Thursday, July 14, 2005

Multi-Dimensional Time

Blar's sharp comment raises some objections to the temporal character of my "You are God" religion. He suggests that I'm "going to have to do some fancy philosophical footwork to support [my] theology". My mental jig follows; I hope it is sufficient to assuage his doubts. (Later in the post I argue that presentists are committed to infinitely many temporal dimensions. You may wish to read that bit even if you don't care for my theology.)

The first thing to note is that my theology implicitly suggests a separate temporal dimension for 'God-time', since God's consciousness jumps back and forth in physical time, reliving the same physical time-periods over and over from different human perspectives. Any such time-travel presupposes a separate dimension of time for the traveller, for how else can we make sense of the claim that he experiences the physically-earlier moment after the physically-later one? The scale we measure this against obviously is not the scale of physical time.

Now, on to Blar's objections:
One concern is that your theology may entail a kind of partial predestination. I am God now. Out of the 6 billion people in the world, my best guess is that about half of them have already been God. Every aspect of my life that influenced the 3 billion people who already lived must already have been determined before I was born... Sequential God-lives create a similar problem with respect to morality... It is not clear that morality/rationality says that you should care about making your past life better, and, depending on how your theology deals with the problem of causality and partial predestination, it may not even be possible.

The implication is that we/God (seemingly) should not care about anyone older than ourselves, since their entire life has already been and gone in God's experience. We should only care about younger people, since those are the ones which God/us is yet to live through.

To avoid these problems (of predestination and moral rationality), we should take physical time as fundamental. Divine time emerges out of this, by "replaying" periods of physical time from a new perspective.

What this means is that the apparent temporal orderings are merely illusory. It is not the case that the first person lives their whole life and makes all of their causal contributions to the world before the second person gets to do anything. No. Physical contemporaries are genuinely contemporary in their causal impact. The lexical ordering (whereby God makes all of his choices as person 1 before making any as person 2) only occurs within "God-time": that is, the ordering of appearances within God's consciousness. This has no impact whatsoever upon the physical universe. Physical time behaves normally.

Let's clarify this with an example. Suppose young Biff is choosing whether to hit old lady Sue. In physical time, Biff's violent decision A occurs before the event B of Sue getting hit. Whether or not Sue gets hit depends upon Biff's decision, just as we would normally expect: A causally influences B. By contrast, God will experience the outcome B (as Sue) before he experiences the making of the decision A (as Biff). However, it is the former dimension of time that is fundamental.

Blar worries that the order of God's experiences suggests that B is fundamentally prior to A. Once B happens, and happens "first", then A is predetermined. Once God is conscious as Biff, he is forced by fate into making violent decision A. Alternative possibilities are not open to him. That is the concern. (The point is stronger if we assume incompatibilism between free will and determinism.)

But it gets things backwards. Once we make physical time fundamental, these problems disappear. A causes B, not vice versa. A is not predetermined by B. Although God experiences B first, that is just the order of appearances in his consciousness.

It is a proven fact that orderings in "experienced time" can diverge from the objective (physical) order of events -- see here. In the discussed "cutaneous rabbit" experiment, whether one experiences the second tap as on their wrist or further up their arm will depend upon where (and whether) subsequent taps occur. The (objectively) later event affects our (subjectively) earlier consciousness. I am suggesting that God-time is like this. Whether God-as-Sue experiences B (the subjectively earlier, but objectively later event) will depend upon whether he-as-Biff makes the violent decision A (the subjectively later, but objectively earlier event).

So it is still rational to be nice to older people. If God-as-Biff hits Sue, then that will cause God-as-Sue to feel pain, even though God experiences being hit (or not) subjectively-before he-as-Biff makes the violent decision. If Biff chose a more peaceful path, then he would avoid the subjectively-earlier sensations of pain (experienced when God is incarnate as Sue). I hope by now it's reasonably clear why this is indeed coherent.

I think my elaborations here successfully counter Blar's objections. If he agrees, I look forward to him converting to my religion -- which, by the way, needs a name. Any suggestions?

One final point of interest: We may in fact need at least three dimensions of time. I noted above that the time-traveller and the cutaneous rabbit both involve temporal dimensions distinct from physical time. But they are also distinct from each other. The time traveller's temporal dimension is objective, like the physical. It could even apply to molecules, for example. (The time-travelling molecule goes backwards through physical time as its traveller-time progresses forwards.) The cutaneous rabbit, by contrast, involves subjective time which is inherently representational. A molecule could not have subjective time. It has no 'order of appearances', since it is not conscious and so is not "appeared to" by anything.

But one might plausibly deny that subjective time is really time at all. It is rather the appearance of time. (When I say 'order of appearances', I really mean 'the appearance of an ordering'.) This could simplify my theology. We could simply deny that the God-lives are really sequential. Rather, they appear to God as if sequentially. God seems to live all of person 1's life, then all of person 2's, and so forth. But there isn't really any time-travel going on here. It's just an illusion, a representation of temporal orderings, nothing more. If one further denies the possibility of time-travel, then we are back at the standard one-dimensional view: the only time is physical time.

Actually, there's more: only eternalists can be one-dimensional about time. If you're a presentist and believe that there is a "moving 'now'", an ever-changing one-true-present, then you are committed to infinite temporal dimensions.

For what is the 'now' moving through? Clearly not physical time, as that is instead what it moves along. To see the difference, suppose that the moving now started moving backwards in physical time. That is, it moves from 14 July, to 13 July, and so forth. As the 'now' progresses (along what?), it goes backwards in physical time. The "along what?" dimension cannot be physical time, because that is regressing, not progressing. It must be some meta-time: a 'traveller-time' dimension for the 'now' to move along.

This then threatens infinite regress, as one can raise questions about what the 'now' is moving through as it moves along meta-time. We seem to require a meta-meta-time. And so forth. (I think this argument is from McTaggart. It was discussed in philosophical logic class today, anyway. Fascinating stuff.) So I'd recommend ditching presentism - again - unless you're willing to accept an infinite number of temporal dimensions.


  1. I think that your solution - physical time is fundamental and God time is derivative - could save the theology, but at what cost? If physical time is fundamental, does that mean that everything else physical is also fundamental? If God-as-Sue gets hit before God-as-Biff decides to hit her (in God time), but physical-Biff deciding to hit physical-Sue causes physical-Sue to get hit, then it seems that it must not be God-as-Biff making the decision, but just physical Biff.

    If I'm going to be a God, then I sure don't want to be an epiphenomenal God. You're bringing in the ontological heavy hitters, dualism and even God, and after hearing all of the buzz about the Uncaused Cause my expectations are high. Initial reports made your sequentialist religion (Sequential Pantheism? Pantheist Sequentialism?) seem promising, but after reading the doctrinal fine print I'm afraid that it will just let me down like all of the others.

    This is also one of the rare cases where having Dennett to back you up is not a good sign. Need I remind you that you're trying to found a dualist religion while he's hacking away at the remnants of Cartesianism? (And even Dennett only claimed that experienced time could diverge from objective time for durations on the order of a second, based on experiments and specific arguments, like the impossibility of distinguishing Orwellian and Stalinesque accounts on that time scale.)

  2. Sure, I don't pretend that Dennett would endorse the religion. I simply use him to point out the possibility (indeed, actuality) of divergences between objective and experienced time. Nothing more.

    "If God-as-Sue gets hit before God-as-Biff decides to hit her (in God time), but physical-Biff deciding to hit physical-Sue causes physical-Sue to get hit, then it seems that it must not be God-as-Biff making the decision, but just physical Biff."

    No, no, no. This is where my point (about subjective time not really being time) becomes crucial. Physical-Biff is God-as-Biff. The decisions God makes (as Biff) are what cause Biff's physical actions. And this all occurs in normal physical time.

    The only temporal complication is within (not without) God's experiences. When I say that God experiences B as before A, I do not mean that there is any objective scale of time according to which experience B actually happens before experience A. Rather, this temporal ordering is merely what it seems like to God. God has an experience as of "B occurring before A". But this experience is akin to an illusion. It does not imply that a B-experience really did occur before the A-experience. The temporal ordering is in the representation. It is not an ordering of representations. This is the key distinction identified by Dennett.

    This is what I was getting at in my post when I wrote: "When I say 'order of appearances', I really mean 'the appearance of an ordering'."

    I don't think there is any real "cost" to this solution.

  3. I think - isolations to find a stable solution could solve all problems.
    Lets say (as I believe) that if there was a temporal error the universe will go through a series of isolations until it discovers a stable solution (utilizing uncertainty principles and so forth as required).
    Then it could explain why hte slate is wiped fairly clean (not doesn't have to be perfectly clean) and how the philosophy can simultaniously - even if apparently improbable - can satisfy all criteria.

  4. Now I think I get it. I think I see how to use Dennett to translate between God-time, which was what you were talking about in your original post (with sequential reincarnation and all that), and physical time, which is the "real" time in which causality occurs. In the cutaneous rabbit, the taps are represented as moving up the person's arm, like a hopping animal. With your God, the lives are represented as being sequential. As you say in your comment, "The temporal ordering is in the representation."

    The question is: In what representation? For the cutaneous rabbit, the representation is the one that the person develops after all of the taps, which is evident from their heterophenomenology. For your God, the representation cannot be anything within the life of an individual person, since other people's (first-person) lives are not represented within the representations of live people. Rereading your original post, the only plausible alternative that I see is that this representation is the one that is developed by God-in-limbo. When you say "this temporal ordering is merely what it seems like to God", what you must mean is "this temporal ordering is merely what it seems like to God-in-limbo." The description of the sequential lives as reincarnation is misleading since the different lives seem sequential to God-in-limbo, but they aren't really sequential (although, since God is a pure ego rather than mere heterophenomenology, perhaps in this case it is adding something to say that they really seem sequential to God-in-limbo).

    Let me try to put this together in a coherent story. Although it's probably not exactly what you've had in mind, it's the best I can do right now to make sense of this religion.

    There is a single consciousness, which we call God, which is living billions of lives in parallel. These lives are separate streams of experiences, with no leakage between them and no input from earlier streams - each stream is self-contained, in a way, even though it is just a fragment of God. You (as a single person) know, roughly, what these streams are like, since you are having the experience of being in the midst of one of them. The fragment of God's consciousness that is you, and each of the other fragments, is not just a passive collector of experiences - you also are capable of making decisions and acting causally in the world.

    After you die, God, now in limbo, has the experience of having just lived your entire life. God-in-limbo also has the experience of having lived all previous lives, as if they had been in a sequence prior to your life. God-in-limbo can reflect on the relationships between all of these different experiences, and engage in other deep thinking based on all of these lives that he has experienced. God-in-limbo is like a reservoir of experience into which all of the separate streams empty.

    On one reading of sequentialism, this streams and reservoir metaphor is a bit misleading, since a single life is added to the experience of God-in-limbo all at once. Multiple streams cannot be simultaneously emptying into the reservoir, because the reservoir is where lives seem to have come in sequentially. A more appropriate metaphor, then, might be this. Each life is like a snowball rolling down a hill, accumulating experiences and acting in the world. At the bottom of the hill the snowballs pile up as they crash one at a time into the growing snow pile. This snow pile is God-in-limbo, where lives seem to have been lived in sequence. This metaphor, like the reservoir metaphor, is particularly apt on the assumption that God began as a blank slate.

    One imperfection in this metaphor is with the accumulation of snow. Rolling snowballs grow by picking up snow that is already lying around on the ground. Experiences, however, accumulate when the mind turns other events around it into experiences.

    A potentially more serious problem with the metaphor (and the reservoir metaphor) is that they don't make clear how God's divine powers fit in. You've said very little about your God's divine powers, though, so I don't know what to do about that.

    On the snowball account, the order of the sequence is determined, not by when people are born, but by when they die. Snowballs join the pile in the order in which they crash, not the order in which they became snowballs.

    You might disagree with this way of ordering, especially if you have more of a multiple drafts view of the representations of God-in-limbo. On the snowball view, God-in-limbo does not have any of your experiences until after you die. On the multiple drafts view, God-in-limbo could have a representation that includes the experiences of part of your life while you are still alive. This representation might also include the lives of everyone that is still alive, up to that point in physical time. On this view, God-in-limbo would have a representation in which Sue's life was sequentially prior to Biff's life, but Sue's life was not yet finished and Biff's life had already begun. This is a strange sort of representation (which is what you get for expanding the multiple drafts model to cover lives rather than seconds), but it's not incoherent. It's as if God-in-limbo is simultaneously accumulating experiences from 6 billion people, but instead of having them all come together for him, he puts each person's experiences on a different page of the Book of Life (which is his representation of what he has lived). On this view, the order of the sequence would be determined by when people are born, not when they die, since God-in-limbo would add another page to the end of the Book of Life as soon as a new life began.

    So, Richard, here are my questions for you. First, do you agree that we're talking about God-in-limbo when we talk about God-time and sequential lives? Second, do you hold the snowball view or the multiple drafts view? Is the order of the sequence set by birth dates or death dates? And finally, I'd like to hear a little bit more about what you take the representations of God-in-limbo to consist of. Are they only representations of complete lives, or are they full of lives in progress, or is there some flexibility, so that some representations only contain complete lives (like in the snowball metaphor), while others contain all parts of lives that have occurred up to a given point in physical time? Or what?

    I also have more questions about God-in-limbo (When does he exist within physical time? Always, sometimes, or never? What about within God-time? Are experiences of God-in-limbo included in the representations of God-in-limbo? Could a slightly different theory of personal identity take away the pantheism from your theology, so that God-in-limbo becomes God simpliciter, people become separate entities each possessing a bit of the divine (a conscious soul), and unity with God comes only after death?). I feel like I've already said enough and left you with enough to answer, correct, or perhaps even agree with, so I won't go into all of these questions in detail at this point, or expect detailed answers. I know that even though you're a founder of this religion, you're not yet a full-time minister.

  5. Thanks Blar, you've certainly given me much to think about! Your metaphors are illuminating -- I'm beginning to suspect that you know more about this religion than I do ;)

    I'm slightly inclined towards an expanded "multiple drafts" view, and where God-in-limbo exists entirely outside of physical time. But this might involve significant departures from my original vision for the religion. I will need to get back to you once I've given it some more thought...

  6. My suggestion regarding divine power - in this context - is that in this context gods power is highly confused since it is effected by so many conflicting things.

    It may have infinite power but that is not enough if it is working against itself and it doesnt know how to NOT do that because it doesnt have all the information at any one instant ("god time").

    The net result tends towards a very small effect (although a functioning world with life continuing and generally surviving) because of various limitations on expectations.

  7. When I conceived of hits "religion (I guess most philosophers do) I considered the god in time with power where he has slowly formed over time changing quite rapidly recently as people die and get added to him (with whatever additional things they collected by living) - but that can come under attack since at some point he would reach an equilibrium where he didn’t want to change and would exert power to ensure he didn't and would tend to favour certain parties. I don’t know if we have seen this effect yet. (– but maybe we have?)

    So I tended towards either no power (not much of a god but still reassuring) or totally outside of time so that they are a sum of the events in the universe. If this is the case I would think they would be genuinely outside of time and so all events would seem simultaneous but separate – i.e. it doesn’t make sense to ask if you were/will be the other guy but you ARE him. God’s effects on the universe or it’s effects on him are thus all “already calculated”.

    I think it is difficult to create a god time because it restricts the god but doesn’t effect us - it doesn’t sound very plausible. And I would suggest god exists never in physical time. existing in it implies being controlled by it I think.


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