KARL JASPERS FORUM
SPACE-TIME : ANAXIMANDER, HERAKLEITOS,
MINKOWSKI - BUT WHO COUNTS
by Herbert FJ Müller
30 November 2008, posted 13 December 2008
Allow me to discuss some of the points you raised in a different context : space and time. Here is a picture of zero-derivation (0-D) for the experience of time and space. Experience is extended, initially without structure and without limits, Anaximander called it ‘apeiron’. Experience also flows, and Herakleitos called that ‘panta rhei’. And in the absence of structure (at most, one could call flow and extension ‘qualia’), they are also not separated from each other, or in any case less distinctly than red from blue, or hot from cold.
‘Space’ and ‘time’ are identified in a clear way only after structuring, which in this case includes quantification (with the aid of structures called ‘dimensions’); the quantification is a defining aspect, there are no space and no time without it. If you doubt that, you have to explain why there are so many discussions about whether ‘reality has’ three or four (or more) dimensions.
But for that to happen someone has to count them (with the help of structures called ‘numbers’) : in terms of (structures called) ‘feet’, ‘pulse beats’, or whatever else is practical. This need for counting is easily forgotten; but in case you forget it and say that space and time exist and are structured in a mind-independent (MIR) way, you claim (implicitly and inadvertently) that extension and flow measure (quantify) themselves in order to become space and time. And besides, since the measuring procedure (‘operation’, Bridgman 1927) for extension requires a different method for from that for flow, the two have become different structures in public opinion.
Because this operational separation had erroneously become understood as ontological (that is, metaphysical), it was a great surprise that relativity required that they re-unite, and that Minkowski announced (1908) that ‘there is’ only space-time. This is actually no great problem if you consider where space and time come from. But it gets complicated when one postulates a primary (ontological) existence of time and space, like affirming that ‘they just are’ ; because they just are not : they require structuring, design, for them to exist. That postulate results in the block-universe view, where ‘now’ is no longer different from other time-‘points’, and free will disappears.
(From Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternalism_(philosophy_of_time)> : ) ‘Eternalism is a philosophical approach to the ontological nature of time. It builds on the standard method of modeling time as a dimension in physics, to give time a similar ontology to that of space. This would mean that time is just another dimension, that future events are "already there", and that there is no objective flow of time. It is sometimes referred to as the "Block Time" or "Block Universe" theory due to its description of space-time as an unchanging four-dimensional "block", as opposed to the common-sense view of the world as a three-dimensional space modulated by the passage of time. - Special relativity has shown that the concept of simultaneity is not universal : observers in different frames of reference will have different perceptions of which events are in the future and which are in the past -- there is no way to definitively identify a particular point in universal time as "the present". However, each observer could have an individual flow of time, rather than there being a universal present moment. - There is no fundamental reason why a particular "present" should be more valid than any other; observers at any point in time will always consider themselves to be in the present. However, every moment of time has a "turn" at being the present moment in flow-of-time theories, so the situation ends up symmetrical. ... ’
This Wikipedia description, which incorporates the opinions of some well known authors, is explicitly based on ‘ontology’, i.e., traditional metaphysics or realism = MIR-belief, the notion that reality is structured by itself, mind-independently. But that requires, as I mentioned above, that extension and flow measure themselves (since they need quantification to become time and space), which is impossible. Complicating matters further, they would have to measure themselves outside of experience.
If one remembers that the start-point is experience and not a fictitious MIR, the measurements are subject-inclusive, and for instance ‘now’ is the only possible start-point of subject-inclusive experience : that is the ‘fundamental reason why it is more valid’ than others. The idea that the future is already there is impossible because it conflicts with experience, which has precedence over the concepts which are or can be designed within it. When that is acknowledged the ‘block’ disappears, because the fictions are then correctly seen to be (erroneous metaphysical) extrapolations from a preceding subject-inclusive procedure. 0-D implies complete de-construction of metaphysics (MIR-belief).
Nor are ‘dimensions’ independent of the measurers : they are subject- and object-inclusive human tools, neither objective-only nor subjective-only. This is not difficult to accept if one considers that the split between subject and object is pragmatic rather than ontic. The ‘eternalism’ in the above quotation is a particularly striking example of the inversion of thinking that occurs when concepts (‘ideas’) are allowed to take the upper hand, that is when they are thought to be primary mind-independent realities instead of human tools, secondary to subject-inclusive experience. Traditional metaphysics can give us the run-around, leading us by the nose.
Herbert FJ Müller
e-mail <herbert.muller (at) mcgill.ca>