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A book of science-inspired philosophy that suddenly starts to sound insane two-thirds of the way in. I retraced the argument and found the whole last section depended on a point covered VERY briefly, to wit:

Suppose the universe is deterministic. Now define the property P as being true at a given moment if and only if, were that state of the world run forward 100 years, some person on Earth would then be wearing two neckties at once.

Next, suppose that I decide it would be nice for property P to have been true 99 years and 364 days ago. All I have to do is wait a day and then put on two neckties. Presto! But my actions can't have caused property P to be true in 1909; causation as we understand it only works forward in time. Therefore, says Drescher, there is such a thing as an "acausal means-end link". And from there it's off to the races with a translucent-box version of Newcomb's Problem, which aaaaaagh never mind, the point is that I don't buy it.

I've run into "property P" before, and at first I thought this usage was obvious garbage-- just playing with words to make a future turn of events be "in the past". But of course, in a deterministic universe, property P really is a property of May 22, 1909, even if we have no way to evaluate it until tomorrow.

Anyway, there's a lot of relevant philosophical literature I haven't read, so I might be barking up the wrong tree. But I was not moved to make Drescher my guide on the topic.


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Dorothy Fennel

February 2016

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