Static for dynamism: special relativity and the nature of time

Michael Cifone (University of Maryland) and Michael Silberstein (Elizabethtown College and the University of Maryland)

In the first part of the paper we distinguish a number of ontological questions about the nature of spacetime that we think are sometimes run together in the ‘blockworld versus presentism’ debate, such as those regarding objective becoming, the flow of time, change, the reality of the past, present and future, etc. Based on this taxonomy, we then argue that special relativity (Minkowski’s formulation) has very definite consequences regarding most of these questions. For example, we claim that special relativity indicates for eternalism and against: presentism, objective becoming, the flow of time and true change. In the next section we deal with various well known attempts to block what we think are the clear implications of special relativity. We will divide our interlocutors up into three main groups: (1) the “compatibilists”- those who are realists about special relativity and do not add or subtract from it, but nonetheless claim that some robust notion of presentism or objective becoming or flow or change, etc., can be maintained; (2) the “modifiers of special relativity”- those, such as the “neo-Lorentzians,” who recover presentism, etc., by adding or subtracting from the theory; (3) “the change of venue folk”- who argue that all bets are off regarding eternalism, etc., in the context of other venues such as general relativity, quantum mechanics, quantum gravity, etc. Lastly, we consider what if any implications eternalism, etc., might have for other major questions in the philosophy of physics, such as non-locality and the thermodynamic arrow of time.