Causation and Time Reversal

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 71 (1):177-204 (2020)
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Abstract

What would it be for a process to happen backwards in time? Would such a process involve different causal relations? It is common to understand the time-reversal invariance of a physical theory in causal terms, such that whatever can happen forwards in time can also happen backwards in time. This has led many to hold that time-reversal symmetry is incompatible with the asymmetry of cause and effect. This article critiques the causal reading of time reversal. First, I argue that the causal reading requires time-reversal-related models to be understood as representing distinct possible worlds and, on such a reading, causal relations are compatible with time-reversal symmetry. Second, I argue that the former approach does, however, raise serious sceptical problems regarding the causal relations of paradigm causal processes and as a consequence there are overwhelming reasons to prefer a non-causal reading of time reversal, whereby time reversal leaves causal relations invariant. On the non-causal reading, time-reversal symmetry poses no significant conceptual nor epistemological problems for causation. _1_ Introduction _1.1_ The directionality argument _1.2_ Time reversal _2_ What Does Time Reversal Reverse? _2.1_ The B- and C-theory of time _2.2_ Time reversal on the C-theory _2.3_ Answers _3_ Does Time Reversal Reverse Causal Relations? _3.1_ Causation, billiards, and snooker _3.2_ The epistemology of causal direction _3.3_ Answers _4_ Is Time-Reversal Symmetry Compatible with Causation? _4.1_ Incompatibilism _4.2_ Compatibilism _4.3_ Answers _5_ Outlook

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Matt Farr
Cambridge University

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