If the idea of Eternalism as expressed by those like J.M.E. McTaggart and Sean Carroll is true (as much of physics seems to suggest), the idea of the present moment being more real than the past or future is just a biological illusion. If that's the case, then what does it mean for our consciousness to in some sense exist eternally at every moment in our lives? I have to imagine that we're continuously retreading the same path through space-time that is producing the same experience over and over, only experiencing it linearly one moment at a time because of the limitations of our perception. I see this as different from Nietzsche's idea of Eternal Recurrence; we aren't appearing in different incarnations that have identical experiences over infinite time but continually reliving the exact same experience.

Good explanation of Eternalism and Presentism here.

Edit (11/16/21): I actually posed this question to Sean Carroll last year on his monthly AMA and his answer was of course that we don't know what the implications of eternalism are for consciousness, but it has something to do with the nature of the arrow of time and the second law of thermodynamics. The link should automatically go to the correct timestamp, but if not it's 1:43:01. What he said doesn't vindicate my point but it's definitely interesting input into the discussion.

  • There's two different flavors of eternalism, one accepts McTaggart's B-theory of time in which there isn't any notion of a "present moment" moving along the timeline, another is the moving spotlight model where there is. I'd say most eternalists would go for the former idea, in which there's no sense of even a subjective spotlight of consciousness that moves along your worldline, so it wouldn't make sense to ask if it "resets" when it reaches the end.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 27, 2020 at 17:24
  • If eternalism is true the idea of "treading" or "looping" does not make sense, it unwittingly reintroduces some external "time". It would mean that the only real things are causal relations and "consciousness" arranges them into a sequence. It does not happen "repeatedly", it does not "happen" at all, it just is, eternally so.
    – Conifold
    Jun 28, 2020 at 0:20
  • @Conifold - There are some eternalists who believe in an objective moving present, see my link on the moving spotlight model--the defining feature of eternalism is that past, present, and future have the same ontological status, which is compatible with such a spotlight. Historically one can find examples of thinkers advocating an eternalist picture before McTaggart but with a moving spotlight, like the Vaibhasika school of Buddhism, or Charles Hinton's "What Is the Fourth Dimension?".
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 28, 2020 at 15:35
  • @Hypnosifl those are great resources, thanks Jun 28, 2020 at 23:20
  • 1
    why do you see eternalism as needing a loop of some kind?
    – Ewan
    Nov 14, 2021 at 15:00

2 Answers 2


There is no stasis (not even the idea of stasis) without movement, and vice versa. A circulating moving spotlight of a fixed context is thus one at least coherent depiction of an eternalistic universe. What else would categorize such a universe, as gleamed by Hinton, Mach, Planck, Einstein and William James, and succinctly codified by Lawrence LeShan, can be found in a very brief essay I recently published with the Journal of Conscious Evolution


Nietzsche's compelling, robust championing of circular eternalism (minus his aborted attempt to appeal to the wrong physics--having died 5 years before Einstein's Relativity, and unaware of Hinton's Fourth Dimensional musings)--is elaborated in my book, The Illusion of Will, Self, and Time (SUNY Press).


I think you are misunderstanding Eternalism, which to my eyes is essentially just another way of thinking about a deterministic universe.

If the universe is deterministic, there is nothing special about the present. The present is simply the state of the universe at time t and no more or less real than the state at time t+1 or t-1

No reincarnation or repetition is implied. Its just like having a film reel, each frame is as real as any other when its not in a projector. But the film still has a beginning and an end and you only watch it once.

  • If Eternalism is true, couldn't you say that you never "watch" the film at all? To me it seems the projector would represent the "specious present" that McTaggart claims doesn't exist. Nov 18, 2021 at 0:53

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