Saturday, August 07, 2004

Now and Forever

I'm currently reading Brian Greene's wonderfully mind-boggling book The Fabric of the Cosmos. An excellent example of my first 'ideal' approach to metaphysics is his discussion of how special relativity affects our understanding of time's existence.

Background: There are two broad understandings of time's existence - presentism and eternalism. Presentism suggests that only the present (the 'moving now') truly exists. Eternalism, by contrast, puts all times/moments on an equal metaphysical footing, saying that they all exist in exactly the same way. We basically just conceive of time as being another dimension, complementing the 3 spatial dimensions we are more used to. The result: a 4-dimensional space-time loaf.

The eternalist picture fits nicely with Einstein's special relativity. To extend the 'loaf' metaphor, we can understand a moment of time as being a 'slice' of the loaf, which contains all the events occuring throughout all of space at that moment. However, observers in relative motion will cut the loaf at different angles, resulting in a different set of events. That is, different events will appear to occur simultaneously to you, depending on your frame of reference. Moreover, there is no basis for judging that any frame of reference is more "right" than any other. We are left with the amazing conclusion that time is not absolute: the proposition that events E1 and E2 occur simultaneously, is not absolutely true or false. The answer will vary relative to the frame of reference.

The problem for Presentism: Presentism seems like the more 'common-sense' approach. It's the way we all intuitively understand the world. However, if special relativity is true, then presentism effectively collapses into eternalism (or at least a far more expansive conception of time's existence than it originally aimed for). In what follows, I will try to outline Greene's explanation of why this is...

First of all, let's introduce the concept of a now-list. A 'now-list', as the name suggests, is simply a list of all the events that are occuring right now. It's a sort of mental freeze-frame image of the entire universe at any given moment. This then lets us understand presentism as the claim that all and only things on the now-list currently exist.

Before we go on, there is one clarification that needs to be made to this account. (All quotes are from Greene, pp.133-139, original italics):
Nothing you see right now belongs on your now-list, because it takes time for light to reach your eyes... If you know how far away something is, you can determine when it emitted the light you see now and so you can determine on which of your time slices it belongs - on which already past now-list it should be recorded.

Here's the problem: As mentioned earlier, two observers in relative motion have different judgements of what events occur simultaneously. That is, they experience different nows, and so have different now-lists. As Greene puts it, "Observers moving relative to each other have different conceptions of what exists at a given moment, and hence have different conceptions of reality".

We never notice this in everyday life because the discrepancies are tiny. We cut the space-time loaf in almost identical slices to each other. But the differences can be amplified in two ways: either travel near light-speed (so increasing the angle of the cut), or separate the observers through a huge gulf of space (so even a tiny angle makes for a large end result).

Greene asks us to imagine a simplified scenario (ignoring motions of the planets, etc) where Chewie is sitting 10 billion light-years from Earth, and that we are at rest relative to each other. This means that we would slice up spacetime in an identical way, resulting in identical now-lists. But suppose Chewie stands up and starts to walk away from us.
This change in Chewie's state of motion means that his conception of now, his slicing up of spacetime, will rotate slightly. This tiny angular change has no noticable effect in Chewie's vicinity: the difference between his new now and that of anyone still sitting in his living room is miniscule. But over the enormous distince of 10 billion light-years, this tiny shift in Chewie's notion of now is amplified. His now and your now, which were one and the same while he was sitting still, jump apart because of his modest motion.

So which now-list provides the list of existing things? We presumably have to say "both". But then we have to conclude that a very wide range of times can all exist together. For if Chewie were to move away from us at 1000 mph, his now-list would suddenly include events on Earth that from our perspective took place 15,000 years ago! If Chewie's twin brother Dewey moved towards us at that speed, his now-list would instead include earthly events 15,000 years into our future. Chewie and Dewey exist at the same time, yet they disagree (by 30,000 years!) on what earthly events are also occuring at that moment. Both view-points are equally valid. The presentist must take both now-lists as listing existing events. Too bad that we're now stuck with the existence of events which occur thousands of years into our past and future.

[Just remember that none of the observers discussed would be able to know any of this at the time. What we really mean is that 10 billion years later, when Chewie's descendents calculate his now-lists, they will find that a bunch of cavemen belong on the same now-list as when he was zooming away from us, whereas just a moment earlier (when he was sitting still) Chewie's now-list included your reading this blog-post.]

The reasoning in the Chewie scenario can then be extended much further. If we collate all of the overlapping possible now-lists, we will end up with a substantial chunk of spacetime (all of it, in fact, if space is infinite).
So: if you buy the notion that reality consists of the things in your freeze-frame mental image right now, and if you agree that your now is no more valid that the now of someone located far away in space who can move freely, then reality encompasses all of the events in spacetime... Just as we envision all of space as really being out there, as really existing, we should also envision all of time as really being out there, as really existing, too.

Crazy stuff, physics. It's incredibly cool - and perhaps kind of surprising - how it can help to shed light on metaphysical questions such as the nature of time's existence. But there you go.

19 comments:

  1. It still isn't clear... the loaf thing... i hav also read the parts u refer to... still didn get a clear picture... are there any graphics we could refer to get a better idea?

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  2. There are some helpful illustrations in the book. Other than that, I'm not sure, sorry.

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  3. Been trying to understand what this puzzle means for a coupe of hours. I do now - after reading your comments. Thanks.

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  4. You might be interested in my "treatise on time" (some thoughts I had last night talking to my friend).

    We were referred to the concept of eternalism as saying that the state of the universe is a function of time. Our metaphor was the "time sausage" - as opposed to your "loaf". Hehehe. :)

    http://www.ripcord.co.nz/weblog/?id=606

    ben@ripcord.co.nz

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  5. The time stuff is still not entirely clear to me. I've posted some thoughts here:
    http://loukipoudis.freeprohost.com/weblog/

    Especially the idea of cutting in two opposite angles in case of opposite (towards and away from) movements with respect to the constant observer is unclear. After all, every constant observer cuts through spacetime in the same way and moving away from one constant observer can be moving towards another constant observer - which angle should I then use to cut through spacetime, since spacetime is absolute as Greene states?

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  6. Nice try, Richard, but you are missing something. Essentially, you argue that because the relativity of simultaneity is a consequence of Einstein's theory of relativity, presentism is incorrect. Is presentism compatible with the relativity of simultaneity? Sure, if one holds a solipsistic view of reality. But realistically? No. Fair enough, but this alone does not constitute your argument why eternalism is the only valid theory of time. A short version of your argument in its entirety follows:

    (1) Presentism is incompatible with relativity theory (usually the focus is on special relativity).

    (2) Relativity theory is our most fundamental theory of physics.

    (3) Presentism is incompatible with our most fundamental theory of physics. (From (1) and (2).)

    (4) Presentism is false. (From (3).)

    Essentially, you argued for point (1). Remember that the move from argument (3) to (4) is a non-trivial one depending on the individual's commitment to scientific realism. It seems that this is the last resort of the presentist. Turns out, Richard is wrong! One could remain a presentist without rejecting scientific realism. It seems that the most obvious approach is to deny point (1). William Lane Craig and Mark Hinchliff have attempted such an approach by reconciling relativity with presentism via the so-called "Neo-Lorentzian" interpretation. This is probably not a very valid approach, and I am willing to grant that standard models of the theory of relativity are not compatible with presentism. Instead, a much more viable and successful approach involves the rejection of point (2).

    As it turns out, NEWSFLASH!!! The theory of relativity is not our most fundamental theory of physics. General relativity is incompatible with quantum mechanics. As such, we should expect to find our most fundamental physics in theories of quantum gravity. As it turns out, there are theories of quantum gravity (particularly fixed foliation ones) which are compatible with presentism. Essentially, these models include a time parameter in which the relativity of simultaneity is avoided.

    In short, presentism does NOT conflict with our most fundamental theory of physics. Presentism remains unrefuted. For more information, read the paper on this topic by Bradley Monton, available here on Google's cache.

    P.S. Lest you argue on the basis of special relativity that this does not solve the aforementioned problem, remember that special relativity is only a subset of general relativity, as in any universe where special relativity is true would inevitably lead to general relativity. Since a quantum gravity theory would replace general relativity, special relativity would go with it! In regions of infinitesimally low gravity (explained by SR in a GR universe), the same space-time as described by a theory of quantum gravity would be utilized.

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  7. P.P.S. For a recap, here is a summary of the above argument in light of quantum gravity.

    Point (1) is irrelevant, (2) is false, and as a result (3) and (4) are also false.

    Thank you!

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  8. Granted, I am assuming that Einstein's theory of relativity is true (or close enough). I thought that was the current scientific consensus. But if I'm mistaken about that, then of course the argument no longer goes through.

    P.S. While I appreciate comments, I appreciate non-anonymous ones even more. Please sign a name or pseudonym if you wish to comment in future.

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  9. Anonymous ahs posted above, that Relativity has to be the most fundamental theory in physics in order to proof that presentism is false.

    That is wrong. Presentism does not need to violate the most fundamental theory. It's enough that presentism contradicts our observations to proof it wrong. Special Relativity even when it's not the most fundamental or complete theory pretty much sums up our observations and what results we would expect in astronomical observations.

    And those observations can not be explained by Presentism. Therefore presentism can not be a complete theory. I have no idea how to modify/expand presentism to fit all observations and theories. But that is not the point. The thing is that presentism makes some very narrow claims. Namely that only the NOW exists and nothing else in parallel. That claim cannot be upheld with current observations.

    The logic mistake is that Anonymous wants a complete theory of everything to falsify Presentism. But that is not how science works. Presentism claims to be a (pretty much) complete view of the universe. Therefore the burden of proof is on Presentism to explain ALL observations.

    my 2 cents.

    Andi

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  10. Since I'm on it.

    There seem to be three more reasons why people reject Eternalism:

    1.) It would lead to a deterministic universe that leaves no space for free will.
    2.) Causality can not exist in an "eternalistic" universe.
    3.) String theory predicts uncertainty.

    I think one has to be very careful with these arguments. Free will is not defined in any way and some say free will can evolve from a deterministic system (see Dennet). In the end we simply may not have a free will. That doesn't mean anything for how this universe is structured.

    Causality is defined via time. Therefore it seems to me a bit like circular reasoning to use causality to define properties of time.

    String theory is background dependent. Strings oscillate in space and time. Therefore string theory will not be the most fundamental and complete theory. Anyway, Eternalism does not contradict any of the current observations even in string theory. That doesn't make Eternalism right. It just can not be rejected with the current observations.

    I see the problems for Eternalism more in making it a consistent theory. How would one explain that there is a squence of discrete events (e.g. a movement) when our theories need a continuous space time.
    Also, how would one redefine causality when all events exist in parallel. Note that this definition of causality must explain entrophy. And entrophy gives time it's direction.

    Andi

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  11. Dear Andi, do me a favor and say absolutely nothing further on the subject until you click the link above and read Professor Monton's paper in its entirety. Then tell us what you think!

    As for your argument, you are missing the entire point. Do you even know what you are talking about? Understand that the theory of relativity is just that. It has not been directly observed. (Yes I know what a theory is, I am not making the old evolution-is-just-a-theory argument.) As such, while relativity might seem true, there was a time when Newtonian physics seemed true. Nobody has directly observed special relativity in its entirety. One of the theoretical predictions of relativity theory is that simultaneity is relative. We do not directly observe this. This is only a prediction of the theory. For instance, objects do not appear to come and go out of existence as they approach the speed of light or undergo rapid acceleration or pass near high-gravity areas as they would appear to in an eternalist 4-dimensional theory of relativity. Of course if for instance we find a theory of quantum gravity which is closer to reality than the general theory of relativity (just as GR is closer than Newtonian gravitation), and said theory utilizes a fixed foliaiton of space-time, then the relativity of simultaneity problem is removed since a fixed foliation of events determines becoming. Unfortunately, you saw my above postings and hurriedly wrote your response. Just read "Presentism and Quantum Gravity"! Bradley Monton does a much better job arguing the case than I did! (He uses a similar argument, albeit explained much more thoroughly.)

    Also, the one thing that indicates that you have no idea what you mean is your comment on string theory. You claim that string theorists are in favor of presentism, when in fact the opposite is true. Note for instance that Richard's argument was made by Brian Greene, a prominent STRING THEORIST! Not all quantum gravity models are compatible with presentism. String theory is definitely not and loop quantum gravity is probably not because for string theories it is required and for LQG it is expected that the space-time described is the Minkowski space-time of general relativity. There are numerous fixed-foliation theories however, including canonical quantum gravity and other theories.

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  12. Please excuse my rushed defense (and any arrogance). Below I shall provide a point-by-point refutation of Andi's counter-argument.

    Andi says:
    "...Relativity has to be the most fundamental theory in physics in order to prove that presentism is false.

    That is wrong. Presentism does not need to violate the most fundamental theory. ..."


    You misunderstand. First know that scientific theories are as a general rule never proven true. At best they are debunked or supported. By "most fundamental theory of physics" I mean the theory which is closest to the truth. Problem is, there are two contenders for the most fundamental theory of physics, namely Quantum Theory and the General Theory of Relativity, and they can not both be fundamental because the two are mutually exclusive. If GR is correct then QM is for the most part incorrect, and if QM is correct, then at best relativity could only be partially correct. Therefore, general relativity is NOT the most fundamental theory of physics. As such, GR is in a funny state where it is not quite true (in any meaningful sense) but not yet false. Since relativity theory is not yet proven nor is it fundamental, whether or not relativity is compatible with presentism is irrelevant.

    "It's enough that presentism contradicts our observations to prove it wrong. Special Relativity even when it's not the most fundamental or complete theory pretty much sums up our observations and what results we would expect in astronomical observations."

    What observations? The relativity of simultaneity has NEVER BEEN OBSERVED! It is merely a PREDICTION of the theory of relativity. It follows that eternalism is the only true account of time under the ASSUMPTION that relativity is true, but there are presentist-friendly alternatives. As I was saying above, the theory of relativity is not yet verified. First off, you made a very embarassing mistake. When you said 'special relativity even when...astronomical observations' you should have said general relativity. Special relativity is incomplete and meaningless outside of the context of general relativity. GR, not SR, is the current theory of gravity and space-time. Actually, forget special and general becuase it is supposed to be only one theory and I am getting confused. Also, relativity is not established to be true. Furthermore, relativity is not a bad theory. It is a logically coherent, internally consistent theory which makes many successful predictions, but there is virtually no DIRECT EVIDENCE for the theory. Quantum mechanics for instance, has more basis in experiment. The theory of relativity however has no experimental basis except for the 1887 Michelson Morley Experiment, the sole experiment on which Einstein's theory is based. Einstein's work was purely mathematical. He made sense of the Lorentz equations. When Herman Minkowski came along, he introduced the concept of a 4-D STC and helped Albert develop the geomoetry of GR. The foundational experiment does not count as evidence however. The theory was an explanation for the anomalous results of the experiment and it is circular reasoning to use the work of Michelson and Morley as evidence. General relativity does however make some predictions! Examples include the perihelion shift of Mercury's orbit. While GR is closer to the truth than Newtonian gravitation, theories of quantum gravity will be more accurate (GR breaks down at small enough scales and QG would explain black holes, dark matter, and the development of the universe better), and there are theories of quantum gravity compatible with presentism.

    "...can not be explained by Presentism. Therefore presentism can not be a complete theory."

    Nice try wise guy! Too bad presentism is technically NOT A THEORY! It is an ontological charachterization of time.

    "The logic mistake is that Anonymous wants a complete theory of everything to falsify Presentism."

    WTF are you talking about dude? Seriously, I am assumed that you are intelligent enough to realise that I am myself a presentist (as you seem to have noticed), but that last statement makes no sense! Of course I do not want to falsify presentism. I do not necessarily expect to confirm it either, however. I merely expect some theories of quantum gravity to at least allow for the possibility of presentism, if not debunk eternalism, leaving it an open question. The point is not to argue in favor of presentism, but to defend it against the above argument.

    "Presentism claims to be a (pretty much) complete view of the universe."

    Whatever gave you that idea? Presentism, like eternalism, is about the inherent nature of time! What do you mean complete view of the universe?

    "Therefore the burden of proof is on Presentism to explain ALL observations."

    What burden of proof? All I am saying is that presentism remains unrefuted. Eventually, we may find a valid theory of quantum gravity which is compatible with presentism. Regardless of what relativity says, the battle is not over!

    In conclusion, given the nature of physical theories, we should not expect a non-fundamental theory to permanently settle issues. Just for fun, I think I am going to shoot down the rest of Andi's musings...

    Andi says:
    "...three more reasons why people reject Eternalism:

    1.) It would lead to a deterministic universe that leaves no space for free will.
    2.) Causality can not exist in an "eternalistic" universe.
    3.) String theory predicts uncertainty."


    I will tackle all three of the above arguments, notably #3 (which is obviously false). You forgot a fourth major reason. Namely, the phenomenon of experiencing time as a dynamic flow. In this respect, the presentism vs. eternalism debate mirrors the empiricism vs. rationalism debate. Essentially, eternalism fails to explain consciousness and experience as well as presentism does. Why do we experience life flowing from birth to death? How could we experience a dynamic temporal passage if time is a static manifold?

    "Free will is not defined in any way and some say free will can evolve from a deterministic system (see Dennet)."

    Sorry, I call BS on that! free will = the ability to act from one's own decisions and requires at least some freedom from influences outside the mind. Free will is inherently incompatible with determinsim for a number of reasons. If our actions are predetermined, then we could not choose otherwise, so our actions are not the result of choice. Whether our fate is a result of mechanistic determinism (i.e. the clockwork motion of particles (LaPlace's Newtonian clockwork world) or the perduring 4-D worldlines of GR) or supernatural predestination (by God, the Devil, the Fate Fairy, the Evil Pasta Monster from Space, etc.) our actions were determined before we even existed (or in tenseless-eternalist terms at a space-time location earlier than our birth region) so we are not the cause of our actions.

    "In the end we simply may not have a free will. That doesn't mean anything for how this universe is structured."

    This is the only honest answer. If we are determined, then we lack free will. If the universe is indeterminate, then we may yet have free will. Problem is that the phenomenological argument for the indeterminate nature of the universe on the basis of percieved experience of free will does not carry much weight.

    "Causality is defined via time. Therefore it seems to me a bit like circular reasoning to use causality to define properties of time."

    Interesting point. The debate about whether causality works under eternalism is interesting. One thing for sure, if causality is compatible with eternalism, it is definitely a different kind of causality then that described by presentism (just as the types of time are different). For instance, cause an effect as typically understood can not exist in a static (eternalist) universe. Instead, causation of this type is merely the interplay of worldlines.

    "String theory is background dependent. Strings oscillate in space and time. Therefore string theory will not be the most fundamental and complete theory."

    Relativity sure aint fundamental! How could it be, when it contradicts an "equally fundamental" theory? Also, background dependence is completely irrelevant! Whether space and/or time are extrinsic or intrinsic to the entities and processes they contain, they are a part of the universe. String theory comes much closer to being fundamental than general relativity. Nevertheless, I admit that I am no fan of string theory. Despite what you think however, though string theory is an apporach to quantum gravity, it is not a presentist-compatilbe one. Essentially, models of special relativity have spacetime continua of the form {M, 0} and models of general relativity have spacetime continua of the form {M, g}, where M refers to the 4-D Minkowski space-time manifold, 0 refers to the Minkowski metric, and g the generalization of that metric. For string theory it is known, and loop quantum gravity it is expected that the spacetime is of the form {M, g}. Also, you seem to confuse Standard Field Theory (which is inherently indeterminate) with stringy quantum theories, which as hidden variable theories attempt to eliminate said indeterminacies. After all, prominent string theorists like Michio Kaku and Brian Greene are in favor of the determinist-eternalist world-view. Minkowski space-time does not have a fixed foliation as part of its structure. Canonical quantum gravity and other less mainstream approaches do however. While they do not settle the question, they at least open it. Essentially, since the Copenhagen (traditional) interpretation of quantum theory is inherently indeterminate, this is just one way in which QM is incompatible with GR.

    "Anyway, Eternalism does not contradict any of the current observations even in string theory. That doesn't make Eternalism right. It just can not be rejected with the current observations."

    Well, duh, of course it does not contradict string theory. String theory favors eternalism as it uses a {M, g} type space-time as opposed to CQG, which...wait WHAT? That doesn't make eternalism right??? Straight from the horse's mouth! The whole time you have been arguing that presentism is wrong, and since eternalism is (by necessity) the only alternative, eternalism is therefore right. Now you make a red herring. The whole time I have been arguing that presentism is at the very least unrefuted, not that it is necessarily the true understanding of time. Clearly you have no idea what you are talking about. End of discussion!

    Recap
    1. The theory of relativity is NOT the most fundamental theory of physics.
    2. The four part argument is a necessary means to make such a claim (that presentism is false), because given the nature of scientific theories, if a theory is not the most fundamental theory, then its validity is superceded by a more fundamental theory. Incidentally, quantum gravity is a more fundamental theory, and fixed foliation models (including canonical quantum gravity) of QG ARE compatible with presentism.
    3. If a presentist compatible theory is closer to reality than relativity, then it does not follow that presentism is false.
    4. I admit, that if a quantum gravity theory which utilizes a Minkowski space-time of form {M, g}, then presentism would be false, at least as far as contemporary physics are concerned, but the ontological nature of time is better settled with quantum gravity theories than with classical relativity. The degree of how fundamental a theory is DOES have relevance to the debate.
    5. Based on what Andi said, it is clear that he (or she?) does not know the difference between theory and observation. (A theory explains observations. Presentism IS NOT incompatible with our observations. It is incompatible with an aspect of a theory which ATTEMPTS to explain said observations.

    Andi, please read this paper start to finish. Stop at the end of a section and think through the implications for 5-20 minutes.

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  13. I tried to understand WTF the "now list" means. Because, hey, the explanation made no sense to me.

    This helps:
    http://lifshitz.ucdavis.edu/~santopietro/Specialrelativitypdf.pdf

    As for the these argumentative comments on presentism -- they are lengthy but just don't seem to have solid thinking behind them.

    -G

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  14. One of the great conundrums of God, and the idea that all is as it ever was or shall be (that to God, all events have already happened) is the idea of freewill. If God knows everything that has happened, how can freewill exist? If God has made our reality, and to his eyes that reality is whole and he knows every portion of it, freewill becomes almost impossible to explain.

    The answer, on the face of it, is obvious. It cannot be explained, and it cannot exist. And yet, as humans we exercise freewill every day (or at least we think we do). It is easy enough to say that people will always make a decision based on certain factors – their current situation, their upbringing and what happened to them in their youth, their state of mind and their own self interest. But we know that people do break the confines of all these variables. They take action that is counter to their personal good; they take action which is different from their friends, their family and their village, and in direct contrast to their physical well being.

    So freewill does exist – but how can God know what is going to happen, and how can that be counterbalanced by the idea of freewill? Were all our decisions, perhaps, made by us before we even knew we were made, by some unseen mechanics which God created along with our reality?

    Until recently, in our history, these have been questions for theologists and philosophers to discuss, whether it was in a bar over beer or in the most esteemed libraries of history - it was all a matter of faith, and faith alone. Nature, to our eyes, did not resemble in any way the reality that the bible describes from God’s perspective.

    But in the deepest parts of the mathematics of the last century, perhaps we see a clue to this puzzle at last; a melding of science and God that has not existed with such strength before to my knowledge. Do not get me wrong; I am not making anything here but a philosophical argument, using modern scientific facts and the latest mathematical theories about the very smallest parts of the fabric of our cosmos. And yet, isn’t it nice to see in nature itself what could be the hint of an answer to this ancient problem, even if it is just a hint – perhaps even if it is a hint of a dream.

    The beginning of this answer lies in the physical world, from the greatest dimensions of space to the smallest particle we now know exists -both of which can be tested by mathematics and scientific experiment – and which gives us a clue to the ingenious architecture of our reality by the Architect himself.

    It’s striking how the model emerging from Einstein's theories ( http://www.aip.org/history/einstein/ein-info.htm ) matches the theology of Christianity and other religions. Christianity itself bears many resemblances to other religions, both ancient and modern.

    According to Einstein and his peers, and physicists of every sort nowadays, the flow of time as we perceive it is a simple myth. They use phrases like the space time continuum or the space time loaf to describe what the mathematics and physics itself describes; that time is like any of the other dimensions; the future already exists to physicists just as it does to the Creator, even if they do not know it to its minute details.

    Once again, this would seem to defeat freewill. Well known experiments have dealt with this dilemma of time, and as odd as it sounds, it is scientifically accurate to say that the future already exists – we have simply not experienced it yet. So, even though it is the same argument as before, science now backs up the idea of was, is and always shall be.

    Even though we perceive time as a river upon which we float, with the world and our existence moving ‘downstream’ as we float by, science and mathematics and concrete, replicatable tests have proven that time is malleable depending upon movement. If I fly away from the earth at half the speed of light, time will be slower for me than it will be for you, who are stuck on earth. Other experiments, involving the way light bends around celestial bodies, tells that the ‘future’ is already in existence.

    This boggles the mind, and it is as hard to imagine what this really means as it is to imagine that some God, known or unknown can see what will happen in the future – for to God and physics alike there is no future. There is simply what is, was and always shall be – the space time continuum, God’s creation. There is not one whit of difference.

    But there is still the same dilemma; what becomes of freewill if what we sense as the steady stream of time is in fact something which had already happened?

    Perhaps once again, science and mathematics can help us understand the complexity of this problem.

    Just as the future already exists (an idea that seems absurd unless you are a physicist or a religious or spiritual person), it has been proven by reproducible, scientific tests that on the smallest levels of what we now understand as reality - the tiny particles which everything is made from can actually exist in more than one place at one time - indeed, that they must exist in more than one place at a time. In fact, until they are measured it is now understood that particles of these sizes exist in all places at one time. Every molecule in existence, if the odds are just right, could fly apart at the seems. Every once in a while, this does happen - a molecule inside the computer you are using just did, or will soon, evaporate into energy and separate particles - of course, for us to actually notice anything all the molecules would have to do that at once.

    This branch of modern mathematics, if it can be called that, is part of quantum theory - it deals with two principles, the uncertainty theory and the probability theory.

    This math made predictions about things that operate on this smallest of levels - that the solid table was not solid at all; that particles do not simply spin around in their small orbits, but that they exist throughout the entire orbit at the same time.

    The predictions made by these mathematical theories provided insight into the invention of the integrated circuit, and from there we have a direct connection to what we now consider run of the mill technology. The exact same math which has provided us with the means to communicate through electrons rushing through a piece of thin material tells us that at its most basic level, things could simply disappear into thin air.

    At first glance, this does not seem possible; at first glance, it also does not seem to have much to do with freewill; the similarity is there, however. If substance itself can and does disappear at times, it gives a powerful clue to the mechanics of freewill and how it operates in our physical reality.

    Once it is admitted that time does not exist as we perceive it - that the reality we know is, according to physicists and God, already all in existence - then how could something which is solid, which makes up the earth and the computer and the glass which holds your water - if these things are frozen in time, how could they ever break apart from themselves? In the same way, how could we possibly believe in freewill at the exact same time we believe in the preexistence of time from God’s perspective. And now, from science’s perspective as well?

    But experiments, ongoing in complexity and answers, assures that matter itself can simply disappear - so is it so much of a stretch that a man can change his mind? I do not think so, nor have I ever, but it is always nice to have science on your side

    The whole thing seems impossible - the answer will always to some extent be unknown, I imagine, except for those who look at it through a different perspective.

    But the simple elegance of the universe, and the clues with which it is now presenting us should make us all pause at the complexity of our world. Perhaps the magic of our brains does not just give us the basics of intelligence and sentience; perhaps it is a mechanism for affecting the fabric of our universe on its smallest levels; and that, somehow, intelligence and freewill are tied inexorably together with the machinery which god supplied to us.

    Perhaps instead of the other way around intelligence and sentience themselves are merely a result of God’s greatest gift, and the one which is hardest to explain and understand - that of freewill.





    In all things endeavor to enjoyment and compassion.
    Sincerely
    arumph01@yahoo.com

    And Check out our new Political and Philosophy websight,

    www.countymeetinggrounds.com

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  15. Here is an asterisk for my previous comment - not all people buy into the space tiem loaf theory, and some have valid questions about these and some other aspects of Einstien's theories.

    Personally, I am not a physicist or a mathemetician, but I find the arguments from the people explaining Einstien's work (and his words themselves) to be more convincing. Since they are at this moment in time taken by the majority of people who know this material to be quite accurate, I do not feel amiss in making that (gasp) assumption in supporting my viewpoint.

    I do apologize if I spoke as though what Einstien hypothesized was absolute proof; I will look for more specific experiments to site.

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  16. An experiment done to test various aspects of Einstien's work which we are discussing here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennedy-Thorndike_experiment


    The Kennedy-Thorndike experiment ('Experimental Establishment of the Relativity of Time'), first conducted in 1932, is a modified form of the Michelson-Morley experimental procedure. The modification is to make one arm of the classical Michelson-Morley (MM) apperatus very short. It served as a test for Special relativity to verify time dilation: according to special relativity, no phase shifts will be detected while the earth moves around the sun, while such would result from length contraction alone.

    In their own words: ”The principle on which this experiment is based is the simple proposition that if a beam of homogeneous light is split [...] into two beams which after traversing paths of different lengths are brought together again, then the relative phases […] will depend [] on the velocity of the apparatus unless the frequency of the light depends […] on the velocity in the way required by relativity."

    The original Michelson-Morley experiment was useful for testing the Lorentz-FitzGerald contraction hypothesis only, on the assumption that the dragged aether theory had been abandoned. Kennedy had already made several increasingly sophisticated versions of the MM experiment through the 1920s when he struck upon a way to test time dilation as well.

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  17. folkway, interesting posting, but I contest the validity of what you say.

    "One of the great conundrums of God, and the idea that all is as it ever was or shall be (that to God, all events have already happened) is the idea of freewill. If God knows everything that has happened, how can freewill exist? If God has made our reality, and to his eyes that reality is whole and he knows every portion of it, freewill becomes almost impossible to explain."

    Apparently you are Christian. Well you might be surprised to find that the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient, omniprescent, transcendent, perfect, infallible, almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing god is unbiblical and a pagan philosophical construction, thus not Judeo-Christian in a proper sense. The God of Abraham is eternal, transcendent and supremely great, wise, and powerful, but even the biblical god has limits. (Refer to the account where God was unable to stop iron chariots.) Nowhere in the Scriptures is it stated that God is omnipotent or omniscient. This idea was developed by pagan philosophers (such as St. Augustine) who adopted Christianity. In fact many theologians rejected such a concept not just because of its inherent ludicrous absurdity, but because it demolishes freewill (and subsequently justice and responsibility) and makes the need for Christ's sacrificial death not make sense. Some theologians will simply assert that God does not know everything, and that the future is open. (Prophesy does not theologically justify God having perfect, complete, total, absolute knowledge of the future, as prophesies are simply God's plans, not incidental foreknowledge.

    "The answer, on the face of it, is obvious. It cannot be explained, and it [freewill] cannot exist. And yet, as humans we exercise freewill every day (or at least we think we do)."

    Which necessarily follows from your premise...

    "So freewill does exist"

    Contradiction! This not only contradicts what you explicitly said, but is completely at odds with your premise. Indeterminacy is a necessary prerequisite for freewill! Any attempt to weasle out of this conundrum and claim that we could magically reconcile the facts of responsibility for one's actions and the fated occurence of said actions (destined to happen before an individual exists) is obvious bovine slurry (BS)! It seems that you are referring to the illusory existence of freewill (assuming the correctness of your premises).

    "Were all our decisions, perhaps, made by us before we even knew we were made, by some unseen mechanics which God created along with our reality?"

    This is just absurd! Nobody of even moderate intelligence could seriously believe one made decisions when they were not yet around to make them. If all was predetermined (in a presentist context), then we made these actions but were not responsible for them since we were fated to by the laws of nature (or in your case God, who set the universe going). In an eternalist context we did not even perform actions (since things never occur in a four-dimensionalist perspective. They simply are.

    "...it was all a matter of faith, and faith alone... But in the deepest parts of the mathematics of the last century, perhaps we see a clue to this puzzle at last; a melding of science and God that has not existed with such strength before to my knowledge."

    And it still is an issue of faith, since such questions lie outside the realm of observation and reasoning, thus such issues are not of a scientific nature. At least not until the supernatural could be debunked or demonstrated.

    "Once again, this would seem to defeat freewill."

    Indeed, it completely p4wns freewill!

    "There is simply what is, was and always shall be – the space time continuum, God’s creation. There is not one whit of difference."

    If as you say, all of time is eternally existing, that there are no past, present, or future tenses, than the space-time continuum has no beginning or end and was therefore not created by God. Furthermore the idea that God created space, time, energy, or matter is unbiblical. Creation ex nihilo is a concept rooted in pagan philosophy. Refer to Genesis 1:1... "In the beginning when God created the Heavens and the Earth, the World was void and without form..." (but there was a world. What happened before the beginning?)

    "...and which gives us a clue to the ingenious architecture of our reality by the Architect himself."

    LOL! The Architect like in the Matrix (see below for further discussion)!

    "It’s striking how the model emerging from Einstein's theories matches the theology of Christianity and other religions."

    It certainly does not match with Judeo-Christian theology proper. (Not in its Abrahamic-Biblical roots, but maybe some pagan revisions. Even Augustine was a presentist.) I do not see how any other religion's zeitgeist matches (certainly not Buddhism, which percieves of a dynamic, changing world). The only pre-Einsteinian zeitgeist with a similar perspective on time might be that of the Australian aborigines ("Dreamtime") but even that seems to be a revisionist interpretation. Likewise any attempt to equate Christian theology with one out of many ontological views of space, time, and reality suggested by contemporary physics is 'revisionist theology'. To be fair though, the concept of a 4-D space-time may have roots shortly before Albert Einstein and Herman Minkowski adopted the idea going back to late 19th century occultists.

    "Christianity itself bears many resemblances to other religions, both ancient and modern."

    Indeed, Christianity may have roots in the Semitic Abrahamic tradition, the source of Judaism and later Islam, but it has become paganized to adapt to Greco-Roman culture.

    "...and physicists of every sort nowadays, the flow of time as we perceive it is a simple myth."

    Really? All physicists? I did not realize that scientists are all a bunch of robots that agree on everything philosophically. I am sure certain quantum gravity theorists might disagree.

    "Well known experiments have dealt with this dilemma of time, and as odd as it sounds, it is scientifically accurate to say that the future already exists – we have simply not experienced it yet. So, even though it is the same argument as before, science now backs up the idea of was, is and always shall be."

    "Other experiments, involving the way light bends around celestial bodies, tells that the ‘future’ is already in existence."


    No, science does not work that way! You seem to believe that science is more or less complete. Genuine proof is an extreme rarity in the natural sciences. Nothing scarier than a profoundly religious person who believes carries over his strong faith into science! As for these experients concerning the bending of light around celestial bodies, this is an instance of curvature of SPACE, not TIME. These observations are in teach us that Euclidean geometry is inadequate for describing three dimensional space. The assumption that time is curved, is just that. An assumption, which follows from the theory, but has not been observed (and the idea that time is geometric STILL conflicts with our most fundamental experiences). The exact nature of space-time is open for debate, but as it was said, the theory of relativity is not a theory of everything and certainly not a final theory!

    "Just as the future already exists (an idea that seems absurd unless you are a physicist or a religious or spiritual person.)"

    Maybe not to a physicist, but the vast majority of Earth's population is religious or spiritual, and I guarantee that nearly all of them reject such a view. You appear to be an aberation, an unusual case, a rare one-in-a-billion exception, and it is truly bizzare that you would hold the distorted perception that every, most, or even a significant number of religionists agree. (Note: This is not intended as an insult. I am not saying folkway is a "weirdo" just very unique!) Matter of fact, well-known Christian philosopher William Lane Craig endorses a presentist view of time.

    "This branch of modern mathematics, if it can be called that, is part of quantum theory - it deals with two principles, the uncertainty theory and the probability theory.

    This math made predictions about things that operate on this smallest of levels - that the solid table was not solid at all; that particles do not simply spin around in their small orbits, but that they exist throughout the entire orbit at the same time.

    The predictions made by these mathematical theories provided insight into the invention of the integrated circuit, and from there we have a direct connection to what we now consider run of the mill technology. The exact same math which has provided us with the means to communicate through electrons rushing through a piece of thin material tells us that at its most basic level, things could simply disappear into thin air.
    "


    Quantum physics, actually a branch of PHYSICS, not mathematics per se, rivals relativity theory, and unlike Newtonian mechanics and especially Relativity argues for an indeterminate future. (e.g. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle)

    "At first glance, this does not seem possible; at first glance, it also does not seem to have much to do with freewill; the similarity is there, however. If substance itself can and does disappear at times, it gives a powerful clue to the mechanics of freewill and how it operates in our physical reality."

    Of course this is relevant for freewill! Quantum mechanics suggests indeterminacy of the future (a necessary prerequisite for freewill), and therefore allows for freewill, though does not necessarily guarantee it. (Refer to Hume's Fork)

    "...then how could something which is solid, which makes up the earth and the computer and the glass which holds your water - if these things are frozen in time, how could they ever break apart from themselves?"

    Only one answer. Obviously, the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Theory are at face value incompatible with eachother. They make completely different predictions, albeit on different scales (General Relativity on the cosmic scale, Quantum Mechanics at the subatomic scale) so their incompatibility may not be immediately apparent. One must be revised to fit the other. In fact this is the idea behind the "Theory of Everything."

    "how could we possibly believe in freewill at the exact same time we believe in the preexistence of time from God’s perspective. And now, from science’s perspective as well?"

    The same way we could believe that 1 + 2 = 4. We can't! This is a clear contradiction!

    "But experiments, ongoing in complexity and answers, assures that matter itself can simply disappear - so is it so much of a stretch that a man can change his mind? I do not think so, nor have I ever, but it is always nice to have science on your side

    The whole thing seems impossible - the answer will always to some extent be unknown, I imagine, except for those who look at it through a different perspective.

    But the simple elegance of the universe, and the clues with which it is now presenting us should make us all pause at the complexity of our world. Perhaps the magic of our brains does not just give us the basics of intelligence and sentience; perhaps it is a mechanism for affecting the fabric of our universe on its smallest levels; and that, somehow, intelligence and freewill are tied inexorably together with the machinery which god supplied to us."


    I am not sure I understood what you are getting at. but the way you merely accept such blatant contradictions matter-of-factly, fokway, strongly convinces me that you are some sort of solipsist. Does God have absolute knowledge of everything that will happen in the future or does he (she? it?) not? Is the universe forzen in time as relativity suggests or is it dynamic and fundamentally unpredictable as QM suggests? Do we have freewill or do we not? Apparently, if I follow you, reality is not really 'real,' it is only a matter of perspective. Hence my Matrix reference above. Is solipsism philosophically compatible with fundamentalist Roman Catholicism or w/e theology you hold?

    "Personally, I am not a physicist or a mathemetician"

    Then perhaps you should question your qualifications on this matter?

    "I do apologize if I spoke as though what Einstien hypothesized was absolute proof; I will look for more specific experiments to site."

    You most certainly did! But it seems that you are partially recanting the above post. Apology accepted! Nevertheless, I applaud your rather imaginative yet farfetched philosophizing.

    As for the Kennedy-Thorndike experiment, understand that relativity of percieved time flux is not to be confused with relativity of simultaneity.

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  18. To Anonymous ("G"):

    "As for the these argumentative comments on presentism -- they are lengthy but just don't seem to have solid thinking behind them.
    "


    Whose lengthy comments on presentism? Andi's or mine? Is that supposed to be a legitimate criticism or an insult? I would greatly appreciate it if you provide some argumentative comments with solid thinking behind them. Or are you perfectly content to leave a brief comment that "just does not have solid thinking behind it"?

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  19. Nice summary of Greene in "The Fabric of the Cosmos." I'm working of this for my next book, Heaven for Skeptics.

    I guess the key question that comes to mind when considering eternalism is free will. Einstein showed and believed that the future like the past is determined. So is human choice "real" when the future choices we make are "fixed" in an unchangeable future?

    I'm planning to argue that free will is not incompatible with eternalism. I wonder if you agree and why.

    Bert Gary
    bertgary@netdoor.com
    http://www.netdoor.com/com/umcos/jesusunpluggedindex.htm

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