional property approach very much, and it's my default view on time, but this is different, in that on this proposal there are *times* that are parts or modes of a substance, and temporal properties are relative to the times.

I haven't read Cameron, but it's just occurred to me to worry that temporal distributional properties are too global to work well for intrasubstantial causality. Your being cold at t1 causes your being warm at t2 (via putting on a sweater). But if you have a single cold-then-warm property, it's hard to see how that works. You could have an explanatory relation within the distributional property (the cold aspect of the property explaining the warm aspect), but I don't think that could be causal.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: As you know, I find most things said from this eternalist framework to be utterly unintelligible, but I have a particularly hard time understanding how something like being in pain could be a property I have because a temporal slice has it for a few reason:

1) Is pain really experienced in infinitesimal slices? If not, there must be some sort of cooperation among the slices to experience it together, but when does that happen?

2) If it can be true of me (a 4d object) that I am in pain because a slice of me is in pain, then why am I not changelessly both in pain and not in pain, since various slices of me are and aren't?

3) In a model in which all "time" talk is actually just talk of extension along a direction that is perpendicular to the spatial dimensions (which could very well have just been another spatial direction, with me as a 4, 5, or 100d creature, and saying nothing at all about time...), what does "internal time" amount to? I can understand how, if the 4d object could get up and move around in 4 dimensions freely, then things might evolve for them internally differently than for others; but that's back to a non-eternalist view of a 4d spatial object dynamically changing. Is there some internal direction/dimension/coordinate along which I am extended which is different than the 4th dimension that I am extended along in all eternalist models?

I really don't understand how this works at all.

Alexander R Pruss said...


1. No, I think pain is experienced in a thickish slice. And I think this is actually a reason to adopt eternalism, given the dualist assumption that pain is a fundamental state or directly grounded in some one fundamental state. Given presentism, fundamental states are states of presently being a certain way, or having been a certain way, or being such that one will be a certain way. If pain is one of the three, it must be the first. But if so, then it is possible that you have a pain now, but you didn't have a pain ever before and you will never have a pain again. And if that's right, then an instantaneous pain is possible, which seems implausible. On the other hand, the eternalist can suppose that pain is a fundamental distributional property had by a thickish slice.

Now, you might say that pain is not a fundamental state or grounded in oone fundamental state: that it is a function of a state of presently being, a state of having been and maybe even a state of being about to be. That's a solution, but it has some intuitive cost. And it's a solution that can be adopted by the eternalist s well.

2. We all have multiple centers of consciousness corresponding to different thickish times. That's one of the ways in which our being-in-time differs from God's eternity: God's mind is undivided, while our mind is temporally divided. (There are good independent reasons to think multiple centers of consciousness in a single person are possible: the Incarnation and commisurotomy.)

3. The question of what makes time different from space is fascinating. I think it has to do with causal interconnection: there is unidirectional or mostly-unidirectional causality along the internal time axis. But there is no directionality in the causality along the spatial axis. Something can be equally a cause of something behind it as of something in front of it. So what constitutes the temporality of the internal time axis is the causal directedness of your internal states.

The internal time axis is normally aligned with the external time axis. But it doesn't have to be. It is conceivable that you live your life backwards, growing old backwards in external time. (Just imagine that after you've lived an instant, you time travel back to the previous instant.) In that case, your internal time axis would be 180 degrees from the external time axis. It is conceivable that you live life sideways, growing old northwards (say), with your internal time axis aligned with an external spatial axis. If there was too much of that, then that would disturb the directionality of the external time axis---perhaps make it be the case that we're in a world with no external time---but an occasional such misalignment can be tolerated.

I like the view that internal space and internal time are conceptually prior to external space and external time.

Michael Gonzalez said...


1 and 2) This seems like a few conceptual knots tied into each other to make an even bigger knot. Being in pain is a property of the animal as a whole (after all, only the animal can, even in principle, exhibit the behavioral criteria for ascribing "being in pain" to it). The pain can be located on a part of its body; but, it is still the animal as a whole that is "in pain". So, if an animal happens to be, say, extended in 7 dimensions, its being in pain is a property of the whole 7D living organism. And "being" is a present tense verb, so the whole 7D creature is currently in pain, and might stop being so. If it has a pain in some body part, then it (the whole animal) is in pain. It can either cease being in pain or not. But, on an eternalist view, it doesn't begin or cease to be in pain, it is changelessly in pain... in one section of its body.

To make matters worse, this talk of "centers of consciousness" seems to entail that something is conscious other than the animal itself. Moreover, I assume we mean "conscious of the pain" (not just "conscious" as in "awake"), so what do "centers" have to do with it? The animal's attention is caught and held by (i.e. "it is conscious/aware of") its pain.

On top of that, there is the matter of presentism vs. "thick slice" eternalism. I think the eternalist sometimes has trouble remembering how normal, everyday speech treats temporal terms. We can consider a "thick slice" of the past, by speaking of events that happened over the course of some duration, but we will need to use the past tense. If we use the present tense for things that are no longer the case (e.g. "Caesar is crossing the Rubicon in 49BC"), then we are misusing language and speaking nonsense. Does that mean normal English (and, with it, presentism) has a problem describing non-instantaneous things? Of course not, and only a philosopher would even ask such a question! Lol. The present tense can refer to ongoing things which we are in the midst of, even as we utter our present-tense sentences.

3) What if there were (either by chance or by some necessity) uni-directional causality along a spatial dimension? Or what if there were no such directionality to causation at all? I just don't think this view has anything to do with what we normally mean by tensing our verbs and by speaking of time. Imagine the 7-dimensional creature again, and imagine that one of the dimensions along which it is extended happens to have some special directedness to it that the others do not. This does not even begin to answer or even address questions like "can this creature move?", "can it change?", "can God wink it out of existence, or change its overall, 7D shape?".... In other words, this view tells us to stop dealing with time at all, and just think of multi-dimensional, changeless creatures.

Michael Gonzalez said...


I want to present a ludicrously simple analogy that keeps coming to my mind: Consider a graph with the y-axis referring to an actual direction (say, South -> North) and the x-axis corresponding to temperature (cold -> hot). We travel exclusively along the North-South direction, and the temperature gets correspondingly colder or hotter. This means that the graph has a slanted or curved line, representing our situation. A child who is first learning about graphing might make the mistake of thinking that we must be moving in a slanted or curved way (i.e. they think the line represents our movement displaced along two perpendicular directions). We, of course, immediately correct their naive error and help them see that this is just a representation, and that (of course) heat is not a direction of any kind. It seems patently obvious to me that the same is true of time. We might represent our motion with a curved line to take into account the passage of time, and may even call the axis "t", but the curved line is not how we actually moved and time is not actually a direction any more than heat is.

I mention this here, in particular, because this matter of traveling backward, and thus getting older in the "wrong direction" ought to smack us right in the face with how much this has absolutely nothing to do with time, and everything to do with mere extension. Indeed, even calling it "travel" seems mistaken, since won't I just be a 4D worm whose front edge is (contrary to the norm) much more aged than his back edge? In what sense am I travelling? Could the whole worm get up and move? Because, if it can't, then it does not travel. It is always extended in a certain way, and even if it is contrary to the usual way, what does that have to do with time?

Alexander R Pruss said...

1-2. I am conscious, not my centers of consciousness. But when I have more than one center of consciousness, then I am conscious of multiple things without being conscious of their togetherness. I do not know if there are special components of me which are centers of consciousness, or if it is simply the case that centers of consciousness are nothing but bundles of things that I am conscious of the togetherness of, but in both cases it is a mistake to say that my center of consciousness is aware of anything, just as it is a mistake to say that my soul or my brain is aware of anything. Only I am aware of things.

Are you thinking that there are fundamental states that are distributed over a non-zero length of time? The eternalist can say that, too.

3. I am perfectly happy with the idea that if causality were aligned along some one dimension, that dimension would automatically be time. In fact, I am inclined to think that if causality were sufficiently well aligned with heat, and if heat were a fundamental property, then heat would be time in that world. Similarly, I think that if some fundamental vector-valued property were to enter into the laws of physics in much the way that position does, that property would be location. I am inclined to functionalism about temporal and spatial location: to be a temporal or a spatial location is to play a causal role similar to that which is played in our world by temporal or spatial locations. How close does that causal role have to be? That seems likely to be a purely verbal question, much like the question of how similar something has to be to a chair to count as a chair.

Here's one argument: As far as I can tell, the direction of time matters a lot ethically. But the only good explanation of why it matters have to do with the connection with causation. Once we have the connection with causation, we can see why it's better that you start as vicious and end as virtuous rather than the other way around: for it is good that evil causes good, while there is nothing so good about the other direction. So, if the direction of time matters like it does ethically, and the only good explanation has to do with causation, I conclude that the direction of time either grounds causation or is grounded in causation. But causation as such does not require time (e.g., simultaneous causation, or causation by a timeless being). So, causation grounds the direction of time.

Michael Gonzalez said...


1-2) I agree that it’s me who is aware/conscious of things, and that means that my attention is caught and held by those things. But, if what I am is a 4+ dimensional creature with eyes all up and down one of my sides, then I don’t understand how anything could catch and hold my attention. Especially considering that my many eyes never move and therefore can’t stop moving and linger on anything. I don’t know what “togetherness” means, but I do know the difference between trying to look at many things at once vs. having my attention held by one thing.

To answer your question: I’m not thinking of the word “time” as referring to anything you could “distribute over”. My foot itches, and it has done so for the past 5 minutes. That seems to be a categorically different thing from saying that my foot is extended across various dimensions beyond the usual 3 and has always, changelessly had an itch in such-and-such location.

3) I find your functionalist approach interesting, but have you considered that the meaningfulness of our sentences is at risk here? To extend (no pun intended) the usage of a term like “space” or “time” requires careful unpacking of the new usage, and one cannot then seamlessly infer things from the extended usage back onto the normal, unextended usage. Consider a world in which, for every case of causation, the hotter item was the cause, and the cooler item was the effect. I could still ask which event came first, and nothing about heat or even causation would answer my question. Someone can insist all they like that heat just is time, but at best that could just motivate me not to use the term “time” and just keep asking “but which one happened first”, just as I keep asking of the “spatialized time” idea “can the 7D creature get up and move or can’t it??”

To your ethical argument: Are you sure that the reason has anything to do with “good causing evil” or vice versa? It seems to me that the reason it’s better to go from vicious to virtuous is because one ceases being vicious! See, this very well illustrates the sort of conceptual confusions I’m talking about. If you spatialize time, you then have to wonder what privileges one segment over the other in various contexts and worry about the “direction” of causation and so on. What I can say (and what I think the average non-philosopher would say) is that it’s good for a person to cease being vicious and become virtuous, which is just obviously tied to the order of events. That order of events would be the same even if causation had no role to play at all (we would still be glad the person is no longer vicious).

More directly, even if what was good about the one case vs. the other was entirely explained by causation, it wouldn’t follow that therefore time is grounded in causation. All that would follow is that some sequences of events are better than others. But, the order of events is the order of events, whether it “matters” to anyone or not, whether it’s “good” or not, and whether causation is involved or not. Consider: If, per impossibile, things could pop into and out of being without any cause or explanation at all, there would still be a fact of the matter about which ones popped into being before which other ones, and which ones still exist while others have popped out of being, etc. Causation isn’t involved at all here, but the order of events is still in place.

Michael Gonzalez said...


Perhaps it's easier to just ask this: What if God removed me (my entire 4+ dimensional self) out of existence? Or, what if He chose to move me (my entire multi-dimensional body) around a bit? It seems to me that my having an edge or boundary over here or over there along any of my body's dimensions has nothing to do with this, and therefore isn't what we mean in our temporal, "coming-into-being" or "moving" talk. And, more to the point of this particular blog post, whether I have some internal dimensional curve relative to the cosmic "time" dimension, also has nothing at all to say about this situation. At best, all this talk of "internal time" amounts to my still existing changelessly and timelessly, but with a different sort of shape... unless God chooses to remove my entire multi-dimensional body from existence or move it around.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Such a removal seems incoherent, at least without hypertime: you would end up both existing and not existing.

Change on my view is just a function of variation along a temporal axis, where a temporal axis is a spatiotemporal axis rightly aligned with the causal order. So, yes, there is change.

Michael Gonzalez said...

So, you see no meaning in asking whether a multi-dimensional being can move or be removed? That seems crazy to me. Whether the word "change" has a use on such a view wasn't really my point, so much as whether, when I speak of an object (however many dimensions it may be extended in) moving around or being winked out of existence, I am saying something incoherent, and should stick to talking about how extended the thing is in various directions....

Alexander R Pruss said...

Moving me means something like making me be elsewhere in the future than I was in the past. It's making it be the case that there is a bend or slant in me, correctly oriented with respect to the causally privileged time axis. There is no such thing as moving all of me, except perhaps in the counterfactual sense that (maybe) I could have had all of my life shifted over by a meter to the right.

Michael Gonzalez said...

But, Pruss, the normal English meaning of "move" doesn't fit either of those two definitions. The second meaning you gave is seriously just what we mean by "shape". The first one is closer, but couldn't it also describe something like "growth"? "Movement" is supposed to mean something like "displacement". On your view, "there is no such thing as moving all of me", and I want to understand why not. In our 3D "manifest image", we see things moving their whole bodies around all the time (we even appeal to the moving around of particles and assemblies of particles in our explanations). How does discovering that we are actually extended in more dimensions than just those 3 lead to the impossibility or incoherence of "moving all of me"? In other words, what prevents a 10-dimensional object (even if 3 of its dimensions are inherently directed in some special way) from shifting around or even being destroyed completely by God?

Alexander R Pruss said...

We never see things moving their whole bodies. We see things moving something like their three-dimensional slices. :-) It's just that some people make the mistake of equating the two.

Michael Gonzalez said...

On your view, they can't even do that. It's true that, if a being of 4 spatial dimensions intersected our 3D "slice" of his world, all we would see is the moving around of a 3-dimensional slice of him (just as A. Square sees a growing and shrinking circle as the Sphere intersected Flatland). But, if all time talk is a reference to difference of shape along a continuous 4D worm, then we have never even seen movement of 3D slices. What we have seen is difference of shape at different locations. How does one distinguish an unmoving thing that is shaped differently "over there" along the 4th axis from an actually moving object, on your view?