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The block universe, free will, death, and Nietzsche


Veteran Member
Oct 25, 2021
Basic Beliefs
Recently an article appeared on the philosophical implications of the block universe, here.

The basic idea, of course, is that time is like space, as evidenced by relativity theory, and that all moments in time exist in the same way all places in space do. Jupiter exists, but is far away from us in space; the dinosaurs exist, but are far away from us in time. Of course this would mean the future, as seen from our current standpoint of Now, also exists. Thus the future is as fixed and unalterable as the past.

The article, by the philosopher Nikk Effingham, examines the implications of the block universe on free will and death. I think he gets it mostly right. If the future is fixed and unalterable, this does not preclude compatibilist free will, because part of the reason that the fixed future will be, the way that it will be, is because of our free choices. In just the same way, our free choices contributed to making the past what it was, and contribute to making the present what it is.

The author makes the crucial distinction between will and must. Just because it is true today that 20 years hence I will get divorced, it does not mean that I must do that, only that I will do it. My acts are unfree only if they are necessitated; but even though the future is fixed and unalterable under the block view, that future is not necessary; it is, was, and always will be, contingent.

In sum, the view of free will on the block universe reading is no different from a similar view of free will according to the Problem of Future Contingents, mooted by Aristotle thousands of years ago. If it is true today that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, Aristotle worried, then tomorrow there must be a sea battle, and no one has free will. As I have argued in other threads, this argument commits a modal fallacy, as follows:

If today it is true that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then tomorrow there must (of necessity) be a sea battle.

The fallacy lies in ascribing “must” to the consequent of the antecedent. it reality, it must be ascribed to the antecedent and the consequent jointly, as follows:

Necessarily (if it is true today that tomorrow there will be a sea battle, then tomorrow there will [not MUST] be a sea battle.)

If tomorrow there is no sea battle, then a different prior proposition would have been true: Today it is true that tomorrow there will be no sea battle.

Hence the fear that the future exists somehow threatens free will is baseless.

The author then turns to the subject of the block universe and death. He quotes Einstein consoling the widow of a recently deceased friend, observing that for working physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is a “stubbornly persistent illusion.”

What Einstein seems to have had in mind, and what the author seems to have in mind, is that although Einstein’s friend is dead NOW, he “lives on,” so to say, in the past, because the past exists. The friend then is not actually dead, but alive — only he is alive “prior to” the time that Einstein writes the consoling letter to the window. Is that very consoling? Maybe, maybe not.

However, I’m going to hypothesize — a hypothesis only, something to think about — that the block universe has deeper implications for life and death.

If the block universe is true, then whole of me is not located at the present moment. Just as I have spatial parts, I must have temporal parts. The whole of me is a world tube in Minkowski spacetime with its boundary conditions my birth and death. That world tube exists, in its particular string of spacetime coordinates, eternally — the block universe is also known as the thesis of “eternalism.” This does not mean, of course, that I exist eternally after my death, or existed eternally before my birth. It must means that my whole life is eternally “baked in” to a particular tiny subset of the totality of the block universe.

If I have temporal parts, then the me of April 21, 1995 (pick any other date) is just as conscious as the me of April 21, 2023, who is typing this. All my past and future versions, my temporal parts, are equally conscious within my block universe spacetime span.

If all my conscious temporal parts are “baked in,” eternally, to a specific, tiny subset of the block universe, then all these conscious parts are eternal per definition.

Nietzsche posited the eternal recurrence — that you will live your life over and over again, albeit with no memory of having lived it before.

Hypothesis: If the block universe is real, then when I die I will subjectively begin to experience my life all over again, with no memory of my past life. Like a video game in which a character vanishes off of the right side of the screen and re-emerges on the left, I simply re-experience my temporal parts sequentially over and over again, eternally. There’s your life after death — under the block universe, it’s your very own life.

If Nietzsche is right yet again, it would hardly surprise me. And he knew nothing of the block universe.
Scientifically time in seconds is one of four dimensions that define a point in space relative to a reference pint.

To knOw where Mars is relATIVE to Earth in an xyz coordinate system requires 3 points in space and time. Here dimension means mensuration or units of measure. x,y,z are measured in meters. Rate of change in position is measured in seconds, time.

Time is a unit o measure as is meters. No more complicated that that.

To me time as some kind of independent reality is scifi, unless one can define what time as a kind of independent reality is. I don't think it can done.

Another peice of the cosmic puzzle is that C the speed of light is not reltvistc. All observers ib all inertial frames will measure the same C.

The universe is in ate of constant change. Insted of saying time say goung back to a preiviious ste in the unverse. If I want to back in time 1 hour that means the ste of unverse 1 hour ago.

The idea that time is a dimension one can travel through to a past statee of the unverse makes no sense at all.

The OP sounds like theology. Using science to prove life after death.

Nietzsche posited the eternal recurrence — that you will live your life over and over again, albeit with no memory of having lived it before

That sounds like Hindu-Buddhist reincarnation. The cycle of birth ad rebirth until you rise above it. I always took that to be metaphor for life.
I'm somewhat of a fan of the Block Universe concept, Nietzsche's Eternal Return, but not too tightly bound to it. It is a way of looking at General Relativity.

It is a lot like theology, to be sure. One can also assert time is distance, with unassailable and valid logic.

There is a cousin of this logical chain called the Growing Block Universe in which the past is fixed, but the future is not fixed. Most of it borders on being theology or philosophy. as does a lot of cutting edge modern physics and cosmology.
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