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No-Futurism and Metaphysical Contingentism

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According to no-futurism, past and present entities are real, but future ones are not. This view faces a skeptical challenge (Bourne in Australas J Philos 80(3):359–371 2002; A future for presentism, Clarendon Press, Oxford 2006; Braddon-Mitchell in Analysis 64(283):199–203 2004): if no-futurism is true, how do you know you are present? I shall propose a new skeptical argument based on the physical possibility of Gödelian worlds (Albert Einstein: philosopher-scientist, Open Court, La Salle, pp. 555–562, 1949). This argument shows that a no-futurist has to endorse a metaphysical contingentist reading of no-futurism, the view that no-futurism is contingently true. But then, the no-futurist has to face a new skeptical challenge: how do you know that you are in a no-futurist world?

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  1. I focus here on consciousness instead of life. Indeed, I believe that the concept of life cannot be of any help here. The usual concept of death only involves that we are located after the life of the organism. Past inhabitants are (in a tenseless way) zombies, and are (in a tensed way) dead, for the very reason that the present is fixed on a time located after the instant of their death. If one disagrees with that definition of death (something is dead if and only if we are located after the last instant of life of the organism), it means that one has to admit organisms that are dead during extended times, and, at the same time, indistinguishable from living ones. Socrates over there in the past, is dead during his whole life, with respect to the present. First, this is not the usual concept of death. Second, the skeptical challenge would then be: how do you know that you are alive? After all, if you have this very particular way of understanding life and death (the view that there is no way to distinguish between a living and a dead organism), you cannot be sure that you are alive. Hence, regarding this problem, I cannot see how life could be a progress with respect to consciousness. The challenge would have to be met in the same way. To put it differently, in claiming that past entities are not alive, one can mean by that either that life is not what we think it is, and has nothing to do with biological activity (after all, Socrates over there in the past has a biological activity in the usual sense of biochemical activity), or more rightly I think, that with respect to the present, past entities are not alive anymore.

  2. Jonathan Tallant (2011) shows that Button's view is not satisfying in a different way. I will not enter in this technical debate. What I want to do is to show in another way that there is something wrong with Button's view.

  3. One could ask how it is possible to have a time orientation if there is no absolute time. As I understand the point, the fact that there is no absolute time means that there is no unique time. Any foliation of space–time depends on a particular frame of reference. However, it is possible to average the whole of “relative times” to cash out an average time. I believe this is what Earman means by “the globally defined time orientation”.

  4. According to Earman (1995), this model is vicious, but “since the pioneering work of Gödel over forty years ago, it has been found that CTCs can appear in a wide variety of circumstances described by classical GTR and semi-classical quantum gravity” (1995, 280).

  5. Hence, importantly, Gödel makes clear that such time travels are not practically possible, but merely physically possible. Indeed, the required acceleration involves a tremendous and unreachable amount of energy, along a curve as large as the whole universe.

  6. An anonymous referee rightly pointed to me that Gödel's worlds are already threatening A-theories, and that, for this reason, the challenge I raise against no-futurism is not relevant. I disagree here for one can imagine that one day, it will be accepted that there is a special foliation of space–time after all, with a special slice of space–time having the privilege of being the objective present (it seems unlikely to me, but it is not incoherent at first glance). But the challenge I raise is wholly distinct from the question of foliation and has to do with the identity of the past and the future, with respect to the globally defined time.

  7. 1, 2 and 3 seem to me to be quite uncontroversial. Maybe one might be tempted to deny that Gödelian universes are a genuine physical possibility (after all, it might be a mere mathematical possibility, a model compatible with mathematical equations). However, I fail to see what would be a physical possibility if not a situation compatible with the laws of nature. After all, a Gödel universe merely differs of the actual world by the distribution of matter.

  8. I want to thank an anonymous referee for making me think about the possibility of metaphysical statements being both contingent and a posteriori.


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I want to thank Jiri Benovsky, Fabrice Correia, Filipe Drapeau Contim, Pierre Joray and anonynous referees for very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

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Correspondence to Baptiste Le Bihan.

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Le Bihan, B. No-Futurism and Metaphysical Contingentism. Axiomathes 24, 483–497 (2014).

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