Time v. kinesis (pt. 2)

-Start here: If mathematical things move they are not in time. We can imagine a secant turning into a tangent, but the derivative takes no time, we can imagine two circles with the same radius being placed on top of each other, but the journey takes no time. Why so? because the intermediate is inessential. If this is right, then time is essentially of the intermediate.

-Magicians exploit the fact that when a thing moves from A to B, the human mind edits out the travel in between. The rational disregards the intermediate, the temporal. Neither logic nor mathematics needs it. How long is modus tollens? Celarent?

-If time is of the intermediate, presentism has something to explain. If “the now” alone is real then time is not. “The nows” are negations of time which only exists between them. Presentism is thus a denial of time, not an opinion about its reality.

-Time marks a hiatus between intelligible things or borrowed intelligibility.

-A-theories want the reality of time to be taken from the now separate from any extension, B-theories from its extension untethered from any now. Both are aspects of its reality as intermediate-to-nows.

-Middles are both constituted by beginnings and ends (A-theories) and divided from them (B-theories).

Time v. kinesis

-Aristotle defines time as a sort of number. It’s any count of the parts of kinesis ordered by things like in front of and behind, stages of development, or relation to the parts of some other motion (a second hand, a pendulum, etc.)

-Making time a number is how A. avoids Zeno’s paradoxes, since time is always actually some unit and never actually a continuously divisible magnitude.

-Time is always many while kinesis is one. An hour can’t mature and a second can’t get to a destination. Both can only repeat.

-Kinesis is one from its goal, fulfillment or specification.

-Calculus or the theory of limits is not a response to Zeno. His theories are critiques of motion and time and approaching a limit is not a motion and takes no time. How long does a derivative take?

-Euclid I.4 is not a motion. How far apart are the triangles? How long does it take?

-Just because you imagine a line moving does not mean that lines move any more than measuring something in a dream makes it just that long.

-Descartes allows two things to be true in dreams: mathematics and the self.

Motion is continuous because it is infinitely divisible but time is continuous because it has no first or minimum unit.

-Time as such has a unit but not a minimum one while motion as such has no unit at all.  This is what A. means when he says that Zeno confuses potential divisions with actual ones. The actual divisions are whatever unit of time one chooses to take and its multiplications, not the potential divisions of motion that allow the time unit to be as small as one pleases.


Berkeleyesque immortality

1.) For Berkeley, a being that exists by itself would have to be a self-perceiver, since what doesn’t perceive itself requires another as a condition of its existence.

2.) The non perceptive thus cannot be self-existent. This includes the inanimate, but also includes mere animal life since sense organs do not perceive themselves. The eye can see pictures or reflections of an eye but neither of these are animate organs (neither can go blind, for example).

3.) To exist by oneself first becomes possible for intelligence and is impossible outside of it.  Some self-perceivers clearly begin to exist, but this “beginning” applies to them so far as they have been concretized in animal, organic existence, which we know from (2) need not characterize every dimension of a self-perceiver.

A Berkeleyesque cosmological argument

(A cosmological argument that operates from the interesting assumption that the universe is a necessary being.) 

C = what is conceivable to some mind. This means inter alia what can play the role of a true premise or conclusion in a coherent and true system. This is why complex numbers, four-dimensional space, and immaterial souls or angels are not picturable but are still C.

U = The totality of physical things. The universe or multiverse, whichever theory pans out. We operate under the hypothesis that it exists necessarily.

Assumption: there is not an infinite history of minds going back as long as there has been a U. As far as anyone can tell, this is wildly true and such minds only go back for a vanishingly small fraction of its existence.

1.)  The possible is C. (axiom)

2.) C exists relative to a mind. (by definition)

3.) U is possible. (look around)

4.) U exists relative to mind. (1, 2, 3)

5.) If U exists relative to a mind that is not necessary then the universe is not necessary.

6.) U exists relative to a mind that exists necessarily. (consequent of 5 is contrary to hypothesis)



From the MP:

Patrick Grim gives something like the following argument. What I know when I know that

1. I am making a mess

is an indexical fact that no one else can know. At most, what someone else can know is that

2. BV is making a mess

or perhaps, pointing to BV, that

3. He is making a mess.

I remember Craig giving an analogous argument, which generalizes to any subjective experience. Nagel’s bat shows that any sensory apparatus has a subjective fingerprint that no outsider can be aware of. But it is either obvious or silly (but which?) to say that God doesn’t know what an itch feels like, and that he is in the same position as we are when we try to imagine what it’s like for a beetle to relish manure.*

The argument has a lot of logical possibilities. There is something incommunicable about the subjective, to be sure, and we need to preserve that. Raising the question of God presses the problem of individuality and existence, which Reichmann showed was the fundamental opposition between Thomas and Scotus. One suspects the problem goes all the way up to the question of the individuality and existence questions of the Trinity, and that this awaits a further development.


*My suspicion is that black widow or praying mantis males would be very offended if their spouse didn’t eat them.



A generalized demarcation problem

The demarcation problem is a name for our failure to identify criteria that can distinguish science from pseudo-science, in spite of there being two such things. In the absence of rational criteria, we get clarity on the difference from various institutional-cultural institutions, like the consensus produced by university gatekeepers though peer review (which generates, by definition, peer pressure), grants, prestige, and other stick-and-carrot means.  Like most institutions we expect it to do reasonably well (or at least better than an every-man-for-himself chaos) though it will come at a cost of group-think, elitism, the occasional witch hunt etc..

The demarcation problem generalizes to our failure to identify any meta-criterion for what counts as legitimate discourse or belief. Kant’s famous attempt to articulate meta-criteria for thought, which concluded to limiting it to an intuition of Euclidean space distinct from linear time turned out to be no limitation at all, and Davidson pointed out that the very idea of a conceptual scheme – a finite scope or limit to human thought that could be determined in advance – requires us to posit a language that is in-principle untranslatable, which is to speak of something that has to meaning. Heraclitus was right – you can’t come to the borders of thought, even if you travel down every road. We simply can’t articulate a domain of acceptable belief in general from which we can identify the auslanders.

This is true of religion as well. By our own resources we can know there are pseudo ones and truer ones, but the degree of clarity we want in this area is going to have to be borrowed from an intellect other than our own. The various religious institutions are attempts to make up for this deficiency in reason and provide us with clearer and more precise articulations of true religion in exactly the same way that we get it in the sciences. That a westerner tends to accept Christianity arises from the same sort of process that makes him tend to accept scientific consensus. He walks within the ambit of various institutions that are designed to help him toward truth, and they almost certainly succeed at this more than he would succeed if left solely to his own lights. Anyone who thinks he can easily identify true science while no one can identify true religion is right in a sense, but he doesn’t recognize how heavily his belief is resting on institutional power.

Scientific institutions are for now more self-confident and declarative whereas religious ones are more self-questioning and pluralist. There are upsides and downsides to either mode of existence. Confidence is fun but it comes at the cost of the things mentioned in the first paragraph; pluralism is prone to doubt and timidity but it comes with benefits too. The wheel of time might very well flip all this around again and we might find ourselves with a more energetic religion that gets to enjoy confidence but loses the benefits of dialogue. Or not. More love of religion doesn’t give me any light to know which one is preferable.

Fleshing out “a necessary being”

Leave it to the imagination and we’ll form only primitive and ridiculous ideas of a necessary being. When I catch my own imagination I’ll find it visualizing contingency by a circle popping onto a screen and then off again, which I guess makes necessity a sort of screen-burner existence. At other times necessity seems to be announcing itself as a sort of extremely durable stuff (diamond would be too distracting or flashy, so maybe something more like the gray plastic they used to make “Unbreakable” brand combs out of.)

All nonsense, of course. Necessity is first of all the rational, which Plato says explicitly in the Timaeus and which Bertrand Russell is assuming when he tells Copleston that necessity is a feature of propositions. This rationality is most evident in mathematics and logic where it is seen as belonging to them as formal (or abstract) systems, and it needs to be extended to some degree beyond these in order to allow for the axiomatic principles that structure various discourses, though we’ve taken to calling these sorts of things “logic”.

But this seems to lead to a crazy idea of a necessary being as a formal or abstract idea. But isn’t such a being supposed to be real and active, and even personal? We encounter the Euthyphro problem in a different application, confused over how the greatest possible being can be both an unchangeable ideal  (a formal abstraction) and also a god (an intelligence or living).

But the answer, as Augustine figured out, was in ourselves, since man himself overcomes the opposition between the abstract and the concrete. My abstractions are concrete as mine and abstract as themselves. It is precisely this that allows you and I to share the same idea, for the same idea is both one between us and wholly contained in two. Human beings in fact have only the most primitive means of overcoming the abstract and concrete: angels can share the very act of their intelligence as such without having to transmute it into some sensible form first, and the divine, as it turns out, shares not just his intelligible act but even his act of existence among Trinitarian persons.

And so “necessary existence” is really communicable existence, i.e. existence that can be shared or taken part in. A “necessary being” is first of all only a logical abstraction which is communicable but does not exist of itself. The human person in which the abstraction exists transcends the opposition between the abstract and concrete by attaining to a mode of existence where his life itself becomes communicable.  Human beings lack necessary existence to the extent that they are closed off from others, and greater degrees of necessity are indexed by transcendent degrees of shared life, at the limit of which we find the Trinity and the communion of saints.

(Q: If you run necessary being through the Fourth Way, and you assume the Trinity is possible, does it follow there is one?)

On despising politics

The Qualifications:

A.) This goes without saying, but the politics of reading and discussing Plato, The Federalist, Marx,  STA’s defense of Mosaic Laws, or even the untelevised statecraft that horsetrades and hears people out is not the politics I’m talking about. And no, it’s not always easy to divide this from televised politics, but I think we can all manage.

B.) Part of this is simply personality – my “A” score is zero. No, seriously zero. 

The Case. 

1.) How can everyone not be disgusted at the vanity of it all? Shift a news cycle, and everything one cared wildly about is deleted and replaced with a new outrage. Weren’t we just at war with Eastasia?

Coheleth’s word vanity was hebel whose first meaning was breath or smoke. The analogy is perfect: smoke oppresses and dominates the senses of everyone in a closed room but floats off harmlessly out of doors. In an artificially restricted consciousness vanities so dominate that they are the only things on your mind, but they’re meant to float off as the harmless waste products that they are.

2.) True political thought (cf. A) is at its best when, holding to a clear principle, it is capable of seeing multiple points of view, presenting them in the best light, and attempting to articulate the justice that each side anticipates. If anything, it is an immunization against televised politics. I can’t imagine anything more opposed to Plato or Publius than pre-packaged totalized ideologies or “arguments” resting on appearance and taboo.

3.) The centerpiece of televised political “thought” is the prediction. It’s been demonstrated that these predictions fare worse than chance, i.e. it would be more rational to base your political predictions on the entrails of birds or flipping a sacred coin than to trust your own cogitations about them. But the deepest problem with these is that they confuse insight with self-fulfilling prophesy. Mary “predicts” that Bill is “coming to take her rights away” because she can see Bill’s character and understand his motiviations. She’s probably partly correct, but she’s also creating conditions that make that action more likely: cutting off solidarity with him, upping the antagonism so that neither side can resolve conflicts except by violence, forcing Bill to find friendship and companionship with the other people Mary thinks are coming for her, etc..

4.) Just as the prediction has found an all but impossible combination of stupidity and fallacy, the gaffe found an all but impossible way to combine irrelevance, uncharity, and lack of imagination. Obama makes an off-mic comment to a donor at a rally and ten years later people still incant it as though it were the deepest, most telling insight into his personality (as opposed to, I dunno, him making conversation, telling someone what they want to hear, a crack made in frustration, a lame attempt to be funny or smart, a momentary emotion that he had no strong desire to act on, a needle in the haystack of even the words he said that day, etc.) ditto this for Dan Quayle reading a cue card with the word “POTATOE”.

5.) I’ve mentioned many times before that what was called politics until about a century ago can’t be compared to what we call politics now since politics is not scalable. The 10,000 citizen association that Aristotle was thinking of when he spoke of man as a political animal, or the Friary or 300 member parish that St. Thomas had in mind when speaking of the common good as the highest good can’t be scaled up six orders of magnitude to the 300,000,000+ modern USA. I take a great deal of pleasure and fulfillment from the smaller social networks I’m a part of, but I’m quite sure that I’m closer to the common good by going to a public debate about a traffic semaphore than in voting in a national election.

6.) Look, on average people buy more stuff when they’re fearful or outraged. The news isn’t informing you, it’s prepping you for commercials.

On falsifying faith in a divine word

One can’t believe that God said X to those he loves and that X is false, and in this sense it is absurd to talk about what could falsify faith or to think that a believer is naive or engaged in special pleading for lacking falsification criteria.*

Arguendo, all our beliefs might be mistaken, but it does not follow that all can have falsification criteria, only that, say, what falsifies our belief in X is impossible to specify before we find ourselves calling it false. I may go from believing the gods tell me to cut out the hearts of my enemies to believing God tells me to love my enemies, but this does not make it logical in either case for me to specify falsification criteria. I can only have a general openness to truth and see what I find. I cannot be open to changing my opinion but it’s contrary to experience to say I only ever do things that I was previously open to doing.

Here’s my basic point, which I think is given from both reason and experience: Just because you might get a good reason for changing your mind does not mean you could have had that reason in advance, even as a vague sketch or outline. And so one can recognize that he might be wrong about anything he believes and still insist that it is impossible for him to give any criteria that might refute his belief in the divine word, or that he is even open to the possibility.


*Look, “falsification” only survives in the shallower end of pop scientism. The idea is dead among most philosophers of science and many Naturalists. That said, it’s important to note that “falsification” means not just identifying something that would refute your belief but also treating it as a possibility that you can’t dismiss a priori. And so even though falsification criteria have been largely abandoned, a more restricted view of falsification that ruled out exactly what faith wants to do with experience might still seem rational. So briefly, we can distinguish

a.) Popperian, traditional falsificationism: P is scientific iff it is falsifiable. (This idea has been abandoned.)

b.) Weak falsification: It cannot be rational to rule out some historical or physical facts a priori. (Faith claims to do even this on the basis of divine testimony while no other discourse claims to do so.)


On a recent free-will experiment

Scientists recently gave test subjects a task that they could only perform correctly 20% of the time but the subjects reported doing it correctly 30% of the time.

(take a minute to ask yourself what conclusion(s) you would draw from this over-reporting)

While one natural interpretation of this would be to say that the participants were lying, the scientists eliminated that possibility by giving the participants slightly more time to think about what they were doing, which caused their reported success to fall to 20%. The scientists concluded that free will was an illusion, arguing that our “choices” are, in fact, subconsciously determined behaviors that get post-hoc justifications geared to painting us in a more flattering light as free, independent, and more successful than we in fact are.

This experiment is valuable but overly limited by the presuppositions of the contemporary neuroscience-free will debate. We can throw more light on the findings if we shift to another interpretive register, in which the experiment manifests something like this:

1.) The object of freedom is truth. This is the true heart of the experiment. The disconnection between word and reality or thought and reality is exactly the evidence that proves one is not free. The experiment would have been far more appropriately done by a group of evangelical scientists trying to manifest the truth of Jn. 8:32, and I say “manifest” because the experiment assumes that the truth makes one free, and then finds a conclusion in keeping with this.

2.) There is a flattering lie in the heart that enslaves us. Since freedom is impossible apart from truth and we find some subconscious tendency away from truth, our subconscious is to some extent enslaved. Most of us are willing to admit to the more minor manifestations of this corruption of the heart: telling fish stories, leaving off unflattering details, making close calls in favor of ourselves, etc (and this is most likely the sort of behavior that the experiment was observing). But this corruption of the heart is often far from innocent: I’ll clean up my act tomorrow, I deserve a little fun, I’ve had a hard day and can’t live without it, I’m just doing my job/ following the rules, If you wanna make an omlet…

3.) The lie is a sort of self-assertion. The experiment is really saying “we have a subconscious bias toward our own competence and ability, even to the extent of rejecting truth”. Exactly. But there is already a vast literature in place that has explored and named this domain. The general name for self-assertion-unto-the-rejection-of-truth was sin, when sin enters into consciousness it becomes culpable, and when the culpable becomes habitual it becomes vice. These illusions of vice congeal and support each other in collective ways to form what Augustine called a city that was based  on the assertion of self to the rejection of truth.

4.) The free will-neuroscience discourse is a subconscious metaphysical-ethical system. From the point of view of this system, describing it as such is seen as “debunking” it, but this is just one of the disagreements I have with the met.-eth. system in question since I say met-eth. can be true. Their system can introduce general concepts like “illusion” but not “pride”; “subconscious” but not “the heart”, but either description is just as well borne out by the facts.

The scientific fact is seen as separate from values except where the values themselves are scientific (viz. skepticism, passing peer review, citing borrowed sources, being secular, etc.) Scientific values are assumed to have a worldwide acceptance which is simply observed and in no way created by the scientific establishment. Obviously, thirty seconds of reflection completely dispels this… uh, illusion. The scientific establishment is recent, conventional, and in no way arose spontaneously but is rather a system of institutionalized gatekeepers that intentionally (but more often systemically) patrol scientific values by a hundred different means. Again, I don’t say any of this to discredit the truth of the values, only the claim that the consensus arises spontaneously, has always existed in some form for as long as there was “science” (as opposed to being created between the World Wars) and is preserved by only by the innocent and free desires of reason itself and not by hundreds of different sticks and carrots.



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