## B theory of time and free will vs determinism debate

• 745
My question is what other meaning of "exists" could there be if it doesn't refer to "presently existing", "did exist" or "will exist".
All three of those are circular definitions, and thus not really definitions. — noAxioms
How so? What's so circular about them?
The fact that 'exist' appears on both sides. 'Exist' means 'presently existing'. 'Hot' means has a hot temperature. Those are useless circular definitions.

It means 'is a member of' [the universe], and not just 'is a current member of'.
What does "is" mean here?
If I say a T-Rex exists, I mean it is a member of the set of objects contained in the universe. I don't mean it is a member of the set of objects currently contained in the universe.
• 198
The fact that 'exist' appears on both sides. 'Exist' means 'presently existing'. 'Hot' means has a hot temperature. Those are useless circular definitions.

Fine then I can substitute those terms with "is", "was" and "will be". Doesn't really change my point that those are the only senses in which I can understand something existing. There shouldn't be any problem in understanding what they mean which was what I am concerned about here.

If I say a T-Rex exists, I mean it is a member of the set of objects contained in the universe. I don't mean it is a member of the set of objects currently contained in the universe.

I still do not see how you're using the term "is" in a manner that isn't present tensed though. Also what exactly is in the "set of objects contained in the universe"? I assume that it is going to contain the set of objects that are currently contained in the universe. In addition, I imagine that you're also going to say that the set of objects contained in the universe also includes the set of objects that once existed in the universe, of which your T-Rex is a member of. Finally, you will probably also say that it includes the set of objects that will be contained in the universe as well, so as to include things like the 2024 Olympic Stadium, which you will say "exist" as well under the B-theory.

The problem as I see it, though, is that these are the only sets that I can think of. I do not know of any other sets that could or should be included in your set and from my point of view, those three sets mentioned above are exhaustive. And if these three sets are all that exhaust what you mean by the "set of objects contained in the universe" then to say that something "exists" under your use of the term is just another way of saying that it either "was, is, or will be", all of which are temporal forms of existence. So this doesn't really offer up a new form of existence at all, one that isn't reducible to a tensed version of existence.

Of course, you may want to say that there are actually other sets that could be included in the "set of objects contained in the universe", but this just leads us back to the original problem. Just like you want to find a fourth sense of "existence" you need to find a set of existing objects that is distinct from the ones that I've just described.
• 485
And if these three sets are all that exhaust what you mean by the "set of objects contained in the universe" then to say that something "exists" under your use of the term is just another way of saying that it either "was, is, or will be", all of which are temporal forms of existence. So this doesn't really offer up a new form of existence at all, one that isn't reducible to a tensed version of existence.

Couldn't it equally be said that the tensed version of existence is reducible to the tenseless version? Your argument strikes me as somewhat unfair to B-theorists, since if language is necessarily tensed, then B-theorists are not even able to describe their view of time. I sense that you are probably aware of the issues, and I understand that the B-theory may not be strictly identical to "non-presentism", but this may help some readers (perhaps):

Presentism is the view that only present objects exist. According to Presentism, if we were to make an accurate list of all the things that exist – i.e., a list of all the things that our most unrestricted quantifiers range over – there would be not a single non-present object on the list. Thus, you and I and the Taj Mahal would be on the list, but neither Socrates nor any future grandchildren of mine would be included. And it’s not just Socrates and my future grandchildren, either – the same goes for any other putative object that lacks the property of being present. All such objects are unreal, according to Presentism. According to Non-presentism, on the other hand, non-present objects like Socrates and my future grandchildren exist right now, even though they are not currently present. We may not be able to see them at the moment, on this view, and they may not be in the same space-time vicinity that we find ourselves in right now, but they should nevertheless be on the list of all existing things.
• 243
Couldn't it equally be said that the tensed version of existence is reducible to the tenseless version? Your argument strikes me as somewhat unfair to B-theorists, since if language is necessarily tensed, then B-theorists are not even able to describe their view of time. I sense that you are probably aware of the issues, and I understand that the B-theory may not be strictly identical to "non-presentism", but this may help some readers (perhaps):Luke

If time flows, as A-theory claims, what does it flow with respect to?
• 485
I have no idea. Maybe we could just say "There is motion" or "Everything is in motion", and time is a way that we measure or mark that. Perhaps more simply it's the fact that we age, but that's probably circular. It's a difficult question. But so is the question of illusion for B-theorists.
• 243
I have no idea. Maybe we could just say "There is motion" or "Everything is in motion", and time is a way that we measure or mark that. Perhaps more simply it's the fact that we age, but that's probably circular. It's a difficult question. But so is the question of illusion for B-theorists.Luke

If time flows, then it must flow with respect to something, and that something has to be an external time.

What's the question of illusion?
• 198
Couldn't it equally be said that the tensed version of existence is reducible to the tenseless version?Luke

What is the tenseless version of existence then? That is what I am trying to get at here. I have no clue what the notion of saying something exists means other than saying that it either was, is, or will be.

Presentism is the view that only present objects exist.

Some people would suggest that that definition is trivial. "Of course everything that exists is present, that is what 'exists' means!", they'd claim, and in a sense they'd be right. I believe that in all views about time wouldn't disagree with the notion that what exists is present at heart, but where they differ is in really the extent of what exists (that and whether there is this thing called the passage of time). Markosian brings up the idea of listing "existing" things, which is a good place to start. The presentist's list would be much smaller than the growing block theorists, and the growing block theorist's list would be smaller than the eternalist.

If time flows, as A-theory claims, what does it flow with respect to?Inis

This is like asking "what contains space?". It's a confused question that I think is based upon the mistake of treating the background as part of the foreground. Space and time are the setting for objects to exist and events to take place, but they are not objects and events themselves.
• 485
If time flows, then it must flow with respect to something, and that something has to be an external time.Inis

I understand. I was actually defending eternalism/B-theory in my first post (if only a little).

What's the question of illusion?Inis

B-theorists hold that the flow of time is an illusion and that the universe is static. How do we experience illusions in that case (or experience anything at all)?
• 485
What is the tenseless version of existence then?

That everything at all times exists (some say exists "simpliciter"); i.e. the block universe theory.

I have no clue what the notion of saying something exists means other than saying that it either was, is, or will be

The link above will probably explain it better than I can.
• 243
This is like asking "what contains space?". It's a nonsense question that I think is based upon the mistake of treating the background as part of the foreground. Space and time are the setting for objects to exist and events to take place, but they are not objects and events themselves.

No one is claiming that space flows. If they did, then you can rest assured that that flow would need to be with respect to something.

Claiming that space and time are merely the setting for events is B-theory.
• 198
That everything at all times exists (some say exists "simpliciter"); i.e. the block universe theory.Luke

And what does "exists simpliciter" mean here? This is just replacing one word with another. It could mean "existed, exists, or will exist", but that doesn't really get us anywhere new. Don't know what else it could possibly mean though so if you have something then now is a good a time as any.
• 198
No one is claiming that space flows. If they did, then you can rest assured that that flow would need to be with respect to something.Inis

Of course no one isn't. All physical objects exist in a backdrop, called space. What backdrop does space exist in? Perhaps we need a hyperspace to contain space. But what backdrop does hyperspace exist in? And so on and so forth.

Claiming that space and time are merely the setting for events is B-theory.Inis

Nope.
• 485
I'm not sure whether you didn't read the link or didn't understand it, or whether you think that pretending not to understand it constitutes an argument against the view. Nevertheless, I've done as much as I'm willing to to help you understand it.
• 198
I'm asking you to explain it for me since that's much more faster than asking me to read a 42 page paper. I assume you read the link yourself. Or maybe you never did in which case it's probably a good idea to not chime into discussions all arrogant when you have no clue what you're talking about.
• 243
B-theorists hold that the flow of time is an illusion and that the universe is static. How do we experience illusions in that case (or experience anything at all)?Luke

If the flow of time were an illusion, wouldn't we at least experience it? I'm not sure we do. Rather, it seems we make a mistake in the interpretation of what we actually experience.
• 243
Of course no one isn't. All physical objects exist in a backdrop, called space. What backdrop does space exist in? Perhaps we need a hyperspace to contain space. But what backdrop does hyperspace exist in? And so on and so forth.

This is known as the B-Theory of space.
• 485
I'm not asking you to read a 42-page article. I was talking about the brief Wikipedia article I linked to: the block universe theory.
• 485
If the flow of time were an illusion, wouldn't we at least experience it?Inis

It would seem to run counter to our understanding of how the body (including our experiences) functions, which relies on actual motion.
• 243
It would seem to run counter to our understanding of how the body functions, which relies on actual motion.Luke

I don't think our understanding relies on the flow of time though. This flow didn't even appear in Newton's theories, despite the fact that he claimed that time "flows equably".

Also, B-theory doesn't imply that motion doesn't exist. I hope not anyway.
• 485
I don't think our understanding relies on the flow of time though. This flow didn't even appear in Newton's theories, despite the fact that he claimed that time "flows equably".Inis

Im not sure whether Newton had much to say about how the human body functions.

Also, B-theory doesn't imply that motion doesn't exist. I hope not anyway.Inis

It does, at least according to some definitions.
• 243
Im not sure whether Newton had much to say about how the human body functions.Luke

The flow of time is not a feature of Newtonian mechanics, quantum mechanics, relativity, or biology. Despite Newton being an A-theorist.

It does, at least according to some definitions.Luke

Can you point to the bit that denies the reality of motion? I don't see it, but then I am chronically averse to the absurd.
• 9.7k
It fails because it can also explain A-time? Odd.

No idea what you're talking about there.
• 745
If I say a T-Rex exists, I mean it is a member of the set of objects contained in the universe. I don't mean it is a member of the set of objects currently contained in the universe. — noAxioms
I still do not see how you're using the term "is" in a manner that isn't present tensed though. Also what exactly is in the "set of objects contained in the universe"? I assume that it is going to contain the set of objects that are currently contained in the universe.
I thought I was pretty explicit in my comment there, so you either have no understanding, or you refuse to accept the way I am using the word. By your insistence in adding 'currently', you are assuming presentism, so of course non-presentism isn't going to be compatible with that.

So you're not trying to drive it to self-inconsistency, but merely decline to accept it, which is fine.
• 485
Can you point to the bit that denies the reality of motion? I don't see it, but then I am chronically averse to the absurd.Inis

The B-theory of time is the name given to one of two positions regarding philosophy of time. B-theorists argue that the flow of time is an illusion, that the past, present and future are equally real, and that time is tenseless. This would mean that temporal becoming is not an objective feature of reality. [...]

The terms A and B theory are sometimes used as synonyms to the terms presentism and eternalism, [...]

The debate between A-theorists and B-theorists is a continuation of a metaphysical dispute reaching back to the ancient Greek philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides. Parmenides thought that reality is timeless and unchanging [B-theory]. Heraclitus, in contrast, believed that the world is a process of ceaseless change or flux [A-theory]. [...]

The difference between A-theorists and B-theorists is often described as a dispute about temporal passage or 'becoming' and 'progressing'. B-theorists argue that this notion is purely psychological [read: illusory]. [...]

It is therefore common (though not universal), for B-theorists to be four-dimensionalists, that is, to believe that objects are extended in time as well as in space and therefore have temporal as well as spatial parts.
• 485
B-theorists tend to speak in the tenseless terms of earlier than, simultaneous with, and later than, instead of the tensed terms of past, present and future.
• 198
I thought I was pretty explicit in my comment there, so you either have no understanding, or you refuse to accept the way I am using the word.

Of course I have no understanding of the way you are using the word, and I have tried to make it explicit why in my analysis, which you have declined to comment on. If you have a disagreement with the way I have analyzed your definition, then please point out where that disagreement is.

The reason why I have been using "currently" is because that is the only way I can make sense of your claims, but I very much welcome an alternative conception, so long as it makes sense. Indeed, that is the very reason why I am having this discussion with you.

I have given some points where we may differ and what I find lacking in each of them but if you don't want to engage with them, then I would assume that either you don't have an actual response, in which I suggest you reevaluate your views, or you're just not willing to respond for whatever reason.

So you're not trying to drive it to self-inconsistency, but merely decline to accept it, which is fine.

It's neither. Like I just said, it's that I don't understand it. My acceptance of eternalism isn't really relevant here since my main goal is to try to understand what "tenseless existence" amounts to.

And again I must add that this isn't really just a problem exclusive to me. There is actually an entire debate centered around what eternalism even means, and I think it's this idea that there is some form of non-temporal existence that leads people to draw mistaken or confused ideas about these views about time, which includes questioning whether the eternalism vs. presentism debate is merely semantical, which it obviously isn't. I would suggest you look at the link I gave you earlier to the triviality problem, but if you don't know where that is, then here's the link again here. If you don't want to respond to my points, then feel free to respond to theirs. Or not, it's up to you.
• 745
The reason why I have been using "currently" is because that is the only way I can make sense of your claims, but I very much welcome an alternative conception, so long as it makes sense. Indeed, that is the very reason why I am having this discussion with you.
Best I can explain the general stance is that eternalism gives equal ontological status to all events. What that status is isn't necessarily part of the view. My opinion on that is certainly not typical of eternalists.

As for tenseless (B-series) language, that just means that a statement about something (an event say) in what I will call spacetime does not carry an implied ordering relation with some second event. It's not that events cannot be ordered, but rather that there is no second event referenced by the statement.

Under A-series language, a similar statement typically has an implied reference to a second event, most often the event of the making of the statement. There really isn't spacetime under presentism, only space.

We're sort of getting off topic here, but the OP has not chimed in to his own thread ever, so I've been going along with this discussion instead. The OP was about how such concepts as determinism and free will fit into a block view of things.
• 198
Best I can explain the general stance is that eternalism gives equal ontological status to all events. What that status is isn't necessarily part of the view. My opinion on that is certainly not typical of eternalists.

Suppose I am an ontological nihilist who believes that nothing exists, including events. In that sense, all events have the same ontological status, that of not existing. Would that count as "eternalism" then under your view?
• 243
Best I can explain the general stance is that eternalism gives equal ontological status to all events. What that status is isn't necessarily part of the view. My opinion on that is certainly not typical of eternalists.

While I think it very clever of philosophers to discover and take a "stance" on these matters, there simply is no choice but to be a B-theorist since the discovery of relativity. Presentism simply doesn't work.
• 5.7k

There's a problem here though. It is one of the most fundamental aspects of our experience, that past events are substantially different from future events. Past events cannot be changed, while we can influence the occurrence of future events. Therefore something is clearly amiss if relativity validates B-theory, and B-theory contradicts one of the most fundamental empirical truths.
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