synthetic zero

August 26th, 2009

A relatively new French philosopher, Quentin Meillassoux, has come on the scene and is making a bit of a splash by trying to salvage a heavily modified variant of realism from what he calls the “correlationist” philosophical schools. One of Meillassoux’s central arguments is that scientists talk about a past which predates the existence of subjects, and therefore one must infer that there is some “ancestral” being-reality which is prior to the arising of mind. I don’t believe this argument holds water, however. Meillassoux is assuming, it seems to me, in a naive way, the existence of a temporal structure to reality; and is therefore attributing a “prior” (in a philosophical sense) quality to events which occurred in the distant past, before minds arose. However, the assumption that the past ought to be viewed as somehow philosophically prior is assuming far too much, it’s bringing in naive physical theories of the world and giving them philosophical significance they do not deserve. Rather, it seems to me, one can just as easily view the so-called past as a retrogressive projection from present observation; a view of the past which is compatible with many interpretations of quantum mechanics, for example. There’s a conflation, in other words, between temporally prior and in some sense metaphysically or philosophically prior; but what is more properly, I think, prior to mind is only Being, but about this we cannot say anything specific. In quantum mechanics it’s possible to think of the past as only inferred from observation, i.e., in many interpretations, in some sense the past doesn’t objectively exist prior to or independent of an observer and of observation; colloquially one can say that the act of observation brings a particular past into existence for that observer, one which can be retrogressively projected back from inferences one can make from the observation. (I am here, merely sketching an argument, not attempting a full refutation of Meillassoux’s arguments with respect to time). The mere fact that one can talk about events “prior” to the arising of minds, in a temporal sense, in other words, doesn’t mean those events do not in a very real and physical sense depend upon their observation now, by minds today. Larval Subjects discusses some rejoinders by Meillassoux to some of the attacks from “correlationists” but I don’t believe these rejoinders work for the reasons I state above. You can see some more of my reasoning about time and physics appended here and I discuss further issues of interpretations of physics in my comments to this interesting post.

permalink |

comment trackback

one response to this post:
  1. Scott says:

    Interesting complexity. Maybe the following has relevance in some way I’ve not quite connected, but as a correspodung tangent: I’ve been thinking along a line of how scientists are able to think beyond our own life existence — into stars whose light now reaching us has burned out at the source, or into a future when human life may no longer — when, for example, our Sun burns out, or when our own planet changes in such a way as to no longer support life. It is intersting how our minds travel beyond it’s own time. Even in conceiving of one’s own grandparents’ childhoods — the mind travels in various time zones other than it’s present.

    August 28th, 2009 at 8:54 am

leave comment


synthetic zero is powered by WordPress

posts(rss) . comments(rss)