Saturday, 5 May 2012

Something from nothing: The assumption of time

Dr. Richard Carrier has kindly responded to my criticism of his argument with a comment on his blog as well as a number of emails.

In the following posts, I will attempt to represent his position as accurately as I can and outline the precise points of disagreement between us. In this one, I discuss the issue of whether Carrier needs to assume that time exists in order to make his point.

Firstly, let me make clear the fundamental origin of our disagreement. I unconsciously assumed that Carrier's P1, stated as "In the beginning, there was absolutely nothing." implied that there was no time, although the word "beginning" is admittedly problematic if that is true. Carrier himself does not explicitly state that there is no time, but he is clear that he intends to eliminate all that is not logically necessary. He does actually sketch a proof that time might be logically necessary but maintains that he does not rely on this for his argument. To quote from an email:
I don't of course rely on the necessary logical existence of time, I only provide that as an example of something that might not be logically eliminable.
In fact I understood his intent in making this point and this is why I didn't take it too seriously as an argument for the necessity of time and continued to believe that P1 implied the absence of time. However, I now realise that in order to make my point I must address this argument also.

Carrier's argument that time must logically exist is framed formally and concisely in a reply to commenter garyfletcher.
Formally, if A, then B; if B, then C; A, therefore B; therefore C. If A: logical necessity exists, then B: it exists at some place and time (as otherwise it exists never and nowhere, which is not existing); if B: there is some place and time, then C: there is spacetime; A: logical necessity exists (because it is logically impossible for logically impossible things to exist or happen, and logical necessity is simply the fact of logically impossible things not existing or happening, therefore if logically impossible things cannot exist or happen, then by definition logical necessity exists), therefore B: there is some place and time; therefore C: there is spacetime.
I reject that A implies B. I do not believe that the existence of logical truths or necessities requires a time or place for them to exist. This is an entirely different flavour of existence from physical existence. Logical necessities have only a Platonic or abstract existence, and I believe Carrier is making a category error in ascribing to abstract objects attributes which properly pertain only to physical ones.

The prime numbers need no time nor place to exist because they have no physical existence, yet they do  exist abstractly. In fact, I would describe their existence as irrelevant to the existence of time and space. It's not that they don't exist at some place and time, it's that they exist independently of space and time. They exist at no specific place and time -- they exist at all places and times, and they would exist even if there were no places nor times. To ask "where and when does Pythagoras's theorem exist" is to ask a loaded question akin to "when did you stop beating your wife?".

In an email, Carrier has criticised this view.
I don't believe in Platonic abstracts. I am an Aristotelian about abstract objects (there are no such objects, abstractions are simply potential properties of actual things, like space-time).
I think the disagreement between the Aristotelian view and the Platonic view as it pertains to this discussion is really a linguistic or semantic one. If Carrier means that the number 5 does not physically exist, I agree with him. When I say it exists, I mean the concept of 5 is consistent and well-defined. The concept of Platonic existence as I use it and as I interpret Carrier when he says "logical necessity exists" is in some ways just a label for this idea, and that is all I need to rely on to make my point and reject Carrier's argument for the necessity of time.

Given my argument, and given that Carrier maintains that he does not rely on the logical existence of time, I feel justified in assuming that time is in fact logically eliminable and so does not exist in Carrier's hypothesised state of absolute nothingness.

As such, my original argument stands, that nothing can happen without time, including the spontaneous creation of universes. It seems that Carrier must therefore either assume that time exists or more robustly argue for its logical necessity. As it happens, he chooses another tack: to argue that it can arise spontaneously in a timeless universe.

In the next post, I will discuss his attempts to do just this.

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