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Critically assess McCall's temporal model

Critically assess McCall's temporal model

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Joe Dewhurst. Originally submitted for Philosophy of Time at University of Edinburgh, with lecturer Dr. Alasdair Richmond in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Joe Dewhurst. Originally submitted for Philosophy of Time at University of Edinburgh, with lecturer Dr. Alasdair Richmond in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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02/18/2014

 
Critically assess McCall's temporal modelAbstract:
It is a possible to give a number of divergent accounts of the nature and structure of time,each of which will entail further metaphysical conclusions. Storrs McCall (1994) proposes abranching temporal model, in contrast with more traditional linear and multiple reality models.McCall justifies his temporal model by inference to the best explanation. He argues that it “wouldprovide an explanation of certain things that philosophers for a long time have found puzzling andsought to understand” (McCall 1994: 6). This paper will assess that statement, with particularreference to his accounts of temporal flow, counterfactuals, laws of nature, and free will. McCall'stemporal model is subtle and modest in its claims, admitting a reliance upon certain contingentphysical conditions (1994: 251fn). His accounts of objective time flow, counterfactuals and laws ofnature are excellent, and his attempt to establish free will does no worse than anyone else's. Weshould consider this model as a serious competitor to more traditional philosophies of time.McCall's justification for his temporal model takes the form of inference to the best explanation. Heargues that it “would provide an explanation of certain things that philosophers for a long time havefound puzzling and sought to understand” (McCall 1994: 6). I will focus my attention on hisaccounts of temporal flow, counterfactuals, laws of nature, and free will. These will be used toassess the model by way of its explanatory power.The model consists of a tree, with a solitary trunk that breaks into multiple branches (see Fig.1).The trunk represents the unchanging past and the branches represent all possible futures. Thepresent is located at the point at which the trunk divides into branches. As the present travels up thetree one branch becomes actualised and the others drop off. Which branch becomes actualised is
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indeterminate until it occurs, and until the present reaches them there is no privileged future branch(McCall 1994: 4). The tree as a whole constitutes the universe. The past, the present and all possiblefutures share equal ontological status.Other possible temporal models include: a single future; multiple futures, one of which isdistinguished as real; multiple futures,
all
of which come to pass, only in different worlds; andbranching pasts in addition to branching futures (McCall 1994: 4-5). McCall does not claim that hismodel is inherently superior or more logically coherent than any of the above. Theoretically thequestion of which is most accurate might be open to empirical testing, however the practicality ofsuch experiments seems remote (McCall 1994: 284). Instead we must make our judgement based onthe effectiveness of each model in solving metaphysical problems.Most obviously pertinent is McCall's attempt to give an objective account of temporal flow. Theanisotropic nature of time, whilst apparently obvious to our everyday intuitions, is difficult toexplain more abstractly (see, for example, Earman 1969). Whilst there is an inherent asymmetry totraditional relativistic space-time, there is no indication of which way this asymmetry should beinterpreted as flowing (McCall 1994: 22). There is nothing besides our experience of it as such tomake time flow one way rather than the other.
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FuturesPresentPastFig.1. McCall's branchingmodel. The future consists ofmany more branches than it ispossible to show here.
 
This brings us to the mind-dependent theory of temporal flow, attributed by McCall to AdolfGrunbaum. Grunbaum consigns temporal flow to subjective status, denying that there is in factanything more to the directionality of time then our experience of it (Grunbaum 1974). This leads tothe conclusion that there is no fact of the matter about whether it is currently past, present or future,as such temporal positions are dependent upon the observer is question. McCall admits that, under atraditional linear temporal model, this appears to be the case, but argues that his own branchingmodel is capable of a more objective explanation (McCall 1994: 29).The present, in the branching model, is uniquely identifiable. It is the point at which the trunk of thepast meets the branches of the future. Additionally, it's movement up the tree, knocking offbranches as it goes, grants a definite direction to time. Both the past and the future are real, but thepast is categorically different from the future, consisting of one trunk as opposed to many branches.This completely objective feature of the branching model allows for dynamic change and temporalflow “quite independently of the powers of any rational being to conceive it” (McCall 1994: 30).This might seem to require an additional temporal dimension, the one in which we describe thepresent as travelling up the trunk, and the branches of the future falling off. This is what leadsGraham Nerlich to accuse McCall's account of temporal flow of concealing an inconsistency(Nerlich 1998: 309). Not only must the trunk of the tree contain all past events, it must also containthe fallen branches that were future in the past (Nerlich 1998: 310). Yet this would seem to give thetree something more akin to the bush structure that McCall described as 'branching past'.To illustrate his point, Nerlich asks us to imagine a point in mid-1959 at which it is possible that hischild, to be born next year, will be a boy or a girl. At this point there are at least two futurebranches, in one of which a girl is born. By mid-1960 that branch has fallen off; the child was not a
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