Metaphysics in Harry Potter (1)

(If you haven’t read the Harry Potter series this probably won’t be fun because I don’t want to have to summarize the scene. Also, it says (1) because we will be doing more metaphysics of harry potter in a few months.)


In this post I will be discussing the metaphysics of time in the book Prisoner of Azkaban. There are two basic theories on time, A-theory and B-theory, and we will hold up the text to both of those theories and see if it will remain consistent.

Key Terms

In the metaphysics of time we have two basic theories, A and B-theory. A-theorists say that time is like a moving spotlight and the present moment is a metaphysically special moment. Existence, on this theory, is a property anything can have and only the present moment contains this property. Thus the future will be, the past has been, and the present is. There are different and more complicated A-theories (as well as B-theories) but we will focus on the most basic form above.
B-theorists state that the past, present, and future are all metaphysically real. The significance of this pertains more to special and general relativity in physics today which claims that time is a dimension space, hence the space-time world. In this understanding time is more like a place and most analogies that work for places work for time. So if you were on the phone with someone in New York and you said, “It is raining here,” and they were to say “It is sunny here,” neither of you are saying the word “here” in an objective way. In fact, there will be no objective “here” the same way that there is no objective “now” (Sider).

On A-theory

          Now, since there are multiple A-theories, some will allow for no movement through time but we will focus only an A-theory that allows us to move through time. On A-theory we have quite a ridiculous situation at hand. The present moment then, what is considered as ‘now’, will have to shift to the past. The timeturner, then, would need the ability to make any time in the past the current ‘now’ for the users of it. This creates a strange situation in which the once-past is the now-present and time would have to move on from that point again. Considering then the case of Harry saving his own life, we are bankrupt. The once-past had been traveled to before (we know that), but for some reason they needed to travel again, thus we got to see him save his life. If things had happened exactly this way before and Harry of the now-present never was able to travel back to once-past, however, then he would not have existed to save his own life.

On B-theory

           Here we have a more consistent situation. On A-theory there are no facts about the future so the freedom of will is ultimate. On B-theory there are facts about the future. So on this theory there is no free-will – at least for this paper. Thus the fatalistic sense of the universe makes sense due to the strange loop that occurs at this point in the story. Space-time is like a parade being viewed from above (the God’s eye view). There is a definite beginning and end and all the events in the middle. It would be best then to imagine this situation like a small circle of participants moving in circle in the middle the parade, for, on B-theory, it is just a fact that Harry Potter lives – thus it is just a matter of fact that he has gone back in time to save himself. This makes asking the question of “which Harry was the first to go back in time” irrelevant since B-theory would, in a strange way, answer “there is no first”.

To be continued….

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