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Eternalism and Presentism (Merged)
Posted: 21 April 2011 02:28 PM   [ Ignore ]
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In the philosophy of time, eternalism and presentism are opposing positions on the ontological nature of time.

From the wiki on eternalism

Eternalism is a philosophical approach to the ontological nature of time, which takes the view that all points in time are equally “real”, as opposed to the presentist idea that only the present is real. Modern advocates often take inspiration from the way time is modeled as a dimension in the theory of relativity, giving time a similar ontology to that of space (although the basic idea dates back at least to McTaggart’s B-Theory of time, first published in The Unreality of Time in 1908, only 3 years after the first paper on relativity). This would mean that time is just another dimension, that future events are “already there”, and that there is no objective flow of time. It is sometimes referred to as the “Block Time” or “Block Universe” theory due to its description of space-time as an unchanging four-dimensional “block”, as opposed to the view of the world as a three-dimensional space modulated by the passage of time.

Implications for free will:

Eternalism may have implications for the concept of free will, in that it proposes that future events are as immutably fixed and impossible to change as past events (see determinism). However as the human subject, and any free will they have, is also ‘present’ throughout time, during their life, they may be exercising free will in the ‘future’ as it were.

Two assumptions of eternalism:

Eternalism makes two assumptions, which are separable. One is that time is a full-fledged real dimension. The other is immutability. The latter is not a necessary consequence of the first. A universe in which random changes are possible may be indistinguishable from the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics in which there are multiple “block times.”

Religious implication:

Augustine of Hippo wrote that God is outside of time—that time exists only within the created universe. Many theologians agree. On this view, God would perceive something like a block universe, while time might appear differently to us finite beings.

Philosophical objections:

1. Subjective sense of the flow of time:

Whilst the idea that there is some objective sense in which time is flowing can be denied, the fact that conscious beings feel as though it is in some sense flowing cannot. However, if the flow of time didn’t have an objective existence, then it is argued conscious beings would simultaneously experience all moments in their lives.

2. Apparent differences between past, present and future:

Many of our common-sense attitudes treat the past, present and future differently.

  1. We apparently fear death because we believe that we will no longer exist after we die. But if Eternalism is correct, death is just one of our temporal borders, and should be no more worrisome than birth.
  2. You are about to go to the dentist, or you have already been. Commonsense says you should prefer to have been. But if Eternalism is correct, it shouldn’t matter which situation you’re in.
  3. When some unpleasant experience is behind us, we feel glad that it is over. But if the Eternalism is correct, there is no such property as being over or no longer happening now—it continues to exist timelessly.

3. Status of conscious observers:

Eternalists often appeal to the idea that the flow of time is a subjective illusion. However, Eternalism takes its inspiration from physics and needs to give a physical account of observers. One could, for instance, portray conscious observers as moving through the block universe, in some physically inexplicable way, in order to account for the subjective sense of a flow of time. But there is no need to do so to explain the subjective flow of time. Their opponents claim that the time-flow itself, as an objective phenomenon, is physically inexplicable, and that physics is simply misrepresenting time in treating it as a dimension.

4. Determinism and indeterminism:

Previously, it was noted that people tend to have very different attitudes towards the past and the future. This might be explained by an underlying attitude that the future is not fixed, but can be changed, and is therefore worth worrying about. If that is correct, the flow of time is perhaps less important to our intuitions than an open, undetermined, future. In other words, a flow-of-time theory with a strictly determined future (which nonetheless does not exist at the present) would not satisfy common-sense intuitions about time.

5. Counter-intuitive for having an experience:

Unfortunately for Eternalism, though, it appears to lack the conceptual apparatus needed to explain ‘having an experience’, as distinct from having had, or being about to have, that experience. This is why most people find Eternalism strongly counter-intuitive.

Relation to physics:

Eternalism takes its inspiration from physics, especially the Rietdijk-Putnam argument, in which the relativity of simultaneity is used to show that each point in the universe can have a different set of events that are in its present moment. According to Presentism this is impossible because there is only one present moment that is instantaneous and encompasses the entire universe.

Some philosophers also appeal to a specific theory which is “timeless” in a more radical sense than the rest of physics, the theory of quantum gravity. This theory is used, for instance, in Julian Barbour’s theory of timelessness. On the other hand, George Ellis argues that time is absent in cosmological theories because of the details they leave out.

And what about presentism?

From the wiki on presentism

In the philosophy of time, presentism is the theory that only present things exist, and future and past things are unreal. The opposite of presentism is ‘eternalism’, which is the belief that things in the past and things yet to come exist eternally. Presentism is compatible with Galilean relativity, in which time is independent of space but is probably incompatible with Lorentzian/Einsteinian relativity in conjunction with certain other philosophical theses which many find uncontroversial.

The need for tenseness:

According to J. M. E. McTaggart’s The Unreality of Time there are two ways of referring to events: the ‘A Series’ (also known as ‘tensed time’: yesterday, today, tomorrow) and the ‘B Series’ (or ‘untensed time’: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday). Presentism entails that the A Series is fundamental and that the B Series alone is not sufficient. Presentists maintain that temporal discourse requires the use of tenses, whereas the “Old B-Theorists” argued that tensed language could be reduced to tensless facts (Dyke, 2004).

Paradox wrt to Einstein’s theory of relativity:

In the modern theory of relativity, the conceptual observer is at a geometric point in both space and time at the apex of the ‘light cone’ which observes events laid out in time as well as space. Different observers can disagree on whether two events at different locations occurred simultaneously depending if the observers are in relative motion (see relativity of simultaneity). This theory depends upon the idea of time as an extended thing and has been confirmed by experiment and has given rise to a philosophical viewpoint known as four dimensionalism. However, although the contents of an observation are time-extended, the conceptual observer, being a geometric point at the origin of the light cone, is not extended in time or space. This analysis contains a paradox in which the conceptual observer contains nothing, even though any real observer would need to be the extended contents of an observation to exist. This paradox is partially resolved in Relativity theory by defining a ‘frame of reference’ to encompass the measuring instruments used by an observer. This reduces the time separation between instruments to a set of constant intervals.

So, (assuming you are human, not a “conscious” AI machine)......are you an eternalist or a presentist?  smile

[ Edited: 21 April 2011 02:31 PM by kkwan ]
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Posted: 21 April 2011 10:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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kkwan - 21 April 2011 02:28 PM


 

4. Determinism and indeterminism:

Previously, it was noted that people tend to have very different attitudes towards the past and the future. This might be explained by an underlying attitude that the future is not fixed, but can be changed, and is therefore worth worrying about.

Change it from what to what is the question Kkwan.

This is just the same topic as on the causation thread. What is it to make a difference, what is it to make things happen.

We tend to think the moon makes a difference and is on a determined path.

If the moon needs no indeterminism to do this then nor do we.

So, (assuming you are human, not a “conscious” AI machine)......are you an eternalist or a presentist?  smile

I dunno but it’s a lot to swallow that we are deluded about time passing.

I think it’s one of the most important questions to answer to really understand our situation.

And I think when we question what is the self what are we really asking? I think we are asking what is the subject of the experience of time passing.

Stephen

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Posted: 24 April 2011 12:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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StephenLawrence - 21 April 2011 10:44 PM
kkwan - 21 April 2011 02:28 PM

4. Determinism and indeterminism:

Previously, it was noted that people tend to have very different attitudes towards the past and the future. This might be explained by an underlying attitude that the future is not fixed, but can be changed, and is therefore worth worrying about.

Actually,Change it from what to what is the question Kkwan.

This is just the same topic as on the causation thread. What is it to make a difference, what is it to make things happen.

We tend to think the moon makes a difference and is on a determined path.

If the moon needs no indeterminism to do this then nor do we.

If presentism wrt time is true, reality is non-deterministic (as distinct from stochastic indeterminism) and humans are causal agents, even though we cannot change the past, however our present intentions and actions (within the limits of our capabilities) can influence our future. OTOH, if eternalism and determinism rules, there is no degree of freedom wrt the past/present/future at all.

Actually, the moon, the earth and the sun is a chaotic system. This means that, given enough time (possibly over a billion years), the moon could leave the earth’s orbit.

From this article HERE

The current picture of the Moon’s orbit indicates that it may eventually retreat to a point at which it will leave the Earth’s orbit.

A chaotic dance:

This dance is so tightly orchestrated that it is not known which will actually occur. It is a matter of study and really depends on assumption, a tug of war between the pull of the Sun and the tidal loss of energy to the liquid surface of the Earth (the oceans) and solid body dissipation.

Three potential futures:

The Moon at this time has three potential futures. One is that it continues to retreat until it escapes back into a sun-centered orbit. Another is that it retreats and is slowed until it stops and begins to circle back inward towards the Earth with it ultimately crashing into the Earth. The third and possibly least likely is that through an extremely precise set of circumstances it retreats to the perfect distance, stops and is actually captured into a stable orbit. If this were to happen, the Moon would have the attributes of a typical regular satellite like many of the other satellites of the solar system.

So, the orbit of the moon is not as determined as it seems. Likewise humans as well, because ultimately determinism is a false doctrine.

I dunno but it’s a lot to swallow that we are deluded about time passing.

Quite so, but that is what eternalism and determinism entails wrt time, causation and free will.

I think it’s one of the most important questions to answer to really understand our situation.

And I think when we question what is the self what are we really asking? I think we are asking what is the subject of the experience of time passing.

Human experience of tenseness, time passing, consciousness, mind, mindfulness, self and free will is fundamental to the human experience of reality and they should never be abandoned or compromised one iota irrespective of what or how some physicalist/materialist philosophers, AI engineers or scientists argue for their reductionist agenda.

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Posted: 24 April 2011 03:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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kkwan - 24 April 2011 12:26 AM
StephenLawrence - 21 April 2011 10:44 PM
kkwan - 21 April 2011 02:28 PM

4. Determinism and indeterminism:

Previously, it was noted that people tend to have very different attitudes towards the past and the future. This might be explained by an underlying attitude that the future is not fixed, but can be changed, and is therefore worth worrying about.

Actually,Change it from what to what is the question Kkwan.

This is just the same topic as on the causation thread. What is it to make a difference, what is it to make things happen.

We tend to think the moon makes a difference and is on a determined path.

If the moon needs no indeterminism to do this then nor do we.

If presentism wrt time is true, reality is non-deterministic (as distinct from stochastic indeterminism) and humans are causal agents, even though we cannot change the past, however our present intentions and actions (within the limits of our capabilities) can influence our future. OTOH, if eternalism and determinism rules, there is no degree of freedom wrt the past/present/future at all.

What is you’re argument?

What does change the future or influence the future mean?

What is a fixed future?

Why is changing/influencing the future incompatible with a fixed future?

Seems to me that what we are interested in is what fixes the future.

If the future, in some respects, is fixed by your intentions and actions then it’s fixed and influenced.

Stephen

[ Edited: 24 April 2011 04:12 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 24 April 2011 09:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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StephenLawrence - 24 April 2011 03:44 AM

What does change the future or influence the future mean?

What is a fixed future?

Why is changing/influencing the future incompatible with a fixed future?

Seems to me that what we are interested in is what fixes the future.

If the future, in some respects, is fixed by your intentions and actions then it’s fixed and influenced.

Stephen

It means that if presentism is true, only the past and the present exist but the future does not yet exist and if one acts now, one can influence how the future will be.

If eternalism is true, the past, present and future already exist as an unchanging 4D block. The future is fixed because it already exist (as an unchanging dimension, like space) and cannot be changed.

From the article cited in my first post:

This would mean that time is just another dimension, that future events are “already there”, and that there is no objective flow of time. It is sometimes referred to as the “Block Time” or “Block Universe” theory due to its description of space-time as an unchanging four-dimensional “block”, as opposed to the view of the world as a three-dimensional space modulated by the passage of time.

A fixed future which already exist cannot be changed at all whereas how the future (which does not yet exist) will be, can be influenced.

One’s intentions and actions can only influence the future, not fixed it. There could be other factors which could also influence how the future will be as well.

For instance, one bids $1000 for a vase in an auction with the intention to buy it, but a rival bidder then bids $1500 and ultimately she buys the vase because one is not prepared to pay more than $1000 for it.

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Posted: 24 April 2011 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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kkwan - 24 April 2011 09:15 AM

It means that if presentism is true, only the past and the present exist but the future does not yet exist

No, presentism is the theory that the past does not exist as well, isn’t it?

and if one acts now, one can influence how the future will be.

Why can’t one do that if the future exists?

If eternalism is true, the past, present and future already exist as an unchanging 4D block. The future is fixed because it already exist (as an unchanging dimension, like space) and cannot be changed.

What does cannot be changed/influenced mean Kkwan?

Say the future exists in which there is no tree in your garden. The reason is you’ve chopped all the trees down.

What I’m asking for is the conflict you see between an existing future and influencing the future.

Stephen

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Posted: 24 April 2011 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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StephenLawrence - 24 April 2011 09:45 AM

No, presentism is the theory that the past does not exist as well, isn’t it?

You are correct. My mistake….the past and present exist in the growing Block Universe.

Why can’t one do that if the future exists?

If the future already exists as an unchanging dimension, like space, how can one change that now?

Say the future exists in which there is no tree in your garden. The reason is you’ve chopped all the trees down.

I chopped all the trees down now and therefore there are no trees in my garden in the future. This is temporal flow and causality from the present to the future.

The assumption that the future exist and that entails the present is putting the cart before the horse in the sense that an existent future takes precedence over the present. It is retrocausality.

What I’m asking for is the conflict you see between an existing future and influencing the future.

An existing future implies a conflict for temporal flow and causality. How can one influence the future if it already exist?

[ Edited: 24 April 2011 10:55 AM by kkwan ]
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Posted: 24 April 2011 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Kkwan,

kkwan - 24 April 2011 10:52 AM


If the future already exists as an unchanging dimension, like space, how can one change that now?

To answer that we need to first define what change the future means.

Answer that and then we can see

I chopped all the trees down now and therefore there are no trees in my garden in the future. This is temporal flow and causality from the present to the future.

1) We can remove now and just talk about different times, before and after.

2) The existence of the future is not apparently a problem.

The assumption that the future exist and that entails the present is putting the cart before the horse in the sense that an existent future takes precedence over the present. It is retrocausality.

No, the existing future is caused by the existing present.

An existing future implies a conflict for temporal flow and causality. How can one influence the future if it already exist?

I hope I’ve showed the question is why not?

And as I’ve said, before we even start on any discussion, we need to define what change/influence the future means.

Stephen

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Posted: 24 April 2011 06:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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StephenLawrence - 24 April 2011 11:29 AM

1) We can remove now and just talk about different times, before and after.

2) The existence of the future is not apparently a problem.

Removing “now” and just talk about before and after only (The B series) is eternalism and all it entails about time. There are philosophical objections cited in my first post.

OTOH,  presentism entails that the A Series is fundamental and that the B Series alone is not sufficient. Thus, the existence of the future is a problem.

No, the existing future is caused by the existing present.

The future as it will be is “caused” by the existing present, not “The existing future…......” Tenseness and temporal flow is fundamental and important. There is no evidence now that the future exist, therefore you cannot assert it exist.

I hope I’ve showed the question is why not?

No, you have not.

And as I’ve said, before we even start on any discussion, we need to define what change/influence the future means.

It all boils down to how one views time.

For the eternalist, the ontological status of the past/present/future are equal and immutable, therefore it does not matter how one treats them. Hence, change/influence the future is meaningless.

For the presentist, only the present exist and because the future is yet to exist (thus it is open and undetermined), one can change/influence the future by one’s present intentions/actions.

[ Edited: 24 April 2011 06:55 PM by kkwan ]
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Posted: 24 April 2011 11:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Kkwan,

kkwan - 24 April 2011 06:43 PM

For the eternalist, the ontological status of the past/present/future are equal and immutable, therefore it does not matter how one treats them. Hence, change/influence the future is meaningless.

I have no way of telling whether change the future is meaningless until you say what it does mean.

That’s the only way to make any progress.

I think putting your answer in terms of change the future from what to what is the best way.

And then explaining why presentism allows this and eternalism doesn’t.

I hope you make an attempt.

Stephen

[ Edited: 24 April 2011 11:43 PM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 25 April 2011 07:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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StephenLawrence - 24 April 2011 11:18 PM

I have no way of telling whether change the future is meaningless until you say what it does mean.

That’s the only way to make any progress.

I think putting your answer in terms of change the future from what to what is the best way.

And then explaining why presentism allows this and eternalism doesn’t.

From the wiki on eternalism cited in my first post:

Eternalism makes two assumptions, which are separable. One is that time is a full-fledged real dimension. The other is immutability

Immutability means “not capable of or susceptible to change”.

Therefore, changing an immutable future is meaningless.

So, eternalism does not allow changing the future.

OTOH, in presentism, the future is open and undetermined.

“Changing the future” in presentism means changing the present which then leads to further change in subsequent present moments….... “the future”.

Interesting analysis of time from McTaggart’s 1908 seminal essay on The Unreality of Time

Without the A series then, there would be no change, and consequently the B series by itself is not sufficient for time, since time involves change.
The B series, however, cannot exist except as temporal, since earlier and later, which are the distinctions of which it consists, are clearly time-determinations. So it follows that there can be no B series where there is no A series, since where there is no A series there is no time.

Eternalism (which considers the B series only and proposes that future events are immutably fixed and impossible to change), is the timeless/changeless philosophical position associated with determinism.

Presentism (which considers the A series as fundamental and the future as open and undetermined), is the time/change philosophical position associated with non-determinism.

[ Edited: 25 April 2011 08:57 PM by kkwan ]
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Posted: 25 April 2011 10:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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kkwan - 25 April 2011 07:17 PM

Immutability means “not capable of or susceptible to change”.

Therefore, changing an immutable future is meaningless.

So, eternalism does not allow changing the future.

Change can mean more than one thing Kkwan.

That’s why you need to define change so we can see if an immutable future can be changed in the sense of change as in influence, the sense we are interested in.

edit: I’m looking to see if there is equivocation over what change is referring to.

“Changing the future” in presentism means changing the present which then leads to further change in subsequent present moments….... “the future”.

You still need to define change. What does change the present mean?

To help I’ve suggested you try answering change from what to what.

Stephen

[ Edited: 25 April 2011 11:03 PM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 26 April 2011 04:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Oh lordy; once again with kkwan. Under presentism it’s not that the future is changeable, it’s that the future doesn’t exist. Anything that doesn’t exist a fortiori isn’t changeable.

Under presentism, the future is exactly the same as the past: neither exist. All reference to past and future are fictional.

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Posted: 26 April 2011 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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StephenLawrence - 25 April 2011 10:51 PM

Change can mean more than one thing Kkwan.

That’s why you need to define change so we can see if an immutable future can be changed in the sense of change as in influence, the sense we are interested in.

It does. From this essay in the SEP on change

Change is so pervasive in our lives that it almost defeats description and analysis. One can think of it in a very general way as alteration. But alteration in a thing raises subtle problems. One of the most perplexing is the problem of the consistency of change: how can one thing have incompatible properties and yet remain the same thing? Some have held that change is a consistent process, and rendered so by the existence of time. Others have held that the only way to make sense of change is as an inconsistency.

Change, Cause, Time, Motion:

Our interest in this essay will be on the special case of temporal change. So construed, the notion of change is obviously bound up with notions of cause, time and motion. Now a distinction between change and cause can certainly be drawn. It is clear that uncaused change is conceptually possible, and arguably actual in such things as radioactive decay. Conversely, the operation of a sustaining cause results in no change in a thing, if the thing would otherwise be undergoing a change which the sustaining cause prevents. Hence, the operation of a cause on a thing is neither necessary nor sufficient for change in that thing. Accordingly, we put the topic of cause in the background when discussing change.

Time cannot be so backgrounded. The thesis that time could pass without change in anything at all has proved controversial, and we have adopted the usage that change in a thing implies the passage of time.

So, if there is no change, there is no time. An immutable future is therefore timeless/changeless.

From the wiki on Parmenides

Parmenides describes two views of reality. In “the way of truth” (a part of the poem), he explains how reality (coined as “what-is”) is one, change is impossible, and existence is timeless, uniform, necessary, and unchanging.

Now, process philosophy and change:

From the wiki on process philosophy

Process philosophy (or ontology of becoming) identifies metaphysical reality with change and dynamism. Since the time of Plato and Aristotle, philosophers have posited true reality as “timeless”, based on permanent substances, whilst processes are denied or subordinated to timeless substances.

Change as the cornerstone of reality:

In opposition to the classical model of change as purely accidental and illusory (as by Aristotle), process philosophy regards change as the cornerstone of reality–the cornerstone of the Being thought as Becoming. Modern process philosophers include Charles Peirce, John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, and Nicholas Rescher. In physics Ilya Prigogine distinguishes between the “physics of being” and the “physics of becoming”.

Processes, not things, are fundamental in reality and processes are dynamic, i.e. they are constantly changing wrt time. Processes influence other processes.

From the wiki on Heraclitus

Heraclitus is famous for his doctrine of change being central to the universe as stated in his famous saying, “You cannot step twice into the same stream”.

Now, I would be interested to know how you would define change so that “an immutable future can be changed”.

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Posted: 26 April 2011 12:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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kkwan - 26 April 2011 12:29 PM

 

Now, I would be interested to know how you would define change so that “an immutable future can be changed”.

After you Kkwan, what does change the present mean? Edit: Change it from what to what?

Stephen

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Posted: 26 April 2011 12:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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dougsmith - 26 April 2011 04:09 AM

Oh lordy; once again with kkwan. Under presentism it’s not that the future is changeable, it’s that the future doesn’t exist. Anything that doesn’t exist a fortiori isn’t changeable.

Under presentism, the future is exactly the same as the past: neither exist. All reference to past and future are fictional.

The future does not exist in the sense that it is open and undetermined, therefore it can be influenced and changed. A quantum object does not exist until a measurement is made.

Definition of exist: “to have real being whether material or spiritual” 

The past, unlike the future, is closed and determined. One can remember or note the events of the past even though it does not exist but not so the future.

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