Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Wes Musing

In Time and the World Order Sellars writes:

"Now in the thing framework it is things which primarily exist, and in the 'event'framework it is 'events' which primarily exist. The contrast, in each case, is between items which are named (by both proper and common names) and the items which are either contextually introduced (e.g., events in the thing framework, and 'things' in the 'event'framework) or are at bottom linguistic entities (thus qualities, relations, facts)." p.594.

I bring this up for two reasons, both of which I hope are interesting.

1. a. When we talk about spacetime or spatiotemporal locations, do we run into a problem with pure processes? I mean by 'pure' 'objectless'. Sellars is interested to motivate that we may well end up with fundamental processes and not fundamental particles. We always could, as it were, conceptually cut up particles; or we could just focus on an event framework which tracks something like a C# through time.

It seems to me that a C# is an objectless process, just like a lightening flash. I guess, in a sense, a C# C#s, and a lightening-flash lightening-flashes. But even if we grant that in some sense a C# or a lightening flash is an entity, it doesn't seem to be a thing like a table or a chair, or like a electron or molecule.

So: I assume that a pure process is in time, since it is in the event framework. Need it to be in space? I hope it is still in the causal order, even if it is objectless.

2. Sellars seems to have something like Dorr's notion of superficial existence and fundamental existence in mind. In our framework we have a model and a commentary. The linguistic entities that are qualities, relations, facts, etc. are not pictured in the model but are given in the commentary. So it seems we could attribute to them a sort of superficial, albeit highly useful, existence. The fundamentally existing stuff, the events or things of the framework, are given in the model and have a sort of real and physical existence.

Someone who is 'just friends' with propositions might offer such a notion to show that propositions exist, even though they don't have a physical existence. If propositions occur, they may be like pure events and be in some sense objectless and without a spatial location. Does this really matter?

We might imagine:

````/ \```————————``|||||`````
````\ /`````````B``````````C``````

Which is a crude-as-hell model. This is the commentary: A is Jones. B is the 'says' relation. C is the saying 'Hello'. I want to say that the model is in the world, that Jones is in the world, that his saying occurs, and that what he says is in the world. I want to say that Jones has a spatial location, but not so much that his saying or the thing said does.

Might I not give a new commentary: A is Jones. B is the 'thinking' relation. C is the proposition that it is cold. Can't I make the same moves and give us propositions existing? It seems that either the proposition modeled by C is fundamentally real and in the world, or superficially real and in the commentary. It seems to be fundamentally real and in the world to me.

I hope this is not too crude or too obscure. Please tell me what you think.


Dan said...

It doensn't seem to me like a pure process would be in the causal order. Consider the programming of a robot. It has well-defined processes. It, say, recieves input, writes into memory, performs output actions etc. All these things might conform to a process, but I'm not sure it would be correct to say that the process causes all these things. We've already identified the causes of all these things.

Wes McPherson said...

That is interesting.

I guess if the causal order is physical, or a physical notion, then perhaps this 'narrow' definition would have processes or events in time fall outside of it.

Perhaps these are in some sense epiphenomenal?

Might not all sorts of mental events end up falling outside of the causal order? Isn't there still a sense where events can cause each other?

I suppose that this is not necessarily a problem, however.

Dan said...

if by 'process' you mean a sequence of physical happenings, then I suppose they'd be within the causal order. But if it's a type of sequence of physical happenings then it wouldn't be.
What does 'epiphenomenal' mean?

Wes McPherson said...

Consider a C#ing. It seems that the guitar string vibrates at a certain frequency, and that this vibration reaches our ears and causes a sound, a C#. If the C# is a pure process, there is just the event of the C#, even if it was caused by things like vibrations, etc.

To claim that the C# is epiphenomenal is to claim that it is caused, but itself has no causal power. Like Professor Bailey likes to say, it is like the babbling of the brook. The C# or the babbling seems to be emergent from / ride on top of a sequence of physical happenings.

I'd be comfortable with saying that an event is a physical happening, even if it is strictly speaking only a temporal happening. I take it that happenings don't have to be spatial, but have to be temporal. I guess I'm soft, because this seems good enough for me.