22nd Annual (2015) Kent State Philosophy Graduate Student Conference In Remembrance of May 4th (Part II)

The paper I presented at Kent State University’s Graduate Philosophy Conference can be found by clicking here.  The paper is a reworking of a paper I wrote during Jordi Cat’s philosophy of time seminar in the fall of 2013.  By “reworking,” I mean that the paper was truncated from its current monographic length of 68 pages, and then reorganized, many of the citations and resources extracted, and, finally, given an ad hoc introduction and conclusion.  I chose to eliminate many of the references to the literature because, like so many of the works a philosopher of science that are too technical and specialized for the general philosophical audience, I felt it would be too much for the randomly chosen philosopher —especially a graduate student— to get without extensive reading (or without more space to discuss the ideas).  Therefore, McTaggart, Sider, Craig Bourne, Earman, and other authors were not referenced in the presented version of the work.  I made a slight mistake in doing this: I should have left the citations of those authors, because all of the questions that met my presentation were with regard to established ideas.  (On the flipside, including said citations would hardly have helped during the reading…unless I chose to verbally state citations in footnotes, which would have been odd.)  Unfortunately, this is a problem that we discussed at quite a bit of length in the HPS department professional development seminars: philosophers of science —i.e., real philosophers of science, who have been trained in the science, and aren’t just talking out of their south pole— are generally of such a specialized set of interests and knowledge that it is very difficult to find a group of philosophers to confer with about the particular topic within the philosophy of biology, or philosophy of physics, or what have you.  Having been in a department where almost everyone has a very different set of interests (e.g., unity of sciences, cellular and evolutionary biology, quantum physics, the reception of Darwin in Germany, philosophical and historical development of theory-laden devices, like the microscope), this is a theme that is very familiar and one that I am constantly aware of.  In following, I will post the commenters comments on my paper, list my responses, and then make a few other remarks, some of which are relevant two questions asked during the conference.


The commenter’s comments can be found by clicking here.  As I remarked on the first half of this post, I felt that commenter was hung out to dry, because his area of expertise couldn’t be too much further from the subgenre occupied by my paper.  At any rate, I will, in the following, somewhat systematically go through the responses made by the commenter, Kevin Lower of Miami University of Ohio.


The first thought the commenter puts forward is the criticism that I appear to claim that ‘anthropocentrism should be avoided as the motivational force’ for, presumably, understanding time.  It’s a really odd way to go about things, because the commenter is accentuating something that is more a detail.  Anthropocentrism is a notion that introduces the approach of the paper, but it is not a motivation in the way he seems to be claiming.  I was merely remarking on the fact that we do not have an non-anthropocentric understanding of time, and that the project is to see how to do that.  Eliminating the human perspective is important, however, in the following sense, which was not employed by the commenter: the notion of objectivity is supposed to stand independent of human perspective, and human perspective should, in no way, alter whatever it is that objectivity presents.  Too many philosophers confuse intersubjectivity and objectivity.  The stance of intersubjectivity is either the ontological judgment that there can be no such thing as a view from nowhere, thus the human element cannot be removed from any situation assessment, evaluation, or whatever it is; or it is a pragmatic position that might assert that, while we do not currently have a perfectly objective assessment, etc., the intersubjective position works for purposes of x, y, & z.


The commenter then goes on to quote Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, where Kuhn discusses the political and human centered-nature of the scientific progress.  The commenter’s point is that Kuhn disagrees with me, on the topic of anthrodecentralization as a trend in philosophy of science.  This, however, is a misunderstanding of contrast class elements within the philosophy of science.  Kuhn is talking about philosophy of science, wherein “science” is understood qua human activity.  My paper explicitly states that it is talking about the intellectual products of philosophers of science and scientists, as I talk about “narratives” (pg.2), i.e., stories of explanation.


He also makes a comment about not understanding what is meant, when I say that ‘the human perspective is a materially generated one.’  Either this is a product of not having given the paper much thought, or it is a relic of the foreign nature of this paper to him.  At first, I took it as a disputation because he merely said that it was an unsupported point, but then I realized he probably had no clue what I was saying.  All that I meant by this statement is that the human perspective is housed by a material being, I was referring to the thought that there is some evidence supporting the idea that the brain is somehow responsible for time and that physical theory suggests that time doesn’t really exist outside of the human (i.e., material bodily) perspective.  I cited cerebral akinetopsia as a possible grounds for this interpretation, but, more relevant to my studies, the general theory of relativity (GTR) suggests that there is no such thing as time.  Understanding GTR otherwise is very difficult.


What was particularly bothersome was that the audience didn’t appear to acknowledge the important development and novelty in the paper, namely, that a model was presented wherein change is metaphysically prior to time.  I made it a point to include to quotes, one from Sider and another from Mumford, to accentuate what is at issue.  The fact that it has been taken absolutely for granted that one could not talk about change as more fundamental or eliminate all temporal talk, and then having been presented a model that seems to do it, was supposed to shock and awe.  It did not.


The conference question-answer session was rough, since there was such an unfamiliarity with my topic, the kinds of ideas I was presented, and the literature I was using.  I had questions about Planck length, which I tried to sidestep, because it really wasn’t relevant to my talk.  I was also asked about what I meant by “qualitative motion,” which I described well enough, I thought, in the paper.  (I didn’t spend too much time on the idea in this version of the paper, because it simply was not important to the purpose and this portion of the project.)  For those who read the paper, qualitative motion is the idea that corresponds to McTaggart’s C-series or Julian Barbour’s idea of stringing together elements within Platonia.  I didn’t want to use either of these ideas in the paper because, well, again, they aren’t important to the project, but they also make commitments that I do not wish to make.  For instance, the C-series is simple and linear, which need not be the case with qualitative motion.  For Julian Barbour, I think it might be that he assumes laws are truly laws of Nature, given by Nature itself, not constructs of the human activity, called “sciences”; and I do not want to make this commitment, either.  I may write a short blog post in the future on this topic, but, for now, one can imagine qualitative motion as an order, similar to a flipbook with a stick figure running.  The ordering of the pages gives you some information, but it certainly doesn’t tell you how quickly the stick figure is running.  The flipbook needs more information, such as pace.


I will likely continue working on this project.  If I publish it, I doubt it will be as a paper, but as a monograph.


Filed under History and Philosophy of Science, Metaphysics, Metaphysics, Philosophy

2 responses to “22nd Annual (2015) Kent State Philosophy Graduate Student Conference In Remembrance of May 4th (Part II)

  1. Kevin Lower

    Hi, David. I’m sorry to hear that my comments detracted from your experience at the KSU graduate conference. The selection process for commenters was a bit haphazard, it seems, as I was given a paper that I surely was unqualified to provide comments for. Having never read any of the thinkers you used in your paper, I was unable to provide extensive feedback in terms that would have proven more beneficial to your project.

    I do think, however, that my comments aren’t completely useless to you. It should be helpful to note that someone who is unfamiliar with the topics of your paper misunderstood its central motivation—the upshot of this being that minimizing the discussion of anthropocentrism would be helpful to ensure that the same mistake isn’t made yet again. I must admit that this was done from a place of care, as otherwise I did not recognize the motivation of your paper. I take your project to involve the ontological prioritization of change (couched in purely spatial terms) over time, though I’m unsure as to what purpose this serves. Yes, it is interesting to understand change without reference to time, but that insight alone doesn’t quite warrant its own paper. (Or does it? I’m open to my mind being changed about this.) I could easily come up with ways to reverse the ontological priority of several binaries that have influenced the development of thought in the Western tradition, but that alone doesn’t warrant any immediate value to the project. This is why I am concerned about not taking this project to be in the service of some larger goal.

    I am happy to hear that you do not take yourself to be denouncing anthropocentrism through this project, however, as I think I have demonstrated that such a maneuver would be unsuccessful from what you’ve written alone. My comment concerning Bergson might prove relevant to the potential motivation for your project as we might consider the fact that some have read most of the Western canon as having mistakenly done something like what you’ve tried to do in this paper (assuming the ontological priority of space over time). This, of course, need not be a blatant criticism of your paper; pointing this out is just my way of showing you how it was difficult for me to understand the motivation of your project—the insight of this being that spending more time explicitly discussing your project’s motivation might prove beneficial. I would love to hear more about these points if you’re interested in enlightening me about your project. And again, it’s through no fault of my own that I was assigned to read your paper. I hope, at least, to motivate that my comments weren’t nonsensical and that they raise points that should be helpful for revisions even if they don’t reflect the full complexity of your topic. If the audience’s agreement with my concerns is any indication, a bit more time clarifying your manuscript to ensure that the troubles we faced can be avoided should prove to be a fruitful use of your time.

    As a final note, surely you think that the “stories of explanation” that feature as products of scientific activity are subject to the social controls that are active within the community of scientists. This isn’t an overarching point about philosophy of science: the very process by which we evaluate whether a given narrative is worth accepting is certainly politically informed an cannot be detached from science as human activity. I would like to hear more about this if you’d care to respond.

    In any case, I hope that your project develops nicely, and I welcome further discussion if you’re interested in continuing the dialogue.


  2. Hi, Kevin. I don’t fault you for the conference’s selecting you and doing the best that you could; I fault the selection.

    I’m not really interested in a continuing dialogue, primarily for the reason that the interest of social and political critique of the construction of stories of explanation, whether in science or philosophy, go well beyond the scope of this project. I think this project fits into that project, but that’s not paper’s focus. This was a work in metaphysics.

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