This SMBC gets at something that’s often bothered me about the way many people talk about the block universe concept. The block universe is the idea that if the universe is fully deterministic, then its entire history from beginning to end exists in an eternal timeless static block. We are patterns embedded in the block, and so from our perspective, we exist in a dynamic and changing reality. But from outside, the block is like a movie DVD, a static object containing a story, with the beginning, middle, and end already set.
Often it’s described by saying that all of the past events in the universe, including all the people who’ve ever lived, are “still out there right now.” In other words, Julius Caesar, the Buddha, Gandhi, and our deceased relatives are still living their lives “right now.” Likewise, we’re often told that our lives are now part of the block, and that nothing will ever remove that part of the overall pattern.
The overall sense, I think, is meant to be comforting. Albert Einstein if often quoted as supporting this view. But it’s worth noting the context of the quote.
Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.Letter to Besso’s family (March 1955) following the death of Michele Besso,
But what exactly do we mean by “right now” in this context? Certainly not the same now we mean when we talk about our current plane of simultaneity within the block, a notion that general relativity has rendered into something relative to our current frame. So the “right now” that historical figures and past relatives are still living their lives would have to be a “now” outside of our normal conception of time.
And why exactly should we take comfort that our lives are ostensibly an undeletable part of the block? Who will ever see that part of the pattern, and in what context, being outside of time and space? God? Higher dimensional aliens? I can see a religious person finding comfort in the first answer, but the second one doesn’t necessarily provide me any comfort.
I think the block universe is an interesting metaphysical concept, one that could be true. But I’ve never seen it, in and of itself, as a particularly comforting one. But maybe I’m missing something?