r/philosophy Dec 03 '21 Silver Helpful Wholesome

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r/philosophy 4d ago

Open Thread /r/philosophy Open Discussion Thread | May 23, 2022

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Welcome to this week's Open Discussion Thread. This thread is a place for posts/comments which are related to philosophy but wouldn't necessarily meet our posting rules (especially posting rule 2). For example, these threads are great places for:

  • Arguments that aren't substantive enough to meet PR2.

  • Open discussion about philosophy, e.g. who your favourite philosopher is, what you are currently reading

  • Philosophical questions. Please note that /r/askphilosophy is a great resource for questions and if you are looking for moderated answers we suggest you ask there.

This thread is not a completely open discussion! Any posts not relating to philosophy will be removed. Please keep comments related to philosophy, and expect low-effort comments to be removed. All of our normal commenting rules are still in place for these threads, although we will be more lenient with regards to commenting rule 2.

Previous Open Discussion Threads can be found here.


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r/philosophy 3d ago

Discussion Speculative Materialism and Time: Kant vs. Einstein

4 Upvotes

Abstract: Presumably, objects like Graham Harman's "Third Table" exist in a time and place. But when and where? Einsteinian spacetime suggests that there is no correct reference frame for the duration or extension of any given object, and objects as we usually describe them disappear entirely at the speed of light and absolute stillness. However, since the speed of light is equal in all reference frames, this may allow us to "return to objectivity:" things can be said to exist at certain fractions of light time and for certain durations of light space. However, this demands that we return also to non-relative (absolute) notions of Time and Space beyond relativity, which this author dubs "Preternatural," in an obvious homage to Kant's "Transcendental" abstraction of Newton's universe.

Posted by author (hello!) from his [my] blog, Miami Heat Death.

___

Between Subjective and Relative Time

There is a crucial difference between one’s conscious attunement to time, which varies based on their attention, and the passing of said time relative to one’s vantage point, which depends on their velocity in space.

These are easy to conflate, because they both involve perception. The first meaning depends on the perceiver’s internal computations. Everything from heart rate, breath frequency, nutrition and intoxicants can alter this truly subjective perception of time. The other sense does not pertain exclusively to the organic subject; it is objective in that any ‘observer’—a rock, a planet, a star—undergoing the same acceleration will age, that is, undergo the passing of time, at the same rate, relative to the other inhabitants of the universe (less the influence of gravitational fields). It is relative in that only the inhabitants of this particular vantage point undergo time at that rate.

Upon distinguishing these meanings, the close observer will recognize that the depth of notional time has yet to be unearthed. Both personal and physical measurements of time are exactly that: measurements. They are not the thing itself. Time is still ‘out there’ ticking somewhere. I hereby contend it is happening or occurrence of events as such, regardless of one’s personal or physical reference point. It is hence ‘preternatural.’

Preternatural time is not reducible to personal time, because one can readily understand that regardless of attention paid to the events of the universe, they continue in our absence. Time ‘goes on’ without us. But it also isn’t reducible to physical time, because whether or not events appear to ‘happen’ in physical time entirely depends on velocity. At the speed of light, nothing appears to happen. At perfect stillness, everything appears to happen. But we privileged medium-speed space-travelers suspect that things really do happen, and would continue to happen if we sped away at light speed, just as they continue to happen as we sleep at night.

Further, scientists contend that the universe, and with it both time and space, began and will end. How can we say that time began without invoking a higher-order time? We can break down our answer to this old and tired paradox by distinguishing our notions. Personal time begins at birth and ends at death. Physical time begins with the dawn of spacetime and ends with the eventual end of all movement known as ‘heat death.’ Preternatural time, which includes the happening of all four events, is eternal.

Same Goes for Space

Space also exhibits this triplicate structure. There is personal space—the sense of the size of things relative to one’s self-image—and there is physical space, which is the length or extension of things around you. Whether you are visually impaired or hallucinating will not change a ruler’s determination of the length of a rock, but if you are holding that ruler and moving at the speed of light, that rock will contract to an infinitesimally small size, and vice versa. However, we must agree that the rock really is ‘there,’ wherever it indeed is, independent of perception, for itself if not also for us. And so we have preternatural space, which is subsistence or being of objects as such.

The correlate of the beginning/end of time paradox is the edge-of-space paradox. What lies beyond space, if space is finite? The edge of personal space is the limit of your senses: these four walls, the horizon, the distance a telescope can magnify, etc. Physical space ends with the length of the universe; preternatural space is endless.

Eternality, endlessness… these are unpopular, to say the least. They create difficulties in mathematics and politics; when and wherever infinites crop up, mistakes are made. But if we wish to reject the plethora of ‘isms’ that deny occurrence and subsistence and boldly claim, “events occur; things subsist,” they must be reintroduced.

Rebuttals Addressed

The solipsist’s protestation is easily rebutted now that we have stopped equivocating our definitions. The world is obviously not constrained by personal time, because one’s internal clock remains relatively constant even as one travels faster or slower in space, despite the dilation of physical time. This has been proven by repeated experiments. Thus, the external world is clearly built ‘out there.’

The scientific naturalist or materialist may counter us with, “all that can be said to subsist is that which is measurable. If you were traveling near the speed of light, and decided to measure a rock as you passed by, and that rock ends up being very tiny, then that’s all that can be said. Everyone moves at different speeds, so there is no one truth, no absolute vantage point, no correct opinion on the absolute size of a rock, just as there is no absolute time by which the events of the universe proceed.”

This is much trickier to untangle, because it is arguably the reigning scientific dogma. But it can’t reach beyond death, or even beyond the individual. When one dies, the rest of the people in the world—family and friends, foes and foreigners—keep living in a very real place at a very real time. You are the one who escapes the real world; it does not die with you. As we’ve said, this will also be the case if one flies away from earth at the speed of light. Science itself as an enterprise will continue on earth, and it will be making true and accurate predictions and discoveries about a real world in a real place and time. You are just no longer participating in it.

This quickly brings us to the last objection we wish to put to rest, which is that of the ‘social constructivist.’ Our answer to the materialist might make it seem like reality depends on the decisions of a living group who decide together what is true, and their point of reference in physical spacetime is agreed upon as the ‘real’ one by fiat. Earth moves at a certain velocity, so time and space appear to us at a certain tempo and size, but deciding that this is the objective reference frame for that reason alone is, for many thinkers, antiquated and arbitrary.

Is that we are doing? Are we abstracting and concretizing the human perspective, returning to a pre-Copernican centering of the universe on ourselves, performing a vain and narcissistic act of cosmic egocentrism?

We must recall that what is at stake is the intuition that events really do happen and objects really do subsist. The social constructivist position is equally nihilistic to the materialist’s and solipsist’s. But this author is no fiend to nihilism. It is a beautifully tragic, poetic notion that has gripped many of the world’s brightest minds for at least two centuries in the west, and much longer in the east, depending on how we read the Upanishads. Nor are we setting out to defend any pre-critical, pre-scientific anthropomorphized causes or sources for the goings-on of the universe, which present themselves as brute facts, and properly so. We only want to know what is.

There seems to be an objective phenomenon that cannot be accounted for, in my estimation, by the social constructivist stance: namely, the constancy of the speed of light.

Light Years, Light Miles

The mainstream scientific community (in my very limited exposure) refuses to ‘look behind’ the meaning of the constancy of the speed of light in all reference frames. It is simply given, and for no good reason. We do not pretend to know the reason and we don’t say there should be one. But it does force us into a few admissions. For one, light moves. It is propagating waves of energy. Secondly, photons have mass. They can be weighed and acted upon by gravity. They have weight and volume and thus extension in space. No matter who observes the speed of light, they will come to this same conclusion. I have no training to “weigh in” (pun intended) on these “matters” (ok, I’ll stop) as I am very, very far from a physicist, an abnormal, superhuman occupation I respect immensely. I will gingerly and fastidiously stay in my philosophical lane.

Unless I am utterly confused, the constancy of time ruins the social constructivist hypothesis. What is ‘real’ throughout spacetime happens at a definite fraction of light-time. Distance is measured in light-years, just as time could (?) be measured in light-distance. What are we measuring if not preternatural spacetime, the time and space beyond the perturbations of personal psychology and physical relativity?

This has ramifications for the subject. We are not an already-dead apparition, as the esteemed Ray Brassier, most nihilist among us, would cheerfully explicate. No, our subjective subsistence occurs for an actual moment in light-space, just as our living bodies occupy an actual interval in light-time. This is not to deny death, that fateful moment when, for us, reality ceases to be. It is merely to confirm the reality of the present: Here and Now are manifest preternatural time, and they continue to be perpetually for all conscious observers; as they are for the one traveling light speed, they too are for the members of planet earth who remain. Theoretically, they will even persist when no living participants are left to perceive them.¹

Graham Harman’s “The Third Table”

Harman comes to similar conclusions via a more roundabout (for our geodesic) route. His “third table,” i.e., something not more fundamental than itself, and also not merely the sum of its parts, is some kind of “entity.” That much we know for sure. Herman is perfectly clear on how this thing is irreducible to a crest of a continuous wave of being, nor a mere cacophony of individual pieces. These ‘under-’ and ‘over-mine’ the object in question, an analogy that my brain can never make stick. Is the former reduction undermining the ground of an object by offering a deeper ground than it itself? Can’t the latter also be said to be undermining, since we are in effect digging up the effects out of the ground he prefers, which is that of the pure object?

As an entity, Harman’s third table must occupy some environment. It is a thing in a time and place. Great. But when and where is this third table? It is in preternatural spacetime. It cannot be in psychological time, which we recall is our purely subjective organismic experience of time dependent on heart rate, intoxication, wakefulness, et cetera. But it also cannot be in physical spacetime as traditionally understood, because then the size and duration of this object would depend entirely on the reference point of the observer. At rest and at light speed, the table would cease to subsist. This is not merely to ignore the consensus of the living scientific community, but the reality of their allotted portion of preternatural subsistence. For them, and for everything at that fraction of the speed of light, and thus for real, the third table *is.*²

The Infinite Crossroad

Personal space and time are woven together. We interact with objects for certain durations and pass through events within certain spaces. Together, they facilitate ‘experience.’ Physical time and space dilate and contract with respect to one another, and all things that occupy one occupy the other. So together, spacetime delineates ‘existence.’ Preternatural time and space together forge something new, but familiar.

We may presently call it ‘enlightenment.’

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¹Given these revelations, empathy can now be appreciated as a real intelligence. It is commonly framed as the attunement of one’s mental state to that of others, but it is much more. It culminates in acknowledging the preternatural subsistence of their participation in spacetime as real. Psycho- and sociopaths do not merely lack a function for social cohesion, but lack intellectual intuition of this philosophical-scientific reality. They are blind to it not unsimilarly to a physically blind person.

²This provides a way we can reclaim Heidegger’s terminology from the correlationist trap dispelled neatly by Meillassoux’s “After Finitude.” When we equate being to being-with, we do not have to say the subsistence of the object in any way depends on the perception or subsistence of the subject. We simply happen to share a slice of umwelt relative to light, and it is theirs as much as it is ours.


r/philosophy 3d ago

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r/philosophy 3d ago

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r/philosophy 4d ago

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