Monday, April 24, 2006

I've reached a point in my paper where I can't resolve a conflict between two lines of though. First off, I'm writing about fatalism and central to that is Aristotle's argument about making predictions. It goes:

1. A sea battle will happen tomorrow.
2. A sea battle will not happen tomorrow.

He concludes that since the two predictions are contradictory, one must be true and the other must be false. This pertains to fatalism in that if a prediction can be true, then the future is closed (like the past is 'closed' because it is unchangeable). This is the first line of thought.

The competing idea is that a prediction really isn't a statement, but an utterance. Therefore, the logic that Aristotle uses does not even apply. Remember the Parmenides argument that if something can be spoken of, it exists? The same logic goes here: since a prediction speaks of the future and the future doesn't exist (yet?) then we're just talking about something that doesn't exist--merely uttering nonsense.

I like Aristotle's argument more than the second one simply because it's easy for me to understand. If you're making statements about reality and you say S and ~S, one has to be true and the other false.

I'm envious of everyone who isn't working on their paper right now...

2 Comments:

Blogger linford86 said...

As always, I'm much more apt to take a scientific/mathematical perspective on the matter...

One of the interesting facts about physics that isn't very well known is that there is no distinction made in the equations that describe nature between the past, present, and future. In fact, if it weren't for thermodynamic processes, it would seem to me that there would be no distinction between the past, present, and future at all.

Also, it seen from the perspective of modern physics that time does not flow; if it is the case that there is a succession of futures which become nows and then become past events, it does not occur like we intuitively imagine it to occur; we do not move into the future. If it were the case that we were moving into the future, then you would have to define what this "temporal structure" was moving past; i.e. from whose reference frame is time said to flow? Since there is no such reference frame, time does not flow. Whatever time may be, it is not itself a motion.

Thus, here's what I have to offer from the perspective of science and from the statements I made above:

If it is the case that the past is set, then could it not be the case that the future had the same property of also not being set? What does it mean for something to have occured if time does not flow?

Even in quantum mechanics, where it is seen that it is not the case that the future is set (also, incredibly, according to what I've read atleast, the past is not set either) it is the case that the future is set for sufficiently large masses. So, since the object involved in sea battles have sufficiently large masses, they are not effected by quantum mechanical effects in any noticeable way.

Thus, we conclude from the above that, from the perspective of modern science atleast, Aristotle was correct; i.e. A sea battle will either occur tommorrow or it will not. And the future and the past both exist in some form.

Of course, in quantum mechanics, technically, the future would only exist as probabilities (and as such would exist as abstracts? I'm not sure if that's right - I don't really know how to interpret quantum mechanics from a philosophical perspective) but none the less it is still true a sea battle will either occur or it will not. Presumably, whatever philosophical things you would like to say about probabilities must entail that it is impossible for two mutually exclusive futures to occur.

Here's what I think is a better take on the Aristotelian view point:

1. It is impossible for mutually exclusive events to occur at the same time.

2. If (1) then it cannot be the case that the sea battle occurs at any time t if the sea battle does not occur at t.

3. Therefore, it cannot be the case that the sea battle occurs at any time t if the sea battle does not occur at t.

Note that the above argument does not make use (at all!) of the past, present, and future - t can be any time whatsoever. Since this holds for any member of the set of times, and "tomorrow" is a proper subset of the set of times, it must hold for "tomorrow".

In any case, the Parmenidean argument only works if things only exist if and only if you can find them somewhere in the universe. "Tomorrow" cannot be found in the universe - so, your Parmenidean argument says that "tommorrow" does not exist. But consider this:

Obviously, 1+1=2. That's one of the most trivial statements that can be made in the whole of mathematics. But if the number one does not exist, then the statement 1+1=2 has nothing to refer to. Therefore, if the number one does not exist, then it is nonsense to say that 1+1=2. Of course, we all want to say that 1+1=2 so that that statement isn't nonsense - but your Parmenidean argument would deny this. Why? Because no matter where you look in the universe, you will not find the number one. You will find objects that are alone, and therefore there's only one object, but that object is not itself the number one; the number one is independent of that object. Thus, if we are going to allow for 1+1=2 to be a true statement, then we must allow for things which do not have a physical existence to exist in some way nonetheless. Therefore, one could argue that the future is similiar to numbers in this sense; that is, the future does not yet have a physical existence, but that does not mean that it does not exist.

11:28 PM  
Blogger linford86 said...

Another thing I'd like to say is that in any logical system whatsoever, ~S is true if and only if S is false. This is simply because the negation of S is equivalent to stating that "S is false." So, whether your making statements about the past, present, fuure, reality, things that do exist, things don't exist, etc, doesn't really matter so far as I can tell.

9:02 PM  

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