Are Manifolders correct about ontology of time?
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On my Manifold survey, I will include the following question:

Which ontology of time is correct?
Ontology of time describes your views on what exists, in the most unrestricted and absolute sense of the word.

  • Eternalism: Past, present, and future all exist.

  • Presentism: Only the present is real. The past and future do not exist.

  • Growing block: The past and presnt both exist, but not the future.

  • Other

  • Not sure

Will the majority of respondents (except the ones who say "Not sure") select the correct option (eternalism)?

See Plasma's Manifold Survey for other questions about the survey.

The survey is officially out! You can take it here: https://forms.gle/xZqWVxuY5irgLigu9

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LOL eternalism is not the correct option :D. The fact that a successful theory implies an eternalist view does not prove anything: theories are abstraction from direct experience and direct experience happens in the present by definition

@mariopasquato Are you a solipsist? The only way I can make sense of your comment is if you are.

predicted NO

@JosephNoonan Between full on solipsism and the naive notion of a shared 'external' reality there is a sea of possibilities. I guess. But forget about that. I am just pointing out that scientific theories (like Relativity) are built on what is ultimately raw experiential data through a process of abstraction. I doubt their power to constrain ontology.

Edit: this may be relevant, especially page 55: http://platonia.com/barbour_hrp2003.pdf

predicted YES

@mariopasquato If your argument for eternalism being false is "direct experience happens in the present by definition," you are locked into either inconsistency or solipsism. If you're not a solipsist, then you already accept the existence of things outside your direct experience, so who cares that you aren't directly experiencing non-present times in the present moment? This has no more significance than that fact that you aren't directly experiencing what it's like on the other side of the world, but surely you accept that the other side of the world exists.

I am just pointing out that scientific theories (like Relativity) are built on what is ultimately raw experiential data through a process of abstraction.

I never actually mentioned relativity. I do think relativity is extremely strong evidence for eternalism, but if we found out tomorrow that relativity is false, I would still be an eternalist. I don't think that non-eternalism is even logically coherent, so it doesn't really matter what scientific theories are true. Though it is worth noting that there has never been a successful presentist theory of physics. And there never will be. The basic concepts of physics can't even be defined in a presentist framework, and this is just as true of Newtonian mechanics as relativity. Though, I shouldn't digress too much, since I don't even know if you're a presentist or something else.

I doubt their power to constrain ontology.

Why don't you think scientific theories can tell us about ontology? It doesn't follow from the fact that they're abstracted from experiential data. I can accept that we shouldn't always take what scientific theories say literally, but clearly there are some cases where we can infer the existence of something from experiential data.

predicted NO

@JosephNoonan Pragmatically (e.g. when planning a flight) I accept that the other side of the world exists as in, it is a useful construct. I don't buy that this endows it with the same quality of existence as what is in my direct immediate experience.

I know you never mentioned relativity, but it is the theory most frequently brought up because it seems to make a very strong point against presentism because it undermines the very concept of a single present, simultaneity of spacelike separated events not being preserved when you change reference frame. Note that for that argument you need to be able to change reference frame though; but people usually do not experience reality from two places (not me at least). You also need to assume that spacelike separated events exist. You claim that even classical mechanics needs time, e.g. to define velocity, acceleration, etc. Its very point is to predict future motion, right? But you can easily do that by considering that a correct prediction of the future is something that happens entirely in a single moment: in that moment all you do is comparing the memory of having carried out a calculation and measurement procedure with the current measurement.

Too bad I have to take a zoom call right now, I will be back :-D

predicted NO

In general defining a notion of time within a theory for ease of calculation does not make the theory eternalist; it's a category error to think that scientific theory takes any stance on ontology, except implicitly through the author's point of view. I can take the empirical success of a theory that is easier to understand from a specific point of view as a weak pointer towards that point of view being valid, but it's certainly not proof.

To make the point clearer, let's consider the view that we live in a simulation. Let's assume that the goal of ontology, for us, is to figure out the rules of base reality. Scientific theories may be wildly successful at predicting the behavior of in-simulation objects but won't tell us anything at all about base reality. Whoever is running the simulation could change the rules overnight.

predicted YES

@mariopasquato

Pragmatically (e.g. when planning a flight) I accept that the other side of the world exists as in, it is a useful construct. I don't buy that this endows it with the same quality of existence as what is in my direct immediate experience.

Is this just a case of radical skepticism, or do you actually think that the other side of the world is somehow less real than the side you are living on? If it's the latter, then you are a solipsist of some sort, and I don't see any reason to take that view seriously. If it's the former, then you're confusing epistemology with ontology (we may not have the same degree of certainty about the past and the future as we do about the present, but that doesn't make them any less real).

Note that for that argument you need to be able to change reference frame though; but people usually do not experience reality from two places (not me at least).

Is everybody moving at the same velocity? Even if you refuse to accept the existence of a reference frame unless someone is at this very moment directly experiencing that reference frame, you still have to accept the existence of at least 8 billion reference frames (probably more because a lot of animals are conscious, too).

Its very point is to predict future motion, right? But you can easily do that by considering that a correct prediction of the future is something that happens entirely in a single moment: in that moment all you do is comparing the memory of having carried out a calculation and measurement procedure with the current measurement.

This doesn't address my point. Do velocity, acceleration, frequency, power, etc., etc. exist? Surely even you can admit they do, since they are part of your direct experience. But if presentism is true, they unambiguously don't. Velocity is defined as the derivative of position with respect to time. If presentism is true, there is no time with which to take the derivative - there is only a single moment. All physical properties that are time derivatives depend not just on the present state of the world but also on states in the past and future.

Also, predicting the future is by definition impossible, given presentism, or even the growing block theory, since those theories hold that the future doesn't exist. It would be just as absurd as determining the color of the current king of France's hair. Even if it was possible, what good would your memories of past events (which never happened according to presentism) do you?

In general defining a notion of time within a theory for ease of calculation does not make the theory eternalist

Time isn't just a tool to make the calculation easier, like virtual particles are in QFT. It's essential to the theory.

it's a category error to think that scientific theory takes any stance on ontology,

That's not what a category error is.

I can take the empirical success of a theory that is easier to understand from a specific point of view as a weak pointer towards that point of view being valid, but it's certainly not proof.

Sure, but GR isn't just easier to understand from an eternalist point of view. There isn't even a coherent way to formulate a presentist replacement. Even attempting to formulate an A theory replacement (a much weaker task), leads to laughably ad-hoc results, which should be rejected by anyone who believes in Occam's razor.

To make the point clearer, let's consider the view that we live in a simulation.

Once again, are you making a point about ontology, or epistemology?

Let's assume that the goal of ontology, for us, is to figure out the rules of base reality.

That's not the goal of ontology. Ontology is about determining what does and doesn't exist. Even if we're in a simulation, we still exist as part of the simulation, and the past and future still exist too, unless the simulation implanted false memories in us and is about to be shut down.

Scientific theories may be wildly successful at predicting the behavior of in-simulation objects but won't tell us anything at all about base reality.

This is irrelevant. It doesn't matter, as far as eternalism is concerned, whether time is fundamental, or whether it emerges from something else. What matters is that it exists, all of it. The past and future are just as real as the present. If reality is a simulation, this is still the case.

Whoever is running the simulation could change the rules overnight.

If that happens, the future will be very different than what we expect it to be. But it will still exist.

predicted NO

@JosephNoonan

Indeed I believe the other side of the world is less real. It is definitely real as an abstraction in my mind right now, as an expectation (I plan to go to Abu Dhabi) and as a memory (I have been to Korea). You can call this solipsism, but I am not sure that is entirely accurate. I suspect that you are conflating any theories that do not accept the notion of an objective reality beyond direct sensate perception under the label of solipsism because then you can refuse to engage with them. This refusal is usually motivated by arguing that solipsism is "madness". Yet in my stream of conscious experience there exist abstractions (e.g. other people) that are formed upon noticing regularities, allowing me to have an entirely normal behavior. So my strand of solipsism (if you want to call it such) is not the solipsism-as-madness variety. At any rate, refusal to engage with it is not a philosophical refutation.

predicted NO

Is everybody moving at the same velocity? Even if you refuse to accept the existence of a reference frame unless someone is at this very moment directly experiencing that reference frame, you still have to accept the existence of at least 8 billion reference frames (probably more because a lot of animals are conscious, too).

Again, I don't see how the fact that I imagine 8 billion people existing (based on my direct experience of reading wikipedia) is relevant to the reality of multiple frames of reference.

Do velocity, acceleration, frequency, power, etc., etc. exist?

They certainly do not exist in the same way as the keyboard I am typing on right now exists. As abstract theoretical entities (that is, as thoughts in my experience) of course they do, and they can be used to describe other experiences.

Surely even you can admit they do, since they are part of your direct experience.

They are not: I do not experience acceleration, I experience a tug on my belly. After formulating a theory containing the abstract concept of acceleration as the second derivative of position with respect to time I can relate that concept to my direct experience in various ways. Tangentially, it's pretty well documented that intuitive notions of force (that are in more direct contact with immediate experience) are usually different from theoretically "correct" ones (se e.g. the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Force_Concept_Inventory).

Also, predicting the future is by definition impossible, given presentism, or even the growing block theory, since those theories hold that the future doesn't exist.

Prediction of the future is indeed impossible since there is nothing to predict, but prediction of a part of the present (some observation) based on a different part of the present (the memory of a calculation) is possible. If you are in the habit of calling a part of the present "the future" and a different part of the present "the past" then you can claim you used the past to predict the future.

If presentism is true, there is no time with which to take the derivative - there is only a single moment

Economists can take the derivative of log unemployment against log inflation. Do we need to postulate that the Phillips curve "really exists" out there? We don't. Why is time any different?

All physical properties that are time derivatives depend not just on the present state of the world but also on states in the past and future.

States in the past are memories that exist within the present and states in the future are predictions that again exist in the present. How would you even be able to meaningfully interact with them if they did not exist in the present?

Time isn't just a tool to make the calculation easier, like virtual particles are in QFT. It's essential to the theory.

The whole theory is merely a way to make sense of direct experience, which is the only ultimate reality. The fact that one piece of the theory is more important than another does not elevate it to the status of really existing as opposed to existing within the theory only as an abstraction. By the way, and this is not really relevant to the main point but still worth pointing out, it is possible to conceive of time as a mere bookkeeping device for change (page 35 here https://arxiv.org/pdf/2201.07979.pdf).

That's not what a category error is.

  1. the error of assigning to something a quality or action that can properly be assigned to things only of another category, for example, treating abstract concepts as though they had a physical location.

You are assigning the ability to state something meaningful about ontology to a physical theory whose only use is to save the phenomena. That's like using justice to treat a cavity.

Sure, but GR isn't just easier to understand from an eternalist point of view. There isn't even a coherent way to formulate a presentist replacement. Even attempting to formulate an A theory replacement (a much weaker task), leads to laughably ad-hoc results, which should be rejected by anyone who believes in Occam's razor.

Though I am not sure about this, even if it were undeniably true, it wouldn't prove presentism wrong. It would just show that it is more convenient to think in eternalist terms when discussing physical theory. One could also argue that eternalism being the most widespread view among physicists [citation needed] of course we ended up formulating theories that are easily understood only if one holds that mindset.

Once again, are you making a point about ontology, or epistemology?

Ontology as in "talking about being". Discussion about what really exists.

That's not the goal of ontology. Ontology is about determining what does and doesn't exist.

If we live in a simulation, ultimate reality (the object of ontology) is the world outside the simulation, the base reality. This is unthinkable from my point of view (since reality is by definition that which is perceived right here right now) but I am using this to illustrate the fact that even an arbitrarily large amount of knowledge of physical theory (whose job is to save the phenomena as observed) may, in certain circumstances, shed absolutely no light on the ultimate nature of reality.

What matters is that it exists, all of it. The past and future are just as real as the present. If reality is a simulation, this is still the case.

If you are living in a simulation, what you call the past could just be planted memories. You can argue that a past still exists, it just happens not to be the past, the one you remember. This does not matter as in fact base reality, not being your direct experience, does not exist (so its past does not exist). My point was just to illustrate the uselessness of physical theories in concluding something about ultimate reality.

The survey is officially out! You can take it here: https://forms.gle/xZqWVxuY5irgLigu9