Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Synchronic properties, consciousness and presentism

Say that a property A of x is synchronic if its being had by x depends solely on what happens at precisely one instantaneous time. Roughly speaking, A is synchronic iff x's possession of A is compatible with x existing only at one time. The definition is rough, but hopefully it will serve.

Consider the following claims:
Thesis 1: Some fundamental properties (of beings that exist only in time) are not synchronic.
Thesis 2: If presentism holds, all fundamental properties (or at least: all fundamental properties of beings that exist only in time) are synchronic.
It follows from the two theses that presentism is false.

Are the theses true? I find both of them plausible, though I am better able to argue for 1 than for 2.

The argument for 1 is by citing an example. It seems that my consciousness is a fundamental property of me. But consciousness is not synchronic. A thought experiment: diminish the length of time of an experience, say a pain. As one diminishes the length of time, the vividness of the experience goes down in proportion to the length, and is zero in the limit as the experience has zero length. But an instant of time has zero length (this is a substantive claim; those who hold a discrete theory of time can deny it). Thus, an experience that happens only at an instant would be one that we wouldn't be aware of. So consciousness is not synchronic.

It is also plausible that the brain states that correlate with consciousness are not synchronic. If one froze the brain on an instant, one wouldn't be able to tell whether it is a conscious brain or not, because if one froze the brain on an instant one wouldn't be able to tell in what directions all the particles are heading.

Plausibly, there are some fundamental axiological properties of human beings, like being well. But no such axiological properties are synchronic. (We can imagine two people frozen on time slices. In one, the particles all have random velocities and in the other they have normal velocities. The one with random velocities is in the process of exploding. So he's not well. But you can't tell that he's in the process of exploding from just the timeslice.)

Actually, I don't know if there are any fundamental synchronic properties. Maybe spatial location is, though. But all I need is the existence of some non-synchronic fundamental properties.

Now, Thesis 2 is more of an intuition based on the fact that the presentist believes in the ontological priority of the now. It seems that the presentist's reality is constituted by what is the case strictly now, i.e., the synchronic properties grounded in the present, together with what was and will be the case, i.e., the synchronic properties grounded in the past and future.

This argument encapsulates an intuition that presentism is incompatible with consciousness.


Jonathan D. Jacobs said...

I think any presentist who thinks they have an answer to the truthmaker problem will deny premise 2, though I suppose this depends on what you mean by "depends" in your definition of synchronic. Since presentists who think they have an answer to the truthmaker problem think that there are presently existing truthmakers for the past, they think the present sufficient to fix the past. So those truthmakers are not synchronic in your "roughly speaking" sense of synchronic.

Take, for example, Ross Cameron's distributional properties. One simply can't have a temporal distributional property at time without existing at other times.

So it seems this argument is simply an interesting way of restating the truthmaker objection. Right?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think this may make the non-synchronic properties non-fundamental, however. My consciousness, if it's not synchronic, is then grounded in both a present state of mine as well as in some present truthmakers for past states of mine. But then these truthmakers and my present state are going to be more fundamental than the consciousness. And if so, then it seems we have a reductive analysis of consciousness in terms of things other than consciousness.

Jonathan D. Jacobs said...

It's reductive only if your being conscious is distinct from the truthmakers in question. I deny that, and I think Cameron would as well. Your currently being conscious is a present property of yours that is past directed, in some sense.

How this gets cashed out depends on one's account of truthmakers. On my favored account, your being conscious at this moment is itself the truthmaker for things past, on account of a primitive fact about it that it was brought about in thus-and-such a manner. Whatever property you think consciousness is, I put to work as the truthmaker for things past. That's hardly reductive, unless the property you think consciousness is is already reductive.

On Cameron's account, best I understand it, your being presently conscious is not merely about the present; it is a temporal distributional property. Think of an extended simply whose left half is red and whose right half is white. Since it's simple, we must appeal to a distributional property: it's being thus-and-so colored across space. That is the fundamental color property the simple has. We talk about the redness of the left half, but there is no such property. What there is is the property "being colored thus-and-so across space", the having of which entails that the words "that thing's left half is red" are truly spoken of it. Similarly, we can talk about your being conscious now, but there is no such property; there is only the property of being conscious in a thus-and-so manner across time, which when had by you entails that the words "you are presently conscious" are truly spoken of you. (It's not my view, but I highly recommend Cameron's "Truthmaking for Presentists" forthcoming in OSM and available on his website. I can't promise I've presented it exactly right.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

I just skimmed Cameron's paper. It may be that I missed his responses, but I see some objections off the top of my head.

1. In w1, I was bent and am now straight, and in w2, I was bent and am now bent. What, fundamentally, then is the property of my having been bent? It seems to be a disjunction of these two (and maybe more) distributional properties. But that seems mistaken. Having been bent is, intuitively, not disjunctive. Moreover, we don't typically explain causally in terms of disjunctive stuff. But having been bent does enter into explanations.

2. If p has truthmaker T in w1, and p does not have truthmaker T in w2, then either p is not true in w2 or p is true in w2 in a different way from how it is true in w1 (alternate phrasings: in virtue of something else, for a different reason, etc.) But if in w1 I was bent and am now straight, while in w2 I was bent and am now bent, then the proposition that I was bent is true in the same way in w1 as in w2 (in virtue of the same thing, for the same reason, etc.)

3. I don't know how this fits with fundamentality. I was bent an hour ago and am now straight and will be straight for another hour. Let P1 be the distributional property of my having been bent an hour ago and now being straight. Let P2 be the distributional property of my having been bent an hour ago and now being straight and remaining straight for three minutes. Let P3 be the distributional property of my having been bent an hour ago and now being straight and remaining straight for an hour. Then, P3 entails P2 and P2 entails P1. Each property will yield a truthmaker for my having been bent an hour ago. But which is the most fundamental property here? Suppose we say P3. Then, generalizing, presumably the most fundamental property of me will be some maximally specific distributional property that describes all my states. So, in the end, I have only one fundamental property. That's weird. Or maybe it's P1. In that case, the greater fundamentality is associated with greater generality. Then, perhaps, an even more fundamental property will be: having been bent an hour ago and being sort of straight now. That doesn't seem right--this move pushes towards the suspicious cases.

Ross Cameron said...

I don't want to derail the discussion from your original concern about consciousness (about which I don't have much to say), but thought I'd just chime in with a brief response to your objections.

(i) I don't think the property 'being bent' is fundamental: so nothing, fundamentally, is the property of being bent or of having been bent. On the view I offer, the only tensed properties taken as fundamental are ages. I'm happy to embrace the consequence that causality does not relate fundamental properties but only derivative ones. I don't think causality is fundamental either, so don't see a problem there.

(ii) I agree that is true in the same way in both worlds, since I think there's only one way to be true, but I don't agree - and am not sure what the argument is for thinking this was meant to be - that it is true in virtue of the same thing in both worlds. Is it something particular about that proposition, or do you think there's an objection to any view that has a proposition p be true in virtue of A in w but in virtue of B in v?

(iii) I think you have two fundamental properties: your age, and the biggest temporal distributional property that says how you are across your entire lifetime. Maybe that is weird as you say. I think any presentist view that tries to uphold truthmaker is going to have some weirdness. So much the worse for presentism? Maybe. But then presentists think believing in dinosaurs is weird - I'm not sure how much progression is going to be made here.

Anyway, as I said, I don't want to hijack your thread, so I'll bow out now.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Thanks for coming here! I think our big point of disagreement is going to be about causation. If the fundamental properties are going to be age and the biggest temporal distributional one, I think it's going to be hard to have causal relations between one's properties (e.g., being bent at t1 because one was bent at t0), because I think causal relations between properties must come down to causal relations between fundamental properties, and no property instance can be its own cause.

Regarding (ii), I do think that there is such a thing as a proposition's being true in the same way and true in a different way. For instance, the proposition that Socrates exists is true in the same way in every world in which it is true. The proposition that Socrates or Aristotle exists is true in different ways in different worlds--sometimes it's true because of one truthmaker and sometimes another.

Similarly, if we have a disjunctive definition, then something that satisfies one disjunct and something that satisfies another will satisfy that definition in "a different way".

(Thus, if we adopt a Tarskian truth definition, then a disjunctive proposition will satisfy that definition differently depending on which disjunct is true.)

Ross Cameron said...

I don't like calling that 'different ways to be true', but I suspect our disagreement here is merely terminological: I agree propositions can be true for different *reasons* in different worlds. But then I don't see why I should believe that 'A is bent' is true for the same reason in every world in which it is true - is there an argument for this?

(Actually, in one sense I do believe it: it's true in each world because A has a temporal distributional property that entails bentness at a time. But of course, in another sense it's true for different reasons, because it's different dist properties doing the work - it's the stronger sense of 'true for the same reason' I don't accept, and don't see why I should.)

enigMan said...

My apologies for butting into an on-going and properly philosophical discussion with my much more naive thoughts, but I regard consciousness as a prima facie argument for Presentism, and the argument of this post as a reason for not thinking of time as actually extended (or not as actual, insofar as time is by definition extended) if Presentism is true.

Surely our pre-philosophical, quotidian experiance is that what exists now (e.g. the chair one is sitting on) exists, that some things did exist but no longer exist (e.g. dinosaurs), and that somethings may exist in the future but do not yet exist (e.g. the following words). That is, we experience ourselves (and the spatial world around us) as being wholly ourselves (the spatial world) now. But of course, we also experience ourselves (the world) as capable of change.

We naturally think of change in terms of different times, where time is extended like space clearly is. But our conscious experience is most directly that the only real (or actual) time is now. More precisely, times are not fundamentally real, but are rather ways of talking about the changing present. Times that derive from the linear representation of change are not real entities. Time is in that sense unreal, whereas change is real. So the present is neither instantaneous nor extended.

an experience that happens only at an instant would be one that we wouldn't be aware of

That is correct, I think; but an experience that happens only in the changing present could still be the only sort of experience that we have. And surely that view is Presentism, since it denies that either the past (how things were) or the future really exist. Rather, they did (things were that way) and will do, respectively. And if what exists is the changing present alone, with nothing on either side of it (since that dimension does not really exist, except as a quasi-spatial representation of how the present changes), then that reality is neither extended nor unextended temporally (since that dimension does not really exist).

Under such a Presentism, an example of a temporally unextended consciousness could be that of God were God not changing in any way, e.g. before His first change if there was one (which would occur as the beginning of absolute time, so to speak). One can perhaps imagine an experience being uniform, and potentially extended temporally, insofar as were there a ticking clock one could measure its duration, and then imagine that there could be no such clock because it would have to have been sustained by the one having the unchanging experience.

Indeed, I think that this rather naive (but innate and hence widespread) view of Presentism is especially tennable if there is a God, because of the truthmaker problem. God, as the fundamental consciousness, is intrinsically constant. He has an essential constancy, much as you remain you as you change in other ways. So He is now necessarily the one that He was, even under Presentism (or rather, especially under Presentism), the one who made the past the way it was. (I say 'especially' because only if time was like space could its parts be occupied by beings logically independent of each other.)