Tuesday, July 2, 2013

why a relationless universe cannot be

Take every distinct thing that there is and begin subtracting those distinct things one by one until you get to the very last thing that there is in the universe.  In order to be "that thing," it must depend at a minimum upon those things which were subtracted before it.  Further, you would not be able to subtract "it" if subtraction were not the principle which individuated things to be subtracted one by one.  This thought experiment suggests that relations are actually factors of dependence rather than properties we merely "insert" between any two things in order to subsume that insertion into the category of "thing." 

The self-same identity of a thing is not a simple Fichtean matter of I = not-I.  Rather, it is an issue of dependence in terms of what is being negatedThere exists no thing that is not dependent upon what has come before it, whether to bring it about or take it away (generation and perishing: whatever is is because it comes to be and then perishes); whether to offer a route of how it may develop in a future state (all things suffer change, there is nothing exempt from time if time is part of what a material universe is fundamentally); or some other form of causation.  This is all to say that to be is to affect and be affected by some other.  Aristotle was not incorrect to say that whatever is can be described in terms of causal properties.  We do not live in a static, frozen universe.  If we did, the annihilation and utter extinction of our own universe would not be a possibility.

The minimal relation that nothing can escape is what I call a "triadic" temporal-causal relation, which is required for self-same identity.  There is nothing spooky or magical about it.  Here the cause relates to its past, again, in terms of dependence - all things depend on what has come before it (asymmetrical dependence).  But the identity of any thing (in order to be "that" thing and no other) also relates to a future in terms of what "that" thing can be.  In other words, something can only be what it is with respect to its own past and its own possible future states.  This triadically splits whatever is "its own."  To be "one's own" - distinct, individuated - is to be relationally split into a temporal triadic structure.

To say something is relationless is to say that "that" is not a discrete "thing" which stands upon its own.  To deny relations is a move which in all actuality denies the real individuality of whatever is.  Thus, the self-same individual suddenly disappears without a principle of individuation grounded in temporality.  We would be left with monism without that principle.  Hartshorne has a fine example about those who in the attempt to isolate things from relations are like those who attempt to put four hinges on a door.  In seeking to isolate the door by using hinges on all sides, suddenly the door becomes a wall.

Nothing ever stands upon its own in an absolute totality except (possibly) one being of ultimacy, whose ontological standards of relation and dependence are not just metaphysical, but also theological.  Yet, following Hartshorne further, even that being depends on the world it has created.  But it does so supremely.

Nothing therefore is absolutely dependent nor absolutely independent. Nothing is without some form of relation, even the "isolated" individual we are left with in an all-but-one subtracted universe.  The individual must forever at a minimum relate to its own temporal career in order to possess any distinct integrity warranting "it" as "it" and no other.  Death may be no ones' in particular, but the life of particulars is distinctly each particular's own as much as it is a general feature of anything which is.

Negation may also serve as a standard of integrity, in terms of denying one possible course of action over another.  This being has chosen this particular future, that being another.  No two futures can be identical.  Nevertheless, a being is always related to the possibilities it chooses or denies, to the past it has accumulated.  In other words, time and causation mean relation.  Unless we deny the very reality of time (yet time and matter are one if matter is corruptible), then all is related via change over time.  Here a supposedly outdated existentialism states a rather untimely truth, that of metaphysical "agentialism" - a more broad metaphysical description of how whatever is is by virtue of its dependence upon a non-determined future and an accumulated past.  (Nothing can be what it is "absolutely all at once," for this would invoke incompossible possibles.)

With agency in mind we can simply say this: nothing can escape the triadic modal structure which logically, cosmologically, and ontologically, governs the universe.  Ontological solipsism, the outcome of a relationless universe, is false.