Sunday, 6 May 2012

Something from nothing: Time and hypertime

In continuing the discussion of my objection to Richard Carrier's argument that the universe could arise out of a state of absolute nothingness, I consider the question of whether time could arise spontaneously in a timeless environment.

The crux of my argument is that if time does not exist, then nothing can change. The state of absolute nothingness implies that there is no time. As absolute nothingness is not what we observe around us, we can safely conclude that the state of absolute nothingness has never described reality.
You are still stuck on hypertime. You seem to think we need some "extra" time in which to create time. We don't. It's instantaneous.
This is the argument I will attempt to refute in this post.

Carrier accuses me of assuming the necessity of some sort of hypertime within which events such as the creation of time would have to take place. Carrier is right. I do believe we need a concept of hypertime to describe the popping into existence of time itself. This does not mean that I'm arguing for hypertime -- rather I am arguing against the possibility of time spontaneously popping into existence.

However, Carrier maintains that no such hypertime is needed because the spontaneous creation of time would itself provide the time needed for its own invention. The phrase "to pull yourself up by your bootstraps" springs to mind.

It seems to me we are almost reduced to repeating conflicting assertions. Carrier asserts that time can bootstrap itself into existence, while I assert that it cannot. I will attempt to justify my position.

The concept of instantaneity appears to be central to Carrier's defence of the possibility of the spontaneous creation of time. He makes this point several times, and seems to be under the impression that I don't fully grasp it.
... there is no "waiting around" staring at a nothing state to see if it becomes something. The exact instant that nothing exists, it becomes something. Or not. Depending on what governs what happens.
He also puts the same argument slightly differently, stressing the simultaneity of the creation of time and of the change of state from nothing into something within that time.
But even supposing a past state of nothing, there is no logical contradiction produced if time pops out of it. Because the change of state and the materialization of time are simultaneous. We do not need time to appear first, then a change of state. If there is a change of state, there automatically is time.
However, these same arguments for instantaneity and simultaneity are also key to my own reasons for believing that time cannot spontaneously pop into existence in a timeless environment, as they quite obviously imply that there was never a time in which there was no time! This is essentially the basis of my disagreement with Carrier, and the rest of the post serves merely to elaborate on this basic point.

Firstly, I agree that "if there is a change of state, there automatically is time". Carrier was writing in an informal e-mail exchange and so it would be unfair to fault him for imprecision of language. However, I think the wording of the statement is problematic as the word "automatically" suggests that the state can be changed independently of the existence of time, but once it is changed then time has been created almost as a side-effect.

I would state it instead as "a change of state implies that time exists". This means that either the state does not change or that time exists. As I assume that P1 means that time does not exist, we must therefore infer that the state does not (and cannot) change. However if the state cannot change, and we initially assume the state that time does not exist, then clearly time can never exist. As we do observe time to exist, that means that P1 cannot be true.

However, perhaps Carrier would disagree with my assertion that "a change of state implies that time exists", and so I shall also attempt to prove that time cannot bootstrap itself into existence by an argument from contradiction. That is, let's assume Carrier is right and see if we can derive a contradiction from it.

Let's assume my interpretation of P1 to be true, and label my specific assumption about time P1.1.
P1.1: There was no time in the beginning.
Now, let's assume that time can spontaneously bootstrap itself into existence as implied by Carrier's P3, and  let's also assume that it does so:
P3.1 Time can and does spontaneously pop into existence.
So, the state of reality has changed as we have gone from there being no time to there being time. Furthermore, this change has to happen instantaneously (as Carrier notes). The reason for this is simple, but it may take you a few tries to parse the explanation. There was no time in which for time not to exist before time itself was created, or as Carrier puts it, there is no "waiting around".

But now we are stating that there was no time in which there was no time, i.e. that there was time in the beginning (and ever since). This is obviously in contradiction with  P1.1, and so it is either impossible for there to have been no time (P1.1 is false), or it is impossible for time to bootstrap itself into existence (P3.1 is impossible).

Furthermore, if it is impossible for there to have been no time, this also implies that it is impossible for time to bootstrap itself into existence -- the mere act of popping into existence implies a state where it did not exist in the first place. The conclusion of the impossibility of this bootstrapping seems unavoidable to me.

Therefore we seem to be left only with the question of whether or not time must logically exist, which I have already addressed.

However, Carrier attempts to rescue the position that time can pop into existence by giving an example in which it appears to do just that. In the next post, I will attempt to explain how this example fits with my views on the creation of time.


  1. It's profound. Couldn't fully understand. What is hypertime? etc. I probably tend not to believe that the universe could arise out of a state of absolute nothingness. It's hard to imagine how nothingness creates so much perfect natural laws.

  2. Hypertime is just a name for the time it might take to create the time in our universe. If there is a change from having no time to having some time, then that change has to happen in some sort of time. We're calling that kind of time "hypertime" - a level of time outside normal time.