Position and Disposition

A while ago I brought up a friend’s discussion of ‘isness’ and ‘aboutness’ as primordial principles, which I like, and which coincide with some of my own ideas about absolute primitives. I was able to link a lot of ideas about space and time to these, as well as the idea of private phenomenology or subjectivity correlating to time and public realism or objectivity correlating to space. Not just correlating perhaps, but ontologically identical. Two canonical conjugates as dual aspects of a neutral monism of awareness/discernment (same thing) called sense.

Tonight I am adding another dyad to the mix: position and disposition. Since the Cartesian revolution, we in the West have succumbed completely to portrait of the universe as particles in space. With quantum mechanics, energy itself has been quantized as positions of probabilistic selector-beings – pure position-ness suspended in fields of non-position. The uncertainty principle (if it still holds) underscores the unique relevance of the mutually exclusive nature of position and momentum.

We know what position is. At least, through Descartes vision we think we know what position is well enough that we are very comfortable with the appearance of it. Points on a line, grid on a manifold, etc. If we try to bring this model into the real world however, that’s where the uncertainty sets in. Our notion of position really depends on our capacity to compare the dispositions of what we are using to measure something’s position. x=5, y=-1 is a description of how far a point is from x=0, y=0 on a rigid reference body of abstractly calibrated distance units. It’s an ordered manifold of dispositions. These are literal dispositions – expectations of where something must be relative to the places which it is not, but could be*.

I would extend this notion of disposition to encompass all qualities about the thing in question other than position. Momentum, for instance is a story about where something has been and where it will go, and what the consequences might be for other bodies involved. Energy, whether potential (a measure of what dispositions can be produced) or kinetic (a one dimensional measure of actualized dis-position), thermal, chromatic, emotional (tactile, visual, limbic disposition qualities, respectively), acoustic, etc. All of these are dispositions – stories about what’s been going on and what might happen next.

Think of the hands of a clock. Each tick is a disposition. Telling time requires that we can detect the change from one position to another, and that we can infer a story of sequence through that change. The position of the hands must be understood as a snapshot of repeating cycles. This is all happening in our imagination. It’s not really in the hands of the clock, they are just gears or circuits cycling meaninglessly. They are not taking the time temperature of the universe, because there is no such thing.

Position, in a more Einsteinian sense, is a temporary agreement of dispositions about other dispositions. If you knew precisely where you were relative to the major bodies of the solar system, you would know exactly what time it is. They are the same thing. Your exact position in space is the only objective measure of time that there can ever be – and space is only a figure of speech. What we are really talking about is your position relative to Earth, Sun, Moon, the rest of the galaxy, etc. If you were to suddenly anchor yourself to some absolute Cartesian coordinate of ‘space’ you would be hurtled off of the planet at a speed of hundreds of thousands of miles per hour.

I’ve already tried to say too much here (what else is new?), but where I was going with this is that position is a public agreement of dispositions and disposition is a private affect. What is an affect? It’s an emotion or state of mind, feeling, etc, but I think that it can be defined in these physical terms as the private disposition. Taking it further, the private disposition as affect is actualized as a public disposition (effect).

I don’t know if I can communicate why this is important, but I think that if we take these simple ideas about position and disposition, we get bodies and biographies. Dispositions as an affective charge behind the effects and behaviors which we participate in over a lifetime. It’s not a field or a force, not energy or light (though all of those qualities give us clues), it is experience. It is time, but not clock time (which is a spatial derivative of averaged time), memory time. Dream time. Proto-psyche is the primordial landscape of the universe, and cosmos is the grand disposition from which all positions find (and lose) their mooring.

*To quote my friend Stephen’s definition of space.

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