Friday, December 30, 2011

Experience and World as Many-to-Many Relation



Thinking out loud, again, and building upon prior sessions.  This was long promised, and I hope that it is interesting.  Yes, I am aware that many of these topics are discussed in Peirce, Hartshorne, Whitehead, Neville, Corrington, etc., but I haven't read enough of them to engage their scholarship as such on this level.  Besides, I find that being able to generate much of a thinkers insights on one's own greatly aids one's ability to understand the complexities of other's thought, especially when it is careful, formal, and systematic.


Among realists, it is often assumed that the external world is one thing, a unity.  I would argue that the experience-to-world relation is a many-to-many relation.  I take it for granted that no one would argue that experience is at least a many-to-one relation.  Many experiences can be had in one situation.  However, that what is experienced is always a plurality is more controversial.

Experience adds to what is experienced, and thus the experienced world is always more than just the external world.  For example, experienced meaning is not something fully contained in things as independent of the human mind, especially when one holds meaning to be more than mere reference.  Moreover, the world is more than any finite experience, and thus we could experience more.

This would be a trivial observation except that we cannot think either the totality of the world or of experiences of it except as an abstraction.  If we presumed that we could arithmetically sum the disparate experiences, we would treat both experience and world as atemporal, which is false.  The world is not static, but changing.  Moreover, though more controversially, we would treat relations as unreal, which is false.  The spatial and temporal configurations of the world are causal just as much as what exists is causal, and we can think neither the totality nor morphology of spatio-temporal structures such that we could claim to know that the world is one thing.

The problem is that a unified world is assumed in commonsense realism without explaining the unity of the world.  Do we know or experience the world as one?  How does it reveal itself in its unity?  If one insists that realism is meant as a metaphysical doctrine, and thus the issue of knowledge or experience is moot, then I insist that one must explain how one describes what is beyond description?

Assuming naturalism, i.e., that there are no uncaused causes or that causation is “closed” (meant in an algebraic manner), then there is a sense in which the possibilities of experience are real.  I take it is uncontroversial that the potentialities of experience are real, i.e., that given an existential context certain future eventuations are possible.  However, I hypothesize that possibilities themselves, unmoored from any given existential context in contrast with a potentiality, are real.

What does it mean to say that possibilities are real?  I will address two premises required to make sense of the statement.  First, nature is causally closed, which I discuss here and here.    In short, I propose that thinking the totality of nature is possible if we are merely thinking its causal closure.  Again, “causal closure” is a sophisticated way to say that there are no uncaused causes. Thinking  the totality of nature per causal closure is thinking in terms of all the possible transformations of nature given the varieties of natural causes.  Second, and as part of causal closure, I will assume that the varieties of causality is not limited, but that any cause must have an effect that remains within the bounds of nature.  There are no “leaps” in nature that cause discontinuities; hence, I affirm a variant of the principle of sufficient reason.  However, since I do not bound the set of causes, I likewise do not bound the set of effects that are “natural.”  This means that nature can grow, i.e., that nature thought as an algebraic structure is not isomorphic.  In simpler terms, nature need only be continuous, but not self-identical through time.

If nature is creative or “grows,” then time is an irreducible ontological category.  Hello, process metaphysics.  Given all this, the experience-to-world relation cannot be understood as static, because both terms of the relation are multiple and temporal.  Now I will return to the question of the reality of possibilities.

If we accept this processional emergent naturalism, then possibility qua possibility must be real.  Why?  Because causal closure implies that there is an ultimate ontological structure to possibility such that closure and continuity is possible.  Said again, if there are no self-caused causes or no ex nihilo causation, then that formal logical possibility is closed.  (I do not accept the argument that closure is logically necessary, because that inference requires that Being qua Being is bound by logic, which is an assumption.)  This alone is insufficient to convince one of the reality of possibility; for that we must turn to continuity.  If each existence or event is to be related to every other such that discontinuity is impossible, yet we observe a regularity of what and how things are related, then by abductive hypothesis I propose that the possibilities of existence are bound.  Otherwise, the cosmos would be utterly chaotic and permanence would be the exception rather than the rule.  Hence, the structure of possibility must be real, where the “structure of possibility” just means “the possibilities of possibility.”  I believe that the ontological vs. ontic distinction might be helpful to distinguish the structure of possibility from determinate possibilities.  The reality of possibility only implies that in any given situation there are some limitations on the possibilities of present (and future) existence, which is an ontological statement.  It does not imply any determinate or concrete possibilities or potentialities, which is an ontic issue.  

What is the difference?  I reject physicalism, materialism, and all the -isms that posit that reality is of one sort or another.  These  -isms make ontological restrictions on the ontic that are merely posits, bold assumptions.  There may be reasons for doing so, but making those assumptions is neither necessary nor always compelling.

Finally, I will return to the original topic and tie this in.  If possibility is real, then what does this have to do with experience-and-world as many-to-many relation.  Well, if the world contains both the potentialities and (ontic) possibilities of experience, then when we experience the world we experience both what is actual and what might be, i.e., the present and the future.  Hence, the “many” in the “many-to-many” cannot be thought of as an enumerable totality or collective in which calling it a “unity” makes sense.  It is unified only insomuch as it is continuous, but this means “connected” and not “one.”  And thus, the experience-to-world relation is not many-to-one ever.

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