... the voices of the dead
will utter me forever.
Jorge Luis Borges
I’m inclined to think we are all ghosts – every one of us.
For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one.
Albert Einstein's brain resides in a Tupperware container somewhere on planet earth.
A portion has been subjected to histological analysis. A 1985 paper in Experimental Neurology suggested that the brain was endowed with an unusual profusion of glial cells in the left hemisphere thought to be the seat of mathematical and language abilities.
The suggestion is that this may have contributed to Einstein's accomplishments.
We are attracted to such research because we hope that it could lead to injectable solutions enhancing creativity and subjective life.
At the same time, such inquiries raise provocative questions. When we applaud Albert Einstein ... are we applauding the person or his neural anatomy? If 'Einstein the person' is only the initial consciousness benefiting from some physiological wellspring, the most the world owes him is gratitude for sharing.
Indeed, the public might well be thought to share the honour, since we had enough sense to dialogue with Einstein’s neural substrate and facilitate his genius. In other words, Einstein the person was arguably less involved in his creative output than people in his life - inasmuch as his neural substrate was the engine of the creative process and external events.
Of course, the ruminations and reflections occurring during conscious episodes pivoting around his sense of himself were extremely important. Einstein shared many of these episodes in his writing.
Unfortunately, the argument is reciprocal: If a fortuitous neural substrate was responsible for Einstein's productions, then lesser substrates lie behind the tolerances, accommodations and interests that debated with Einstein. Where does this leave us? There is tension between speaking of persons as moral and intellectual agents and scientific, legal and street-level curiosity about persons’ organic and cultural precursors. We may not be able to give the Einstein person credit at all – unless 'person' becomes merely a way of referring to identifiable organisms. In such a manner of speaking, there are no persons possessing feet, eyes or brains ... Persons are what happens when neural substrates are embedded in physical circumstances and cultural contexts – like sounds from radios tuned to particular frequencies. Self awareness (apperception) does not warrant claims of authoring or ownership. Nor does the fact that awareness participates in the generation of subsequent events, however seductive the connections may appear or important the awareness factor.
Thinking thus, we have reason to be interested in the machinery generating insights. Thomas Harvey was correct to rescue Einstein's brain, since cognitive life is reputed to centre in the cranium. Of course, reductionist arguments rarely stop where they should. Harvey may have inadvertently discarded parts of Mr. Einstein almost as essential as his cortex. Such zest, after all, must have had hormonal elements. Perhaps an enhanced neural substrate, coupled with unusual levels of testosterone, is critical ... a possibility Einstein’s documented fascination with women encourages.
In any event, we cannot really discover which parts were the essential Einstein: radios in toto are required for sounds to occur.
This is sufficiently obvious that explanation must be sought for human beings’ remarkable and perhaps perverse refusal to value their whole being. We localize creativity and consciousness within bodies because we wish to encapsulate the essence of personhood. If persons consisted of bodies to the last cell, we would lose much of the rationale for speaking of them as owners and agents. The strategy has been to deny our physiological and neural substrates agent status. Anatomical characteristics are not causally connected with the subset of mental events moral and spiritual claims depend upon. Instead of being understood as the ground of awareness ... neural substrate, boots and all ... the body is regarded as a 'vehicle', more or less piloted by the (emergent) person whose vehicle it is. This is the stuff of common sense and ordinary conversation.
In this story, Einstein gets the credit and not some neural substrate. More importantly, we can continue speaking of souls surviving death, of transmigration, reward and punishment.
There are, of course, puzzles. If nothing about physical being is causally linked to behaviour, at least behaviour of interest to moralists, it is hard to understand why particular 'organic vehicles' should be punished or feted, imprisoned or provided with luxurious lives. If agency talk is as meaningful as ‘Order of Canada’ medals have it, good or bad behaviour has no sine qua non connection with bodies or histories. Consistent observers could only announce that something wonderful (or terrible) had occurred. They could also advise that this event happened near this or that assemblage of skin, hair and teeth; and that this might be a good place to hang around (or avoid).
We seem to have two options: (1) We can continue looking for neural substrates and run the risk of not having any unpredictable behaviour. (The only interesting reason for speaking of persons is the belief that actions transcend determinism.) (2) We can continue to believe that there is more to us than meets the eye – no matter how omniscient or penetrating eyes become. To the extent that we are interested in brains in Tupperware containers, (2) is undermined. Sooner or later, we may be reduced to speaking of excellence in the way we speak of Rolls Royce automobiles, software packages and fruitful mob behaviour.
— 2 —
The notion of persons as sources of causal progressions is the issue. Would we be morally paralysed if every 'action' had sufficient antecedents? Even if we cannot say what they are, we have invested heavily in the assumption that such explanations are, in principle, available. Causality – the centrepiece of science – means that 'extenuating circumstances' always total to 100%. This challenges moralizing’s principal activity ... the enjoining of punishments for retributive reasons. Many cultures have proceeded a fair distance along this road by talking of extenuating circumstances and such dictums as “ought implies can”. Legal distinctions between 'degrees' of murder and manslaughter already have far-reaching consequences. Pre-sentencing investigations evaluate habitual criminality, traumatic childhood experiences, physiological conditions ... to assess moral onus and rehabilitation possibilities.
We have not confronted the underlying issue. We claim that functional human beings – those spared deforming experiences, those not in the grip of some passion – are accountable. We praise useful, creative, disciplined behaviour – although we have not defined comparable degrees of 'accountability'. The advantaged are applauded for artistic or scientific accomplishments just as if they had struggled through every adversity. In short, moral, legal and intellectual crises lurk in the tension between praising and blaming on the one hand and attempting to account for behaviour on the other. Behaviourists avoid this dilemma because their explanations almost always involve particular actions. There was enough complex ‘human stuff’ unaccounted for to not raise the alarm. And this is why Dr. Harvey’s project is portentous: if connections can be drawn between physiological structures and extraordinary intellectual accomplishment, what personhood means is suddenly far from clear.
One thing does remain clear. No redefinition of personhood can require that we abandon rewarding and punishing. We may, however, have to be content with saying that circumstances require this or that rejoinder, and leave off saying that person X deserves ... whatever we have in mind. Individuals will continue to defend and promote themselves and one another in both ad hoc and principled ways. We may gain insight and deterrent benefit by understanding the mechanics of behaviour. A schedule of reinforcements and punishments uncomplicated by personhood claims... could well be a more formidable deterrent to unsavoury behaviour. Similarly, creativity and productivity could be freshly valued; their generative circumstances more carefully assessed and nurtured.
On the proposal sketched here, 'persons' are cross-sections of 4-dimensional space-time regions. This is the way the universe has been understood since Einstein (the putative owner of the brain under discussion) advanced the General Theory of Relativity (GTR). Little attention has been paid to the implications of the GTR for notions of personality and morality. Persons are regarded as 3-dimensional bodies passing through time. This has had invidious consequences. Regarding oneself as a 3-dimensional thing encourages false notions of permanence and invulnerability. Even the strictest behaviourist considers that boundaries and defences: personal space, skin, immune systems and directed attention ... insulate individuals from ‘outside’ stuff’. As well, most organisms possess mobility – the ability to get out of harm’s way. These notions encourage the conceit that we can 'get away' with stuff, at least some of the time. As soon as persons are seen 4-dimensionally, seen as the intersection of antecedent and consequent, such conceits vanish. Acts apparently hidden from view and retribution are now understood as constitutive of authors’ future proceedings. No longer do we merely run the risk of reaping – we are what we sow.
The 3-dimensional standpoint underwrites our propensity to slip back and forth between behaviouristic and agent talk, depending upon the exigencies of the moment. Concern for communities and the biosphere would improve when ‘individuals’ come to understand that their temporal boundaries extend to the fore and rear; and their 'spatial boundaries' are less well-defined than skins imply. The Special Theory of Relativity established the relativity of simultaneity and the General Theory of Relativity made it meaningless to speak of space and time as separate. It follows that persons cannot be thought of as spatially extended beings passing through time: existence requires both spatial and temporal extension. Entities cannot have a second helping of duration ... as passing through time would require. (A similar problem attaches to travelling through space, although I will not pursue this here.)
For our purposes, persons cannot have a supervisory relationship with their own totality. (Einstein bundled such issues under 'local simultaneity'.) Spatially distributed entities do not exist at any 'point in time'. The distribution of extended bodies – the time required to communicate from one side to another – does not matter for all intents and purposes ... save for the notion of intents and purposes, and the 3-dimensional person of whom they are claimed. Another problem is that ‘acts of will’ require points of entry into proceedings possessing vectors. Since human beings are not always wilful (i.e., when sleeping or indifferent), volitions would have to neutralize arbitrarily many ongoing processes preparatory to heading them in some direction. These ‘entry points’ would have to be spatio-temporally extended to link up with organic processes preparatory to giving them a judicious twist.
There is a related complication: since wilful acts occur ex nihlio, they would have to be so instantiated that appropriate ‘volition receptors’ received input first. Post-Einstein, we understand that communications, including those instantiating volitions, must proceed at finite speed – an intractable orchestration challenge! Perhaps the greatest puzzle involves the relationship of volitions with their authors. They would seem to have to be projected ahead of or outside of being. These are relativistic analogues of Descartes’ notorious mind-body difficulties.
A way to sidestep these issues is to expand the notion of persons so that they are viewed as spatially and temporally extended. To refer to a person, one must wait until he or she is no longer identifiable – i.e., death. Only then is it possible to say: “That was Tom.” In the meantime, it is a mistake to identify ‘Tom manifestations’ with the processes responsible for Tom. There is, however, merit in evaluating these processes, and imposing whatever remedies experience and intuition suggest. Understanding persons 4-dimensionally would diminish our habit of attaching good and bad outcomes to phantoms.
1) Villains and heroes are the present shape of ongoing events. 3-dimensional perceptions have the ontological status of images in mirrors.
2) Fashioning events into scapegoats and heroes means that opportunities to repair or promote proceedings at their headwaters are wasted.
3) Vesting responsibility with scapegoats and heroes means that regional dynamics are disenfranchised.
As soon as I consider you responsible for some state of affairs, there is nothing more I can do except attempt to persuade or coerce you to make amends
– 3 –
What of rational and moral deliberations? From a 4-dimensional standpoint, persons are phantasmagoria with no way of initiating volitions 'back into' organic processes. If rational and moral deliberations are so understood – if instantiations become the responsibility of phantoms – successes are likely to be spastic and marginal. This is not because persons are failing ... this could not be otherwise. Diverted into cul de sacs, intellectual and moral insights are rarely perceived as projects to be instantiated by authors. Yet this is the normal course. A problem arises. A solution comes to mind and is put into practice. Eventually the ‘individual’ becomes aware of a series of problem, solution and instantiation triads – and takes credit for conceiving and orchestrating them. In addition, 3-dimensional conceits are inclined and content to communicate realizations to one another. After all, colleagues, peers, family members, citizens ... are persons capable of ‘receiving information’ and ‘judging’ what to do.
Moreover, problems have grown so large and complex that solutions now require group involvement and top-down orchestration. This means that moral and intellectual proceedings become the responsibility of academics, experts and professionals. The existence of these cognoscenti further discourages 'amateurs', whose efforts would be primitive in comparison. The fruits of their deliberations serve as conversational gambits for the chattering classes and further motivation for those inclined to abstract notions. Among the minority seized with issues, all that is likely to occur is time spent encouraging others to take action. An even smaller percentage of audiences takes a turn at a podium and so enthusiasms peter out. These are intellectual and moral Ponzi schemes. Those at the centre may prosper in terms of money, prestige or feelings of accomplishment, but the majority are fringe players. In zero sum games, winners are funded by losers.
Today, global media and the internet facilitate millions of such conversations while tens of thousands die for want of simple solutions. Learned societies and professional journals encourage increasingly esoteric investigations. Popularizers translate cognoscenti’s conclusions into the vernacular. In every case, the chattering class inherits the responsibility of putting admonitions and recommendations into practice.
Since this hardly ever occurs, intellectuals and moralizers consider this evidence of ineluctable, widespread indolence. They dream of arguments competent to impress the obtuse. In the meantime, there is collegial respect, security and stimulation ... along with opportunities for arrogance and feelings of noblesse oblige.
To the extent that we transcend 3-dimensional notions, understandings would be less distracted by such temptations. Moral and intellectual insights would more often proceed to implementation. They would become more robust – nothing improves notions faster than trying them out!
Later, after they had been refined by realpolitik, dissemination would naturally occur. This would be accomplished by examples in situ, unsullied by pontificators unwilling to put principles and insights to work. A picture is worth a thousand words. Actions speak louder than words
-- 4 --
If America is about nothing else, it is about the invention of the self. Because we have little use for history, and because we refuse the comforts of a society established on the blueprint of class privilege, we find ourselves set adrift at birth in an existential void, inheriting nothing save the obligation to construct a plausible self, to build a raft of identity.
On February 11, 1992, American heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson, a well-known contender for the world championship, was convicted of rape and sexually deviant conduct. He was expected to be sentenced to 6 - 10 years of incarceration. As Mr. Tyson was 25 years of age, this was thought to spell the end of his boxing career.
More than a decade has passed, and we know far more than we wish about Mr. Tyson’s tribulations and peregrinations. Nonetheless, his life provides an opportunity to test the 4-dimensional model. Would there have been a different weighing of extenuating vs. internal determinants of conduct? Would Tyson’s mental proceedings have been divided identically into passion/neurotic/deformed (uncontrollable and unindictable) vs. reflective/rational/unhurried (and hence his responsibility)?
A two-panel cartoon circa 1992 captured the predicament. In the first panel, Tyson is enjoying the crowd's adulation after some boxing success. The caption trumpets: BESTIAL, MERCILESS, ANIMALISTIC. The second shows Mr. Tyson being led from the court in handcuffs. The caption is identical. To his consternation (and probably his bewilderment), Tyson has been both rewarded and punished for the same behaviour. The public does not want him ‘behaving badly’ outside of the ring, yet we are aware of the tension between sanctioning and censuring identical behaviours.
We have, of course, a familiar bolt hole. We applaud Tyson’s boxing prowess because he is a person. By the same token, we are able to condemn him for behaving badly. If there was 100% exculpation for ‘bad behaviour’, how could we reward prowess in the ring? Explanatory circumstances in Tyson’s past apply to good and bad behaviour equally. The public would be reduced to marvelling at the ways biological and circumstantial factors combine as behaviour. Perhaps a few would worry about the diminution of acting as an ontological category. We would also understand more about adulation’s role in the evolution of phenomenal people.
All of this would take away a good deal of our entertainment and scapegoating options. The public would suffer whenever icons behaved badly since there would be no way of deflecting responsibility. Three differences fall out of the 4-dimensional model: the content of what is deemed admirable, the focus of remediation and the locus of nurturing. The Tysons occupying the media and judiciary are 3-dimensional manifestations of underlying events. To recognize this is to admit that responsibility is widely distributed indeed.
Inasmuch as the 4-dimensional model diffuses responsibility, Tyson's conduct becomes even more relevant to wide-ranging forensic investigations. To the extent that persons are understood in terms of genetics and post-conception histories, we are unable to moralize. In Canada, young offenders cannot be named, so sensitive have we become to the claim that they are not yet culpable. Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf is forbidden reading, along with Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and a growing list of titles once deemed innocuous. This is occurring at a time when the young have little interest in do-it-yourself entertainment, and acts of reading are attaining mythic status. (This has been termed the post-literate era.) Real readers would recommend that the young meet as many villains as possible imaginatively, in the hope that their immune systems become sufficiently robust that further epidemics do not occur.
Moralizing’s axiom is that persons are accountable. There is also the corollary that mature persons can choose to interdict harmful influences and repair damages that occurred before mature vetoes were in place. Institutional and legislative concern for the young ... e.g., no public disclosure of criminal activities and special treatments ... is balanced against the need to shore up moralizing and scapegoating. Thus, when especially heinous conduct is involved, we sometimes transfer juveniles to adult jurisdictions. Political correctness, sensitivity and empathy ... only go so far: deeply disturbing behaviour must be accounted for in moral terms because unrequited responsibility would otherwise distribute across families and communities. Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden ... were malevolent presences in their own right, but they would have amounted to little had their agendas not resonated within relevant cultures.
What is it we heartily wish of each other? Is it to be pleased and flattered? No, but to be convicted and exposed, to be shamed out of our nonsense of all kinds, and made men of, instead of ghosts and phantoms. We are weary of gliding ghostlike through the world, which is itself so slight and unreal. We crave a sensed of reality, though it comes in strokes of pain. I explain so ... those excesses and errors of which souls of great vigor, but not equal insight, often fall. They feel the poverty at the bottom of all the seeming affluence of the world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson’s comment brings up a further puzzle: most cultures agree that moral development occurs during the early years. Why then do human beings, as soon as technology and resources permit ... deny youngsters the benefits of negative reinforcement? Do we really believe that perpetual gratification is the road to maturity, responsibility and happiness? On the other hand, in the absence of admissible psychiatric or physiological evidence, we consider adults rational and moral agents. Conduct improving deterrence, rehabilitation, censures, sanctions ... are no longer relevant. Only punishing is consistent with our official stance vis-a-vis persons. Only rewarding is tolerable during formative years.
There is another problem. Ex hypothesi, we cannot lay hold of guilty persons. Since acts available for assessment have already been performed, the person whose 'decision' grounded them has vanished. The Tyson the American judiciary has hold of is not the person who performed the crime. By parallel argument, I am responsible for my acts only until they have occurred. Habitual criminalism or a history of exemplary conduct are irrelevant to the moral status of what I am getting up to. To the extent that my genetic makeup, experiential history or the momentum of proximate events ... determine behaviour, my activities are not acts in any morally relevant sense. They are manifestations of the process bearing
We do not need to point out the inconsistency of behaviourism and moralizing to make this point. The phantasmagoria ‘Tyson the rapist’ did not survive the event. What we should be seized with is whether the Tyson-event (Mike Tyson: past, present and future) is apt to manifest similar 'sub-events' during its remaining course. What is the likelihood of re-offending or recidivism?
Clearly, societies and individuals have urgent and defensible interest in such questions. Indeed, many cultures execute or mutilate persons to accomplish justice and deterrence. There is no doubt that the prospect of punishment is helpful in maintaining public order. What is not often considered is the objection persons in the docket are entitled to make: "I behaved badly because society failed to sufficiently punish people around me who were behaving badly. My conduct is due to historical shortcomings. Therefore, you must not punish me."
Faced with such arguments, the judiciary must make a 4-dimensional defence. “We must indeed make better use of the embodiments of failure so that deterrence can work its magic. We will begin with you!"
The point is that judicial proceedings need to abandon 3-dimensional notions, or at least see them differently. Jurisprudence and ordinary language already accommodate psychologists’, sociologists’ and humanists’ talk of aetiologies and extenuating experiences. Only when the length and breadth of ‘Tyson Events’ are on the docket, will it be possible to speak intelligibly of 'phenomenal persons', understand their implications or debate reinforcement schedules.
On this sketch, we glimpse how it has been possible for cultures to defend executing, mutilating and incarcerating dysfunctional or dangerous persons by citing the need for safety, punishment and deterrence. Charges of inconsistency are evaded by alternating between 3-dimensional and 4-dimensional arguments. Phenomenal Tysons are indicted whenever we wish to reward or punish. Tyson Events are alluded to whenever public safety or the harm of invidious examples is in view.
Understanding this could mitigate arbitrariness and sterile cruelty. Executions and egregious harms would be more difficult without moral outrage enlarging pragmatic concerns past their natural force. Societies would continue to deal with malignant presences, but summary measures would occur less frequently. Punishments would no longer be intelligible except for deterrence value; and deterrence might well become less necessary in cultures more adept at ‘stitch in time’ interventions.
An important benefit would be an enlarged sense of possibility and responsibility. The processes generating phenomenal Tysons would be seen as compounding across Tyson-events. As 4-dimensional analyses rewind events, it becomes clear how the ratio of inside/outside determinants alters. Tysons begin at conception ... the conjoining of packets of genetic information: meiosis and sexuality. We are discovering that the age of mothers, the history of parents, are factors in genetic endowments. Prenatal environments: health, alcohol or nicotine exposure ... ; post-natal variables: nurturing, stimulation and nutrition ... are similarly important. As these multitudinous, sometimes perverse, mostly wholesome elements resolve, Tyson-events individuate into persons. The resulting phenomena – the public reifications triggered by the Tyson event, and within Tyson in the guise of reflexive self-awareness – became less and less predictable. There is evidence that the Tyson depicted in media accounts had little warning about what he was going to say or do. We should not be contemptuous about this. Everything we say, or think before we speak, is a revelation to us as well.
Even if he has not always been exemplary, Mr. Tyson is an exemplar. At some point along the underlying event, we are pleased to believe metamorphosis occurred and an agent emerged from the chrysalis. This moment in time – not conception, not ensoulment, not parturition – is the real birth event of the mythical person of universal parlance. At this point, everything behaviourists and sociologists have discovered about origins, determinants and influences are put to one side. A threshold has been crossed, a proto-person transformed into an agent. Moral and rational behaviours can now be applauded or condemned – in part, because of how they impact upon the up and coming unable to defend themselves with volitions and vetoes ab initio.
In 4-dimensional terms, what has happened is that manifestations of the Tyson event have been reified into Tyson the Person. These objectifications are utilized within communities of language users to identify and re-identify nascent persons – a process of perhaps critical importance to self identification. Eventually the results pass into adulthood and are placed upon their own recognizance. These are the persons we speak of passing through time, having bodies, experiences, volitions – as moral and rational agents.
The 3-dimensional model would not have become universal had it not been doing useful work. Along with psychological functions involving ego and identity, identifying persons as moral agents has been a civilizing factor. The 3-dimensional model leads to notions – and expectations – that behaviour will come under the direction of moral and rational agents – one per person, souls within, immanent selves, motes in God’s eye ... . An important challenge will be to investigate if 4-dimensional understandings retain the benefits of personal recognizance without being distracted by ‘immanent being’ claims and their inevitable moral agent and rational agent failures. Jacques Lacan characterized apperception (reflexive subjectivity) as the void around which the events comprising a lifetime are arrayed. Some of these events come to fruition and some have unhappy conclusions. They trigger anticipation, dread, feelings of sameness and security – and sensations termed purposiveness, intentionality, volitions, acts of willing. This constant stream generates consciousness and eventually self-consciousness. The result is the fallacy David Hume pointed out: the conflation of association with causality. Regularly associated events are assumed to have causal relationships according to which occurs first. Lightening causes thunder. One explanation speaks of air rushing to fill the vacuum creating by lightening strokes. In turn, lightening is the result of potential differences between clouds and earth, or clouds and clouds, 30,000 volts per centimetre of distance bridged. Thus, atmospheric conditions cause lightening strokes, and the results cause thunder. Do eggs cause chickens, or chickens, eggs? It is more useful to regard chickens and eggs, lightening and thunder ... as noteworthy nodes of an underlying process. Asking ‘which came first’, or which causes which, is, Wittgenstein warned, to be “in the grip of a picture’.
Maturational benefits are associated with regarding ourselves as three dimensional entities. There are also pragmatic benefits. Images of selves, objects and others are fashioned out of constitutive elements according to gestalt principles. Each element has its own generative history, including those flowing from named constellations: Tom, Dick, Harriet ... you and I. As human events become aware of one another (rather like the drivers travelling at the same speed and in the same direction on multi-lane highways), research and reflection ‘discover’ shared generative elements. These ‘facts’ are sometimes held responsible for mundane behaviours and harms. If the Einstein Tupperware project bears fruit, higher-order functions, including genius, will also be seen as having non-agent explanations.
Such investigations – and the countervailing pronouncements of moralizers and legislators – should alert us to the pervasive danger lurking in 3-dimensional explanations. Increasingly robust behaviouristic and deterministic explanations are undermining ‘individual responsibility’ without any corresponding improvement in the 4-dimensional matrix generating phenomenal persons. We need to remember that individuals are unable to directly perceive themselves. Notions of selves are put together obliquely, by conjecturing and experiencing commonalities with phantasmorgia. In Being and Nothingness, Sartre speaks of “a double, reciprocal incarnation”.
I make myself flesh in order to impel the Other to realize for herself and for me her own flesh, and my caresses cause my flesh to be born for me in so far as it is for the Other flesh causing her to be born as flesh. (Italics Sartre’s.)
This sets the stage for remarkable possibilities. Spastic notions of responsibility are not the only cost of living as ghosts. Self-anointed agents typically fail to actualize abstracted intuitions and intentions. They have, however, some success passing along, or trickling down, truncated, remnants to those willing to undertake them to ‘earn a living’ or ‘make a killing’. This is how grandiose schemes meld into lives with little or no interest in ‘big pictures’. By way of additional ‘benefit’, the cognoscenti are isolated from the messy ... but always instructive! ... business of putting insights into practice. (Many projects might have been amended, or abandoned, had their authors been required to get their hands dirty!) In the meantime, actualizers are sanguine about the ramifications of their activities, because they know nothing of them. More urgently, intuitions about community, spirituality, ecological footprints ... do not readily translate into profit-making, employment generating projects. These often splendid understandings sometimes eke out an existence among proselytizers and academics, but have little to do with the way the world works.
The mutual loathing of thinkers and doers has much to do with their complementary dysfunctionality. David Riesman's investigation into characteriological types can be viewed as an inquiry into the 4 dimensional consequences of 3-dimensional notions. According to Riesman, the initial immigrants to North America were ‘old country’ outer-directeds, rich in traditions and steeped in class-based expectations. These expectations were given short shrift in the New World. What the untamed, vast country demanded was inner-directedness – and soon frontiersman, cowboys ... self-reliant, self-directing sons and daughters ... emerged. Two, perhaps three, centuries of vitality, creativity and exuberance ensued. During the last fifty years of the 20th century, North Americans again demonstrated human ductility by taking up the remaining possibility. We are becoming not outer but other-directed, our priorities, values and agendas increasingly dictated by commercial messages and what Noam Chomsky termed The Manufacture of Consent. During this period, 1st World populations have been generating enormous wealth. This encouraged the gifted and advantaged (like the poor, they are always with us) to contrive ways and means transferring most of this wealth into a few hands. While this was going on, this wealth’s inner-directed creators and interim beneficiaries wasted little time wondering how their resourcefulness and well-being came into existence.
There is an even more intractable problem. The inner-directed do not consort with lesser folk, or even with one another! They have little patience with notions that they owe their rich lives to seminal circumstances. Consequently, they have been legislating and industrializing their own seminal circumstances out of existence – or proudly ignoring those doing so.
Earlier, I suggested one of the reasons abstruse notions – no matter how sublime or potentially useful – are unlikely to be put into practice. Across recorded history, responsibility for moral and ethical undertakings has been left in ghostly hands, while needs and wants were either immediately attended to or transmogrified into corporate and political stratagems. The question can be sharpened: would Mike Tyson have comported himself differently if he had not regarded himself as a 3-dimensional entity ... and a singularly virile one to boot? It may well be that he was 'duly informed' (by parents and church) of his responsibilities to others. The point to consider, the lesson implied by North Americans’ short-lived, inner-directed renaissance, is that normative talk is almost always sterile. In the post-modern world, lessons are no longer embodied in the organic undertakings previous generations routinely experienced: subsistence activities, neighbourhood projects, wood-chopping and barn-raising bees ... . Homilies, invectives, adjurations ... pass over the heads of emergent persons within 4-dimensional events. Had the world positioned moral and ethical influences more thoughtfully, events would have unfolded differently and Mike the rapist might not have reared up.
In the meantime, we imagine that we have the 3 important dimensions of the Tyson event in irons.
What strategies would the 4-dimensional model recommend? One possibility is a review of the merits of incarceration as opposed to more notorious practices ... flogging, stoning, cutting off thieves’ hands. (Feminists have been known to recommend castration for rapists.)
From a 4-dimensional standpoint, there is no principled difference between removing a portion of 'spatial extent' (by castration or some other amputation) vs. excising a year or twenty of temporal extent through incarceration. Amputation and imprisonment strategies coincide in executions where both temporal and spatial extents are eliminated. Cultures in the developed world eschew flogging, castration, removing hands ... claiming that such practices are bestial. This delicacy depends upon pre-Einsteinian arguments that a person who has ‘done her time’ is the individual locked up earlier – hopefully, rehabilitated, improved, educated, socialized.
Even without such worries ...
Are the rehabilitated the same persons they would be unrehabilitated? If so, what does rehabilitation consist of?
Institutionalisation notoriously undermines the therapeutic value of incarceration. Societies organizing communities of malcontents, deviants and crooks ... seem more likely to suffer recidivism.
It costs a great deal to keep people in jail – costs born by generic innocents harmed by generic villains. These costs are regressive. The poor pay the most in proportion to income.
There is a correspondingly progressive benefit: the wealthy gain most from an orderly society.
Would either sector have better been better served by castration? Would the Tyson event have been advantaged? After all, it might have been deemed sufficient to remove only one testicle ... placing the second on probation! Tyson could then have gotten on with his life without suffering institutionalisation, criminalization, loss of career opportunities ... all the unquantifiable concomitants of incarceration. Measured (½) castration might mitigate testosterone-management issues and would certainly avoid the public cost of incarceration. Incarceration’s advocates need to ask whether 'temporal surgeries' – a year or ten sliced out of an individual’s life – are not more draconian and less efficacious than spatial excisions.
There is another complication. We have no way of knowing what proportion of life a temporal excision represents. A person serving 5 years may die a month or a year after she is released, and so will have effectively served a life sentence. Even without this difficulty, a life sentence for a young person is different than the same sentence for middle-aged and old persons.
None of these difficulties arise when 'spatial extents' are laid hold of. Televised surgical excisions would be justice done and seen to be done. Such programming would provide content for the thousand channel universe and might even supplant reality TV programming. Production costs would be minimal, compared to incarceration; and feminist nurses would often assist gratis. Last but not least, victims could conduct procedures as they deliver impact statements ... closure and deterrence with one stroke!
– 5 –
A 4-dimensional understanding of organisms – not to mention thunderstorms, climate warming and corporations – would alter moral and intellectual proceedings. We would no longer speak of spatially-determinate entities passing through time. Persons and agents would be seen as processes constituting identifiable and re-identifiable events. Birth and death are the present bounds delineating persons. The ambiguity of this model is underscored by the interminable debate between pro-choicers and pro-lifers. If birth is the 'moment of conception' ... how can we resist including the procreative act? ... the relationship leading to copulation? Parallels attach to 'end of life' issues – as evidenced by the increasing popularity of ‘living wills’ and discussions of euthanasia.
All these issues are recast in the 4-dimensional model. Subjective experiences become the fruit of identifiable (person) events melding with other phenomena-generating events: things, hurricanes, nations, corporations, sunshine, other persons. Persons relate to one another – and to the world – the way drivers on multi-lane highways sometimes perceive one another as stationary. This is the phenomenally stable backdrop against which other drivers seem to be moving – speeding up, slowing down, changing lanes ... .
Thus we glimpse things and beings. Even consecutive glimpses ... that seem to establish patterns, vectors, agendas ... owe much to the idiosyncratic needs of observers. This has led to the experimental method, statistical analysis and double-blind studies. A recent philosophic worry involves the anthropic principle: human beings not only impose but consist of selection criteria; and the content of the phenomenal world reflects these factors. Visual and auditory receptors are tuned to electromagnetic and sound waves appropriate to our size and information needs. (Bats, dogs and orcas utilize different wavelengths.) Some have argued that the universe phenomenally present to human beings is simply the one that spawned us, and that we cannot speak about other possibilities.
Modelling the world 4-dimensionally illuminates why 3-dimensional beings converge and diverge in ways they have no control over. Yet this understanding makes every commonality singularly valuable. We will not pass this way again – even if we seem to apprehend one another again on the 'same' stretch of road. Pace Heraclitus, we cannot step into the same river once.
This means that no thing stands in relation to any other thing. Relations occur among events. 'Individuals' and ‘things’ are conceits resulting from confluences, assemblages, metabolisms, digestions, reproductions ... . This is the reason drivers on multi-lane highways seem to share time and space when they are side by each, proceeding at the same rate. Such phenomena are the sine qua non of language, culture and the fantasy of the present moment.
Solipsism and brain-in-a-vat’ issues notwithstanding, countless events are coherent, identifiable and re-identifiable. Before such identification can happen, there has to be a history of similarly constituted phenomena. Human beings (we can easily, and usefully, say human events) have been elaborating notions of selves and the world. Immanuel Kant's prerequisites of 'any experience whatsoever' ... space and time as the a priori contributions of perceiving minds ... can be given a different reading. Notions of space and time (and the space-time continuum) are supported by, and support, an always belated phenomenal world. Causality receives a similar reading, as do issues surrounding the necessity of states of affairs and things, truth and epistemological issues and hermeneutics. All of these flow from the claim that there are things whose nature and whereabouts must be accounted for (causality), accommodated (with space and time – even if expressed as space-time), and whose possibility and necessity can be evaluated.
On the 4-dimensional model, there are no things. Apparitions do not require or merit ontological space the way things do. All that is required is to understand how (neural) processes, in who knows how many species, lead to 3-dimensional fantasies.
A final example: solipsism or subjective idealism – the possibility that an individual is dreaming the world, or that phenomena are engendered in minds by God or an evil demon – lends no better support to the things the 3-dimensional world is thought to consist of. Moreover, solipsism can be challenged transcendentally: we would not have the language to raise such questions in the absence of others. In 4-dimensional terms, the phenomenal world involves communities of events, generating and comparing experiences of the specious present, each such conversation an event in its own right. Every person event is contiguous with some beings more that others. Everyone participates in such neighbourhoods. To return to the highway example, drivers spend time signalling, encouraging and adjuring ... one another. Occasional articles are lobbed from one vehicle to another, necessitating shrewd estimations of 'distance' so that vehicles and missiles intersect.
More importantly, persons intersect. Sometimes these events are so disruptive that participants are obliterated, but every event has consequences. Presently, more than 6 billion human beings are en route. Rules, folkways, traffic lights, police forces and armies ... attempt to manage their intersections. To the extent that we attain 4-dimensional understanding, we glimpse that we have not understood the underlying problem.
We fancy ourselves 3-dimensional organisms intersecting with objects and beings in a 3-dimensional world passing through time.
In the post-modern world, interest in Einstein’s neural substrate highlights an important ambiguity in our moral and intellectual understanding.
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