Growing block universe

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According to the growing block universe theory of time (or the growing block view), the past and present exist and the future does not exist. The present is an objective property, to be compared with a moving spotlight. By the passage of time more of the world comes into being; therefore, the block universe is said to be growing. The growth of the block is supposed to happen in the present, a very thin slice of spacetime, where more of spacetime is continually coming into being.

The growing block view is an alternative to both eternalism (according to which past, present, and future all exist) and presentism (according to which only the present exists). It is held to be closer to common-sense intuitions than the alternatives. C. D. Broad was a proponent of the theory (1923). A modern defender is Michael Tooley (in his 1997) and Peter Forrest (among others his 2004).


Recently several philosophers, David Braddon-Mitchell (2004), Craig Bourne and Trenton Merricks have noted that if the growing block view is correct then we have to conclude that we don't know whether now is now. (The first occurrence of "now" is an indexical and the second occurrence of "now" is the objective tensed property. Their observation implies the following sentence: "This part of spacetime has the property of being present".)

Take Socrates discussing, in the past, with Gorgias, and at the same time thinking that the discussion is occurring now. According to the growing block view, tense is a real property of the world so his thought is about now, the objective present. He thinks, tenselessly, that his thought is occurring on the edge of being. But we know he is wrong because he is in the past; he doesn't know that now is now. But how can we be sure we are not in the same position? There is nothing special with Socrates. Therefore, we don't know whether now is now.

However, some have argued that there is an ontological distinction between the past and the present. For instance, Forrest (2004) argues that although there exists a past, it is lifeless and inactive. Consciousness, as well as the flow of time, is not active within the past and can only occur at the boundary of the block universe in which the present exists.

See also


  • C. D. Broad, 1923. Scientific Thought. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.
  • David Braddon-Mitchell, 2004, "How do we know it is now now?" Analysis 64: 199-203.
  • Bourne, Craig, 2002, "When am I?" Australasian Journal of Philosophy 80(3): 359-71.
  • Peter Forrest, 2004, "The real but dead past: a reply to Braddon-Mitchell", Analysis 64: 358-62.
  • Merricks, Trenton, 2006, "Good-Bye Growing Block" in Dean Zimmerman (ed.) Oxford Studies in Metaphysics. Oxford University Press.
  • Tooley, Michael, 1997, Time, Tense, and Causation. Oxford University Press.

External links