The book Time Loops by Eric Wargo really is a landmark publication. It adds a refreshing bottom-up approach to a field that’s notorious for its cloudy top-down-suggestions. It thus offers an alternative to the impossible “new age obscurantism” not only Slavoj Žižek is so very repelled by. Since there is already lots of praise out there, I will stop here, and do the other job. I’m going to provide some criticism from the notes I took while basically living in the book for the last months. So, lets go and hop right into it…
Block Universe I – The Minkowski Block Universe
This core concept is not sufficiently introduced. Why are the past and the future supposed to exist there simultaneously, again? The book provides mere suggestions how to imagine such a thing, but no reasoning why it is actually plausible from a non-spooky point of view.
And the block universe Eric is constantly speaking of is a supposed Minkowski-Aharonov block universe, which comes with inbuilt retrocausality to resolve quantum madness (“indeterminism”), and to reclaim quantum physics for the sane classical universe (“determinism”) again.
This is by no means the “original” block universe, anymore, if there ever was such a thing. (“Minkowski spacetime” probably; a diagrammatic solution for the representation of special relativity.)
Block Universe II – Block Universe Overstretch
Why trust a claim (“We live in a block universe!”) that generalizes some findings from the level of the lowest complexity into a frame for everything that exists? That is, as if there where no emergent properties that unlock new possibilities and new degrees of freedom from the concertation of less capable components.
Maybe in physics everything is strictly coupled, and therefore deterministic. Above physics, loose coupling, via an increasing degree of self-(en)closure, is everything. Therefore nothing is that deterministic anymore. No?
Maybe, the question in question here really is: Is complexity just a more complicated case of determination, or is there something about self-reference and self-organization that defies determination? That is, determination by something other than itself; whatever this itself is itself in the end.
This quickly extends into theology, by the way. Without an idea of god as a person, that is, as a being capable of creating and sustaining itself, we recognize only endless chains of determination. Or so the argument goes. Because, everything existent can be traced back to something else before. Everything is nothing but… Nothing but particles, nothing but DNA, nothing but social context, nothing but whatever. With that idea of god, however, we can recognize ourselves as more than that. Thus we finally see, that there’s an inexplicable force to ever-higher self-organization at work in the world: Nothing but… God itself!
Buddhism answers the same question in the opposite fashion, of course: Since everything is nothing but in an eternal chain of conditioned co-production, there clearly is no self at all…
Block Universe III – Block Universe Billiard
The “block” universe seems to be a successor of the old Newtonian “clock” universe: If a hypothetical entity could trace all the space-time billiard that’s going on, it could exactly calculate every past and future state of the whole universe. So every past and future state is invariably fixed.
But I cannot see how this would enable, or allow for, things like retrocausation or precognition. That you can mentally scroll back and forth in your hypothetical god-view universe doesn’t mean the universe itself can do this. Unless…well, unless we live in a mind-over-matter god-view universe, of course. A universe with a God-Head, if you will. Where a divine imagination is the computation. (An idea from Jewish mysticism: Imagination as ongoing holistic calculation…)
So, it seems to me that the block universe is out of the running even before we come to the self-referential, “beyond-billiard,” dynamics the world exhibits.
The idea of the block universe is a clear case of confusing the map with the territory. A very “special,” very limited map, at that. Even for the physics department.
Eric utilizes the simplified, let’s say problematic, concept of entropy as increasing disorder. This downplays the role of entropy, and, in contrast, highlights the time-reversibility of all the other major phenomena in physics. But entropy may as well be the most important concept of physics. It is said (Prigogine) that systems dissipate entropy, that is, the likeliness of an even, “dead” state, in order to increase the likeliness of highly improbable states of high “orderliness”, or organization.
At the very least, this would give us a needed little light in Erics melancholic universe, where everything is simply fated to fall apart. But I have the impression that an increased likeliness of otherwise improbable structural richness would be a good application for precognition. (I am reading Eric’s sketch of quantum biology that way, for example.)
The butterfly effect, a metaphor for the power of tiny changes to cause macroscopic revolutions, is brought into position to account for the total determination of the block universe. Even the slightest deviation would cause the future to be completely different, due to the butterfly effect. And this would render the well documented phenomenon of precognition impossible. Ergo, we do inhabit a universe that is absolutely predetermined.
Thing is, we don’t live in a butterfly-effect universe. We live in a universe of enclosures; of niches, of buffer-zones, and of differentiation, that is, the decoupling of systems to stabilize them against contagious dynamics.
Maybe the “scene of confirmation” that post-selects the events that lead to it stabilizes exactly such an enclosure in time, a circular temporal structure, that immunizes itself against change.
By the way, how can there be a butterfly effect in a universe where the butterfly effect cannot be allowed to take place?
An absolutely pre-determined universe is quite a downer for someone new to the idea. I ate a lot of ice cream lately, since it was predetermined. So, some comforting words about the traditions that have already dealt with living in a predetermined world would have made this easier to stomach, and, maybe, would even help with the overall reception of the book and its ideas.
A simple demonstration of how our “free will” is determined by a plethora of factors inside and around ourselves would certainly have been a good starting point. To soften the predictable resistance against the overall diagnosis, so to speak. To sell it better, in todays terms.
By the way, if the physics part doesn’t live up to its promise, predetermination, as a requirement for precognition, is still there. It is really worth a more in-depth discussion of its own. I have the impression that there may be some insights to gather from this field of thought. Maybe even a reconciliation of predetermination and free will; as impossible it sounds.
Anyway, I’m happy to say, the illusion of free will is as convincing as it was before reading Time Loops, and it made me finally stop eating ice cream.
If you see that the most important laws of physics are time-symmetric, and downplay the only major exception, entropy, a bit, than it looks a lot like reversibility is a meta-feature of existence. And there should probably be a principle that compensates for the apparent one-way-street of entropy, which is responsible for our illusion of time.
Thus every local emergence of a time vector must be seen as casting an underlying time vector in the opposite direction that secretly co-determines the events in that timeline. The reversibility that is denied at the surface in some sense comes back from underneath to exert an inexplicable influence. It’s like a stream in a fluid that causes a hidden counter stream.
But if you take entropy for the more important phenomenon, time-symmetry becomes a peripheral occurrence; a property of simpler phenomena. From this point of view you cannot draw a big picture driven argument for retrocausation anymore.
Which wasn’t too convincing, anyhow.
Time symmetry is a strange concept to occur in a proposed universe that gives no indication of any direction of time at all. So there simply wouldn’t be a physical foundation for time, and thus nothing to run retro against. Except, of course, you would count perceived time vectors as something the universe would react to with a counter-vector.
And to conclude that a directional equivalency of back and forth would suggest a causal equivalency between forwards and backwards, is, well, daring?
Since the explanatory potential of retrocausally enhanced approaches doesn’t seem to catch on, either, only a convincing miracle cure for quantum computing could save them for now, I guess.
That’d be fantastic, though.
I wish there would be more abstract modeling in the book.
There are two proposed models from quantum physics (Aharonov’s two-state vector model, and Cramer’s transactional model) that Eric is loosely applying; sometimes without indicating it. Neither of them gets a more formal analysis to lay bare the hypothetical mechanics, and to explore the theoretical consequences. They are not discussed regarding their advantages and shortcomings for a general model of precognition.
The concept of post-selection is applied to explain the amplification of the laser in the delayed choice experiment, the development of the eye, the way cellular pre-sense would work, and, finally, how hindsight enables precognition. That is quite a spectrum, and, again, a unified model, a clarifying abstraction, would have been helpful to keep track with the overall idea.
Plus, models are heuristic tools to collect what you’ve got, in order to determine what’s still missing. They remain preliminary, and are therefore instructive.
Precognition is said to be aimed at survival. Oh wait, it’s the morbid enjoyment facing death and destruction, that’s the key to it.
Okay, I get these two together, and the combined insight is really great and enlightening, for many an area.
But all of a sudden, you find enlightening insights themselves on the list of precognition triggers. Live-changing “learning experiences,” as well as the eyebrow-raising recognition of a déjà vu amidst completely trivial circumstances.
And finally, an extra-boost of special attention by someone important does as well. See what I mean?
What’s the scheme behind here? Is it everything that gives you, at least a little, kick? If so, what makes it “kick?”
Well, that’s it for the moment. Take your time to digest the points I made, as I took the time to digest the book. These are matters that deserve patience.