Eternalists should be Stage Theorists

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Mr Bee
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Joined: Sun Apr 16, 2017 6:53 pm

Eternalists should be Stage Theorists

Post by Mr Bee » Sun Apr 16, 2017 7:27 pm

I am currently writing a paper for a philosophy class, and I am looking for some feedback/critique on what I am planning to write about. I am still planning things out, so there may be some parts that need working out.


Eternalism is the view that all times in the universe exist and are equally real. The passage of time, under this view, isn't real and the universe is taken to be a static block universe. The times that we would normally consider to be past and future actually exist in the same way the present does. This is in contrast to the ordinary commonsense worldview, which usually takes the world to be a three-dimensional space and changing with the flow of time. In this way the Big Bang, 2018, and today are all taken to be real right now. Of course, this may sound strange and obviously false for some people, who may think that the idea that "multiple times exist right now" means that "multiple times exist at this time" where "now" identifies this one moment. Put this way, eternalism would clearly sound false, but I believe that this sort of reading is mistaken.

I think a less problematic way of understanding the eternalist claim for those unfamiliar with it is to understand the "time" of the block universe, the "time" in which the events of the Big Bang and 2018 exist in, in terms of an additional dimension that we shall call "B-time" (short for block time, as in the block universe). This way, we would avoid mixing it up with an understanding of time that incorporates the notion of a passing time and the problems that follow from that. B-time functions just like space, and serves as the dimension where all events are laid out together. Like objects in space, we can say that all of the events in B-time exist and are all real together. B-times are ordered such that the B-time occupied by the Big Bang is earlier than today and 2018 similarly is later than today. It could be said that the laws of physics and science, given that all of the physical events like the Big Bang are described there, operate on B-time for the eternalist. Once we understand the eternalist to adopt , the phrase "multiple times exist right now" under eternalism will translate to "multiple B-times exist right now" or "multiple B-times exist at this time". Notice that the latter claim no longer appears inconsistent. Given that all of the times in the universe's history are described as existing on this new dimension B-time, we are able to talk about all of them existing right now as we would objects in space. This description of eternalism, hopefully, should no longer be problematic but if anyone still has problems understanding what it means, then please ask me before going on. I will be using "B-times" to refer to the different times of the block universe from here on out as a means to hopefully avoid confusion or basic objections.

Eternalists usually subscribe to 4-dimensionalism as a result of their belief in the block-universe, which can be broken up into two separate groups, the worm theorists and the stage theorists. According to the worm theory, I am now a temporally extended being (temporally extended as in extended in B-time) who has all of the B-times of my life as temporal parts. In other words, I am the whole which constitutes my life, the set of bodies that represent me throughout every B-time in the block universe. This includes the person that exists at the B-time of my birth to the person who exists at the B-time of my death. The stage theory, in contrast, states that I am merely a being who exists at one B-time, and am not numerically identical to the bodies that exist at other B-times in my life. Instead, these other bodies are counterparts who identify with each and every B-time as I do with my own. I will be arguing that, based upon our limited experience, that the worm theory is false, and that Eternalist 4D-ists should be stage theorists as a result.


So here is my argument in a nutshell:

P1. The worm theory requires that we are temporally extended beings.
P2. If we are temporally extended beings, then the contents of our experience must include the experiences of multiple B-times together.
P3. Our experience is not that of multiple B-times.
C. The worm theory is false.

P1. is based upon the definition of the worm theory as stated above, so I believe it should not be problematic. The only way I think it could be false is if the B-times of your entire life are only limited to an instant (which would mean that you exist for literally one instant in the universe's history). This sounds unlikely since all of us don't exist for just an instant.

P2. seems to me to be a straightforward result of what it means to be a temporally extended being who has temporal parts. If we consist of multiple temporal parts in B-time, each of which has an experience on its own, then we should have all of them together. This means that we are experiencing multiple B-times in our experience. After all even when we don't accept eternalism and B-time, we, as spatially extended entities, have all of our bodily experiences together, so I believe that for a temporally extended being in B-time, it is merely an extension of that case. After all, B-time, like I said earlier, can be treated like a fourth dimension of space so I believe the analogy is appropriate, but I welcome objections.

The support for P3. is based upon introspection about our direct experience. My judgement I am not experiencing any other times shouldn't be illusory any more than my judgement that I am not in excruciating pain, or that I my judgement that I am having a red experience, which I take to be pretty certain.

For me, I find that my experiences are only limited to me sitting here typing up this post at this time and nothing else, and I believe that a similar finding would hold for you too. Of course, this sort of experience is very limited, representing only one B-time (or at best an almost instantaneous duration of B-time). But surely it is not an experience of my entire life in the block universe. This experience of me sitting in my room in front of my computer is not had as part of any other experience or together with other experiences. Thus, I find that the experience of me sitting in my room represents my total experience, which should by definition include any experiences at every B-time or spatial location in which I happen to exist.

If anyone were to disagree with P2. , then they must not only show why (in light of the reasons I've given), but also, in light of P3., propose an explanation of why we only experience one B-time. Though I do not know all of the possible explanations, I doubt that this can be done without privileging a specific B-time (a big no-no for an eternalist who believes they are all equivalent), in particular the B-time in which we only experience, since that is ultimately what needs to be explained.

So if the argument succeeds, the worm theory is shown to be false, and Eternalists should give it up in favour of the stage view. I believe that the stage theory elegantly avoids these issues pretty easily since according to that view our existence is limited to only a single B-time. In turn, this would mean that our total experience would also be limited to a B-time as well. As a result, they are able to accept that our experience is had in accordance with P3.

Thoughts? Comments? Objections?

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