Lived vs. clock time, or Einstein vs. Bergson pt. II.

1.) Joe and Mary are married. Joe gets into a time machine and goes a thousand years into the future, but gets lonely and marries someone else. Upon return he tries to explain to Mary that he isn’t an adulterer because she was long dead when he married the second time. The justification is nonsense – there is no sufficiently distant time any more than there is a sufficiently distant place.

2.) Joe gets a three-year sentence for stealing cars which he must start serving it tomorrow (January 16, 2099). Joe gets into his time machine, goes a thousand years in the future, and lives out the rest of his life. He then has his corpse shipped back to January 15, 2099 and has his lawyer explain that he was found dead before the sentence could begin. More sophistry – the punishment demanded a portion of his life, not a portion of calendar time.

3.) Joe’s teacher explains to Joe that Einstein has proven there is a block universe and any moment of his life from cradle to grave is already given to some observer, or even to an indefinite number of observers. Joe then explains that he spent a little extra on his cell phone so that it gets coverage everywhere in the universe and works with all possible alien technologies, and so he happily starts dialing around to find the guy(s) who can observe the rest of his life. His teacher clears his throat and sadly has to explain to Joe that the very physical theory that gave him the block universe makes this procedure impossible. The information about how Joe will be then cannot be a signal given to Joe now.


There are at least two different sorts of time here which share significant overlap but cannot be identified. There is a time of life where we take vows and are faithful (1) or must pay in punishment (2) or in which we can receive physical signals (3) and there is a calendar or clock time that is spooled out and chopped up by machines. Calendar or clock time has all the feel of being more objective – just look at those sharp, straight lines that make the calendar boxes or the whirring count of nanoseconds on the atomic clock! But the suppressed premises are both fascinating and legion, like:

a1.) Why is something more objective when it is the result of a process we devised? We don’t normally think of artificial actions or productions as more objective.

a2.) Say we accept Kant’s famous answer in the preface to CPR. Does the a priori concept of time suffice to give us a both the lived time that is essentially bound up with moral life (1 and 2 above) or even the lived time of an observer that enters integrally into physical theory?  (3 above)

b1.) How did we figure out that what we stripped out lived time was exactly what stripped it down to its essentials? What insight into time was this based on?

b2.) Isn’t it safer to assume, by parity of reasoning, that clocks strip things down to their essentials in the same way any measuring device does? In one sense a scale gets down to what’s essential in a thousand pounds of apples and a thousand pounds of oranges, but not in such a way as to make their color, cost or size accidental. We can’t confuse what is accidental to a mode of considering X with what is accidental to X. Putting a 200 pound man on a scale does not prove that rationality is accidental to him.

c.) If clock time is not time in its simplest most essential form, what is it?


*Another paradox here is how relativity theory can be true for Joe if it is based on things that are unobservable in principle to him. It’s one thing to say that we haven’t found a test for something yet or that Joe isn’t clever enough to pull off the test, but to deny any test in principle counts as some sort of evidence against a physical theory.  

Is substance dualism about substance? (pt. II)

Aristotle identifies three elements in substance: tode ti or “a ‘this'”; koris or separability and being to ti aen einai, which Latin Scholastics named by turning the verb “exist” into a noun: essentia. The first two criterion are pretty basic: substance is something you can point at and which can be divided from any other individual. The last criteria is more obscure but also more fundamental – in Aristotle it seems to end up meaning form (and whatever else form needs). This is why Aristotle in De anima II will describe soul as substance (along with what the soul needs) and why substance pure and simple is what is form pure and simple, i.e. the separate forms that Aristotle concludes Metaphysics VII  with or that he proves must exist from motion in Metaphysics XII. When he considers nature as such he knows that form alone is not a possibility, and so in that discourse essentia is form and the matter that form needs, though even here he insists that nature is more form than matter (the inconsistencies that some commentators have tried to hang on Aristotle on this point can be cleared up by noting that speaking about to ti aen einai as cuch is not at all the same thing as speaking about it in nature).

Now if we raise the question of what “substance dualism” of the human person would mean under this sort of scheme many questions immediately vanish and other ones come into sharper focus. If we limit our account of substance to the first two criteria we might get our taboo Cartesian dualism, but this becomes untenable as soon as the third criterion enters in, though for incompossible reasons. If the person were a separated substance that for some unknown reason happened to be tied to a body at the moment then we wouldn’t have substance dualism – the substance would be the soul pure and simple. On the other hand, when form needs something other than form the form is not a substance though it is still “more substance” than the other thing. Under this description form is a part of substance as opposed to a substance while it is uniquely comparable to the whole. Either way, there is nothing deserving of the name “substance dualism” in Aristotle’s description of substance. What we have instead is a much more interesting description of the person as not his soul to the extent that he is a natural thing, i.e. to the extent that he is mobile in Aristotle’s sense and therefore an unactualized self. 

(And now to shift gears entirely to a highly speculative first-draft eschatology)

Christian anthropology and eschatology beg to be grafted onto this sort of scheme and to provide it with a logical development. The separation of soul from the body is the moment when further unactualized possibilities of either perfection or degradation cease. Human virtue can longer be improved or lost and vices can neither plunge into further degradation nor be repented of. Note carefully that this is true so far as we are talking about the unactualized possibilities that are properly natural, i.e. that fall within the ambit of the cosmos as it is presently constructed. All that the person has achieved or failed to achieve as a natural being has come to a close and stands in need of a definitive judgment. But there is no need to describe the soul as looking back to nature as the domain of unactualized possibilities. A separated soul is not in a state a privation like a mutilated animal since mutilation differs from death by the continued function of some integral or essential part, and if any body part is integral or essential to the separated soul then the very notion of a separated soul is contradictory. The separated soul is a complete person but is no longer an ens mobile. He no longer looks back to the domain of unactualized natural possibilities nor has any ontological orientation to it.

The resurrection of the body is not necessary because the soul has some unsatisfied longing to return to the cosmos but because the person shares a common destiny with the cosmos that is itself destined to be remade and born again. Just as death marks the point where all cosmic possibilites of the person cease and are judged, the apocalypse of Christ marks the point where the possibilities of the cosmos come to an end and are reborn without judgment into beatitude (the cosmos, after all, never sinned). Man is remade and resurrected only in the context of the definitive rebirth of a new cosmos – “new heaven and new earth” –  though he must enter into it after a judgment his actions as a member of the cosmos that has passed away. In his own passage from the cosmos, he was judged only on his own virtues and vices, but in the general judgment he must be judged for all the effects his just or unjust actions had on others, whether human or non-human.


Is substance dualism about substances?

Aristotelians who hold that soul and body are separable cannot be considered substance dualists according to their own account of substance since Aristotle explicitly distinguishes substance not only from accidents but also from the parts of substance (see parts 2 and 5) and he defines soul and body as parts of a hylomorphic composite.

For that matter, Plato can’t be considered a substance dualist since he doesn’t regard the body as substantial, but only as a fleeting accident projected on the screen of the spacial-void.

It is only in Descartes that we get soul and body divided as a res from a res, but even here it would be silly to think that Descartes thinks that both are equally substantial.  It is very doubtful that he would ever say that matter has anything like what the self discovers in the cogito since it might exist but it is certainly not a self, and extension never suggests anything like the ontological concentration and self-setting-apart that one needs for a bona fide substance.

This is not just a dispute about language but points to an oversight in our accounts of substance dualism. If all we mean by “substance” in substance dualism is “what can exist separately” then everyone becomes a substance dualist about everything. We can donate organs, graft cells, tissues, and tree limbs, mix chemicals to form compounds, break apart the parts of atoms etc, and so everyone is a substance pluralist – even materialists. Again, any act of reproduction involves some part of a thing breaking off and attaining its own existence (this is true of both reproduction in the normal senses and of generating an identical twin. For that matter, it’s true of any cell division or DNA transcription) and so all these things should involve “substance dualism”. But this is probably an indication that we aren’t hitting what we’re targeting with the word “substance”, since even Descartes’s division of a res from a res isn’t enough to give us a duality of substance except in the sense that everyone accepts it.


The most well-understood and agreed upon personality trait in the FFM is neuroticism, or the tendency to experience negative emotions. The word is more popular as the name of a mental illness or irrational tendency and, to be honest, the FFM description of it is hard to distinguish from this. While we don’t know exactly how many negative emotions one should feel and so it’s not clear that neuroticism is an irrational or diseased response to the world, many other indicators point to it being a trait with no discernible upside. It’s hard to give a plausible reason why nature would select for neurotics, the trait is a good predictor of heart disease, and having no standard for how many negative emotions a person should feel seems to be an argument for never having them at all. Positive feelings are better than negative ones when all else is equal, and the absence of any standard makes this the case.

My N-levels are on the higher side of average while my wife’s are very low. I’m the one cursing at traffic while she tells me that it’ll all be fine and I’ll make the flight; I’m the one who talks to others by telling jokes about what went wrong that day in while she smiles about all the fun and interesting things she did and all the problems she solved; my insomnia gets caused by all the things that could go wrong or the things I did wrong and hers gets caused by thinking about all the things she has yet to plan or do. Since both of us are equally sincere and rational, it’s hard to see what the upside in my approach to the world is, and the more I monitor negative emotion the more it seems irrational and even an absence of insight. After all, things normally work out, most of what you think you botched are things that other people thought were either great or that they didn’t even notice, and even if neuroticism gave some insight it would be hard to argue that it was worth an increased risk of heart attacks.

So neuroticism is a confused and maladaptive response to the world –  a cross to bear and (we can hope) to be retrained. It was a tolerated mistake in our evolutionary history, like our bad backs, relatively narrow hips, or our propensity to any other disease. All the ancient ethical systems sought to train us out of neuroticism: Stoicism insists that our responses are up to us and that we should reject the disheartening, Epicureanism saw the whole point of ethical habituation as minimizing psychic pain, and Christianity divinized the command to not worry, revealed that all works out for the good of those who love God, that and commands that we should rejoice always.

God in the gaps theology

1.) The problem with the God in the gaps is that we name something divine which deserves to be brought to light as caused naturally.

2.) Naturalism: once you’ve given an account of where the thing came from and what it did, what else is there to explain about it?

Both can be interpreted as a natural theology that sees God as the cognitive horizon. St. Thomas did not have a horizon metaphor but his metaphor of God as the light of intelligence comes to the same thing: both are things that objects must enter to be seen but, in entering, must be divided from what they enter.

In the First Way, this horizon-light is suggested by the fact that moved movers can be infinite while never being total. In the Second Way, it is suggested by the fact that an efficient cause is necessary beyond the ones that form intelligible models and systems of interaction. In the Fourth Way, God is horizon-light within which we can place any transcendental predicate which has a relative relation to another and thereby forming a whole from the multitude.  The horizon-light is that in which things arise (3rd) or are intelligible by their ends (whether this is in existence or operation… the Fifth Way)

The Berkeleyan theory of the world as a sort of thought-veil that God projectively-perceives and we passively-perceive can be taken in the same way. For a separated intelligence prior to the beatific vision, this veil is the the intellect itself onto which God project-perceives the forms that

The (underappreciated) Medieval problem: If these are all creatures, are they substances or relations? At the level of metaphor, you might as well ask the congregation whether the veil hides the bride or identifies her.

An ontological argument

Consider the following predicate:

The English language.

In knowing what the predicate means, you concomitantly get information that such a thing exists. Behold! An Ontological Argument! The same would be true of other predicates: vision (since you read it) reading (ditto) meaning and, as Descartes figured out, self or person or thought. Even if we grant that no predicate considered formally contains information about whether it exists concretely this does not rule out other features of a predicate that can provide information about concrete existence.

This is relevant to Anselm’s proof since it is not limited to a consideration of the predicate that than which, etc. or greatest conceivable being as taken formally but also includes a reference to the one who hears his argument and understands the terms and the referent. This makes it perfectly analogous to the Ontological Arguments given in the first paragraph where, in diverse ways, the mode of knowing the predicate provided information about its existence, even if, like Kant, we insist that an existential judgment is never required from any predicates considered formally.  

God, nature, individual.

-I don’t know the history of the capitalization of “God” in English, but it obscures as much as it reveals. We lose sight of the word as speaking of a sort of thing.

-The complaint that “this doesn’t prove the Christian god” probably involves some confusion over arguing for a sort of thing, which theistic proofs can do, and proving something about a distinct individual, which is more a forensic argument than a philosophical one.

-The various problems of induction make it clear that we can’t just generate natures out of individuals, that is, we can’t see the individuals as known first and the nature as being pulled out of them. Individuals might flesh out a nature already or simultaneously known, or give existential content to a nature given as an innate idea, or serve as “reminders” in a Platonic sense, or serve as confirmations of abductively given natures, but to assume that they can just be generated from individuals is a dead end.

-Existence is not a predicate (i.e. belonging to the nature) only when nature and individual are distinct. If I can’t just read a definition of tachyons in a dictionary and know if there are any individual ones this is only because they’re the sort of thing where nature and individual are divided (This is tautological). The difference between Anselm and Kant is that Anselm thinks this is a feature of the objects one is speaking of whereas Kant thinks it’s a feature of human cognitive power. Anselm thinks he can just say “Sure, you can’t look at this nature and know if there is one – but look at that one and things are different” Kant, however, thinks that you look at either nature with a cognitive power that is incapable of deriving existential information from predicates.

-For Berkeley, Hume and Goodman, individual and nature are divided as being from non-being. Nominalism is not the claim that universals exist only in the mind, but that they do not even exist in the mind.

-If we identify a way in which a logical or formal inference could have been otherwise, the inference is fallacious. But every time we reason about that which has a nature differing from individual there will be a conclusion that could have been otherwise.

Vatican I as a charter for rational criticism

Vatican I declared infallibly that God can be clearly known by rational proof but did not give the proof or even confirm that we had found one yet. This is, in fact, all they could have done – they can tell philosophy that it’s taken a wrong turn and committed a theological mistake but they can’t tell it how to do its job.

These sorts of decrees are usually taken as undermining the credibility of Christian philosophers by determining the results of their inquiry in advance. This is true up to a point, but it misses the more important point that by not advocating any particular theistic argument the Church is allowing for the possibility that all the arguments we presently have are fallacious and so are impediments that need to be broken down and thrown out of the way.

In other words, for all we know Vatican I gave a dimension of religious fervor to the criticism of natural theology. Philosophers can’t borrow any light from its infallible decrees to give them a clue about what to think of the cosmological argument or the role of religious experience or the transcendental capability of the principle of causality or Berkeleyan All-is-perceived-in God arguments, etc. For all one can tell from reading Vatican I, natural theologians are in the state of third-century astronomers arguing over which circular orbits best describe the motions of the sun and planets.

The monkey typewriter hypothesis

1.) At infinity, probability disappears, since things are only probable if they can be otherwise at some time.

2.) One gets not just Hamlet or all the books in the British museum, but all of them backwards. Any signal will be buried in infinite noise. All possible information would not be usable or accessible. Sure, we would account for complexity, but how would would be able to locate it in anything outside of us?

3.) One doesn’t get all outcomes if they are tied to a time constraint: to get Hamlet fifteen minutes into one monkey typing is possible, but it does not become possible at infinity.

4.) It is a mistake to think that because we cannot be astonished to the point of incredulity at complexity arising from chance at infinity we therefore have a reason not to be so astonished at the claim that it arises in a finite time, or even in any finite time.

5.) We slip into a cosmological gambler’s fallacy when we think that a longer finite time (“billions and billions” or whatever) is more relevantly like the infinite than, say, twelve minutes. Infinite time does not make some possible outcome necessary because it is a really big number of trials but because it does away with any time for a possible outcome to exist, and so requires that it be actual. But this is exactly what can never be removed from a finite time.


An element in contemporary philosophy

There are four stages to a distinctly contemporary approach to philosophy. There is something like this approach in the thought experiments in ancient philosophy (like the ring of Gyges) and in the doctrine of possibility that Anselm adopts in his Ontological Argument, but it never was a dominant element in either Ancient or Medieval argumentation.

1.) Ockham’s Razor. One of Ockham’s fundamental principles is that you shouldn’t believe things you don’t need to. You ought to cut out everything not necessary. Said another way, you’re obliged to throw out everything whose opposite is possible.

2.) Descartes through Hume. Descartes adopts as a pure heuristic the idea that nothing allowing the least doubt is necessary. By the time we get to Hume, this is clearly stated as a conceivably criterion: anything conceivable is also possible, i.e. not necessary.

3.) Any narrative or made-up name is conceivable.  Our ability to tell a story about something or even say what a word means is taken as proving its real possibility. We don’t need to prove anything is possible (the way, say, that St. Thomas had to prove that the beatific vision was metaphysically possible.*) it’s taken as given as possible if we can tell a story about it, or even if we can coherently describe what we might mean.

4.) The storytelling principle. And so we hit on a distinctly contemporary belief that we should not believe anything if we can tell a story about it being otherwise or we are obliged not to believe something that is opposed to an idea that we made up. 


*It’s crucial to note the auxiliary verb “can” in the title and in the proof. He’s trying to prove something can be, not that it ever happens.

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