Skip to main content

Time: The A Team


Philosophers who discuss the nature of time sometimes talk of the "A series" view versus the "B series" view. Here's the Wikipedia link:

The terminology goes back to the work of Scottish Hegelian McTaggart, writing a little more than a century ago. But the 21st century meaning of the labels may be a bit different from what McTaggart had in mind.

"A-series" includes any view to the effect that the intuitive non-philosophic notion of time is more-or-less correct --there is a moving "now" and things that weren't real yesterday will become real tomorrow when the moving "now" gets there. The "B-series" view (again, in my imperfect understanding) is the view that there is only a single block universe already including tomorrow and next century etc. -- and the moving "now" is an illusion.

McTaggart's work neatly coincided (in whatever time is) with Albert Einstein's, though McTaggart seems not to have been influenced by contemporary physics. As Einsteinian physics became widely known, McTaggart's B-series seemed to many to be a clear statement of its philosophic consequences, and it has been widely adopted. A-series folks have been on the defensive ever since, especially in academia.

Lately, though, some A-series folks have been making some noise, suggesting a desire to play offense. Tim Maudlin represents the philosophy department and Lee Smolin represents the physics department within this incipient rebellion. That's a photo of Smolin, above.

Here's a link to a paper by Maudlin:

Maudlin isn't really arguing, if I understand him, that Einstein was wrong. He seems to be saying that A series could be rendered consistent with special relativity, though it would apparently involve some as yet undone spade work. Instead of spatializing time, Einstein could be re-worked to temporalize space.  Or something like that. I'm clearly out of my depth here, though I'll keep floundering rather than seeking the safety of the kiddie pool where I belong.

Maudlin's ally Smolin, again speaking with the qualification "if I understand correctly", does want to say that Einstein was wrong in important respects. Here's the Amazon page for his book, Time Reborn.

Here's the Wikipedia page on Smolin. He is certainly credentialed: a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Harvard University in 1979, postdoc research at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (Einstein's old stomping grounds, I believe) , and various high-level professorships.  If anyone in the world can criticize Einstein without being hopelessly out of his depth, it would be someone with that resume.

Anyway, those who know me will have figured out by now that all my sympathies are with the A team.


  1. There's a chance you're qualified for a complimentary $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…