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Philosophical Implications of the Block Universe

Is the future all settled beforehand, and only waiting to be ‘pushed through’ into our threedimensional ken? Is there no element of contingency? No free will? I am talking geometry, not theology.”130 I should tell you now that, despite the enthusiastic embrace of the block universe by Williams and others (including Einstein), there are those who have been harsh in their criticism of Minkowski’s spacetime.

The major philosophical problem with the block universe interpretation of four-dimensional spacetime is that it looks like fatalism disguised as physics. It seems to be little more than a mathematician’s proof of a denial of free will dressed up in geometry. One philosopher illuminated this concern with the following story, one that vividly illustrates the compelling need many humans have to deny a fatalistic world:

“In a moving picture version of Romeo and Juliet, the dramatic scene was shown in which Juliet, seemingly dead, is lying in the tomb, and Romeo, believing she is dead, raises a cup containing poison. At this moment an outcry from the audience was heard: ‘Don’t do it!’ We laugh at the person who … forgets that the time flow of a movie is unreal, is merely the unwinding of a pattern imprinted on a strip of film.

Are we more intelligent than this man when we believe that the time flow of our actual life is different? Is the present more than our cognizance of a predetermined pattern of events unfolding itself like an unwinding film?”131 129In the context of mathematical physics (not science fiction) it has been shown that time travel does not imply any fatal violation of conservation of energy. See, for example, J. L. Friedman et al.,

Finally

“Cauchy Problem in Spacetimes with Closed Timelike Curves,” Physical Review D, September 15, 1990, pp. 1915–1930, and D. Deutsch, “Quantum Mechanics Near Closed Timelike Lines,” Physical Review D, November 15, 1991, pp. 3197–3217. 130The lament of Victorian physicist Oliver Lodge (1850–1940) in his essay “The New World of Space and Time,” Living Age, January 1920. 131H. Reichenbach, The Direction of Time, University of California Press 1956

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