From: SMTP%"savitt@unixg.UBC.CA" 22-OCT-1996 10:51:54.26
To: STAPP
CC:
Subj: Determinism/Becoming
Message-Id: <9610221750.AA00355@>
Content-Type: text/plain
Mime-Version: 1.0 (NeXT Mail 3.3 v118.2)
From: Steve Savitt
Date: Tue, 22 Oct 96 10:50:05 -0700
To: Henry Stapp
Subject: Determinism/Becoming
Dear Henry Stapp,
In response to the discussion of the "now" in PSYCHE - D, I sent a message
to be posted, which the moderator killed. I think he (probably correctly)
thinks the discussion is getting off topics appropriate for his list. At any
rate, I wished to put a question to you that you might (or might not) wish to
address off-list.
----------------------------------------------------------
Stapp responded:
The key point here is that classical mechanics is
deterministic, and hence specifies in terms of initial conditions the entire
spacetime description, so that there was no concept of "becoming" within the
theory: everything was, from the theoretical point of view, all laid out. And
within his realm of readings everything was also all laid out.
I comment:
Let us suppose for the sake of argument that the claim that classical
mechanics is deterministic is unproblematic. This means something like: if you
have an "entire spacetime description" at a time t [We are dealing with
classical spacetime here, with (hyper-)planes of simultaneity.], then the
state of the entire spacetime at future times t* (and the state at past times
as well) is completely fixed. But I have never understood the move from that
idea to the claim that there is no genuine evolution or "becoming" of the
system as it changes from t to t* (or from t* to t), though many thoughtful
persons, including Hans Reichenbach, have seen a connection.
Another way to ask this question is: suppose we say that given the "entire
spacetime description" at t, the probability of the state description at t* is
1 (determinism). Why should reducing that probability to any value below 1
(and so introduce INdeterminism) somehow be connected to the idea of a
genuinely dynamical time or becoming?
My answer to this question, by the way, is that there is *no* logical
connection between the two sets of ideas (determinsism/indeterminism vs
dynamical/non-dynamical time). Thay neither exclude nor ential one another.
What are the *arguments* to the contrary?
Steve Savitt
Dear Steve,
I am not suggesting that it is logically impossible for there to be genuine
becoming in a deterministic system such as Newtonian mechanics. On the other
hand, there is no *need* for becoming in that system: all that it really says
is that the properties labelled by different times are related to each other
in a specified way. If one just stared at the equations one would not be able
to detect the notion of "becoming" there: indeed in some `least action'
formulations of the dynamics the whole spacetime structure is conceived to be
laid out, and global properties of the entire structure are identified. From
a mathematical perspective the notion of "becoming" is an ad hoc addition
to Newtonian mechanics, appended to the structure to bring it into accord with
the nature of our experience of the world.
This perspective on "becoming" comes to the fore when one goes over to
special relativity, if one buys into the notion that there really is no
favored frame, ontologically. For it is impossible to get any clear idea
of the process of becoming without introducing something like a favored frame,
or favored advancing spacelike surface, or some such thing. Einstein's boldness
consisted in the fact that he did not allow this conceptual difficulty to hold
him back: he basically just ignored the problem of how to comprehend the
becomingness of nature. In some sense he just considered it all laid out: he
spatialized time. He considered the entire 4-d continuum of "observers", and
specified global relationships between their instantaneous views without
worrying about the metaphysical issue of the coming into being of these views,
or their fading away.
Going over to QM is more than just bringing in probability: it is about what
the probabilities are "of". Given that the universe is at some time in a
classically describable state, it soon evolves deterministically
into a superposition of different classically describable states. So in
relation to our possible experiences the entire structure is like a collection
of possibilities, which are specified or determined on out into the infinite
future. Neither experience nor becoming are part of this mathematical
structure: there is no need to append becoming because there is no experience.
But Bohr says it is to be interpreted as being about experiences: it is to be
interpreted as providing a mathematical tool for making statistical experiences
about our experiences. This view is "ontologicalized" in the BHvNW
interpretation: the theory is construed as being about "events" that are
both "becomings" and "experiences", where now "experiences" are taken in the
broad sense of including the precursors to " human experiences". So
"becomings" are made the ontological core of the theory, rather than being
some strange appendage that has no logical rationale within the mathematical
structure of the theory.
Best regards, Henry