Eternalists should be Stage Theorists

I am currently writing a paper for a philosophy class, and I am looking for some feedback/critique on what I am planning to write about. I am still planning things out, so there may be some parts that need working out.


Eternalism is the view that all times in the universe exist and are equally real. The passage of time, under this view, isn’t real and the universe is taken to be a static block universe. The times that we would normally consider to be past and future actually exist in the same way the present does. This is in contrast to the ordinary commonsense worldview, which usually takes the world to be a three-dimensional space and changing with the flow of time. In this way the Big Bang, 2018, and today are all taken to be real right now. Of course, this may sound strange and obviously false for some people, who may think that the idea that “multiple times exist right now” means that “multiple times exist at this time” where “now” identifies this one moment. Put this way, eternalism would clearly sound false, but I believe that this sort of reading is mistaken.

I think a less problematic way of understanding the eternalist claim for those unfamiliar with it is to understand the “time” of the block universe, the “time” in which the events of the Big Bang and 2018 exist in, in terms of an additional dimension that we shall call “B-time” (short for block time, as in the block universe). This way, we would avoid mixing it up with an understanding of time that incorporates the notion of a passing time and the problems that follow from that. B-time functions just like space, and serves as the dimension where all events are laid out together. Like objects in space, we can say that all of the events in B-time exist and are all real together. B-times are ordered such that the B-time occupied by the Big Bang is earlier than today and 2018 similarly is later than today. It could be said that the laws of physics and science, given that all of the physical events like the Big Bang are described there, operate on B-time for the eternalist. Once we understand the eternalist to adopt , the phrase “multiple times exist right now” under eternalism will translate to “multiple B-times exist right now” or “multiple B-times exist at this time”. Notice that the latter claim no longer appears inconsistent. Given that all of the times in the universe’s history are described as existing on this new dimension B-time, we are able to talk about all of them existing right now as we would objects in space. This description of eternalism, hopefully, should no longer be problematic but if anyone still has problems understanding what it means, then please ask me before going on. I will be using “B-times” to refer to the different times of the block universe from here on out as a means to hopefully avoid confusion or basic objections.

Eternalists usually subscribe to 4-dimensionalism as a result of their belief in the block universe, which can be broken up into two separate groups, the worm theorists and the stage theorists. According to the worm theory, I am now a temporally extended being (temporally extended as in extended in B-time) who has all of the B-times of my life as temporal parts. In other words, I am the whole which constitutes my life, the set of bodies that represent me throughout every B-time in the block universe. The stage theory, in contrast, states that I am merely a being who exists at one B-time, and am not numerically identical to the bodies that exist at other B-times in my life. Instead, these other bodies are counterparts who identify with each and every B-time as I do with my own. I will be arguing that, based upon our limited experience, that the worm theory is false, and that Eternalist 4D-ists should be stage theorists as a result.


So here is my argument in a nutshell:

P1. The worm theory requires that we are temporally extended beings.
P2. If we are temporally extended beings, then the contents of our experience must include the experiences of multiple B-times together.
P3. Our experience is not that of multiple B-times.

C. The worm theory is false.

P1. is based upon the definition of the worm theory as stated above, so I believe it should not be problematic. The only way it could be false is if the B-times of your entire life are only limited to an instant (which would mean that you exist for literally one instant in the universe’s history). I consider this unlikely since all of us (even the most short lived of us) are alive for at least more than an instant.

P2. seems to me to be a straightforward result of what it means to be a temporally extended being who has temporal parts. If we consist of multiple temporal parts in B-time, each of which has an experience on its own, then we should have all of them together. This means that we are experiencing multiple B-times in our experience. After all even when we don’t accept eternalism and B-time, we, as spatially extended entities, have all of our bodily experiences together, so I believe that for a temporally extended being in B-time, it is merely an extension of that case. After all, B-time, like I said earlier, can be treated like a fourth dimension of space so the analogy shouldn’t be that difficult to swallow, but I welcome objections.

The support for P3. is based upon introspection about our direct experience. My judgement I am not experiencing any other times shouldn’t be illusory any more than my judgement that I am not in excruciating pain, or that I my judgement that I am having a red experience, which I take to be pretty certain.

For me, I find that my experiences are only limited to me sitting here typing up this post at this time and nothing else, and I believe that a similar finding would hold for you too. Of course, this sort of experience is very limited, representing only one B-time (or at best an almost instantaneous duration of B-time). But surely it is not an experience of my entire life in the block universe. This experience of me sitting in my room in front of my computer is not had as part of any other experience or together with other experiences. Thus, I find that the experience of me sitting in my room represents my total experience, which should by definition include any experiences at every B-time or spatial location in which I happen to exist.

If anyone were to disagree with P2. , then they must not only show why (in light of the reasons I’ve given), but also, in light of P3., propose an explanation of why we only experience one B-time. Though I do not know all of the possible explanations, I doubt that this can be done without privileging a specific B-time (a big no-no for an eternalist who believes they are all equivalent), in particular the B-time in which we only experience, since that is ultimately what needs to be explained.

So if the argument succeeds, the worm theory is shown to be false, and Eternalists should give it up in favour of the stage view. I believe that the stage theory elegantly avoids these issues pretty easily since according to that view our existence is limited to only a single B-time. In turn, this would mean that our total experience would also be limited to a B-time as well. As a result, they are able to accept that our experience is had in accordance with P3.

Thoughts? Comments? Objections?

I have little time to read this now, but this thought has been the cause and the very reason of entertaining this very idea,for a long albeit short time. You are the very first person to bring it up in this forum. Very exciting. Be back later.

Very briefly and inelegantly, and perhaps paradoxically, certain illogical phrases jump up; extension, (through time), identification and identity

The key concepts imply the idea that an extension can not occur instantaneously, therefore defining eternity.But why must we exclude an instantaneous extension through an eternal time?

If identification occurs through a totality of B Block eternal existences then, they are not differentiable in the first place,
and they are eternally extended regardless of how they are defined.

The mutual identification resists the tendency to identify on basis of timeless models, their eternity consists in relative extensions through space-time, in the sense of constituting familiar, resembling recognitions of identifiable parts.

Have no problem with that.The only problem I do have is with the apparent loss of a Stage, where a B Block superseding the two types may not be differentiable.

Thanks. This problem for the worm theory has been thrown around here or there by some in the philosophy of time (such as Balashov and Skow), but I’ve never seen a thorough discussion of it anywhere. Unfortunately, it has often been overlooked for various reasons (my current guess is that the notion of existing at “multiple times” can often be misinterpreted, even by eternalists, which would lead them to regard it as a nonissue).

Not sure what you mean by “instantaneous extension”. “Instantaneous” means unextended, so how can it have duration in B-time?

Can you elaborate on what you mean here?

Are you suggesting that there is a spacetime worm that is identifies with the entire block universe? I can certainly imagine beings who are extended throughout an infinite worldline of an immortal creature inf B-time (if there are immortal conscious beings out there), but what you are suggesting is much bigger than that.

I don’t see how me a moment ago could be equally real to the present me, because the experiencing me doesn’t experience past or future events [except as memories felt in the present], and that is the only aspect I cannot understand as information alone. Not withstanding how messy the maths of that quickly gets. Even a vague attempt to discover the identities of things in that blur, would fail. Ergo there cannot be a continuous string of agents, akin to a movie.

  • because of that, there can only be an eternal reality, with an existential facet. Something like; a finite party is manifest from an infinity, but because one party has no limits, the other limited party must continue to exist - forever.

I think it would be best to stop you right there before moving on. I believe that your claim that I cannot be experiencing the “past” or the “future” appears to refer to the notion of the “past” and the “future” ala the flow of time. Of course, if the claim is that I am “experiencing the past and future now”, then that sounds nonsensical since now here cannot by definition include the past or the future.

The eternalist, however, is not making this sort of claim, as they explicitly deny the flow of time and in turn the notion of the past and the future. The events within 2018 and 2016 that they take to exist now are not taken to also be “in the future” "or “in the past” respectively, but rather are located within this dimension called B-time. It is Block Universe, which is the sum of all B-times including that of 2018 and 2016, which can be said to exist now.

Similarly, I argue, it is not problematic to have multiple experiences within B-time together in the same sense to how I experience multiple bodily sensations within space together.

Extension implying space/time, as differential, is conceived in an imminent time, as conceived initially. An imminent extension implies a differentiation of time and space. This imminence is constructed reversely, in a manner which utilizes the logic of induction,not available at the point of imminence, which has developed a historicity, another construct which is deconstructed in the present future of that Block.

I will try to continue, right now I have to take my grandson to a basketball game. Later.

Your “eternalist” is in serious need of a definition of “realness” or “being real” or “existence”. Void of such an unambiguous definition, his entire theory is for naught.

In my world, if something has no affect on anything at all, it doesn’t exist. And that would mean that if it only affected the past, then it only exists in the past. And if it only exists in the past, then now, in the present, it doesn’t exist.

Because a worm doesent exist in real time does not imply it has no effect. Perhaps space time expands and condenses above limits where the identification pre that state no longer encompasses reality as we can know it, or can even perceive it as such.

Sorry for the delay.
The argument put forward suggests an infinitely extended imminent Being, The point is that to tie qualification of that extension to any single aspect of reality is tantamount to reducing the argement, much the same way.Russell’s ‘’ was reduced.into absurdity

The suspension is retained, when we can differentiate the two types of reduction:.that of phenomenological from the eidectic.

bee the man

I suppose if we are stood on the outside looking in, that perspective would yield time as all tomorrows/yesterdays. What we know of our reality here and now, is that things exist only for a relativistically brief moment, and that our experience is of that I.e. now.

An eternity or all-time, would surely be non affecting, otherwise change would happen backwards as well as forwards, yet it measurably doesn’t. that doesn’t mean there can be no eternity, it just means that if a world or realm like that exists somehow, it cannot be experienced in the existential present.

Most important is the ‘what created god’ issue; what creates the eternal? ‘Its just there’ doesn’t compute. I can’t see how there can exist an eternity which always existed and has no means of existing. Apart from an emptiness of course.

Einstein did speak about all-time;

The possible fallacy here is that he is only saying that an objective concrete now cannot exist, but from that concludes that all-time must exist. However, there is no reason to say that there cannot be a fuzzy approximation of ‘now’, and not an infinite expanse or dimension of time. Infinity = without limits and has no cardinality, time does, even if it is not exact. The problem here is that all along the line we have been assuming that reality even has fundamentals like the infinite and finite [objects]. when reality itself doesn’t obey any of that, it just take infinity and then reshapes it into universe and not an infinity. That’s the same thing being reused in an impossible fashion - because we view it as impossible. Without any fundamentals reality has no such limits.


That may be reading into what he is saying. Maybe his premise is more grounded in logic then phenomenology, than it is grounded in either or the other.