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Full Version: Is the future open with unfixed possibilities? A perspectival proposal
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https://aeon.co/ideas/the-future-seems-w...-but-is-it

Alison Fernandes (excerpt): . . . Some philosophers argue that the only way to explain the differences in how we look at the past and future is to employ a certain ‘metaphysical’ picture of time. According to this view, time itself is unfolding, and the future has very different basic properties from the past. According to a ‘growing-block’ theory of time, for example, events in the past and present exist, but events in the future do not – they are yet to be. The reason, then, that we think of the future as open is that it doesn’t exist yet.

But there are at least a couple of problems with this metaphysical approach. Firstly, it doesn’t fit well with science. Fundamental physics doesn’t indicate that there’s anything like a growing-block picture of time, or any kind of account where time itself changes. From the point of view of physics, future events are just as real as those in the past and present – even if we can’t engage with them.

There’s another problem with using a metaphysical picture to explain why the future seems open. Human minds aren’t geared to intuit what fundamental reality is like. Typically, it takes a lot of empirical work to figure out the way things are. It was very natural at one time to think of air as weightless, and of solid objects as filled with matter. But we’ve learnt that air is weighty, and that solid things are mostly empty space – even if we can also make good sense of why these things seemed otherwise. Given these lessons, it would be very surprising if we had direct insight into the fundamental nature of time.

So what else might explain why the future seems open? My own approach is somewhat unusual. [...] The broad consensus is that ... time travel isn’t going to happen in our world ... But philosophers, particularly since David Lewis, the American author of On the Plurality of Worlds (1986), have argued that such cases are nevertheless logically possible – they are conceptually coherent. Using just a single timeline, we can tell consistent stories involving time travel. Under this approach, time travellers don’t go back and change events from being one way to being another ... Instead ... it was always already the case that the time traveller was there in the past, participating in the events that made the future the way it is.

What can time travel teach us about the open future? Firstly ... the apparent openness of the future is a ‘perspectival’ affair – it depends on what point of view you adopt.... [...] From your perspective, the events after New Year’s Day are changeable, while the events before New Year’s Day are not – so only the future appears ‘open’. But take the perspective of [...a time traveller...] She can affect events in the past. ... So aspects of the past will seem ‘open’ to her. Because time travellers and the rest of us travel on different paths through time, different parts of time will seem open. If so, it’s not a metaphysical feature of time that explains what seems open. Instead, it’s how we move through time, and what events we can influence.

Does it follow that the apparent openness of the future boils down to what you can influence? The fact that causes always come before their effects (in our world) does much to explain the way we look at future events. But I don’t think that’s the whole story. ... once you’ve travelled back in time, the assassination [...of someone famous...] is something you can causally influence. While it’s true you won’t succeed at preventing it (given we know that the assassination occurs), this doesn’t mean you’re not able to – but, after all, we often can do things that we don’t succeed at. If Lewis is right, then, and if causation alone explains our intuitions about time, then time travellers will experience the whole future as open.

But, to my mind, this isn’t quite right. ... by having records of [...of future events...] a reasonable time traveller will be certain that the assassination occurs – regardless of what she does or doesn’t do. So the whole future won’t seem like an open question. If this argument is correct, the reason why the future appears open to us isn’t merely because we can causally influence it. It’s also because we don’t have memories and records of the future in our world. Part of what contributes to our sense that the future is open, then, seems to be our ignorance of it.

[...] Imagine you were told what your next major purchase would be. You might think that this would have no effect on your apparent freedom. Surely you can change your mind and decide some other way – especially since the prediction has been revealed to you. But imagine the prediction is made in minute detail, and reveals not just one choice, but the full future history of your life, stretching out before you. And imagine the predictor knows how to take into account the effect your knowledge of its prediction will have on how you decide. My hypothesis is that encountering such predictions would have a deep effect on our experience – and would start to erode our sense of the malleability of the future.

I’d need to say much more to make this account truly convincing. What I hope to have shown, nevertheless, is that it’s an important intellectual project to explain our experience of time in the actual world....

MORE: https://aeon.co/ideas/the-future-seems-w...-but-is-it
Physics does not make metaphysical pronouncements about time, so it's false to claim that it asserts, much less evidences, a future just as real as the present. The metaphysical picture exists to account for things physics cannot tell us. And claiming that, what, no intuitions about nature are true seems to be getting out over their skis. After all, the basis of science was intuitions from natural science.

Time travel? Really? Way to bury the crackpot lead. Rolleyes
The block theory of time seems abit naive to me, as if the past and the future were these discrete domains totally distinct from each other and yet as "already happened." But in reality past and future mix with each other and form a richly creative context from which we experience ourselves and our world. The future as already happened is really like the past, divested of it's futurity as unknown and totally sealed off from us. It no doubt comforts us to feel the future as like the past, for it gives us an illusion of certainty and order in an all too changeful and capricious reality. The past on the other hand exists as already happened FOR us, as something beyond us and as an object of our awareness. Thus the past echoes something of the otherness of the yet to be, as a domain potential and active albeit in the most mysterious modes. Time in its raw and experienced essence is a dynamic amalgam of uncertainty and fatedness and angst all rolled together---the chaotic energy of the "other than present" impinging on our moment of awareness.
(Mar 3, 2019 10:27 PM)Magical Realist Wrote: [ -> ]The block theory of time seems abit naive to me, as if the past and the future were these discrete domains totally distinct from each other and yet as "already happened."


Left to itself (without nomenclature contamination from elsewhere), block-time wouldn't actually feature such distinctions as "past-present-future". Those belong to our everyday temporal views which we miscategorically apply to the former because ordinary language and interpretation of our experiences revolve conceptually around the latter. (Plus, how could the idea even be introduced to and understood by philosophy of time newbies if minus that initial corruption?) Even "time" perhaps ironically shouldn't be associated with the "block" if it means something other than a framework of differences co-existing with each other. It's not really a monolith either, if fields replace the stereotypical hypersolid image. (In essence, why it should just be called generic "eternalism" rather than treating a particular member like "block-time" as synonymous with its hypernym.)

Typical rival views of time are built on the idea of an absolute universal "now" (not relation-dependent) which is constantly replaced by a different configuration of its content, with either no other states existing (past and future) or only those designated as "past" (but with those past states having a degraded status of only being quasi-real). The duration of such an objective global "now" would be based on the "shortest" subatomic changes that occur, not on the ludicrously "longer" microsecond durations of human conscious moments. One of the latter would instead have to extend over or through a vast quantity of co-existing universal nows, since again one of our microsecond durations of experience is certainly not "fitting" into a single yoctosecond or even a "heftier" zeptosecond, attosecond, and so forth duration. Thus violating the idea of a special global now being either all that exists or being what solely enjoys non-mitigated real status.

Quote:But in reality past and future mix with each other and form a richly creative context from which we experience ourselves and our world. The future as already happened is really like the past, divested of it's futurity as unknown and totally sealed off from us. It no doubt comforts us to feel the future as like the past, for it gives us an illusion of certainty and order in an all too changeful and capricious reality. The past on the other hand exists as already happened FOR us, as something beyond us and as an object of our awareness. Thus the past echoes the something of the otherness of the yet to be, as a domain potential and active albeit in the most mysterious modes. Time in its raw and experienced essence is a dynamic amalgam of uncertainty and fatedness and angst all rolled together---the chaotic energy of the "other than present" impinging on our moment of awareness.

A dynamic model of a spatiotemporal continuum in which all the different states of the universe from Big Bang to whatever final fate co-exist -- and yet are also susceptible to mutability (not static) -- might or might not fall out of John Cramer's transactional interpretation. What David Deutsch once accused of being "many worlds" in disguise, along with pilot-wave theory and others.

A crude analogy might be a CGI movie that is not creatively terminated, that is never released as a final product. Accessible only on the web, the team behind it would be slightly changing the details of its story annually. Always the same, single movie running and yet accommodating parallel or alternative versions of the events that transpire in it.

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Reifying time, in such a way that past, present, and future are all equally real, is wholly unjustified by empirical science. Since science can only measure things, or their records or effects, in present time, there is zero evidence that anything but the present is real in that same sense. Presentism helps explain the arrow of time, entropy, and the irreversibility of otherwise reversible physical laws. And it's only the naive notion of an absolute, universal now, in the sense of absolute simultaneity, that leads anyone to believe that eternalism somehow fits better, by seeming to better account for relativity...while being incapable of explaining the aforementioned arrow/flow of time, entropy, etc.. Just because some processes slow relative to others due to relative velocities (time dilation) doesn't mean that there is no universal now. It just means that some processes slow relative to others. Leaping from that to an eternal, reified time is pure speculation...not science.
(Mar 3, 2019 10:27 PM)Magical Realist Wrote: [ -> ]. . . The future as already happened is really like the past, divested of it's futurity as unknown and totally sealed off from us. It no doubt comforts us to feel the future as like the past, for it gives us an illusion of certainty and order in an all too changeful and capricious reality. The past on the other hand exists as already happened FOR us, as something beyond us and as an object of our awareness. Thus the past echoes something of the otherness of the yet to be, as a domain potential and active albeit in the most mysterious modes. Time in its raw and experienced essence is a dynamic amalgam of uncertainty and fatedness and angst all rolled together---the chaotic energy of the "other than present" impinging on our moment of awareness.


Ah, sorry, my bad. Didn't properly apprehend that the first time around as a supplement to the "ignorance yields the feeling of openness" context.

From a personal standpoint, the past actually can have uncertainty about it in terms of one's forgetfulness and other memory faultiness. And from a public standpoint, history and the science disciplines that revolve around investigating the past have had their "facts" changed, revised, or expanded due to new evidence arising and the correction of former misinterpretations. And yet the "past" is supposedly set in stone!

Once we stop treating our knowledge about _X_ ("the past") as being _X_ itself, that permits acknowledgement of a degree of ignorance, which is what feeds or encourages these feelings of possibility. An obvious "duh" which we apparently nevertheless have to routinely slap ourselves in the face with, in light of how we reflexively often don't view the personally "remembered" and the "archived by records in the environment" world as having openness.

Similarly, it wouldn't matter whether those other "differences" which everyday lingo categorize as the "future" exist or not -- our more easily admitted ignorance with respect to that temporal orientation is still going to generate a view of openness about such. Just as the arguably lesser ignorance we have about the past projects possibility upon it, although it refines down to less grand items these days.

A thousand years ago some folk could still wonder if there were extraordinary places in the past or even in their current era -- now there is no (or an insignificant chance) of discovering, say, an ancient civilization of reptiles or Skull Island. But likewise the future has become more restricted as well -- those who moan in anguish at sci-fi entertainment which features humans having evolved in other solar systems don't expect to find Moon Maidens on the satellite of an extrasolar planet anymore.

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I’m inclined to think that for any reverse time traveller their past is their future.

Is it possible for a time traveler to be their own parent? I'm thinking that if a TT cannot be their own parent then not all future possibilities would be open to that person.
(Mar 5, 2019 06:11 AM)Zinjanthropos Wrote: [ -> ]I’m inclined to think that for any reverse time traveller their past is their future.


Oh yeah, if it was via only the "direction" of cognition being reversed (so to speak), along with the conventional slowness of living through time. A mode of "time-travel" which didn't involve immediate "jumps" over the intervening years, through CTCs, and whatever else. One's memories would also be gradually erased in the process -- those remaining would actually be knowledge of that reversed "future" (otherwise the past). Getting younger and younger, death would consist of entering the birth canal and being disassembled and absorbed in the mother's womb.

But if you're instead referring to "part of slash sort of" what Fernandes was illustrating with time-travel as thought experiment... Once "teleporting" into the past they're once again consciously discriminating the world's incremental differences into relationally linked moments with the normal future orientation. What was formerly a yesterday perspective to them is now a tomorrow perspective. Brains have preferences when it comes to cognitive representation, like the way they take the images that the retinal tissue of the eyes receive as "upside down" and invert them.

Quote:Is it possible for a time traveler to be their own parent? I'm thinking that if a TT cannot be their own parent then not all future possibilities would be open to that person.

Recent time-travel simulations indicate that internal consistency of a timeline would be maintained regardless of intent to change it. If a person would be able to do so the travel would not work or be prevented; and as Fernandes says the travel allowed to happen would otherwise contribute (from trivially to significantly) in making history the way it is rather than changing it to an alternative.

Which is to say, even naturalism has long admitted that the universe is rational (Einstein opined over that in certain cliche quotes). But the latter is just one feature of mind -- the "logic" of the cosmos doesn't include personhood, biological motivations, memory and language dependent thought, feelings and experiences or sensory manifestations (phenomenal evidence or a lack of oblivion).

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