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Time in Modern Philosophy of Physics—A Survey

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Abstract

The topos of time ranges among the most puzzling and intriguing topics in our philosophical tradition—a seemingly endless source of deep and unsolved questions: What is time? What is temporal becoming? And how are we to spell out all this without using temporal notions in the first place? These questions are puzzling also in the sense that in our everyday life we seem to be quite familiar with the phenomenon of time. In a famous quote from the Confessions, Saint Augustine points out this discrepancy in the following way: “What is time? If nobody asks me, I know; but if I were desirous to explain it to one that should ask me, plainly I know not.” Nevertheless, 20th century physics has seen much progress not in finally answering these questions, but in providing us with some new perspectives and perhaps also some deeper insights into the nature of time from a scientific point of view. This article is accordingly devoted to give an overview on the several aspects of the notion of time—and in particular the directedness of time—in modern physics. (A similar version has been published online as: Time in philosophy of physics: the central issues. Phys. Phil., ISSN: 1863-7388, 2008, ID: 012, http://physphil.tu-dortmund.de.)

Keywords

  • Time
  • Temporality
  • Endurantism
  • Perdurantism
  • Zeno’s paradox
  • Arrows of time
  • Conventionality of simultaneity
  • Hole argument
  • Parmenides
  • Heraclit
  • McTaggart
  • H-theorem
  • Second law
  • Maxwell’s demon
  • Entropy
  • Information
  • Measurement problem
  • Ignorance interpretation
  • Theory underdetermination
  • Bohmian mechanicstransactional interpretation

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Notes

  1. 1.

    However, almost everything we know about Zeno and much of what we know about Parmenides is due to Plato’s and Aristotle’s writings.

  2. 2.

    The expressions in quotes are Penrose’s formulations.

  3. 3.

    For the more recent debate compare the contributed papers to the sections “Special Relativity and Ontology” and “The Prospects for Presentism in Spacetime Theories” (and references therein) in the Proceedings of the 1998 Biennial Meetings of the Philosophy of Science Association, Part II, Philos. Sci. 67(3), Supplement (2000).

  4. 4.

    We cannot follow the original argument due to lack of space. Historians of science have wondered about the trivial nature of Einstein’s hole argument (besides the fact that he could not make use of modern differential geometry), but I am inclined to follow Stachel’s [57] position that it was not a trivial argument. The reader may also consult Norton [41] for a comprehensive overview on the debates about general covariance.

  5. 5.

    Compared to the importance of this issue the presentation in the following is far too brief. Some more elaborate references are: Ben-Menahem and Pitowsky [3], Guttmann [28], Sklar [56] and Uffink [59, 60].

  6. 6.

    For a most comprehensive collection of important papers in the more than a century long debate about Maxwell’s demon see Leff and Rex [35], and also Earman and Norton [19, 20].

  7. 7.

    Some Bohmians do assert possible empirical differences to the standard approach by introducing “effective wave functions,” which are completely decoupled from their environment (cf. [13]; I like to thank David Albert and Roderich Tumulka for indicating this to me).

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Lyre, H. (2014). Time in Modern Philosophy of Physics—A Survey. In: Albeverio, S., Blanchard, P. (eds) Direction of Time. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02798-2_13

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