Saturday, August 13, 2005

"If I want your opinion I'll give it to you," said the dying man to the doctor

How can we know the dancer from the dance? (W. B. Yeats)

Thinking about those imaginary people who go off on rockets at nearly the speed of light, and come back after only a year in their own lives to find that thousands of years have elapsed here on Earth...

It is people's own version of events that is authoritative for matters concerning themselves, most dramatically whether they are alive or dead. How somebody else perceives the timing of one's being alive or dead may be interesting and strange, but it is irrelevant to oneself as the owner of the attribute "alive".

From various vantage points, other people may think that one dies at different times, some seeing one drop down dead later than others see the same thing. Nobody may see it sooner than it actually happens, I hope it's safe to assume. If the soonest to know is oneself (not that one can really know, being dead), can we say that the time when it occurs is the only possible time for the owner of the attribute, and always earlier than all other observations?

So even though different observers can't agree on the timing, there is a time in all of their pasts after they have seen it, which corresponds to the time in the dying person's present. The event in the owner's realm, in this case the owner's death, is a fixed mark around which the observers are arranged and correlated. There is one absolute version that is authoritative, the owner's version, and it determines the observers' experiences absolutely.

All versions are not equal, since the secondary ones held by the observers are variously inaccurate, but the owner's version is absolute and it precedes and controls the others. The mistake is to say that all versions are equally valid. You could say that you don't really care about the attributes of an event according to the owner of the attributes until they impinge on you, however it is the case that you are at the mercy of those incoming attributes as they were established before they reached you. Your fate was sealed in the realm of the owner, in that sense.

Therefore it is necessary to get rid of the idea that one can see anything happening, all that can be seen is a trace after something has happened. In effect we don't see anything, we only see images and traces of things. That is what seeing is, it's a property of the observer, arising in response to events that have already occurred earlier. As to what things are, we can't say, all we know are the effects they produce.

Even though we have the fascinating mystery of living in a haze of relativism, where none can see any other accurately, and "outside" things are not the same for any two people or for any two entities, we still have absolutes within us about which we know with authority. We know we're alive as long as we're alive, and we know what we think and feel, absolutely unmoderated by anybody else's version. Our subjective experience is ours alone. Outside people and entities also know about the attributes they own. Communication bridges the uncertainty, it is transmission and reception, across the quagmire of timespace, with noise and delays on the line. Over.

1 comment:

  1. Only Schroedinger's cat knows whether it is alive or dead, and when it's dead, nobody knows. To say that it is equally dead and alive when we don't know is just plain inaccurate. Effectively it might as well be, but that is a different matter. The precise answer to whether it is alive or dead is that we don't know. To go beyond and say it is equally alive and dead is impetuosity.