Thursday, January 25, 2007

About Time (from D & B class)

The debate about the different theories of time was mentioned the other day in the D & B class; however, I'm going to disagree about how they were presented, since that was a biased presentation based on the views of who presented them. It is not the case that one theory is just about de dicto knowledge of time and the other is about de re knowledge of time. The two different theories say much more than that. There are mentioned A-time and B-time, to represent the two different theories, and despite what was said, I think these two concepts are pretty clear. B-time refers to the B-series, which is best described as what we know as a timeline: it is just moments of time constructed into a series, and the only difference between any two randomly chosen times (moments or temporal intervals) is that one of them is earlier than the other, and thus, the one is later than the other. In the B-series, or B-time, times, and therefore, events in time, are merely earlier than, or later then, or simultaneous with each other. The B-theory claims that this is all there is to time.

What is claimed by the opposing theory, the A-theory, to be missing from that picture of time are the notions of past, present, and future. The A-theory claims that these notions are metaphysically real, in *some* way. There are different A-theories and they do vary on how they flesh those out. The consequence is that for the A-theory, there is always one distinctively privileged time, and that is the present. That is essentially what would be meant by A-time, time consisting of the past, present, and future. On the B-theory, there is no such thing as the present time, there is only the illusion of our relative perception that some time is present to us, but the B-theory claims this has no metaphysical significance. The B-theorist very much makes an analogy between time and space, and the notion of present is like the notion of here: because of my location in space, there is a distinctive here for me, and there is a certain locality that I would include in my here. But that does not mean that here has any metaphysical significance, there is no privileged status of here, for all locations in space have equal metaphysical status. So, claims the B-theorist, do all different times, for they are merely located at different places from when we happen to be, but every single time has the same metaphysical status as any other. The perception of the present is merely indexical just like the perception of here.

A quick explanation of indexicals. An indexical is a word that forces a frame of reference based on the utterance of the sentence in which it appears; in other words, it indexes the reference to the context of utterance. The most obvious indexicals are "I", "here", "now". When "I" is uttered in a sentence, then it automatically refers to the speaker of the sentence (given that there are no abnormalities about the nature of the context). So the context determines the reference of the word. The same goes for both of the other indexicals, as well as any others, and there are others. One of the most significant works on indexicals is David Kaplan's article "Demonstratives", which appears in Themes From Kaplan. (The actual title is much longer, but it's generally referred to as that for short, as it appears as the first word in the title.) The whole article is very long, about 100 pages, but there is a clearly specifiable section on indexicals, and I definitely recommend it. It's difficult reading, so be prepared to spend a lot of time going over it several times, but it's worth it to know this sort of material.

Lastly, I have posted something from a portion of a paper that I wrote, because it provides a quick background to the debate about time. So I offer that to all of you, so that you will be a little more familiar as to what the debate of time is all about. Link:

A Brief History of the A-Theory/B-Theory Debate about Time

Any questions that this stimulates, please, by all means, ask. I will do my best to answer questions. Plus, we can get some discussion going if you like. :)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Deduction... Abduction... Something like God.

Here is a four step deductive cosmological argument...

1: If time / space infinity is impossible, then the universe began to exist.
2: Time space / infinity is impossible.
3: The universe began to exist.
4: If the universe began to exist, then the begining of the universe was an event.
5: (3).
6: The begining of the universe was an event.
7: All events have causes.
8: (6).
9: The begining of the universe had a cause.
10: If the begining of the universe had a cause, then the begining of the universe was caused by either god, or something analogously powerful to god.
11: (9).
12: The begining of the universe was caused by either god, or something analogously powerful to god.

Now, in one sense, this is a pretty weak conclusion 'something like god caused the universe to exist' ... 'something like god'. Of course, in another sense... this is a signifcantly important idea... as... if it turns out to be true, this says something important about the fundamental nature of the universe.

Of course, being a deductive argument... all one needs to do to remain skeptical of the conclusion is to 'pick off' one of the premises. If a skeptic can do that, they have properly 'defeated' the inference(s). Now, I am not suggesting that there are no premises in this argument that we couldnt raise worries about... there certainly are. Howerver, it seems that the explanation of the denial of these premises, though they will be coherent... they will be significantly more complicated... unnecessarily complicated... than the affirmation of the premise in question. Maybe what I have in mind isnt formally demonstrable... but at least, (for instance) it takes more mind bending to try to imagine time / space infinity than it does to simply affirm 2.

This is just to say... if we employ this deductive, cosmological argument... its not that it is free from attack, just that the attack will be less simple than the premises themselves. ... IF this is the case, then the 'reasonable' thing to do would be to affirm the arguments conclusion.

Monday, January 15, 2007


*tap tap* Is this thing on?

Ummm, okay. Well. If anyone's out there, and still checking the blog, I wanted to suggest we (I) go ahead and upgrade the blog to the new blogger, which is finally out of beta. This means we get fancy shmancy post labels that will appear neatly at the side so that each post will be categorized neatly and easily accessible. This means that those of you looking for phil science stuff won't have to scroll through posts on things like ethics...and vice versa. Of course, that means that we'd have to be posting. So, in the (unlikely?) event that someone decides to post, if I make the changes, that means you'll have to enter in a keyword or two towards the bottom of your post. I believe it is specifically called a "label". Also, there will be some technicalities to take care of. See the blogger help page regarding the process of converting to the new system.