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When we think of the future, it very naturally seems to be ‘open’ – a realm of unfixed possibilities, awaiting the choices we make now. But are we right to think about the future this way?

Some philosophers argue that the only way to explain the differences in how we look at the past and future is to employ a certain ‘metaphysical’ picture of time. According to this view, time itself is unfolding, and the future has very different basic properties from the past. According to a ‘growing-block’ theory of time, for example, events in the past and present exist, but events in the future do not – they are yet to be. The reason, then, that we think of the future as open is that it doesn’t exist yet. 

But there are at least a couple of problems with this metaphysical approach. Firstly, it doesn’t fit well with science. Fundamental physics doesn’t indicate that there’s anything like a growing-block picture of time, or any kind of account where time itself changes. From the point of view of physics, future events are just as real as those in the past and present – even if we can’t engage with them.

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Category: Science