Relationality in nature and out

It’s too early to know what lessons about reality we should draw from Quantum Mechanics, but one that intrigues me is Van Fraassen’s defense of relationality, or the claim that nature is nothing [actual] before interacting. I bracket “actual” since this is my own addition to the theory, the assumption being that interaction does not arise from the pure nihil, but is an actualization of a latent reality. Contrary to Aristotle’s belief, however, this latent reality is not present as an accident in the power of some pre-actual substance.

There is an analogue to relationally in Aristotle’s account of mind, which, on my reading, is defined as being nothing actual before it thinks (De Anima III. 4)Unlike an eye or a neuron which first has to be assembled into an actual structure before it can go on to function, mind is the source of operations without needing to be first assembled or made actual. On the relationality account of nature neither mind nor matter are anything actual before they perform the actions proper to themselves. Thinking-activity does not need soul as some pre-actual subject to support it in being, but nature also does not need atoms or fields as pre-assembled structures that can later go on to leave trails in cloud chambers or act on eyeballs.

One hypothesis is that nature is nothing before it interacts and mind is nothing before it acts. Action in nature never arises from a self except as a part of some collective; mind always acts as a self. The Democratean hypothesis that nature needs some unconscious self to be actual before its action is false: all one ever actually has are interactive systems. He confused natural parts with the parts of a city formed by minds engaging in collective action, and had to invent a zombie self (the atom) as an explanation.


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