Three Notes

Love and Containment: You’re walking around in some place, say a mall, and looking at no one in particular. They are all in the place. Then you spot your favorite person to talk to (or, in a pinch, an extremely attractive face). They are not in the place, but the place is in the person. In the experience of consciousness the light switches from the mall being what is formal and definitive to the persons to the light focusing on the person and having him become what is formal and definitive of the place. If something you loved enough happened there, it would define the place for you permanently.

The opposite experience of experiencing something horrible in a place and having it define the place is not another instance of the same sort of thing, for space exists to facilitate  the perfection of the higher forms of life; the extent to which this doesn’t happen is either accidental or reducible to moral non-being.

This is a twist on the idea that whatever is, is somewhere (i.e. in a place). Even if we limit the axiom to the cosmos, there is a mode of being in beyond those that were enumerated in pre-20th century physics and metaphysics.

Science as Messiah Figure: The popular narrative of science is that it is a perfection of claims that were imperfectly made by “religion”. The mad lib goes something like this:

For (multi-century time span) the riddle of (any philosophical term or problem) has engaged the  deepest thoughts of the deepest thinkers. But now, exciting new developments by (name of science + ists) at (secular university) are shedding new light into the greatest questions of all time.”

Okay, okay, stop gagging.

More or less corny versions of the same thing are easy to come by: religion tried to solve this problem, but now it’s time we got serious about it and give science a try. Science is the savior of a fallen and inadequate “religion” that could not save us. But the basis of comparison here is not obvious, even if we take it as given that both are trying to explain the same object. Architectural accounts and moral accounts can both be about the same thing, say prisons. There might even be some overlap in the two that gives the illusion that the they are comparable; or perhaps you happen to live in a time where the architects are particularly skilled and the moral theorists are particularly bungled, and this too might make the one account be an infinitely more perfect account than the other.

The universe is too small, therefore man is insignificant. The idea that the vastness of the universe makes a person insignificant is an old one, but it must be the expression of something deeper, since one can also feel insignificant if he is placed in a cramped and tiny room.  What if we found out that the earth, sun and dome of stars was all there was?  Can’t you just hear people saying “well, if that’s it, then…” Either way, one is voicing some sort of dissatisfaction with the universe. We’d probably find something dissatisfying about the universe being exactly the right size (whatever that is). I don’t mean by this that we are crabby, depressive, or Eeyore-ish (I don’t think Pascal was simply mopey when he was terrified by the size of the universe)


  1. RP said,

    December 30, 2012 at 4:51 am

    Besides place being beholden to consciousness it seems there is a metaphysical notion of place (I don’t know what it is) which is not Aristotle’s definition as he talks of surfaces. This is just a coordinate system waiting to happen and off we go down an erroneous path.

    However, he got time right: a counting of change with regard to before and after. SImply, we make a cut in the continuum giving a discrete point (accidental form) which provides intelligibility (the continuous is unknowable because without form). Usually this cut, a measurement, is counted by some regularly changing event we call a clock. Nevertheless, time is nothing but a mental thing.

    What I suspect is that space too is nothing but a mental thing.

    That would mean Genesis is right: “In the beginning…”, say, 12,000 years ago when Adam – the first numberer of time and measurer of space – time and space started.

    It seems so strange to say space is a mental thing the notion is probably wrong. It’s all confused with “Let there be light”, that is, a limiting of the velocity of light. But I’m quite certain about time.

    Supposedly in the inflationary period after the Big Bang space expanded from smaller than an atom to a 100,000,000 light years in something of the order of 10 to the minus 36th second. It wouldn’t take much adjustment in theory or observation to say it expanded to 12,000,000,000 light years – more or less what we observe now.

  2. thenyssan said,

    December 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about your first note (which I like very much) since you posted it.

    It seems like you have two competing claims going on here and I’m not sure how to resolve them. On the one hand your main thrust seems to be that space is the context for higher forms of life as opposed to “absolute space;” on the other hand It almost sounds like you are saying that these same higher forms of life generate space. I’m not sure both can be true. Are they?

    • December 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      I think what I’m saying here requires Buber’s Metaphysics that what most of all deserves the name of being is the I-thou relation, as opposed to an “it”, though I’m here trying to approach it by a basic experience. It seems to me that even if we call everything in experience an “object” or “a being” that the encounters with the ones we love are not the same objects as others, and that the former more deserve the name of beings.

      The claim of the post goes further than this, saying that “being in place” is not the same thing for loved objects and mere objects. This might have been easier to approach not through denying that place were the same but by denying that number can mean the same thing. I might be at a bus stop with three persons, and they are three in the sense of mere numerical division, divided by matter signed by quantity. But my three kids are not three in this way. Tied up with being kids is an irreducible uniqueness that is not multiplied. I can never say “James, Francesca, and Felicity” the way I say “Tom, Dick and Harry”. Again, I remember (before I had kids) when I heard a news story of a guy who had seven kids and had just lost one to a terrible accident. I remember thinking that it was sad, but that it was some consolation that he at least had so many left. I realize now that this was complete nonsense. To lose a child doesn’t leave anything – children simply aren’t one of a group. They are just themselves and that’s it, even if you have more than one, and it is just this sort of being that is most of all what being is, since being as such is modeled not on an “it” but on God who is fundamentally a relationship of persons, though in such a way that the persons cannot be taken as multiplications.

      The different sense of place is related to this – the repugnance of the loved to enumeration has effects on how they are “in place” (in the physical sense) Place in the physical sense is separable and homogeneous and so is the proper place of the homogeneously enumerable. The loved must therefore have a being that transcends it, though not a transcendence that consists in being in a place different from the one here.

      • thenyssan said,

        December 30, 2012 at 7:56 pm

        (What I’m driving at is the way we speak of heaven as a place–something I’m always looking to do better)

        This “place of love” must be more properly place in the same way that I-Thou is more properly being. Heaven is not nowhere–it’s the truest-where.

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