The Matter of Objects and The Idea of Subjects

The Matter of Objects

What do we mean by an object? As usual, the term can be used both literally and figuratively. A friend of mine who insists that the universe can be boiled down to objects or concepts* and that the definition of object is simply ‘that which has a shape’.

I argue that this is, (like all pure dichotomies) too simplistic, and that both objects and concepts are more like bookends on a spectrum-continuum of what could be called percepts. We can dream in shapes and places of varying levels of realism, we can see a phantom image which has a light bulb shape when we look at a light bulb. Likewise we can encounter the objective reality of humidity or a foul odor without being aware of any shape associated with them. This is a pretty clear indication to me that shape can be abstract or concrete. We have no trouble talking about a circle and a cycle in the same breath, even though one is a shape and one is a ‘concept’. The unity between them seems at least as relevant as the distinction, especially if we are reducing the universe to the most primitive principles possible**.

The word object is also used as a verb. “I object!”, which implies the intentional assertion of personal will into a public social context. When we use subject figuratively, it is in a lowly political sense, or at least a passive sense. When we are subject to laws or another person’s will, we may not be able to object, or not effectively anyhow. On the other hand, if nobody is subject to our influence, then nobody cares what we object to, and we are just as ineffective as if we were being passive subjects.

Looking at this slide from Kelvin Abraham’s Tetryonics,


I started thinking about how his distinction between 3D matter and 2D mass-energy translates into MSR sensory-motive terms. I see the sensory-motive primitive as the commonality between both the 2D and 3D phenomena, with the 2D mass-energy being sensory-motive (temporal) and the 3D being 2D-once-removed (spatialized publicly).

If we think about our naive experience of what solid matter, it could be defined as a “sense of invariant insensitivity” – a relatively static obstruction within a public facing sensory modality. We mostly rely on optical and tactile sense to navigate the public space, so solid objects are mostly defined a phenomena that is tangible and visible. If I had to define object in the way that I think that we literally mean it, it might suffice to day that an object is any phenomena which can be removed without being destroyed.

With the ghost silhouette of the light bulb for example, which has a shape and a location relative to my field of vision, I cannot take that shape from my vision and put it somewhere else. I can’t give it to someone and nobody can take it from me. It seems that objecthood is tied more to a conserved identity of public position than anything else. Obstruction of sense and conserved identity may really mean the same thing. Obstruction or sensitivity-of-insensitivity provides the iconic reflection that relates back to the totality.

If you have ever programmed a computer game with moving avatars, you know that collision detection is not just automatic. You need to have the program check to see whether the pixels are adjacent to each other and then define that as ‘touching’ to initiate a bounce or splat or whatever. The sense of touch or tangible boundaries is not a given. It takes a perception, a sensory interpretation to motivate object-like behavior. The object must object!, but it must object in the presence of others who can detect the objection and who ‘care’ enough to respond, or whose response is the primitive ancestor of what we call care. Significance. Reading a signal as a signal and integrating it as distinct from noise or nothing (entropy).

The difference between geometry and topology is relevant as well:

If a structure has a discrete moduli (if it has no deformations, or if a deformation of a structure is isomorphic to the original structure), the structure is said to be rigid, and its study (if it is a geometric or topological structure) is topology. If it has non-trivial deformations, the structure is said to be flexible, and its study is geometry.

Because matter doesn’t have to be literally rigid, and clearly occupies space in non-solid, self-deforming states, I would suggest that it could be topo-genic, and that the rigidity or ‘topo-cality’ of matter is a continuum from the semi-topological fluid to the nearly-topological solid. The 3-dimensionality of matter is, by contrast, not a continuum. It either has volume or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t have volume than it must be energy (mass) only. It could be said that mass-energy is 2+1 dimensional, as it is the source of experienced ‘time’, but matter qua matter may have no dimension of time. It is 3D bodies divided across space. The animation we experience of matter is all subjective (or “conceptual” if you are an RSM fan).

If Abraham is right, and matter is 3D mass, it may be redundant to say that matter has mass. Matter may add to mass-energy-time only volume-related scalars like pressure. The contrast between the 2D and the 3D also may only be conceivable within a 5D (individualized) privacy, which is biological life. The biological is also a continuum, like the topological, which is bio-genic rather than fixed. The kingdoms of biology are comparable to the physical states of matter. They evolve through embodied experiences, unlike matter which are (pre-somatic) experiences over an unlimited time that we perceive in limited cross-sections as matter.

The Idea of Subjects

I do not argue against the existence of any one thing that we can apprehend, either by sense or reflection. That the things I see with mine eyes and touch with my hands do exist, really exist, I make not the least question. The only thing whose existence we deny, is that which philosophers call matter or corporeal substance. And in doing of this, there is no damage done to the rest of mankind, who, I dare say, will never miss it. – George Berkeley

In all of the arguments that I have had about physics and metaphysics, I have never heard from any strong critic who would be able to understand what Berkeley meant in the above quotation. In every case, their argument makes it clear that they are psychologically incapable of differentiating Idealism from Solipsism. Several times each week I go through the same rebuttal to their straw man of idealism in which I supposedly deny that the Moon or some other object exists when I am not looking at it. Each time, my correction of their misrepresentation passes right through their ears without any apparent effect. Instead, they go on, again and again, pushing against this paper pussy cat of nobody’s solipsism, regardless of how many different ways that I try to explain that idealism need not deny the reality of the experience of matter, only that matter is fundamentally interactive and experiential rather than an entity which is independent of *all* perspective. Nobody is saying that matter doesn’t exist independently of any particular perspective or sense modality, but that it could be independent of all possibilities of sensation is really an abstraction that is even more naive than naive realism. It’s a purely unconsidered presumption of existence-ness without any connection to aesthetics. Berkeley understood that even a description of nature without awareness such as Whitehead’s; “a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the hurrying of material, endless and meaningless.” would be much too generous. There could be no hurrying or material without some perspective in which those qualities were being presented.

John Locke (Berkeley’s predecessor) states that we define an object by its primary and secondary qualities. He takes heat as an example of a secondary quality. If you put one hand in a bucket of cold water, and the other hand in a bucket of warm water, then put both hands in a bucket of lukewarm water, one of your hands is going to tell you that the water is cold and the other that the water is hot. Locke says that since two different objects (both your hands) perceive the water to be hot and cold, then the heat is not a quality of the water.

While Locke used this argument to distinguish primary from secondary qualities, Berkeley extends it to cover primary qualities in the same way. For example, he says that size is not a quality of an object because the size of the object depends on the distance between the observer and the object, or the size of the observer. Since an object is a different size to different observers, then size is not a quality of the object. Berkeley rejects shape with a similar argument and then asks: if neither primary qualities nor secondary qualities are of the object, then how can we say that there is anything more than the qualities we observe? – Wiki

Berkeley sees that there is no difference in kind, but only a difference in degree between the so called primary and secondary qualities, and that if anything, the more impersonal qualities make more sense as secondary reductions of the more personal qualities than the other way around.

We cannot see carbon dioxide gas, but that doesn’t mean that there is no aspect of our extended sub-personal sensitivity which is not embodied (from our perspective) by cellular and molecular interactions. We don’t see it or smell it, but we feel our lungs distress when it can’t get rid of it fast enough. If it were the other way around, and the more public facing qualities were primary, then we get all of the problems of Philosophy of Mind that have to do with binding and the Explanatory Gap. There’s not any plausible justification for personal qualities to emerge from the impersonal. Privacy could only be a subset of public conditions, and rather than emotions or sensations, we should have only shapes and positions which represent a sum of more complex shapes and positions.

Berkeley is interesting. He had some ideas which were 200 years before their time.  Although his intuitions defied the prevailing Early Modern views, they are right at home in the 20th century with Relativity, Positivism, and Quantum Theory. It makes sense to me that someone like that would of course see Deist philosophy and Classical mechanics as being rooted in a fundamental error of mistaking the form for the content. For him, the content was God, so he cast those who were devoted to that error, the free-thinkers and Enlightenment era mathematicians, as infidels.

In 1732, he published Alciphron, a Christian apologetic against the free-thinkers, and in 1734†, he published The Analyst, an empiricist critique of the foundations of infinitesimal calculus, which was influential in the development of mathematics.

It seems to me that while he was radical and progressive in his prescience of a post-Newtonian, immaterial physics based on relativity, his enthusiasm for this view was too far ahead of his time. His unfortunate rejection of the foundations of modernism put him in on the wrong side of history. He could see clearly the problem of substances which were absolute, but he could only express the alternative solution in pre-scientific terms, which in his tribe meant God and Christianity. He wrote:

“Whatever power I may have over my own thoughts, I find the ideas actually perceived by Sense have not a like dependence on my will. When in broad daylight I open my eyes, it is not in my power to choose whether I shall see or no, or to determine what particular objects shall present themselves to my view; and so likewise as to the hearing and other senses; the ideas imprinted on them are not creatures of my will. There is therefore some other Will or Spirit that produces them.

Here I think that he is making very much the same mistake that he has seen his opponents make when considering his positions. That we cannot change what we see when we open our eyes does not mean that something else must be able to change it, but he jumps to that conclusion because he has not considered the possibility that sense itself could be the parent of God just as it is of heat and matter. A sense which is semi-teleological and semi-mechanistic.

In the 21st century, beginning with a few lone proponents of panpsychism and a growing school of computationalism, I think that we are working our way back to where Berkeley was before he got all churchy in the 1730s. With the intellectual tools provided by figures like Einstein, Planck, Gödel, and Turing, we have all of the pieces necessary to put together the puzzle of a completed physics. It may be still too soon for that. Instead of going forward all the way to a pansensitive physics, we may have to pass through yet another era of compromise, filtering the provocative immanence of primordial qualia through the comparatively familiar neo-Rationalism of information science.

The information revolution is undeniably compelling, however it still orphans the aesthetic qualities of realism into an unacknowledged dualism of ‘emergence’. It may seem like a minor detail, but on the level of the Absolute, this particular detail is all-important. What we see when we open our eyes is not only the Will of God or the mechanism of his absence, not only nested abstract structures and functions, but the sensible awareness in which those frameworks are defined. It is a big picture which can make sense in many ways, and each perspective implicates all that the others seem to lack. To get around the problems of idealism, all that we need to do is to shed the presumption of subjectivity in favor of a physical dimension of privacy. Lose the subject as defining experience, and you have subjectivity itself as one particular kind of sensory-motive participation. One particular dance in the cosmic disco which is shared by this clan of fancy pants hominids. Human experience is subjective, not because all experience is subjective, but because the story of an animal’s life is inherently self-directed. It makes sense that this selfish theme would be hard to separate from awareness itself, but Eastern yogas and Western occultism insist that it is possible to do just that. NDEs, OBEs, and other paranormal phenomena also seem to hint at such disembodied awareness, or they hint at the fallibility and self-deception of the brain, depending on who you are. At this time, going along with the non-subjective view of pansensitivity, I suggest that the pre-scientific notion of souls, like chakras, and God, are better understood as semi-metaphors than literal entities. A soul is the gestalt of autobiographical quality which disperses across time. It is not an energy which animates the body, it is the story which is represented publicly by the body, voice, personality, behaviors, ideas, etc. It’s not a subject or an idea, it is the idea of the subject as an object.

*”and never the twain shall meet”

**There are other examples also. If the object “The Sun” were to move twice as close to the Earth, the relation between the two, which RSM defines as a concept (“concepts are the relations between object”) evidently causes the seas (objects) to boil on Earth. That sounds like the twain are meeting to me. Besides that whole “never the twain shall meet” is really substance dualism, isn’t it? Substance dualism has the homunculus regress…something has to bridge the gap between the twain, which would then have to either be a third substance, or an infinite sandwich of non-meeting ‘twains. Another example is accounting. Accounting has no problem classifying goods (objects) and services (“concepts”) in the same categories of expenses or revenue. It all converts to money, so what is money?

†In 1734 he also became a Roman Catholic Bishop in Ireland (Bishop of Coyne), which is why George Berkeley is also Bishop Berkeley.

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