1. Introduction In Objective Becoming, Bradford Skow declares that he aims to defend the ‘anaemic’ passage of time in the (B-theory) block universe. This is in contrast to the ‘robust’ kind of passage – normally understood as the change in an objectively privileged present moment, the NOW – associated with A-theories of time. The defence of any sense of passage in the block universe is a growing endeavour, but Skow seeks to defend it in a peculiar and roundabout way. Specifically, Skow argues that the best A-theory of robust passage is the moving spotlight theory of time (MST), and if the best theory is inadequate, then one should accept the anaemic passage of the block universe. Skow, obviously, finds MST inadequate, and in doing so, accepts the anaemic passage of the block universe. However, Skow’s approach to the defence of the block universe is deeply flawed. This is due to the fact that MST is not the strongest A-theory competitor to the block universe. In fact, I argue MST is not an A-theory at all; it neither preserves the NOW, nor does it accommodate any kind of adequate passage of time. Skow’s focus on MST is misplaced, and in the end, his case for the anaemic passage of the block universe is not made. In what follows, I first set out the background to Skow’s argument in Section 2, which includes a discussion of the different kinds of passage as well as the different kinds of change related to passage. Next, in Section 3, I recap the three main versions of MST that are the main focus of Skow’s examination: MST-Supertime, MST-Supertense, and MST-Time. In Section 4, I outline how there cannot be a NOW in any version of MST Skow presents, and thus there cannot be passage in MST in any traditional sense. Skow admits as much, but claims that ordinary objects moving through time in place of change in the NOW is good enough for an adequate account of passage. But in Section 5, I show how Skow’s new theory of objective becoming is not good enough for an adequate account of passage because it fails to incorporate robust change. This means that not only does MST abandon the existence of a NOW but it also cannot accommodate robust passage. Hence, it should not even be considered a viable A-theory competitor to the block universe theory of time. 2. Background to passage The central thesis of Objective Becoming is that one should accept the anaemic passage of the block universe. The block universe, in which the past, present and future are ontologically on a par, is bereft of a NOW. As a result, most equate the block universe with a world that lacks passage. There have been recent attempts to make room for a notion of passage in the block universe – most of these accounts fall under the category Skow calls anaemic passage. This kind of passage is no more than a clock showing different times at different moments. Skow points to the versions of passage endorsed by Savitt (2002), Dorato (2006) and Dieks (2006) as exemplifying this type of passage. Dieks, in particular, claims that the temporal ordering of events gives rise to the successive happening of events that underlies the passage of time. This is the case because what it is to be an event is to occur or happen. Identifying the happening of an event with the mere existence of an event, however, is to endorse a deflationary account of passage. As such, this version, as well as the others, are considered theories of anaemic passage.1 In contrast, a more robust account of passage – which Skow calls objective becoming – is not normally included as part of the block universe. Because the concept of change is at the heart of the idea of robust passage, a detailed analysis of change is first needed. According to Skow, anaemic change, underlying anaemic passage, is defined in the following way: (2) Something is changing if and only if (i) it is currently one way, and (ii) it was (not long ago) some other, incompatible way. (23) To understand why this kind of change is anaemic, one must consider the picture of the block universe: Figure 1 View largeDownload slide The Block Universe. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide The Block Universe. In this picture, it is true that things are currently one way (at the time this sentence is uttered), but were another way (prior to this utterance). But, Skow claims that in the picture of the block universe ‘all of spatiotemporal reality [is] spread out before you. It does not change’ (22, emphasis in original). This reflects the standard complaint about change in the block universe: it is mere variation and not genuine change. On the other hand, robust change, which is genuine change, is more than mere variation. Skow defines robust change in the following way: (7) Something is changing if and only if there is some metaphysically complete sentence S about it such that (i) S is true (absolutely), and (ii) S was (not long ago) false. (2015: 26)2 Robust change can also be understood in an ontological way, rather than in a semantic way. Robust change is simply a difference in the totality of facts about an object from one moment to the next. More generally, then, there is robust change in the universe, rather than mere variation, when the sum total of reality is different from moment to moment. The vast majority of A-theorists hold that robust passage involves this kind of robust change. This robust passage is usually what is understood as objective becoming. 3. Versions of MST The moving spotlight theory is routinely considered to be a combination of the block universe and A-theory, and therefore is a theory of time that preserves objective becoming.3 Skow declares the term ‘A-theory’ too vague and its use inconsistent, but it can be defined more precisely in terms of its commonly held central commitments. I refer to these as the A-Present Thesis and the A-Change Thesis: The A-Present Thesis: One, and only one present moment – the NOW – is objectively privileged. The A-Change Thesis: What moment is present changes; there is a succession of present moments. The existence of a NOW differentiates the theory from B-theory, while the change in the NOW is normally how the passage of time is accommodated. The classical version of MST can then be formulated as a more precise version of these two central commitments: The MS-Present Thesis: The present is privileged by possessing a temporal property of presentness. The MS-Change Thesis: The property of presentness changes: each moment must change with respect to being present (Leininger 2015: 4). Thus, MST is a theory in which the past, present and future exist, and the spotlight of the NOW sweeps over each moment, one after another, resulting in a robust passage of time. The picture of the universe across time looks like the following: Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Classical MST. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Classical MST. In this picture, it seems clear that MST is an A-theory because there is one moment at each time that is present. In addition, the picture seems to show the robust passage of time because the sum total of reality is different from moment to moment (that is, at t1, a different moment is present than at t2). Skow believes that for there to be passage in classical MST, presentness must move with respect to something. This prompts Skow to consider a second temporal dimension distinct from time which he refers to as supertime (also called hypertime) which is the dimension with respect to which the present moves. He states that ‘supertime is like time in that it is a one-dimensional thing made up of points’ (46). The picture of this version of MST – which Skow refers to as MST-Supertime – looks like the following: In this picture, what moment is present in time changes from point to point in supertime. Skow, however, claims that ‘the idea that there is such a thing as supertime is crazy’ (47). As a result, he formulates a version of MST that does not contain a supertime. In this proposal, called MST-Supertense, MST is combined with primitive supertense. Skow finds inspiration for talk about tense in MST-Supertense from Prior's (1996) presentism: One way to do without super time is to do to supertime what presentism does to time. The role talk of time plays in the block universe theory is played in (Priorian) presentism by tense operators. Let the role talk of supertime plays in MST-Supertime be played in the new theory by ‘super’tense operators. (52). In this way, MST-Supertense theory ‘says that exactly one time super-is present (full stop), that each later time super-will be present, and that each earlier time super-was present’ (52). But because Skow believes that MST-Supertense suffers from serious objections, he presents a final version of MST called MST-Time that does away with these primitive tense operators. In this version of MST, time plays the role of supertime; specifically, ‘what MST-Supertime takes to be relative to points in supertime MST-Time takes to be relative to instants of time’ (59). Each time, therefore, is a different perspective on reality and each instant supplies a different picture of time as a whole. At first, MST-Time seems no different from the block universe. Skow, however, thinks that MST-Time is different from the block universe in that ‘not only does MST-Time deny that perspectival facts are determined by the perspective-independent facts; the theory also says that there are no perspective-independent facts’ (64). In this way, Skow’s MST-Time is similar to Kit Fine’s 2005 non-standard realism about tense. And, as a result, Skow agrees with Fine that different perspectives cannot be combined to construct an objective view of all moments. Instead, one must presuppose a temporal standpoint for all talk of reality in place of ‘looking’ at the whole of temporal reality from ‘above’. 4. No NOW in MST A problematic feature of both MST-Supertense and MST-Time is that there is no absolute NOW in either theory. For MST-Supertime, at each point in supertime, a different moment in regular time is objectively privileged, as shown in Figure 3. But no time is objectively privileged simpliciter. That is, there is no way to pick out the (one, absolute) NOW in Figure 3. MST-Time faces a similar issue. In MST-Time, each time is present from its own perspective, but there are no perspective-independent facts. Thus, there is no perspective-independent fact about which time is NOW, and therefore, there is no absolute NOW.4 Figure 3 View largeDownload slide MST-Supertime. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide MST-Supertime. But if one wants to preserve an absolute NOW, then one can accept MST-Supertense. In this theory, there is some kind of absolute NOW; Skow states that in MST-Supertense, ‘times super-are or super-are not present simpliciter’ (197). In addition, because the supertense operators are primitive, the operator super-was cannot be analyzed as ‘super-is at an earlier time’. This gives us an absolute NOW that does not exist in either of the other two versions of MST. The proponent of MST-Supertense, however, ultimately must endorse either MST-Supertime or MST-Time.5 This is due to the fact that, put simply, there must be an ontological picture to go with the semantic theory. Skow notes that although MST-Supertense has only one temporal dimension, the ‘shadow’ of the second temporal dimension exists in the form of the supertense operators (54). But it is not just a shadow that exists – a second temporal dimension must actually exist. In explaining the supertense operators, Skow gives an account of how they work in ordinary tensed terms, and outlines the necessary truth conditions, but this is not enough for an acceptable theory. Skow must also provide an ontological picture; that is, he must provide an account of the truthmakers of supertensed statements, which he fails to do. The demand here is that Skow must answer the question of what makes supertensed statements true. Like Prior, Skow could deny that these questions need to be answered. But the discussion of semantics does not address the ontology at stake. For example, in MST-Supertense, the statement ‘a later time than the time that super-is present super-will be present’ cannot be made true by a future point in supertime being present.6 What then, ensures that a later time than the one that super-is present super-will be present? In other words, there are transtemporal (trans-supertemporal?) links that need to be established ontologically, but Skow gives no account of how this is the case. Denying answering, furthermore, merely leaves the truth conditions mysterious. The most likely ontological pictures for MST-Supertense to endorse include MST-Supertime and MST-Time.7 This however, entails that the (absolute) NOW be abandoned, since there is no NOW in either MST-Supertime or MST-Time. But why is this so problematic? One reason is that acceptance of the NOW traditionally marks a temporal theory as an A-theory. There does not seem to be much difference between a theory in which every time is present and the B-theory in which every time exists. Perhaps MST without a NOW is more like a quasi B-theory. But the bigger problem is that the robust passage of time is traditionally understood in terms of the change in the NOW. But if there is no NOW, then it seems time cannot pass. If Skow is looking for the best A-theory account of robust passage, then it seems that MST is not it. Skow responds that robust passage does not require the movement of the NOW. He claims, ‘The existence of supertime helps secure the robust passage of time because with it the claim “which time is present changes” can be understood as the claim that different times are present relative to different points in supertime’ (52). For MST-Supertime, the passage of time could be understood as the variation in time (from supertime) of the present moment. In addition, in MST-Time, the passage of time could be understood as the present moment being different from different perspectives. 5. No robust change in MST The problem with Skow’s response to the difficulties of abandoning the NOW – offering a conception of passage in which the movement of the present is some kind of variation in super time or across perspectives – again clashes with how the passage of time is traditionally understood. A-theorists have long held that the robust passage of time requires robust change. Otherwise, passage is nothing more than mere variation, and passage is obviously something more than mere variation. The formulation of the passage of time proposed by Skow lacks robust change, and is therefore problematic. For example, in MST-Supertime, suppose the present is located at t1 at the supertime point T1. Furthermore, suppose that the present is located at t2 at the supertime point T2, and that the present is located at t3 at the supertime point T3 (this situation is illustrated Figure 3). These properties possessed by the universe at each supertime never change. If the totality of temporal facts (or states of affairs) is to be considered, then one must include in this picture the totality of facts in supertime. The totality of facts (including supertime) never changes, and therefore, there is no change in the sum total of reality. There is no robust change in MST-Supertime. MST-Time has a similar problem. Skow takes note of the possibility that ‘MST-Supertime does not contain objective becoming because in it time does not undergo robust change. The same objection could be made about MST-Time’ (67). Skow’s reply to this difficulty is to deny that robust change is needed for the robust passage of time. He states, ‘I think that believers in objective becoming should be allowed to disagree about whether objective becoming requires robust change or not’ (50). He again affirms that ‘We should not automatically reject a theory of objective becoming because it fails to contain robust passage’ (67). This is a radical departure from the traditional understanding of temporal passage. But that is not the biggest issue here. Skow claims that his account of the passage of time in his versions of MST ‘is more substantial than the anaemic passage that goes on in the block’ (67). I argue, however, that it is not. Skow’s new proposal of the passage of time ultimately can no more be considered passage than the mere variation of passage in the block universe. First, what, exactly, is this ‘not robust change but more substantial than anaemic change’ account of the passage of time? Skow claims that this account involves understanding passage as the movement of ordinary things through time, rather than understanding passage as the movement of the NOW. He notes that ‘Motion requires three things: the thing that moves, the dimension or “space” in which it moves, and the dimension with respect to which it moves’ (178). My movement through time is normally understood as me as the thing that is moving and time the dimension in which I move. But Skow points out that there is no dimension with respect to which I move. This is where supertime plays a crucial role. Each thing is located at one time at each point in supertime. At later points in supertime these things are at later points in time, and this is what it is to move through time, according to Skow. The picture looks like the picture in Figure 3, but instead of a privileged present moment changing from one supertime point to another supertime point, ordinary objects change position from one supertime point to another supertime point. Thus, Skow’s new understanding of objective becoming is that ‘relative to later points in supertime material things are located at later times, in such a way that they move at a constant rate through time’ (179). Skow claims that objective becoming is supertemporal variation in a thing’s spatiotemporal location, and that this satisfies motion through time, which in turn is an adequate account of objective becoming. Notice, however, that the variation in an object’s location merely replaces the variation of the spotlight in Figure 3. This represents the fact that there is still no robust change in Skow’s account of objective becoming. Skow admits this, of course, and thinks that because variation in supertime counts as motion through time on his account that this is acceptable for a non-anaemic theory of the passage of time. But this account is not an acceptable non-anaemic theory of the passage of time. Motion through time is not good enough for objective becoming if it is without robust change. Consider the following situation: there is a flip book starring Bob the stick figure. The flip book shows a kind of change in Bob’s location from the left side of the book (on the first page) to the right side of the book (on the last page). Some of the pages of the book look like the following: Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Bob in the Flip Book. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Bob in the Flip Book. There is even animation when one flips rapidly through the pages! One can see Bob change location from one side of the page to the other when the pages are flipped. Using Skow’s definition of movement, when the book is closed, Bob’s variation in location still satisfies the definition of movement: there is a thing (Bob), who moves on the pages, with respect to the book as a whole. But Bob does not genuinely move through the book; that is, Bob does not undergo any motion. Another way to understand this is that there is no robust change in Bob’s location in the book. Bob is always on the left side of the page on page one and he is always on the right side of the page on page thirty. The sum totality of facts about Bob stays the same when the book is considered as a whole. Apply this situation to Skow’s MST universe. Supertemporal variation, bereft of robust change, is not good enough for an adequate account of objective becoming. Robust change, understood as a difference in the sum total of temporal (and supertemporal) facts from moment to moment, needs to be included in the picture. 6. Conclusion Ultimately, there is nothing in MST that allows it to accommodate an acceptable account of the passage of time. Not only does MST not supply the best account of robust passage, it fails to accommodate an adequate account at all. No A-theorist should consider MST a worthy competitor to the block universe or even to other A-theories of time. MST is not even an A-theory properly understood! In the end, if Skow wants to defend the anaemic passage of the block universe based on the rejection of its most worthy alternative theory, he fails to do so. Footnotes 1 It should be noted that some who endorse the block universe also propose theories of passage that are not deflationary. See Maudlin 2007 and Leininger 2014. 2 ‘Metaphysically complete’ means a sentence that has its truth-value not relative to anything else. 3 The most prominent defender of MST is Cameron (2015). 4 Skow (47, 50, 67–8) admits as much, but for reasons discussed below, he does not think it is a problem for MST. 5 Or some other version of MST not yet articulated. 6 Skow (53) implies as much. 7 These are obviously not the only options, but I’ll leave it to Skow to set out an alternate ontological account. References Cameron R. 2015. The Moving Spotlight: An Essay on Time and Ontology . Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Dorato M. 2006. Absolute becoming, relational becoming and the arrow of time: some non-conventional remarks on the relationship between physics and metaphysics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 37: 559– 76. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Dieks D., ed. 2006. Becoming, relativity and locality. In The Ontology of Spacetime , 151–77. Amsterdam: Elsevier. Fine K. 2005. Modality and Tense: Philosophical Papers . Oxford: Clarendon Press. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Leininger L. 2014. On Mellor and the future direction of time. Analysis 74: 148– 57. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Leininger L. 2015. Presentism and the myth of passage. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 93: 724– 37. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Maudlin T. 2007. The Metaphysics within Physics . Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Prior A.N. 1996. A statement of temporal realism. In Logic and Reality: Essays on the Legacy of Arthur Prior , ed. Copeland B.J., 47–51. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Savitt S. 2002. On absolute becoming and the myth of passage. In Time, Reality, and Experience , ed. Callender C., 153–67. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Analysis Trust. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com
Analysis – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.
Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.
All for just $49/month
Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly
Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.
Get unlimited, online access to over 18 million full-text articles from more than 15,000 scientific journals.
Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.
All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.
“Hi guys, I cannot tell you how much I love this resource. Incredible. I really believe you've hit the nail on the head with this site in regards to solving the research-purchase issue.”Daniel C.
“Whoa! It’s like Spotify but for academic articles.”@Phil_Robichaud
“I must say, @deepdyve is a fabulous solution to the independent researcher's problem of #access to #information.”@deepthiw
“My last article couldn't be possible without the platform @deepdyve that makes journal papers cheaper.”@JoseServera