WP: Time Freezing feat. Naps

Today I have another writing prompt to respond to with philosophy instead of fiction. This time it’s about time. (Conveniently, time is another one of my favorite topics.)  Once again it originates from tumblr.


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Time travel is a surprisingly well-explored area in philosophy. Freezing time is similar to time travel in some ways, though I’ve yet to come across any papers involving time freezing. (A few quick searches on PhilPapers and in Susan Schneider’s Science Fiction and Philosophy didn’t yield anything, either.) So, here I will consider how time freezing would work given a variety of theories of time.

Theories of Time

There are two main questions to answer regarding how time operates, at least as far as time freezing is concerned:

  • Is the present special?
  • Do the past or future exist?

If the present is not special, the latter question is irrelevant. We have the B-series of time wherein all times are equal and “now” is just an indexical. That is, “Rick and Morty is on TV right now” just means “Rick and Morty is on the TV at 15:41 on 2017-06-29″. This is similar to how we don’t usually think of here as being special. I’m sitting here, but this chair is no more existing than any other chair.

If the present is special, then the existence of the past and future can be brought into question. If they both do, we have the full timeline already existing, but there’s a sort of “moving spotlight” going along the line, wherever that spotlight is being “now”.

The other extreme is presentism: there is only now. If we add the past we get the “growing block” theory wherein that which already has happened is still existing or real, but the future is still unwritten. The other option, wherein the future already exists but we burn the past behind us, is at least conceivable, though I’ve never heard of anyone thinking it’s true. Since it could make for interesting writing, I’ll consider it.

Freezing Time

So, let’s consider each of these theories and how freezing time would work. By “freezing time” there’s two possibilities. One is that time itself stops, but the freezer is able to move about. The other is that everything besides the freezer just stops moving. The latter is at least conceivable under any of the theories. The trickier bit is making time itself stop.

With the B-theory, time is just the sequence of everything that happens. Thus freezing time would be nothing more than many actions fitting into one simultaneous event. Now, for naps this might not be too bad. Naps already take no perceived time, so the napper would merely be energized all at once rather than with chances for interruption. Since time does not actually move with the B-theory, there’s really nothing to freeze. Since time is static in the first place, you can’t make it more static.

Presentism on the other hand has no time other than now, so to make now last longer has to mean something else. (Under any dynamic theory it is always now, but presentism adds the extra challenge of leaving nowhere to stall a spotlight or keep the cube the same size.) As far as I know, the best way to put time is as the changing of objects. This would mean there really is also nothing especially temporal to freeze. All objects would quit changing, less the ones the freezer interacts with, and this is all there would be to time being frozen. As far as a nap goes, since perceptions while napping do not change, napping is already effectively freezing time, just with a jump at the end.

The moving spotlight offers a nicer example of time actually staying still. While the freezer moving about would be tricky to explain without appeal to other things not, it may instead be explained as the freezer being able to move while the spotlight stays still. The trickier bit for this and the next two theories is that the spotlight staying still (and being able to change as it does) is that it brings in a sort of hypertime. Time may move at one second per hypersecond, and then some power enables you to maintain your hypervelocities (length per hypertime) even as velocity (length per time) becomes undefined because no time passes as you move. (The trickiness with hypertime is that if there’s hypertime, why not hyperhypertime, hyperhyperhypertime, etc. In fact, a whole arms race could be made of this! Alice can freeze time, but then Bella can freeze hypertime. And then Carly can freeze hyperhypertime. With the right odd affinity for dimensional analysis, I’m sure this could be used for a unique plot.)

Naps would be less interesting here. You’d get a bit of extra rest by only using hypertime while time waits. That you continue to age would mean your lifespan would be shorter by some hours but the same length in hyperhours. (Or experienced hours, except for that you threw those away with that nap!)

Growing block and shrinking block (the handy name I’m giving to the present and future existing) operate in more or less the same way. Growing block is, for these purposes, moving spotlight with the future undetermined. That doesn’t really affect freezing time. Likewise, shrinking block is moving spotlight without a real past. (Admittedly, I don’t know what the payoff of that is. Maybe there is one, but usually the payoff of no past is nothing to determine the present. But since the future is already set, you don’t really get radical freedom.)

Ignoring values (is silly)

A certain article on the Huffington Post is making the rounds on Facebook among those opposed to the current actions of the GOP regarding healthcare. The main point is that the author cannot argue for caring about other people on the basis of their being people.

This cuts right to a common problem in popular discussions about most political problems right now: we have lots of arguments getting from a value to a policy, but the values themselves are left untouched, despite their being the crucial starting point.

I’ll move to the question of minimum wage because I think it more easily illustrates the point. Let’s say Larry thinks we should raise the minimum wage, and Ronnie thinks if anything it’s already too high. Larry argues that the minimum wage right now at full time is not enough for someone to get by on, so it should be raised. Ronnie argues that minimum wage creates a market inefficiency and thus should be chopped.

That Larry and Ronnie don’t necessarily disagree on the descriptive facts (minimum wage is not enough to get by on, and it also creates market inefficiencies) should indicate that the problem is not the descriptive facts of the matter. The disagreement is on the values driving the decisions, and that disagreement has to be settled first. The relative importance of making sure everyone can get by, everyone working can get by, unemployment is minimized, GDP is maximized, etc. has to be settled first. (Unless one option satisfies all of the values — in these cases the value question can be skipped, but they’re pretty uncommon unless you stumble upon a close cluster of values.)

My particular position and the progressive series of compromises going rightward illustrates the importance of settling the value question. In this case, the main value driving my position is that everyone should have enough to get by and their individual freedom maximized. An anarcho-communist system (as far as I know — the descriptive matter is less important for the sake of this post) maximizes this, and with such a system the concept of wages isn’t really there to have a minimum. Given capitalist, a move over to universal basic income makes sense, and with such there’s no need for a minimum wage, so then my ideal minimum wage given capitalism and a UBI is $0. However, if there is not UBI, then (again, as far as I know) people are best served with a higher minimum wage than the US currently has. So with the one value a wide range of incompatible policy options are optimal depending on the other givens.

Now, we may or may not agree on the goals. Usually there’s more than one in play, complicating the matter. I saw a clip from Hannity last night and, despite the usual anti-conservative rhetoric suggesting the otherwise, he made repeated appeals to helping the poor, unemployed, and uninsured. As it turns out, apparently a lot of conservatives aren’t monsters. Rhetorically, getting that first matter sorted out as the goal makes the following discourse much clearer. Getting the further goals into play and sorted out also helps. One may place more or less value on, say, keeping resources out of the hands of the undeserving, and who is deserving a further question.

For example, drug testing welfare recipients and pouring money into immigration control is, economically, stupid. However, that may or may not be the point. If the goal is to save money, then obviously don’t do those things. However, if spending a little extra is worth keeping money out of the hands of the undeserving, and either of those groups are considered undeserving, then that it costs a little extra isn’t an effective argument against it.

One more example: abortion. In this one, I see people even putting values onto each other. Every now and then I’ll see someone say everyone agrees that killing people is wrong outside of self-defense, and the whole disagreement is the fact of the matter of whether a zygote/embryo/fetus is a person. However, the famous violinist argument even goes as far as to use an adult person as an example of someone it’s okay to deny access to your body to. (For the unfamiliar: Consider a famous violinist was deathly ill and to survive required being hooked up to your body for a few months, using you as life support. The one making the argument says you’d be within your rights to deny him access or allow access and later change your mind.) Clearly some people value bodily autonomy over a dedication to the lives of persons. For these people, the personhood argument is a waste of time; the heart could beat and brain be fully functional at 1 week.

WP: Red Strings Extending Past the Sky (feat. Free Will)

Another writing prompt (with responses):

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Off the bat, I have a little bit of a problem with the premise given it entails fate, but that’s okay, it opens the door to talking about the interplay of free will and fate. I’ll talk about that first. Then I’ll get into the possibilities of what an upward-going string could mean, be it aliens, celestial bodies, or (as I initially read it) the dead.

Fate and Free Will

I don’t imagine I need to spend much time showing how these two at least appear to clash. If you’re fated to something, that just means you’re unfree to avoid that something, at least using a fairly standard meaning of “fate”. Again, I’ll delineate several possibilities and then discuss the interesting options:

  1. You are bound to end up with the person you are fated to. Let’s bring back Ally and Bella and say now rather than twins they’re fated lovers. There’s no way they can go through life without ending up together.
  2. You’re bound to not end up successfully with anyone except whom you are fated to. Ally may date Carly for awhile, but they’ll never work out because Carly isn’t Bella.
  3. Fate influences events to steer you and your fated lover together, but ultimately you are free to choose. Ally and Carly could work out, but the scales are tipped towards her ending up with Bella.
  4. Fate is an impotent prophecy. The string between Ally and Bella does nothing and means only as much as they let it.

My first question here: In which of these possibilities is free will still an option?

What exactly fate is supposed to be is another question, but it doesn’t muddy the waters too much. The three options I see are some sort of divine power, causal determination, and a social story. By divine power I mean anything from what God set up for us to do in advance to a mystical energy that guides the universe. By causal determination, I mean if we live in a world where some sort of deterministic laws govern everything that happens, then in some sense we are fated. While it might sound silly to say when I knock the cup off my desk it’s fated to hit the floor, if complete knowledge of the particles in the universe could let you tell the life story of a newborn, “fate” seems like an alright word to use. These first two options work essentially the same, and fit quite nicely with 1. The third option, a social story, is more along the lines of 4. If your family has sold oranges for seven generations and they hope you continue, in some sense it’s your fate to sell oranges. However, this is totally compatible with you having a real option not to sell oranges.

What kind of fate fits with 2 and 3, then? Well, 2 could go with either of the first two options easily. Just because Ally is fated to not end up with anyone besides Bella doesn’t mean she has a fate to end up with Bella. She might just be forever alone. Looking at 3 requires a bit more because it demands some real possibility. It still works with the first two options if we modify them to be merely probabilistic or “leaning” in nature. On the divine end, God (or the universal spirit or whatever — I’ll say “God” from here on out) may not want to control but merely help you make certain decisions. A salesperson can’t make you buy something, but she can certainly try loading the deck in her favor. Likewise, God might not force Ally and Bella together, but nature may be set up so they’ll have all the best reasons to end up together. Likewise, if deterministic forces govern most of the world but leave freedom for people, those forces may overwhelmingly be lined up for Ally and Bella to have all the best reasons to choose each other. They may in their freedom betray their reasons, but nonetheless, the reasons were setup for them.

The compatibilist may here object that even with 1 Ally and Bella are still free. Even if the laws of nature or preordained story of the world demands they end up together, it is still they who choose to be together. That they are determined in their action does not change the fact that they chose what they did for some reasons. So when I say they have no choice, I’m mistaken. They totally have a choice, and they will choose each other.

I think these options illustrate the divide between libertarianism and compatibilism nicely. The libertarian simply cannot have 1, short of Ally and Bella ending up together by force and every other possible ending being taken away. Short of that, at the very least the two have the option to, say, kill themselves. They may choose to remain single. If the strings of fate only demand some societal role of togetherness be fulfilled, the mob may coerce them together as children, but if any choice of theirs is demanded, it must remain with no fact of the matter until they choose it, and what they choose must have no fact of the matter until they choose. That is, if they aren’t together yet, the statement “They end up together” must be neither true nor false.

I want to return to the loophole enabling the libertarian to have 1. Generally speaking, the libertarian requires free will and multiple actual possibilities for what choices may happen. (Contra the compatibilist who does not have this second requirement.) However, the choices don’t actually have to have any potency. Perhaps Ally and Bella are restrained from birth and end up together in some way not requiring any choice from either one of them. They may choose to reject each other but be physically forced into some bodily actions. In this case, freedom of the libertarian kind is still present.

The Skyward String

For better or worse, which of those four options and how much free will (libertarian, compatibilist, or none) is in play doesn’t really change the question of what it means for the string to be going upwards. The one important difference is that if the strings actually indicate an unavoidable fate, they must be indicating a possible fate. A clear case would be if we all have birthmarks on our chests with the year we die. You could not have the year 1999 birthmarked in this way because obviously you live past 1999. However, even the oddest options still have their possibility open for question.

The first response in the image suggests an alien. This is a pretty straightforward way about it. If fate demands possibility, this string would also demand contact with aliens within the lifespan of the person. (The prompt says “you,” so I’ll say your lifespan.) There’s nothing too outlandish here; there’s a lot of space in the universe, so some other sapient lifeforms being around isn’t out of the question.

The next suggestions are of celestial beings, interesting for being inanimate objects. (Well, unless a really wacky mode of panpsychism is right.) While objectophilia is certainly a thing, it is, to my knowledge, relatively unexplored. Moreover, this poses problems for the idea of a soul mate. Presuming being a soul mate requires a soul, this option is just off the table unless one of those wacky modes of panpsychism is right.

(What’s panpsychism? It’s the theory that everything is perceiving, thinking, experiencing, or otherwise of the same kind of thing a mind is. If you put the basic proto-psychic particles in the right shape, like a brain, you get robust consciousness. I’ve yet to see any literature discussing whether the moon could be conscious, though many physicalist (i.e. everything is physical) definitions of consciousness have to deal with the implication that solar systems or galaxies fit the definition. You would probably have trouble unbuckling Orion’s belt either way.)

The pilot option only makes me question what “beyond the sky” means in the original prompt. It might just mean past the point of visibility, in which case, sure, a pilot works. If it means beyond the Earth’s atmosphere (and pilots merely fly in the sky), then of course a pilot is not an option. Of course, if your lover is a pilot, they will likely be on the ground at some point, giving you a hint that way. If your lover is some faraway celestial body, your string will have some sort of regular rotation, sometimes pointing into the sky, and other times the ground.

Finally I have my original reaction: a dead person. As noted, with some of the freedom options, one of the lovers dying before fate can have its way is an option. Even if Ally and Bella choose to live as long as they can, Bella might be killed in a fatal accident. Say the strings appear when you hit puberty. Unfortunately, fatal accidents do not care about age, so Bella might be hit by a bus while Ally is only five, and then when Ally hits puberty, her string points skyward because it’s unclear which other way it would. Perhaps it points towards Bella’s corpse, though it’s not clear Bella is  her corpse. If Bella survives death, then either she is spatially related to Ally or she is not. If she is, then the string just points in the right direction — that we talk about the afterlife (or at least Heaven) being upward led me to assume skyward string indicated a dead lover, though any direction is in the realm of possibility. If she’s not spatially related, or if she does not survive death, then no direction makes sense, so Ally would be able to conclude her lover is not dead in such a way that she is not spatially related to her. (Or the strings have a special caveat for dead lovers.)