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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.


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