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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Review of Sattig: the Language and Reality of Time

I've posted a new draft of my review of Thomas Sattig's The Language and Reality of Time on my webpage.


Ocham said...

I enjoyed this as far as I understood it. But I understood little. What e.g. is 'spacetime'? Is there a scientific theory of spacetime, and what is the evidence for it? What actually is the theory? As far as I can understand, it is the theory that past events still exist, in some sense. As I commented in an earlier post (and as Augustine cogently argued), the past is past because it has literally 'passed away'. It dones not exist, for precisely the reason that it has gone. And the word 'future' is derived from the future participle of the Latin verb 'to be'. Literally: that which is going to exist, but doesn't yet. So how could there be spacetime? What actually is the physical evidence for this?

Brit Brogaard said...

Hi Ocham,
I am very sympathetic to the views you are expressing here.

The main evidence for spacetime is relativity theory. However, physicists also find it fruitful to re-contrue pre-relativistic physics in spacetime terms.

Spacetime is space in four dimensions. There is no real time. There are maximal sets of simultaneous spacetime points (perhaps relative to a frame of reference -- i.e., roughly an observer).

Tom Crisp and others have argued that relativity theory can be reconciled with the thesis that one moment (the present) is ontologically privileged.

Ocham said...

Why does the claim that space has four dimensions mean that there is no real time? Or is the claim that there is no real time additional to the claim that space has four dimensions? How does the claim that there is no real time follow from the physical evidence for relativity theory?

And there is yet another question here, as to whether one moment is 'ontologically privileged'. Is this connected with the claim that space has four dimensions and that there is no real time? I appreciate you might not be sympathetic to any of these positions, but you have to be clear about what the position is, in order to be unsympathetic about it!

Perhaps the following argument is intended.

1. Space is a collection of points ordered by the spatial relation and which all exist at the same time.
2. If time is the fourth dimension of space, all the points of time exist at the same time.
3. Ergo there is no real time
4. Ergo no moment is 'ontologically privileged'.

I'm not sure that argument is coherent (for the definition of space in 1 seems to require that there is such a thing as time after all). But in any case, why couldn't the ordering relation that we call 'before' also be a spatial relation? In which case, there would be real time. The claim about the present being privileged seems to hang out on its own.

Sorry if these seem to be elementary questions, but the Notre Dame reviews are not specialist (they are read by philosophers from across a wide range of disciplines, including across the dreaded analytic/European divide). I think you need to a paragraph or two of explanation, and less technical assumptions, before it is intelligible to the unititiated. (Though in all fairness, one useful purpose of a review is to warn whether the book is too technical for the average reader – by average I mean with a good philosophical background, perhaps to degree level, but no specialist expertise).

Brit Brogaard said...

There is some disagreement about what follows from what. Some (e.g. Ted Sider) think that relativity theory rules out the possibility that the present has special status but others (e.g. Tom Crisp, Oxford Handbook) think that these views are compatible.

Presentists, growing block theorists, and moving spotlight theorists old hold that the present has special ontological status. Presentists hold that only the present exists, growing block theorists hold that the past exists but that the future does not, and moving spotlight theorists hold that even though the past and future exist, the present is special (metaphysically speaking).

Spacetime is not a set of simultaneous spacetime points. Rather it is ordered in terms of such sets. A maximal set of simultaneous spacetime points is called a 'hyperplane', and it corresponds roughly to a time (hyperplanes stand to other hyperplanes in the earlier than relation).