Developmental Temporality

6 January 2014

Monday


Time flies, as we say, and as it flies we develop temporally, passing through stages of time consciousness.

Time flies, as we say, and as it flies we develop temporally, passing through stages of time consciousness.

The Idea of Developmental Temporality

The idea of developmental temporality seems very simple to me, but I have learned from experience that the things I find to be intuitively obvious are anything but to others, in the same way that the ideas that others take for granted come slowly to me, and I often must pass through my own developmental process of misunderstanding another’s ideas in several different ways before I can begin to really focus on the intended meaning.

There are many theories of developmental psychology to describe the life of the individual, and there are also many theories of civilizational development to account for the life cycle of a civilization — though the theories of development applicable to entire civilizations are not usually conceived in developmental terms. There is, in fact, a reason that civilizations are not usually viewed in a developmental light, which is because it has become morally unacceptable in our time to make a distinction in the level of development of civilizations because this implies comparison, and comparisons among civilizations evoke the idea of colonialist paternalism. To speak of civilizations in developmental terms runs the risk of encountering moral outrage for ranking civilizations at a time when all civilizations are understood to be equal (though some are more equal than others).

Most well known among these theories of development are Piaget’s cognitive developmental stages, Erikson’s psychosocial developmental stages, and Vygotsky’s theory of zones of proximal development, all of which I have discussed in other contexts (cf., e.g., The Hierarchy of Perspective Taking). Piaget’s cognitive approach has come in for a lot of criticism because it focuses on intellectual development and does not concern itself with emotional or social development. Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development still have a bit of currency, though many more sophisticated theories have refined the work of Piaget, Erikson, and Vygotsky.

I don’t know of anyone who has formulated a developmental psychology of time-consciousness, although such a schema is implicit in Husserl’s phenomenology of time consciousness and in other accounts of time and history. (I cite Husserl because it is his account of time that has most influenced me.) The idea of developmental temporality is that our time consciousness, like our intellect, our emotions, our social life, and other aspects of the individual personality, passes through stages of development, and given that the temporality of social wholes emerges from shared temporality, the temporality of social wholes also undergoes a developmental process (cf. The Origins of Time).

Time consciousness at its greatest extent passes imperceptibly into historical consciousness, which is an extension and expansion of time consciousness; there is no absolute distinction between time consciousness and historical consciousness. It would be possible to write a minute-by-minute history of a single day (some works of literature are famous for this technique) so that a period of time within the scope of human time consciousness is treated in terms of historical consciousness. This relationship between time consciousness and historical consciousness is not strictly symmetrical, since there are limits to the extent to which we can expand time consciousness, and the longest spans of time studied by scientific historiography — the time scales of biology, geology, and cosmology — cannot equally well be treated in temporal and historical terms.

The Seven Ages of Man ('As You Like It', Act II Scene 7), 1838,  William Mulready, born 1786 - died 1863

The Seven Ages of Man (‘As You Like It’, Act II Scene 7), 1838,
William Mulready, born 1786 – died 1863

Ontogenetic Developmental Temporality

The time consciousness of the individual unfolds as ontogenetic developmental temporality. How are we to understand the temporal development of the individual? There are many ways to do this, but I will start with Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s famous evocation of the seven ages of man, which comes from the “All the world’s a stage” monologue from the play As You Like It. Here, in the language of the first folio edition, is the monologue:

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women, meerely Players; They haue their Exits and their Entrances, And one man in his time playes many parts, His Acts being seuen ages. At first the Infant, Mewling, and puking in the Nurses armes: Then, the whining Schoole-boy with his Satchell And shining morning face, creeping like snaile Vnwillingly to schoole. And then the Louer, Sighing like Furnace, with a wofull ballad Made to his Mistresse eye-brow. Then, a Soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the Pard, Ielous in honor, sodaine, and quicke in quarrell, Seeking the bubble Reputation Euen in the Canons mouth: And then, the Iustice In faire round belly, with good Capon lin’d, With eyes seuere, and beard of formall cut, Full of wise sawes, and moderne instances, And so he playes his part. The sixt age shifts Into the leane and slipper’d Pantaloone, With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side, His youthfull hose well sau’d, a world too wide, For his shrunke shanke, and his bigge manly voice, Turning againe toward childish trebble pipes, And whistles in his sound. Last Scene of all, That ends this strange euentfull historie, Is second childishnesse, and meere obliuion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans euery thing.

Taking Shakespeare’s seven ages of man as a convenient point of departure, let us consider each in turn as a stage in the development of historico-temporal consciousness:

● Mewling infant The time consciousness of the infant is confined to the immediately present moment; here time consciousness extends over several seconds, and at most over several minutes.

● whining Schoole-boy With the development of personal autonomy, the individual transcends the immediacy of the moment and begins to be conscious of lengths of time from minutes through hours to days. The whining school-boy hates to go to school because his captivity within the walls of a school for a few hours seems interminable, and the idea of summer seems like an impossibly distant future.

● Sighing lover The signing lover expands his temporality not only diachronically, but also synchronically, and his perception of time expands into a social community. The object of his love is understood to be possessed of a similar temporality to himself, and those impediments to their being together become temporal agents in their own right.

● Bearded soldier In a man’s productive years, whether as soldier or farmer or whatever trade he has taken up, time consciousness necessarily expands to the seasons of the year, and the round of activities appropriate not only to each day, but also to each season, is forced upon the awareness of the individual, and this life according to the seasons eventually expands to comprise years.

● Severe justice The severe justice, the man of the community who takes seriously his role in maintaining the order of his social milieu, finds his historico-temporal conscious expanded to comprise the cycles of years experienced in the growth on cities and industry, the business cycle, and rise and fall of families and their fortunes, and the larger engagements of states and empires that must be counted in years and decades.

● Lean Pantaloon It is only in later life, when the immediate needs of self and family and community have been served that the individual begins to look to his legacy and begins to think in terms of his place within a multi-generational time scale. Although the “pantaloon” is a figure of fun from commedia dell’arte, concerned almost exclusively with money but often fooled and the butt of jokes, the pantoloon figure does rightly indicate a concern for the long-term investment of capital, which is one function of multi-generational thinking. Outside the schematic world of commedia dell’arte, the man who has survived into old age with his intellectual faculties intact plans not for the morrow, or even for the decade, but for generations, and perhaps for centuries. The monuments he sponsors and the legacy that he endows he desires to be a perennial contribution to the ages, and not merely a passing fancy of the present, which latter may have contented him in earlier life.

● Second childhood The deterioration of mental faculties returns the individual to a second childhood, and in this second childhood the individual’s time-consciousness is incrementally reduced to that of the infant — a consciousness of the present moment only, mewling and puking in his nurse’s arms.

This above account of the development of individual time consciousness is only a first rough sketch, and should in no sense be considered definitive or exhaustive. There is much work to be done on ontogenetic temporal consciousness.

stages in the development of civilization

Phylogenetic Developmental Temporality

The time consciousness of social milieux unfolds as phylogenetic developmental temporality. How are we to understand the historico-temporal development of the social wholes? I have several times employed a tripartite division of human history between pre-civilized nomadic hunter-gatherers, agrarian-ecclesiastical civilization, and industrial-technological civilization. I will take this schemata and divide each of these stages in two yielding six stages of social development in human communities. These communities experience the development of historico-temporal consciousness as follows:

● Early Nomadic-Foraging Societies In the earliest nomadic-forager societies life was continuous with the prehuman past and communal time-consciousness was primarily restricted to the immediate present. This is the infancy of historical consciousness, bounded by the length of a day.

● Late Nomadic-Foraging Societies Once a uniquely human modus vivendi was established, building on newly available cognitive capacities, a fully articulated hunter-gather society emerged in which communal time-consciousness embraced an awareness of annual seasons, and planning looked forward to this annual cycle, anticipating, for each biome, the necessary preparations for ongoing survival for a given biological context. Such preparations in temperate climates often became a form of transhumance when a social group migrated twice a year between winter and summer encampments. This particular period of human development corresponded with the climatological period of melting glaciers with the beginning of the current interglacial period and onset of the Holocene, so that each year offered a steadily warmer climate and the opening up of further lands freed from glaciation.

● Early Agrarian-Ecclesiastical Civilization With the advent of civilization in the most extended sense of that term, comprising organized settled agricultural societies and their urban centers, planning for the future becomes systematic. Agricultural production is linked to climatological and astronomical cycles, and time-consciousness expands beyond that annual cycle to become historical consciousness in an explicit form for the first time in human history. Early imperial states — Egyptian Kingdoms, Sumeria, Akkadia, Assyria, etc. — record the dynasties of their kings and begin to keep chronicles and histories of human events.

● Late Agrarian-Ecclesiastical Civilization From approximately the Axial Age to the Industrial Revolution, agrarian-ecclesiastical civilization consolidates its institutions in increasingly mature and technically sophisticated ways, including its institutions of time keeping, calendrics, and rational planning for the future of social institutions. These efforts are, however, hampered by conceptual and technological limitations.

● Early Industrial-Technological Civilization The violent break with the agricultural past that resulted from the industrial revolution meant a slight setback for historical consciousness, but to a certain extent, this setback was necessary, because the largest historico-temporal context industrial-technological civilization had available was a pre-industrial mythological account of the world dating to the Axial Age, which many heroically sought to apply to the changed human circumstances of the post-industrial world, though all such attempts have either been failures or have been maintained only at the cost of bad faith (i.e., Sartrean self-deception). The means of industrial-technological civilization directly addressed those conceptual and technological limitations that held back the development of historico-temporal consciousness in the previous level of social development. the advent of scientific historiography extended concepts of time to geological, biological, and cosmological scales that no human being had previously conceived. The dialectic of the pressing immediacy of industrial society and the newly expanded time scales of scientific historiography has resulted in an incompletely resolved tension; he have yet to fully contextualize the 24/7 world of industrial society into its biological and cosmological place in nature. It is at this juncture that we stand today.

● Late Industrial-Technological Civilization The next level of historical consciousness will be to fully integrate industrial-technological civilization into the time scales conceptualized in scientific historiography, and to understand ourselves and our civilization in this historical context.

As with the stages of individual time consciousness outlined above, this attempt at a schema of civilizational development is in no way definitive or exhaustive, though it is a little more systematic than the series of stages taken from Shakespeare. I also would not want a developmental account of civilization to be understood as the necessary or inevitable path to development of a civilization. In future work I hope to show the possibility of many different forms of civilization that would have been possible but were never realized — what I have elsewhere called Counterfactual Conditionals of the Industrial Revolution.

What's that on the horizon? What does the future hold for us?

What’s that on the horizon? What does the future hold for us?

The Future of Developmental Temporality

A collapse of our civilization into some subsequent ruination (i.e., the realization of an existential risk) may well lead, as in the case of the second childhood of ontogenetic developmental temporality, to the level of historico-temporal consciousness found in early nomadic-forager societies, in which the scope of time-consciousness has contracted to that of the immediate needs of the immediate present, and the struggle to live has become so challenging that there remains no remaining intellectual capacity to place human activity within a larger time scale. In such a scenario we would take no thought for the morrow. Of such individuals in such a state it could be rightly said:

“Man, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.”

On the other hand, the continued existential viability of our civilization would yield further expansions in the scope of historico-temporal consicousness. In the event of transhumanist extensions of individual lifespans by several orders of magnitude, individual consciousness may reach an intimate and personal familiarity with historical periods of time denied to the three-score-and-ten of our current biological embodiment. We may, then, pass beyond Shakespeare’s seven ages and establish new ages of ontogenetic developmental consciousness that embrace larger spans of time, even as our science is defining scales of time beyond those known today. Thus there remains much scope yet for historico-temporal consciousness, which would address, to a certain degree, the asymmetry mentioned above between historical consciousness and temporal conscious. This asymmtry, and the possibilities of further development, suggest many lines of research.

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Sunday


soul rising from body

Preamble

My title today, Human Agency and the Exaptation of Selection, is perhaps not a very good title, but if anyone out there has read a representative selection of my posts they will be aware that all of these topics — human agency, exaptation, and natural selection — are matters to which I have returned time and again, and I feel like I beginning to see my way clear to a point at which I can systematically tie together these themes into something more comprehensive than occasional remarks and comments of the sort that are the usual fare of blog posts.

Macro-Historical Revolutions

All macro-historical revolutions to date have simply happened to us; they were not planned or chosen or made to happen, they just happened. And before the emergence of human agency in history, all the great transitions of natural history — i.e., the natural equivalent of a macro-historical revolution — simply happened without design, purpose, or direction.

Human efforts (including individual choices) in constituting historical realities have, to date, been like the myriad accidents of natural history that together and cumulatively constitute natural history. Even though human consciousness gives meaning and value to these individual decisions, and at times we participate in collective meanings and values, none of this has yet risen to the level of consciously constituting an epoch of history on the basis of human meanings and values. We have given meaning and value to circumstances that we have (accidentally) brought about, but have not brought about a civilization or a way of life in response to a determination to realize particular meanings and values. This is the social equivalent of Schopenhauer’s assertion that, while we are free to do what we want, we are not free to want what we want.

To shape the future of history, to plan for the kind of civilization to come, and possibly even to create a kind of civilization consciously intended and brought into being, would be historically unprecedented on a scale beyond the unprecedented events of human history (such as I recently wrote about in Invariant Civilizational Properties in Futurist Scenarios, i.e., how it would be unprecedented for an invariant of civilization to be overturned), because the trend of human history being shaped by non-human forces is far older than human history, and far older than our species.

Naturalism and its Others

It is at this point that the naturalistically inclined philosopher of history must obviously and unavoidably part company with those who retain theological conceptions of the world and its development. The idea of the world, up until the emergence of human intelligence from human consciousness, being utterly unplanned, undirected, and undesigned is a rigorously (and indeed rigidly) naturalistic conception that excludes even the most distant and unconcerned creator of deism.

Even the religiously and theologically inclined who make no attempt to defy what science tells us about the world must retain some minimal sense of purpose and direction — perhaps a quasi-Aristotelian final cause — since without this there remains nothing upon which to pun one’s beliefs that is not strictly a part of nature — no transcendent eschatology or soteriology.

It should be obvious from my other posts that I am writing from a rigorously naturalistic perspective, but sometimes one must be explicit about these things so as not to leave any wiggle room, so that one’s naturalistic formulations will either be interpreted naturalistically or rejected tout court because they are naturalistic. What I have written above about unprecedented historical developments simply makes no sense is one deviates from a strict naturalism, and that is why I make it explicit here.

The Threshold of Agency

The imposition of human will upon unthinking and uncomprehending nature began in the most rudimentary ways — the chipping of stone for tools and the gathering of sufficient sustenance such that this might last beyond the next meal. At this level of planning and provision for the future, the human mind is no different from other mammalian minds, since we know that other mammals make rudimentary tools and store food for the future.

To define the point at which human planning and provision for the future exceed this common mammalian standard, and thereby also exceed the possibility of being entirely the result of instinct refined by natural selection, genetically encoded in our biology (and the ultimate limit of evolutionary psychology), involves a sorites paradox (i.e., the paradox of the heap). While we need not define a particular point that human planning exceeds the mammalian norm, we can content ourselves with a span of time (viz. between the emergence of biologically modern homo sapiens and the advent of the historical period strictly speaking, i.e., a span of time encompassing human prehistory). In accordance with what I have called the Truncation Principle, we can in fact recognize an historical discontinuity, even if that discontinuity comes about gradually.

Over some period of time, then, human planning and provision exceeded the mammalian norm and became something historically unprecedented. We tend to magnify this transition, calling ourselves the “rational animal” and associating our reason with that which is uniquely human. One of the great themes of our time is that of human beings asserting their control over the planet, assuming de facto right over the disposition of the biosphere. In fact, we don’t even control our own history, much less the history of the planet. We affect our history and the natural history of our planet, but we do not control them.

We have risen to the level of micro-historical efficacy with the first rudimentary steps of tool making and food storage. We rose to the level of meso-historical efficacy in constituting human societies. These societies began as emergent accidents of human behavior, but I think that we can assert that, over time, we have consciously constituted at least a few limited examples of communities intentionally constituted to certain ends. We rose to the level of exo-historical efficacy in constituting the largest institutions and political entities that have dominated human history. Many of these institutions and political entities have also been accidents of history, but, again, I think that we can say that there are at least some explicit examples of the purposeful constitution of human institutions and political entities.

In other words, have passed at least three thresholds of agency defined in terms of ecological temporality. For human agency to rise to the level of macro-historical efficacy we would need to rise to the level of shaping entire eras of civilization and history. We aren’t there yet. As with the natural historical emergence of human communities and later larger institutions, which began with historical accidents and were only later rationalized, human macro-history remains at the level of our accidental participation. Millions upon millions of conscious human actions were required to create the industrial revolution, but no one consciously sought to create the industrial revolution; although it was, in a sense, made by us, in a more important sense it simply happened to us.

The Problem of Progress

In several posts — Civilization and the Technium, Biology Recapitulates Cosmology, and Progress, Stagnation, and Retrogression among them — I have mentioned Kevin Kelly’s explicit arguments for progress in his book What Technology Wants. I have mentioned this because, in terms of our current intellectual climate, he is an outlier, although among techno-philosophers he may represent something closer to a consensus. Among contemporary academic philosophers and historians, almost no one argues for progress — to do so is considered an unforgivable form of naïveté.

I mention this again here because the above treatment of human agency in terms of ecological temporality might provide a quantitative way to talk about human progress and the progress of human civilization that is not tied to the development of some particular technology. Any time anyone asserts that there has been progress because we now have airplanes and computers whereas once we did not, someone else responds by pointing to the moral horrors of the twentieth century, such as genocide, to demonstrate that technological progress cannot be conflated with moral progress. Moral progress requires an entirely separate argument, as does aesthetic progress. (So too, presumably religious, ideological, or eschatological progress, but I will not attempt to address any of these at present.)

The expanding scope of human agency through levels of ecological temporality can be interpreted as a kind of progress independent of any technological development. In so far as human agency is centrally implicated in human morality, the progress of human agency could even be interpreted as a form of moral progress. Now, this is an admittedly deceptive way to formulate it, because I do not here mean “moral” in the narrow sense of “ethical” but rather “moral” in the way we would use the term in a phrase like, “the moral lives of human beings.” Another way to formulate this would be to call it human progress, but this is probably no improvement at all. I mean progress in the form of asserting human agency over the peculiarly human aspects of our lives — emotions, relationships, interactions, evaluations, creations, and so forth.

A Darwinian conception of history

A Darwinian conception of history and of civilization is simply a conception of history and civilization fully in accord with Darwin’s thorough-doing naturalism, and especially the role of selection in the constitution of historical entities (like human history and human civilization). We can understand Darwinian conceptions of history and civilization as aspects of a Darwinian cosmology. The above formulations of the ecological temporal thresholds of human agency allow us to do this in an interesting way.

When human agency crosses a threshold from being subject to accidents, including its own cumulative accidents, to asserting control over the whole process of agency and its consequences — i.e., what it brings about — what is essentially happening is that human agency is taking over for natural selection; selection, or some part of selection, is transferred from nature to humanity. In other words, the expansion of human agency is the exaptation of selection. Selection that began as natural selection, taken over by the expanding agency of human beings, becomes human selection. This is exaptation not of organic structures, but of behavioral structures, i.e., exaptation on the order of the will.

To assert that the expansion of human agency is the exaptation of selection is to formulate a Darwinian conception of history and of civilization that does not need to declare the progress is impossible to account for in a selective paradigm, and also is not obligated to argue that progress is inherent in the very nature of things, which it is not.

Recapitulation

One can understand the problematic idea of “progress” (which we may someday be able to take out of scare quotes) as the increasing human ability to impose human direction, purpose, and design upon history.

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Sunday


In my last post, Axes of Historiography, I mentioned in passing that a more detailed and comprehensive schematic taxonomy of the axes of history could be obtained by interpreting the axes of historiography in terms of ecological temporality. This post will be my first attempt to sketch this in barest outline. What follows is sufficiently complex that it may of of little practical use, even of little practical intellectual use in terms of thinking things through, nevertheless the impulse to elaborate is there.

Here are the categories of historiographic methodology that I formulated in Axes of Historiography:

● nomothetic synchrony

Law-like interaction of all elements within a broadly-defined present

● ideographic synchrony

Contingent interactions of all elements within a broadly-defined present

● nomothetic diachrony

Law-like succession of related events through historical time (especially “deep time”)

● ideographic diachrony

Contingent succession of related events through historical time

Keeping this in mind, with its very sketchy distinction between the synchronic and the diachronic scope of the present, respectively, consider a more detailed breakdown of temporal scope. In my post ecological temporality I distinguish five levels of temporality from the personal lived experience of micro-temporality flowing from the punctiform present to the greatest sweep of history that I call meta-temporality:

●Micro-temporality: The temporal setting in which the individual lives; immediate “lived” time and individual time consciousness, as well as the finest grained temporal structure of non-conscious events.

●Meso-temporality: Relations between micro-temporalities or connections between immediate temporal contexts.

●Exo-temporality: Links between a temporal setting in which the individual does not have an active role and the individual’s immediate temporal context.

●Macro-temporality: The historical era in which individuals live, linking into a single history the exotemporal structures that lie outside immediate temporal experience or fine-grained temporal interactions.

●Meta-temporality: The whole of metaphysical history in which the individual and other lesser temporalities (Meso-temporality, Exo-temporality, and Macro-temporality) are embedded, and the temporal scope at which ideas unfold in history.

As I explained in Metaphysical Ecology Reformulated and Ecological Temporality, I derived this quinquepartite schema from a modification of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s conception of biosocial ecology.

Using ecological temporality to define the scope of time, and using the axes of history to define the methodology used to study a given scope of time, there are twenty permutations of historical study, as follows:

● Micro-temporal nomothetic synchrony

Law-like, predictable interactions of all elements across the immediate lived present of the individual

● Micro-temporal ideographic synchrony

Contingent, unpredictable interactions of all elements across the immediate lived present of the individual

● Micro-temporal nomothetic diachrony

Law-like, predictable succession of related events in the immediate lived present of the individual

● Micro-temporal ideographic diachrony

Contingent, unpredictable succession of related events in the immediate lived present of the individual

● Meso-temporal nomothetic synchrony

Law-like, predictable interaction across micro-temporalities or connections across temporal contexts of micro-temporalities

● Meso-temporal ideographic synchrony

Contingent, unpredictable interactions across micro-temporalities or connections across temporal contexts of micro-temporalities

● Meso-temporal nomothetic diachrony

Law-like, predictable succession of related events in relations between micro-temporalities or connections between temporal contexts of microtemporalites

● Meso-temporal ideographic diachrony

Contingent, unpredictable succession of related events in relations between micro-temporalities or connections between temporal contexts of micro-temporalities

● Exo-temporal nomothetic synchrony

Law-like, predictable interactions of all temporal elements across temporal settings in which the individual does not have an immediate, active role

● Exo-temporal ideographic synchrony

Contingent, unpredictable interactions of all temporal elements across temporal settings in which the individual does not have an immediate, active role

● Exo-temporal nomothetic diachrony

Law-like, predictable succession of related temporal events linking temporal settings in which the individual does not have an immediate, active role and the individual’s immediate temporal context

● Exo-temporal ideographic diachrony

Contingent, unpredictable succession of related temporal events linking temporal settings in which the individual does not have an immediate, active role and the individual’s immediate temporal context

● Macro-temporal nomothetic synchrony

Law-like, predictable interaction of all elements across the historical era in which individuals live

● Macro-temporal ideographic synchrony

Contingent, unpredictable interactions of all elements across the historical era in which individuals live

● Macro-temporal nomothetic diachrony

Law-like, predictable succession of related events through historical time

● Macro-temporal ideographic diachrony

Contingent, unpredictable succession of related events through historical time

● Meta-temporal nomothetic synchrony

Law-like, predictable interaction of all elements across the temporal scope at which ideas unfold in metaphysical history

● Meta-temporal ideographic synchrony

Contingent, unpredictable interactions of all elements across the temporal scope at which ideas unfold in metaphysical history

● Meta-temporal nomothetic diachrony

Law-like, predictable succession of related events through the temporal scope at which ideas unfold in metaphysical history

● Meta-temporal ideographic diachrony

Contingent, unpredictable succession of related events through the temporal scope at which ideas unfold in metaphysical history

This looks and sounds too complicated to be of much help in illuminating any understanding of history, but if you take the time to think it through, you may see some virtues in this.

How can it make any sense to speak of micro-temporal synchrony when I have been characterizing synchrony in terms of a broadly defined present, while the micro-temporal is by definition narrowly defined? This is a matter of taking a present just large enough to be larger than the narrowest interpretation of micro-temporality (which would be the punctiform present), but not so large as to encompass the next level of temporality, that of meso-temporality. So micro-temporal ideographic synchrony would be something like situational awareness, while micro-temporal nomothetic synchrony would be those things in your immediate environment (perhaps those events within the lived experience of one’s own mental life) that you expect to happen because of the predictable regularities of experience.

It takes a little effort and a little sympathetic interpretation to make the whole structure work, but when it is interpreted charitably not only is the whole a coherent and systematic structure, but it actually eliminates some ambiguities by stretching out the boundaries of temporal categories until they abut neighboring categories. For example, the upper bound of micro-temporality stretched upward and outward by a synchronic interpretation abuts the lower bound of meso-temporality stretched downward and inward by a synchronic interpretation. Thus there is a certain usefulness for this schema, and it is not merely a theoretical indulgence.

The next step in this exposition of ecological temporality and the axes of history would be to produce a particular, concrete example of each of the twenty instances of historical thought outlined above in order to intuitively illuminate the idea of each category. I don’t have that many examples to hand at the moment, however, so I will save that effort for another time.

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Biohistory and Biopolitics

25 February 2012

Saturday


About a week ago I was browsing in a used book store and had the good fortune to come across a book that I’d never heard of, but just the title told me that it was something that would immediately appeal to my particular perspective on history. The book, which I purchased, is Western Civilization in Biological Perspective: Patterns in Biohistory by Stephen Boyden.

Professor Stephen Boyden

The author, I learned upon investigation, has had a long and varied career — exactly the sort of thing that would give a person the kind of broad perspective that would be needed to write the history from western civilization from a biological perspective.

Recently, in a series of posts — Geopolitics and Biopolitics, Addendum on Geopolitics and Biopolitics, and A Further Note on Geopolitics and Biopolitics — I took the idea of “biopolitics” and “biopower” from Foucault and developed it as a possible alternative to geopolitics as a form of strategic analysis.

There is nothing of Foucault in Boyden’s book. Foucault’s name does not appear in the index, and a search of the text reveals no reference to Foucault. More importantly, the nature of the text itself is utterly divorced from Foucault and from continental philosophy generally speaking — it seems to employ no terminology or concepts in common with the continental tradition, and treats of none of the familiar preoccupations of this tradition (Marx and Freud are mentioned in passing in a couple of places, but are in no sense a focus of the text; they do not even influence the terms of the discussion).

Although Boyden’s treatment of biohistory has virtually nothing to do with Foucault, I can’t imagine a more perfect theoretical foundation for biopolitics than a scholarly treatment of biohistory as found in Boyden. Boyden brings the kind of Anglo-American objectivity (though he is an Aussie) to biohistory that could greatly sharpen and improve the formulations of biopolitics, which latter are vulnerable to the enthusiasms of continental philosophy. Foucault himself insisted upon the “grayness” of genealogy, and the patient analysis of Boyden constitutes a de facto genealogy of biopower, which is something Foucault said that he had to write, but which he did not get to before he died.

A biohistory of civilization would be, in effect, an ecology of civilization, and Boyden employs ecological concepts throughout his study. One way to bring further analytical clarity to an ecology of civilization would be the systematic use of ecological temporality in the exposition of biohistory. This is something that I will think about.

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Thursday


big-history-timeline 2

Yesterday’s longish post The Origins of Time occupied me for quite some time. Parts of it appeared in fragmentary form on my Tumblr blog, Grand Strategy Annex, in the posts on The Experience of Innocence and Innocence and Time Consciousness. I also made notes and occasional sketches in my notebooks as I was working on these ideas.

Below is one sketch that I made last summer in order to try to sum up the idea of the construction of ecological temporality in a way that would appeal to geometrical intuition.

While this drawing is too schematic and too simple to be quite true, it nevertheless has a certain value, as all abstractions have a certain value. And that’s what this is: a sketch of an abstraction.

This is an attempt to delineate the large scale structures of space and time from the standpoint not of physics or cosmology (which is how we are accustomed to seeing exposition of the large scale structure of space and time) but from a philosophical perspective. What I was trying to show with this image was how time has its origins in micro-temporal interactions, and is predominately a temporality of micro-temporality until larger structures emerge along with the larger temporal structures entailed by these larger structures. As larger structures emerge, micro-temporality becomes less central to the way the world works, and the less comprehensive forms of temporality fall away as the center of cosmological history migrates to the larger structures.

In my closing speculation of yesterday’s The Origin of Time I suggested that the ultimate telos of civilization is for humanistic temporality and cosmological temporality to merge, and if this should come to pass, it would come to pass at the farthest reach of metaphysical temporality.

I have also incorporated in the drawing above what should have been obvious to me earlier, which is to abbreviate metaphysical temporality as meta-temporality (the same thing can be done with metaphysical ecology rendered as meta-ecology). The abbreviation of “metaphyscial” to “meta-” is then readily assimilated to the familiar ecological levels of mirco-, meso-, exo-, and macro-, to which we now add meta-.

An interesting lesson to take away from the relation of this drawing to my ideas about ecological temporality and the origins of time is that an image can express an abstraction as readily as can words, though we do not ordinarily think of pictures, sketches, videos, illustrations, and so forth as abstractions. Indeed, we typically think of images as giving concrete embodiment to an idea that was difficult to grasp on the basis of a text alone. But this is not so. Illustrations are not easy to understand because of their concreteness; illustrations are easy to understand because of the role of geometrical intuition in human thought.

Vision plays a disproportionate role in human knowledge. We know that, for other species, the relative contribution of the senses constitutes a different mix in each case. For dogs, smell plays a very large role; for bats and dolphins, hearing plays a disproportionate role; perhaps eagles are in a similar boat with us, relying as they do on particularly keen eyesight to detect prey on the ground from flying altitude.

We don’t even have electro-receptors like a shark or pits like a pit viper, so we can’t know what it is like to be a shark or a viper (to borrow a phrase from the famous Thomas Nagel essay, What is it like to be a bat?). Since we have ears and noses we can at least make a guess as to what it is like to live a life in which these senses play a disproportionate role in experience.

While we can augment our senses with instrumentation, we are more or less stuck with the cognitive architecture that evolved under selection pressures directly bearing upon those senses crucial to our physical survival and reproduction. Because the ancestors of human beings took the path of relying on our vision — probably binocular stereoscopic vision for swinging through the branches of trees and color vision for distinguishing the ripeness of fruit — we have a cognitive architecture that is heavily integrated with visual processing power.

So, we have the minds we have, and while we have learned to help them along a bit with languages and ideas, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I take it that this is one reason that Wittgenstein said Nothing contrasts with the form of the world.

The form of our world is a visual world, and in a visual world geometrical intuition counts for a lot. And since geometrical intuition counts for a lot, geometrical abstractions — i.e., images that illustrate abstractions — also count for a lot.

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Friday


Second in a Series

In The Fundamental Theorem of Geopolitical Thought I began to sketch a theoretical geopolitics. There I identified the fundamental theorem of geopolitical thought as being that human agency is constrained by geography.

Today I move beyond the fundamental theorem, which I attempted to justify in narrative terms in my previous post, to what I will call the Second Law of Geopolitical Thought:

The scope of human agency defines a center, beyond which lies a periphery in which human agency is marginal.

If the reader has had the opportunity to look at my Agent-Centered Metaphysics post, as well as a great many other posts in a similar vein, that reader will understand the centrality of agency in my thought. Such a reader might also be not be surprised that I would like to formulate a conception of agency based on what I call metaphysical ecology and ecological temporality, since that has become (of late) a consistent touchstone for me.

For a quick review, I have adopted and adapted Urie Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological model formulated within the social sciences, taking it over for my own purposes and modifying it as I please. To that end, I take the first four stages of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model — the micro-system, meso-system, exo-system, and macro-system — while separating Bronfenbrenner’s chronosystem apart, setting it to one side, and supplementing these initial four degrees of ecology with a fifth stage, which I call metaphysical ecology. Then I extrapolate the chronosystem eo ipso, according to the principles of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, by which I arrive at micro-temporality, meso-temporality, exo-temporality, macro-temporality, and metaphysical temporality (or, if you will, metaphysical history — which is sort of where I began, except that I used to call it integral history). Finally, I noted that metaphysical ecology and ecological temporality are each alternative formulations of the other, one (ecological) in terms of a synchronic perspective, and the other (temporal) in terms of a diachronic perspective. Clear enough? Very good.

Human agency, then, is to be understood as ecological agency, which we can formulate either in terms of metaphysical ecology (if we are thinking in primarily spatial or systematic terms) or in terms of ecological temporality (if we are thinking primarily in terms of time, history, and eternity).

Thus the reader familiar with my thinking on these matters can obviously formulate the next step, which is the delineation of ecological agency in terms of:

● micro-agency

● meso-agency

● exo-agency

● macro-agency

● metaphyscial agency

The micro-agency of the individual is circumscribed by the individual’s immediate location and the other objects in the immediate vicinity with which the individual can interact. Considered in temporal terms, the micro-agency of the individual is that individual’s temporal now (the punctiform present) by which the individual is continuously circumscribed. This is the most restrictive and narrow sense of human agency, and according to the Second Law of Geopolitical Thought, this narrow sense of human agency defines a center, beyond which lies a periphery in which human micro-agency holds little or no sway.

A more realistic model of multiple centers and overlapping peripheries. Beyond this spatial model, one ought also to imagine multiple centers and overlapping peripheries in time.

This reflection immediately leads us to the obvious consequence that there are distinct centers based upon metaphysical ecology and ecological temporality, as follows:

● the micro-center beyond which lies the meso-ecological periphery and more.

● the meso-center beyond which lies the exo-ecological periphery and more.

● the exo-center beyond which lies the macro-ecological and metaphysical periphery,

● the macro-center beyond which lies the metaphysical periphery, and…

● the metaphyscial center beyond which lies nothing, because this is the most comprehensive category, short of the whole structure of metaphysical ecology itself, which includes all levels and their interaction with every other level.

Are you still with me? Good. There’s more. The periphery is always the complement of the center, i.e., it is the remainder of metaphysical ecology once we take away the center. That means the periphery is always larger and more comprehensive than the center. Therein lies the paradoxical key to much geopolitics: the center is privileged, because it is the locus of some level of human agency, but is still relatively narrow and relatively small. The bulk of life lies outside the center. One obvious aspect of this geopolitical deduction relates to what I have recently written about political elites in Limits to Social Mobility: the bulk of the life of the nation lies outside the narrow class of political elites who possess the institutional agency that allows them to act as meso-agents, exo-agents, macro-agents, and (even occasionally) as metaphysical agents.

I wrote above in the delineation of the metaphysical center that this is the most comprehensive ecological category and therefore excludes nothing. However — and this is an important however, also noted above — the metaphysical level of ecology is distinct from the whole structure of metaphysical ecology taken together with its ecological structures linking it to all other levels, so that the metaphysical center alone, or the metaphysical agent who acts metaphysically and therefore initiates metaphysical change, is also, in a sense, narrow, constrained, and limited.

Generally speaking (though with an important exception noted next, as well as in the next paragraph), individual agency is micro-agency, and can affect little beyond the micro-center. In a Hobbesian Leviathan, in which the members of a commonwealth utterly surrender their rights to a sovereign in order to enjoy his protection, the sovereign comes into possession of meso-agency, exo-agency, and sometimes even macro-agency (say, in the case of some Roman or Chinese emperors). The individual who thus possesses the office of sovereign, wields power far beyond the individual’s micro-agency. However, it is interesting to note that these midrange levels of agency can be quite powerless at lower levels: a government can pass a law, but individuals reserve the right to violate that law within the scope of their micro-agency. Unless there is an agent of the sovereign present (say, a soldier or a police officer), meso- and exo-agency are powerless to affect the outcome (as meso- and exo-agency). Moreover, it is only at the level of the micro-agency of the soldier or the police officer that the micro-agent’s defiance of the law can be effectively addressed.

It is one of the supreme ironies of ecological structures — systems, time, agents, centers, and so forth — that it is most often the individual agent, acting only on the recognizance of his own micro-agency, who effects metaphysical change and there is therefore transformed into a metaphysical agent (and thereby exemplifying the heroic conception of civilization, I might add). This metaphysical agency of the individual will, in la longue durée, percolate down through the levels of metaphysical ecology, ultimately changing the very terms on which meso-, exo-, and macro-agency is exercised.

Continuing this line of thought, our ecological conceptions need to be supplemented by temporal conceptions, and so we could also define temporal centers and peripheries corresponding to each ecological level. I will leave a further exposition of this idea to a later date, or the reader can work it out as an exercise. Intuitively I can see that there is something here that requires some serious thinking to sort out, and that is why I will not attempt to elaborate this at present.

Previously I gave an exposition of centers and peripheries in The Farther Reaches of Civilization, but when I wrote that I had not yet formulated the above ideas of the Second Law of Geopolitical Thought or ecological agency or ecological centers and peripheries. Now that I posses this more comprehensive conceptual infrastructure, in the fullness of time I can return to the themes of centers and peripheries in a more systematic and rigorous fashion, perhaps even incorporating an adequate doctrine of temporal centers and peripheries, as suggested above.

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Wednesday


Narrative can save your life: Scheherazade held the Sultan at a plot point each night and so gained for herself a reprieve to the next day.

In Metaphysical Ecology I introduced a more comprehensive treatment of time into Urie Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems theory. I further extended and refined this metaphysical temporality in Ecological Temporality, and I applied this ecological temporality to the mind in The Temporal Ecology of Mind.

In several posts I have have occasion to comment on the prominent role that the idea of narrative has in contemporary thought. I especially developed this theme in The Totemic Paradigm, in which I contrasted what Walter Fisher in his influential book Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action called the narrative paradigm. While I don’t wish to impugn or belittle Fisher’s conception of the centrality of the narrative paradigm in human affairs, I simply wished to demonstrate that the narrative paradigm alone is not sufficient to understand the forms of human consciousness that have emerged in history.

Now that I have had the occasion to give an exposition to what I call metaphysical ecology and ecological temporality, I can offer a more detailed account of the place of narrative in human civilization.

What my formulations of ecological temporality have made clear to me is that the world functions on several temporal levels, and in so far as the mind that is part of the world reflects the world, the mind too functions on several temporal levels.

An entire metaphysic could be constructed on the interesting consequences for the philosophy of mind from the interactions of the ecological levels of the world with the ecological levels of the world as reflected in the mind, but at present I only want to point out something much simpler. And it is this: the world as we know it consists of many narratives running in parallel at different levels of ecological temporality.

The ecological levels of narrative follow the schema of ecological temporality:

Micro-temporality: stories of the temporal setting of individual consciousness. The perfect exemplar of this is the “stream of consciousness” technique in literature.

Meso-temporality: stories of relations between micro-temporalities or connections between temporal contexts. More obviously, these are stories of social time, and this is the most common format of storytelling. Almost all traditional story telling, including mythology and fables fall into this category. Aesop’s fables are stories set in social time, though the agents are animals rather than human beings. The distinctive thing about mythology is that stories of metaphysical history are given concrete meaning and even individual personality by embodying ideas in particular persons (or heroes or gods) and setting this stories in social time.

Exo-temporality: Stories of links between a temporal setting in which the individual does not have an active role and the individual’s immediate temporal context. These are stories in which the individual strikes out beyond the familiar. Many heroic narratives take this form.

Macro-temporality: Stories of the historical era in which individuals live, which can reach from eras of human history through the life of entire civilizations and beyond to the greatest expanses of time investigated by natural science.

Metaphysical temporality: Stories of the whole of metaphysical history in which the individual and other lesser temporalities (Meso-temporality, Exo-temporality, and Macro-temporality) are embedded. Mythological stories are indirectly (by way of meso-temporal stories) narratives set in metaphysical temporality. Cosmogonies, religious cosmologies, and philosophical narratives of the world entire take place in metaphysical time.

These many stories overlap and intersect like Wittgensteinian family resemblances. While in some cases these stories can be isolated and are independent of all other stories, and of stories on another levels of narrative temporality, more often the stories touch on each other, if only tangentially. The traditional intertextuality of some literary genres — Aurthurian romances, for example, which have borrowed heavily from each other, sometimes taking characters, sometimes scenes, and sometimes entire stories or cycles of stories and re-telling them — can exploit this tangential relationship among stories in order to enrich the world of the storyteller, so that like walking through an Gothic cathedral the rich ornamentation might catch your interest at any point and lead you in a new direction if you allow yourself to be so distracted.

It is entirely possible that an individual might entertain, at one and the same time, a narrative of their own consciousness, a different narrative of the immediate social situation in which they find themselves, another narrative that tells the story of how distinct societies interrelate (over both time and space), a narrative unique to the great sweeps of historical time, and lastly another narrative, an eschatological narrative perhaps, that encompasses the whole of all the preceding even while going beyond it, i.e., a narrative of eternity. These stories do not contradict each other because each takes place at a different level of ecological temporality, and this gives us a structure in which to organize the different narratives employed to encompass the world.

It would be an interesting exercise to offer an exposition of these differing narratives of ecological temporality based on the work of Hayden White (especially his book Metahistory). Those who are familiar with White’s work on narrative will immediate see how complex this task would be, as White makes a number of subtle distinctions among the literary tropes employed to tell a story (especially the stories of history). I will leave this to any other interested party who cares to take up the challenge.

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Sunday


Fernand Braudel

Fernand Braudel

In what I have come to call Metaphysical Ecology I took Bronfenbrenner’s bio-social ecology, extended it, and applied it to time, yielding what I call Ecological Temporality. I then applied ecological temporality to the philosophy of mind in The Temporal Ecology of Mind. There are many potential applications of ecological temporality that I hope to spell out in future posts.

Darren Staloff

Today I was listening once again to Darren Staloff’s lectures The Search for a Meaningful Past, from The Teaching Company. Unfortunately, The Teaching Company has discontinued this title, though it is certainly among the most rigorous and detailed of the philosophy titles that The Teaching Company offered. Knowing how much I enjoyed this, and knowing that it is no longer available, I bought a second, used copy for myself through Amazon. It was because I just received this “back up” copy that I have been listening through it again.

In this most recent listening I realized that the different levels of time that Fernand Braudel recognized in his historiography — the history of the event, the history of cycles, or conjunctures, and the history of the longue durée — and which he especially lays out in his essay “History and the Social Sciences,” collected in his On History, can be given an exposition in terms of ecological temporality.

The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Vol. 1

Braudel’s tripartite division of historical time scales roughly corresponds to the short term, the medium term, and the long term. Braudel wrote:

“All historical work is concerned with breaking down time past, choosing among its chronological realities according to more or less conscious preferences and exclusions. Traditional history, with its concern for the short time span, for the individual and the event, has long accustomed us to the headlong, dramatic, breathless rush of its narrative.”

Fernand Braudel, On History, “History and the Social Sciences,” University of Chicago Press, 1980, p. 27

This assertion must be seen not only in the context of Braudel’s own concern for the long time span, the longue durée, but also in the context of a famous passage of his that I have quoted on several occasions:

Events are the ephemera of history; they pass across its stage like fireflies, hardly glimpsed before they settle back into darkness and as often as not into oblivion.

Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Volume 2, Part Three: Event, Politics and People, p. 901

For Braudel, the choice of the longue durée “according to more or less conscious preferences and exclusions” is a choice to be concerned with what is permanent rather than what is ephemeral. Taken to its logical extreme, the structuralist conception of history becomes what I have called a top-down temporal model. However, we need not extrapolate the doctrines of structuralism to their logical extremes, but can rest in a middle ground. One way to do this would be to integrate the structuralist perspective into a ecological structure emphasizing the interaction of temporal orders of magnitude.

Braudel’s tripartite distinction can be (perhaps imperfectly) assimilated to ecological temporality by identifying the short term history of the event with meso-temporality (the social time that is the interaction of individuals experiencing micro-temporality), identifying the history of conjunctures with exo-temporality (temporal interactions on the level of discrete social systems or dynamical systems), and identifying the longue durée of classic structuralist historiography with macro-temporality. In this ecological schematization of Braudelian temporal categories, Braudel does not recognize a history of internal time consciousness (perhaps that would be relegated to psychology), and he does not go as far as metaphysical temporality (no historian any traditional sense of the term does go this far).

If the history of events is ephemeral and disappears into oblivion as soon as it is glimpsed, from the point of view of metaphysical history, the longue durée no less disappears into oblivion, it just takes longer for this to happen. And the longue durée would count for nothing, indeed would not exist, if it did not descend into the individual consciousness, and if the individual consciousness in turn did not impart its fragment of temporality to the turning world.

In Braudelian terms, the history of the event flows into the conjuncture, and the conjuncture flows into the longue durée, just as the longue durée shapes the conjuncture, as the conjuncture shapes the history of the event.

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I’ve given another take on Darren Staloff’s lectures The Search for a Meaningful Past in If I Lectured on the Philosophy of History…

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Wednesday


eye clock

In Ecological Temporality I attempted to give an exposition of time from an ecological perspective. There is a lot more to be said about ecological temporality, and I hope to take it up systematically at some point, though for now I will content myself with a few further observations.

Recently I posted the following on Twitter:

Evolutionary biology is the ecology of the longue durée; ecology is the evolutionary biology of the ephemeral durée.

Given my formulations of metaphysical ecology and metaphysical temporality, I can give a little more precise formulation to the aphorism I posted to twitter, to whit:

Evolutionary biology is the ecology of metaphysical history; ecology is the evolutionary biology of the micro-temporality of the individual.

And “ecology” simpliciter here means a lower level of the hierarchy of metaphysical ecology in which the agency of individual organisms is relevant to the struggle for survival. while “evolutionary biology” is metaphysical ecology on a much larger scale. That is to say, ecology and evolutionary biology are essentially the same process taking place at distinct levels of ecological temporality.

That is to say, the longue durée at its greatest extrapolation is metaphysical history, while the micro-temporality of the individual is that ephemeral temporality of events all but dismissed by Braudel, the great representative of the longue durée as the appropriate temporal category of history.

As soon as I thought of Braudel in this connection I recalled a famous quote from him that I have used a couple times previously:

Events are the ephemera of history; they pass across its stage like fireflies, hardly glimpsed before they settle back into darkness and as often as not into oblivion.

Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Volume 2, Part Three: Event, Politics and People, p. 901

As soon as I recalled this quote I realized that Braudel in particular, and structuralism in general, represent a top-down view of history, implying top-down time chains with primarily causality residing in the vast structures that shape history, and with almost no causality going back up the chain from bottom to top. Foucault is often placed in this tradition also. Foucault himself denied being a structuralist, and rightly so, but we can place him among the structuralists with equal right. To borrow a deconstructive term, we must mention Foucault in the connection under erasure.

Ecological temporality from the point of view of historiography reveals Collingwood’s a priori historical imagination (which I have also mentioned several times, e.g., Life in the Holocene Epoch and Philosophy of History in Our Time, Revisited) as a representative of bottom-up temporality, as Collingwood obviously placed not a little emphasis upon the personal experience of time and history — we could even call this an experiential view of history. From the point of view of reconstructing history on the basis of a priori imagination, micro-temporality drives the structures of history from the inside out and from the bottom up.

Ecological temporality would endeavor to show that Braudel’s ephemeral events do not disappear into oblivion, but are passed upward into ever greater temporal structures, while at the same time showing that the great structures of history, the anonymous forces that silently, facelessly move the world forward trickle down into ordinary experience and in this way drive the process of history forward.

The science of the struggle for existence (cf. the Ernst Haeckel quote in Metaphysical Ecology) placed in the context of metaphysical ecology is one way in which we can delineate the interactions between ecological levels that extend the temporal web both from the top down and the bottom up.

The struggle for existence that Haeckel had in mind, and that which has usually preoccupied ecology in the narrow, biological sense, is that of the micro-system over the duration of micro-temporality. This immediately suggests struggles that take place at the level of the meso-, exo-, macro-, and metaphysical levels of ecology. At the level of micro-systems, individual organisms struggle to exist on a time scale relevant to the life and death of individual organisms — i.e., micro-temporality. At the level of meso-systems, communities of organisms struggle to exist — i.e., the struggle within populations and among distinct populations. On the level of exo-systems, populations in different regions struggle to exist, and while on a strictly biological level this involves but little participation of the individual, at the level of global industrial civilization, with distinct populations competing for finite resources around the globe, this struggle comes into its own. On these basis we can extrapolate further struggles, some of which are struggles for existence yet to come as civilization becomes more comprehensive and thus acts at a level of augmented agency.

These are themes that invite treatment at a much greater level of detail and therefore require a systematic effort. At the moment I find that my mind is not up to the task, so I will leave further elaboration to another day.

One more item — I remembered another relevant quote, this from Merleau-Ponty:

“The feeling for eternity is a hypocritical one, for eternity feeds on time. The fountain retains its identity only because of the continuous pressure of water. Eternity is the time that belongs to dreaming, and the dream refers back to waking life, from which it borrows all its structures. Of what nature, then, is that waking time in which eternity takes root?”

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of perception, p. 423 in the Humanities Press edition, all of Part Three, Chapter 2, “Temporality” is relevant here

It is not at all surprising to find that Merleau-Ponty, who stands within the phenomenological tradition, holds a more-or-less bottom-up perspective on the structure of time, and in a form that is almost the perfect contradiction of Plato’s characterization of time as the “moving image of eternity.” In Ecological Temporality I cited Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, as a paradigmatic representative of bottom-up time chains, and Plato as a representative of top-down time chains. (Interestingly, Merleau-Ponty writes in terms of “the feeling of eternity,” which is perhaps intended as a response to Freud’s visiting of that theme, something that I have discussed in several posts, i.e., Algorithms of Ecstasy)

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Ecological Temporality

23 March 2011

Wednesday


How swiftly Time before my eyes rushed on
After the guiding Sun, that never rests,
I will not say: ‘twould be beyond my power.
As in a single moment did I see
Ice and the rose, great cold and burning heat
A wondrous thing, indeed, even to hear.

Francesco Petrarch, Triumph of Time (TRIUMPHUS TEMPORIS, from Petrarch’s Trionfi)


Metaphysical preamble on Ecological Ontology

Recently in Integral Ecology I began to formulate an extended conception of ecology that was indebted to Urie Bronfenbrenner’s bio-ecological model of social interconnectedness, though intended to go beyond both the biological and social scope. Yesterday in Metaphysical Ecology I explained why I will discontinue my use of the terms “integral history” and “integral ecology” in favor of metaphysical history and metaphysical ecology. Ultimately, this is the more appropriate terminology for what is, at bottom, a philosophical project of seeing the world whole.

Metaphysical ecology is nothing but the extension of the concept of ecology until it coincides with ontology. This yields an ontology founded in scientific empiricism and methodological naturalism.

To define metaphysical ecology as “nothing but…” is what logicians call an “extremal clause,” the purpose of which is to put an end to any further elaboration of a definition (usually stated in recursive form) and to confine ourselves only to that which has been stipulated. Such definitions are often thought to be reductivist. Reductivist definitions are not necessarily a bad thing. When we define water as H2O we are reducing the macroscopic features of ordinary experience in order to account for water as a chemical molecule understood in the context of atomic theory. Many reductive definitions are like this, giving us more theoretically powerful formulations because they are contextualized within an established and more comprehensive theory.

Reductive definitions, however, have a deservedly bad reputation because of the misuse and abuse to which they have been put. When we say that “x is nothing but y” we are doing an obvious disservice to the true nature of x. Consider such statements as, “Pinocchio was nothing but a puppet” or “Hamlet is nothing but a play” and you will understand what I am getting at. However, in the present case of defining metaphysical ecology in terms of ontology we really have not introduced any unwarranted or arbitrary limitations into the concept of ecology since ontology is the most comprehensive philosophical category.

There is a sense in which it is ironic to even consider time in an ontological context, as ontology has been anti-temporal almost from its beginnings to the present day. Traditional Western metaphysics pursued the tradition of setting up a distinction between appearance and reality, and, in its most traditional forms, would consign time, the temporal, and the ephemeral to the sphere of mere appearance. It is to the credit of contemporary analytical metaphysics, seeking as it does to exemplify the spirit of scientific naturalism, has reconciled itself with the reality of time, so that the main stream of Anglo-American analytical philosophy is as concerned to produce an adequate metaphysical theory of time as it is concerned with any other feature of the world.

While I have noted previously (in The Apotheosis of Metaphysics) that contemporary object oriented ontology reinstates the traditional distinction between appearance and reality in an especially elaborate and robust form, the larger philosophical trend until just recently, both on the continent (in the form of phenomenology) and in the analytical tradition (in the form of phenomenalism and empiricism) was the collapse of the distinction between appearance and reality and the simultaneous attempt to formulate a unified account of the world. it could be argued that the distinction between appearance and reality is more fundamental than the doctrine of the unreality of time, since if the distinction is denied there is no category of appearance to which time is to be consigned.

In any case, ecological temporality as I attempt to formulate it below is probably consistent with either the retention or the denial of the distinction between appearance and reality, and thus could even be seen as being consistent with the doctrine of the denial of the reality of time, in so far as ecological temporality can be given an exposition as mere appearance. However, in spirit, my ambition for ecological temporality is that it should be understood as science extrapolated to the limits of philosophical thought, and therefore constituting a naturalism that sees no need for anything beyond the world of naturalism, and therefore no need for a distinction between appearance and reality.

From Ecological Systems Theory to Metaphysical Ecology

As noted above, I began my exposition of metaphysical ecology in my post Integral Ecology. There I began with Bronfenbrenner’s ecological distinction between micro-systems, meso-systems, exo-systems, macro-systems, and chronosystem. The last of these, the chronosystem, is shown in the following illustration as an additional “halo” surrounding the nested bio-ecological levels centered around the individual person.

I think that Bronfenbrenner’s treatment of the chronosystem was inadequate, radically so, and his treatment of ecological levels could be improved, so, building on his bio-ecological model, and also separating time into its own hierarchy from micro-system to macro-system and beyond, I reformulated metaphysical ecology and metaphysical temporality as shown below.

Here is my revised version of the ecological hierarchy:


The Micro-system: The setting in which the individual lives.

The Meso-system: Relations between microsystems or connections between contexts.

The Exosystem: Links between a social setting in which the individual does not have an active role and the individual’s immediate context.

The Macrosystem: The culture in which individuals live.

Metaphysical Ecology (or metaphysical system): Ultimately, the metaphysical level of the ecological system as the furthest extrapolation of bio-ecology is co-extensive with metaphysical history. This is the master category and the most comprehensive form of bio-ecological thought, just as metaphysical history is the master category of history and the most comprehensive form of historical thought.


And after having separated Bronfenbrenner’s chronosystem from the ecological hierarchy and extrapolated the chronosystem on its own, here is my formulation of a ecological hierarchy for time, or a temporal ecology, if you will:


Micro-temporality: The temporal setting in which the individual lives.

Meso-temporality: Relations between micro-temporalities or connections between temporal contexts.

Exo-temporality: Links between a temporal setting in which the individual does not have an active role and the individual’s immediate temporal context.

Macro-temporality: The historical era in which individuals live.

Metaphysical temporality: The whole of metaphysical history in which the individual and other lesser temporalities (Meso-temporality, Exo-temporality, and Macro-temporality) are embedded.


While the illustration of Bronfenbrenner’s chronosystem as an additional concentric level is accurate in so far as it goes, it doesn’t go far enough. It is accurate because everything within the ecological systems is subject to time, and therefore to show time (i.e., the chronosystem) as embracing all the ecological levels is accurate. However, each level of ecological structure is subject to each level of time. Here is an illustration of how each level of the ecological systems are ultimately subject to metaphysical time:

The same kind of illustration could be drawn to show how all levels of ecology are subject to micro-temporalities, meso-temporalities, exo-temporalities, and macro-temporalities. It would require a rather large illustration to show all the possibilities, so I have put them in the chart form below.

Metaphysical ecology and metaphysical temporality (or, if you like, what I have been calling integral history, but which I will now call metaphysical history) stand in a systematic relationship to each other. Better, they stand in an ecological relationship to each other. Firstly, however, the systematic relationship: each level of metaphysical ecology can be given an exposition at each level of metaphysical temporality. This means that there are twenty-five possible perspectives on the interaction between metaphysical ecology and metaphysical temporality. I have diagrammed these possibilities in the chart below.

In the technical terminology of the theory of relations, the blue circles on the left are the domain, the gray circles on the right are the range, and the both together are the field of the relation. A diagram that traces all possibilities of field of the relation is confusing to the eye (being a little too complex to have immediate appeal to geometrical intuition), so it might be better understood by considering a simpler diagram of a subset of the field of relations between one term in the domain to the several terms of the range. Here is a diagram that shows only the relations of a single micro-system of ecology to the levels of temporality:

If we take the single term from the domain to be a person, the person’s relation to micro-temporality is what Husserl called internal time-consciousness (one’s relation to oneself), the relation to meso-temporality is the individual’s relation to inter-subjectivity (the social world of which we are a part, and the venerable philosophical question of other minds), the relation to exo-temporality is the individual’s relation to temporal systems of which he is not an immediate participant (e.g., what’s happening on the other side of the planet, or in the Andromeda Galaxy, which could be given an exposition in terms of the relativity of simultaneity), the relation to macro-temporality is the individual’s relation to the historical era of which he is a (temporal) part (e.g., one’s place today in the history of industrialized civilization), and the relation to metaphysical temporality is the individual’s place in the whole of metaphysical history (one’s place in the world from the beginning of time to the present). Each of these permutations can be extrapolated from each term in the domain to each of the terms in the range.

A convenient way to express these relationships would be to refer to the terms of the domain with a capital “S” with a subscript to indicate the ecological level (Smic, Smes, Sexo, Smac, and Sint), and similarly to refer to the terms of the range with a capital “T” followed by a subscript to indicate the temporal level (Tmic, Tmes, Texo, Tmac, and Tint). In this way each of the twenty-five permutations in the upper diagram can be expressed, for example, like this: Smic/Tmic, which is the topmost line in both diagrams. However, a more intuitive way to express the relationships between metaphysical ecology and metaphysical temporality would be to join the two at the level of the individual, which is the microsystem in common, and then to represent their possible relationships as a graph:

This makes the unity of micro-systems — ecological and temporal — obvious, but gives the impression that metaphysical ecology and metaphysical temporality diverge, though, as I wrote above, they coincide very much as micro-systems coincide. I could say that these schematic delineations of metaphysical ecology and metaphysical temporality (or metaphysical history, if you prefer) are alternative formulations of the same state of affairs. Metaphysical ecology and metaphysical history coincide; the difference between the two is only the perspective one takes on the whole field of ecology. Metaphysical ecology approaches ecological structures structurally and synchronically (one could even say, to preserve even greater symmetry, that metaphysical ecology approaches temporal structures synchronically); metaphysical history approaches the same ecological structures functionally and diachronically.

The point of taking an ecological perspective, however, is not to reduce matters to their smallest and simplest terms, or to erect hierarchies and classification schemas, but to see things whole. It is my purpose, in so far as it is possible, to see time whole, and that means all parts of time related to all other parts of time, and, in the spirit of the observation above that metaphysical ecology and metaphysical history are alternative formations of the same state of affairs, to see the several parts of time in relation to all other temporal-ecological structures and vice versa.

There is an ecology of time itself, an interrelationship of the various parts of time to the whole. As the ecological perspective in biology seeks to demonstrate by way of science the perennial mystical insight of the connectedness of all things (called panarchy in ecology), so too an ecology of time understands the connectedness of all times, of all moments to other moments, and of all moments of time to the whole of time. The ecological perspective provides us with a conceptual structure in which these relations of connectedness can be systematically delineated.

Once time is understood ecologically, one can bring this ecological temporality to a systematic understanding of ecology itself. We have seen that ecology has been defined as the science of the struggle for existence. This struggle takes place in time, and it takes place on many ecological levels simultaneously.

It would be counter-productive to attempt to pluck one paradigm of biological competition out the “levels of selection” controversy and to defend this at the expense of other paradigmata of selection. The world is a complex place in which almost also logical distinctions are muddied in practice. Thus selection is not one thing, but many things taking place over different ecological levels and also at different temporal levels. There is selection at the level of the genome, and therefore selfish genes, but there is also selection at the level of the individual, and at the level of the community and its niche, and at the level of the population and its biome, and ultimately on levels that transcend life and reach up to the life cycles of the stars — galactic ecology (or, as I would prefer, cosmological ecology, which converges on metaphysical ecology).

The generalization of ecology to metaphysical ecology demands that we also generalize those biological concepts that constitute ecology. One of these concepts to be generalized is that of a trophic layer. Biology online defines trophic as follows:

Trophic

Definition

adjective

(1) Of, relating to, or pertaining to nutrition.

(2) Of, or involving, the feeding habits or food relationship of different organisms in a food chain.

Trophic layers are thus layers, i.e., stratifications, of feeding relationships. We know that the primary relationship in nature, red in tooth and claw, is that of feeding. Biological ontology is a system of relationships based on feeding. In nature, one can eat or be eaten. Most likely, one with both eat and be eaten in turn. When big fishes eat little fishes, and the little fishes eat even smaller fishes, we call this a food chain. Here is how the Oxford Dictionary of Ecology defines food chain:

Oxford Dictionary of Ecology definition of food chain

However, feeding relationships rarely constitute a simple linear chain, so ecologists have also defined a food web. Here is how the Oxford Dictionary of Biology defines a food web:

The updated fourth edition of the Dictionary of Ecology is the most comprehensive and authoritative dictionary of ecology available. Written in a clear, accessible style, it contains more than 6,000 entries on all aspects of ecology and related environmental scientific disciplines such as biogeography, genetics, soil science, geomorphology, atmospheric science, and oceanography. The information covered in the dictionary is wide-ranging and includes plant and animal physiology, animal behavior, pollution, conservation, habitat management, population, evolution, environmental pollution, climatology and meteorology. It also features many line drawings and useful appendices including estimations of population parameters, the geologic time-scale, SI units, and--new to this edition--a web-linked appendix of relevant organizations including both governmental agencies and conservation societies. Fully revised, updated, and expanded, with over 100 new entries, this fourth edition also contains new web links for dozens of entries--which are accessed and kept up to date via the Dictionary of Ecology companion website. The dictionary will be invaluable to students and professionals interested in ecology, biology, conservation, and the environmental sciences as well as general readers with an interest in the natural world.

In the conceptually extended context of metaphysical ecology, rather than trophic layers, food chains, and food webs, I will instead posit metaphysical trophisms, ontic chains, and ontic webs. In Integral Ecology I observed that in the extended sense of (what I know call) metaphysical ecology, man does not live by bread alone. What this means in a metaphysical context is the human relationships, while not independent of feeding relationships, transcend feeding relationships and also include other kinds of relationships.

Metaphysical trophisms may sound difficult and abstruse, but it is really quite simple. What we have here is nothing but Plato’s famous definition of being: to be is the power to affect or be affected in turn. One way to affect or be affected is to eat or be eaten. These special cases of the Platonic definition of being define food chains and food webs, and these in turn define trophic layers. In the extended conception of metaphysical ecology we return to the abstract generality of the Platonic formulation, so that the power to affect and to be affected are the relationships of ontic chains and ontic webs, which taken together defined metaphysical trophisms.

I am not going to even attempt at present an exposition of metaphysical trophisms. Suffice it to say for the moment that metaphysical trophisms offer the possibility of an extremely fine-grained account of the world, but this possibility can only be redeemed through a fairly exhaustive treatment of a novel form of fundamentum divisionis significantly more complex than categories. Trophisms are more complex than categories because there are many different ways in which one object can affect or be affected by another, and each of these ways can be explicated exclusively in terms of the agent, or exclusively in terms of the sufferant, or in terms of the reciprocity of agent and sufferant.

What I would like to touch on at present, to give an initial sense of ecological temporality and its potential for conceptual clarification, are what we may call time chains and time webs, in parallel with the food chains and food webs of ecology in the strict and narrow sense of the term. Temporal chains and temporal webs are special cases of what I above called ontic chains and ontic webs, which are features of a more general ontological conception.

Micro-temporalities in relation to themselves and in relation to other micro-temporalities; taken together, interacting, they constitute meso-temporality.

When we consider some of the traditional philosophical conceptions of time (as well as intuitive conceptions of time), we can see that they fall into readily recognizable patterns that can be analyzed in terms of ecological temporality. For example, Husserl’s emphasis upon subjective time consciousness (and I should point out that I am in no way critical of this emphasis) is clearly what could be called a “bottom up” time chain, such that the whole structure of temporality, from the largest structures of metaphysical history down to the smallest structures of micro-temporality, are ultimately driven by (and presumably reducible to, thus constituting a reductive definition) the mind’s temporality.

Augustine (whom Husserl cited in his Cartesian Meditations) also reduced time to the perspective of the individual, though with the superadded metaphysical doctrine that time itself is unreal and has no ultimate place in the structure of the world. What this means in terms of ecological temporality is that the whole structure of metaphysical time is mere appearance erected upon the experiences of the individual. (Odd, is it not, then, that Augustine should be equally famous for his philosophy of history as given exposition in his City of God?) Augustine’s classic exposition of time is in Book XI of his Confessions, where Augustine writes in Chapters XXVII and XXVIII:

It is in you, O mind of mine, that I measure the periods of time. Do not shout me down that it exists [objectively]; do not overwhelm yourself with the turbulent flood of your impressions. In you, as I have said, I measure the periods of time. I measure as time present the impression that things make on you as they pass by and what remains after they have passed by–I do not measure the things themselves which have passed by and left their impression on you. This is what I measure when I measure periods of time. Either, then, these are the periods of time or else I do not measure time at all.

What are we doing when we measure silence, and say that this silence has lasted as long as that voice lasts? Do we not project our thought to the measure of a sound, as if it were then sounding, so that we can say something concerning the intervals of silence in a given span of time? For, even when both the voice and the tongue are still, we review–in thought–poems and verses, and discourse of various kinds or various measures of motions, and we specify their time spans–how long this is in relation to that–just as if we were speaking them aloud. If anyone wishes to utter a prolonged sound, and if, in forethought, he has decided how long it should be, that man has already in silence gone through a span of time, and committed his sound to memory. Thus he begins to speak and his voice sounds until it reaches the predetermined end. It has truly sounded and will go on sounding. But what is already finished has already sounded and what remains will still sound. Thus it passes on, until the present intention carries the future over into the past. The past increases by the diminution of the future until by the consumption of all the future all is past.

But how is the future diminished or consumed when it does not yet exist? Or how does the past, which exists no longer, increase, unless it is that in the mind in which all this happens there are three functions? For the mind expects, it attends, and it remembers; so that what it expects passes into what it remembers by way of what it attends to. Who denies that future things do not exist as yet? But still there is already in the mind the expectation of things still future. And who denies that past things now exist no longer? Still there is in the mind the memory of things past. Who denies that time present has no length, since it passes away in a moment? Yet, our attention has a continuity and it is through this that what is present may proceed to become absent. Therefore, future time, which is nonexistent, is not long; but “a long future” is “a long expectation of the future.” Nor is time past, which is now no longer, long; a “long past” is “a long memory of the past.”

I am about to repeat a psalm that I know. Before I begin, my attention encompasses the whole, but once I have begun, as much of it as becomes past while I speak is still stretched out in my memory. The span of my action is divided between my memory, which contains what I have repeated, and my expectation, which contains what I am about to repeat. Yet my attention is continually present with me, and through it what was future is carried over so that it becomes past. The more this is done and repeated, the more the memory is enlarged–and expectation is shortened–until the whole expectation is exhausted. Then the whole action is ended and passed into memory. And what takes place in the entire psalm takes place also in each individual part of it and in each individual syllable. This also holds in the even longer action of which that psalm is only a portion. The same holds in the whole life of man, of which all the actions of men are parts. The same holds in the whole age of the sons of men, of which all the lives of men are parts.

Thus does Augustine “explain away” time, but, at the same time, attributes time to the human mind, and so commits himself to a “bottom up” theory of time. While I find Augustine’s theory of time to be inadequate, it is at least more of a theory than Plato had, and in the context of platonism it accomplishes all that a theory of time could hope to accomplish even while declaring time to be ultimately unreal.

Saint Augustine asked 'What then is time?' and acknowledged that he could not answer the question. But, as Wittgenstein has pointed out, some things that cannot be said nevertheless can be shown.

The obvious antithetical view to the “bottom up” time chain is the “top down” time chain in which it is posited that all time in the world, at all ecological levels, follows from the over-arching structure of time which imposes its nature and character upon all subordinate temporalities, so that time and change are imposed from above rather than rising from below.

Plato, whom Augustine followed so closely in so many matters, including his denial of the ultimate reality of time, provides a perfect illustration of a philosophical “top down” time chain. Although for Plato there is no metaphysical temporality but only metaphysical eternity, such that the former is illusory appearance while the latter is reality, in one famous passage Plato wrote that, “time is the moving image of eternity.” Thus, for Plato, the over-arching reality of eternity trickles down into the interstices of the world, the appearance of time penetrating down from above.

Plato implicitly invoked a top-down model of time by making eternity generative of time; eternity is the Platonic form, while time in the mere image of eternity in the cave of shadows. For Plato, time and eternity are related as appearance to reality.

There is, furthermore, an intuitive correlate to this Platonic conception of time as the moving image of eternity, and this is the familiar sense in which people invoke Fate or Destiny as implacable temporal forces from on high that direct the lives of men below. This is famously expressed by Hamlet when the Prince of Denmark says, “There’s a Diuinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.” (Act V, scene ii) And all of the familiar mythological images, from the Fates and Furies of Greek tragedy to the Norns of Norse mythology, when the gods decides the fates of men ultimately powerless to shape their own destinies, represent a strongly top down model of temporal ecology.

The three norns: one to spin the thread of life, another to mark its length, and a third to cut the thread.

Top-down time chains are also common in contemporary scientific thinking and especially in cosmology. Some theorists of time as an expression of increasing entropy (the thermodynamic arrow of time) and the expansion of the universe (the cosmological arrow of time) come close to saying (without actually making it explicit) that if entropy could be reversed or if the universe halted in its expansion and then began to contract that time itself would reverse and subjective internal time consciousness would also reverse. However, it is much more common among scientists simply to pretend that subjective time consciousness doesn’t exist, or, if it does exist, that it isn’t important — perhaps it is a mere “user illusion.” Because of the distaste for philosophy, and especially for metaphysics, among scientists and most others wedded to methodological naturalism, thinkers of this stripe rarely bother to assert that subjective and internal time consciousness is unreal in the same way that their opposite numbers assert the unreality of cosmic time, but in effect the positions are perfectly symmetrical. The scientific denial of subjective time (and hence temporal chains driven from the bottom up by individual time consciousness) is an implicit assertion of the unreality of internal time consciousness.

An explicitly top-down model of time from John G. Cramer's paper, “Velocity Reversal and the Arrows of Time”

As I wrote above, the point of taking an ecological perspective is to understand the interconnections between things, and for this reason either a “bottom up” or “top down” model of temporality is inadequate. Temporal chains, whether bottom up or top down, represent a simplification and idealization of the way that temporality acts in the world, just as food chains are simplifications and idealizations that do not possess this linearity in fact. An adequate conception of ecological temporality would recognize simultaneously occurring top down and bottom up temporal processes, as well as temporal interactions from any one temporal level to any other temporal level. This more adequate model of time yields a time web rather than discrete time chains.

This post constitutes only a first sketch of ecological temporality, and I hope that it has given you something to think about in relation to time. There is more more to say by way of elaboration and extrapolation, especially on the topic of metaphysical trophisms, but I will finish for now with only one further observation.

One of the most influential philosophical developments of the last part of the twentieth century was the introduction of Kripkean semantics, which displaced theories of naming and reference widely prevalent in analytical philosophy, especially those traditions deriving from the work of Frege and Russell. Kripke replaced the quasi-logical theories of reference with one based on the highly intuitive idea that names are derived from initial acts of baptism, and these acts of baptism are passed down along a causal chain from the past down into the present. Thus Kripkean semantical theory is often called the causal theory of reference. It seems to me that Kripkean causal chains are simple, linear time chains, and as such constitute simplifications and indeed idealizations of reference. In the messy real world of time webs, we cannot count on a single, linear, unified casual chain to transmit acts of baptism from the past unbroken into the present.

Saul Aaron Kripke (born November 13, 1940)

Kripke's causal theory of reference has been highly influential, but it runs into trouble when causality must be traced through a temporal web, just as Newtonian mechanics runs into trouble with the n-body problem.

This is as much to say that ecological temporality suggests a more complex theory of reference than that embodied in causal theories of reference, and this would be an interesting application of a philosophical theory of time to a philosophical theory of reference.

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