Today I have another writing prompt to respond to with philosophy instead of fiction. This time it’s about time. (Conveniently, time is another one of my favorite topics.) Once again it originates from tumblr.
Time travel is a surprisingly well-explored area in philosophy. Freezing time is similar to time travel in some ways, though I’ve yet to come across any papers involving time freezing. (A few quick searches on PhilPapers and in Susan Schneider’s Science Fiction and Philosophy didn’t yield anything, either.) So, here I will consider how time freezing would work given a variety of theories of time.
Theories of Time
There are two main questions to answer regarding how time operates, at least as far as time freezing is concerned:
- Is the present special?
- Do the past or future exist?
If the present is not special, the latter question is irrelevant. We have the B-series of time wherein all times are equal and “now” is just an indexical. That is, “Rick and Morty is on TV right now” just means “Rick and Morty is on the TV at 15:41 on 2017-06-29″. This is similar to how we don’t usually think of here as being special. I’m sitting here, but this chair is no more existing than any other chair.
If the present is special, then the existence of the past and future can be brought into question. If they both do, we have the full timeline already existing, but there’s a sort of “moving spotlight” going along the line, wherever that spotlight is being “now”.
The other extreme is presentism: there is only now. If we add the past we get the “growing block” theory wherein that which already has happened is still existing or real, but the future is still unwritten. The other option, wherein the future already exists but we burn the past behind us, is at least conceivable, though I’ve never heard of anyone thinking it’s true. Since it could make for interesting writing, I’ll consider it.
So, let’s consider each of these theories and how freezing time would work. By “freezing time” there’s two possibilities. One is that time itself stops, but the freezer is able to move about. The other is that everything besides the freezer just stops moving. The latter is at least conceivable under any of the theories. The trickier bit is making time itself stop.
With the B-theory, time is just the sequence of everything that happens. Thus freezing time would be nothing more than many actions fitting into one simultaneous event. Now, for naps this might not be too bad. Naps already take no perceived time, so the napper would merely be energized all at once rather than with chances for interruption. Since time does not actually move with the B-theory, there’s really nothing to freeze. Since time is static in the first place, you can’t make it more static.
Presentism on the other hand has no time other than now, so to make now last longer has to mean something else. (Under any dynamic theory it is always now, but presentism adds the extra challenge of leaving nowhere to stall a spotlight or keep the cube the same size.) As far as I know, the best way to put time is as the changing of objects. This would mean there really is also nothing especially temporal to freeze. All objects would quit changing, less the ones the freezer interacts with, and this is all there would be to time being frozen. As far as a nap goes, since perceptions while napping do not change, napping is already effectively freezing time, just with a jump at the end.
The moving spotlight offers a nicer example of time actually staying still. While the freezer moving about would be tricky to explain without appeal to other things not, it may instead be explained as the freezer being able to move while the spotlight stays still. The trickier bit for this and the next two theories is that the spotlight staying still (and being able to change as it does) is that it brings in a sort of hypertime. Time may move at one second per hypersecond, and then some power enables you to maintain your hypervelocities (length per hypertime) even as velocity (length per time) becomes undefined because no time passes as you move. (The trickiness with hypertime is that if there’s hypertime, why not hyperhypertime, hyperhyperhypertime, etc. In fact, a whole arms race could be made of this! Alice can freeze time, but then Bella can freeze hypertime. And then Carly can freeze hyperhypertime. With the right odd affinity for dimensional analysis, I’m sure this could be used for a unique plot.)
Naps would be less interesting here. You’d get a bit of extra rest by only using hypertime while time waits. That you continue to age would mean your lifespan would be shorter by some hours but the same length in hyperhours. (Or experienced hours, except for that you threw those away with that nap!)
Growing block and shrinking block (the handy name I’m giving to the present and future existing) operate in more or less the same way. Growing block is, for these purposes, moving spotlight with the future undetermined. That doesn’t really affect freezing time. Likewise, shrinking block is moving spotlight without a real past. (Admittedly, I don’t know what the payoff of that is. Maybe there is one, but usually the payoff of no past is nothing to determine the present. But since the future is already set, you don’t really get radical freedom.)