Who Needs Ancenstrality?


Since I am not yet able to blog while I sleep, I’m getting to these just now. Levi:

I take it that the point about ancestrality is that here we have an example of an event where correlation was not operative, yet which is nonetheless true and intelligible.

Here’s an example of an event where correlation is not operation (thought/being) – 2+2=4. I don’t need anything outside of my thought to come with it and know that it is both true and intelligible. What do I do now?

Just because Big Bang took place before humans were there does not mean we cannot know that it took place – however, we know about it not through an empirical observation but throw a series of theoretical conclusions, the way scientists know about all sorts of things. So what if it took place when humans were not around? A lot of things take place when humans are not around, the fact that we, humans, are now talking about it is what makes the difference. Explain to me how 2+2=4 is true and intelligible without a correlation and presents us with no problems yet somehow Big Bang or a fossil suddently blow everything out of the water and I will die a happy camper.

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13 thoughts on “Who Needs Ancenstrality?

  1. It sounds to me, Mikhail, that you’re actually a realist. I think your remarks misconstrue the question. You write:

    Just because Big Bang took place before humans were there does not mean we cannot know that it took place – however, we know about it not through an empirical observation but throw a series of theoretical conclusions, the way scientists know about all sorts of things. So what if it took place when humans were not around? A lot of things take place when humans are not around, the fact that we, humans, are now talking about it is what makes the difference.

    We are agreed. My position is that we do have knowledge of these things and that we can have knowledge of events prior to the human. My thesis is not that we cannot know these things. I even agree that this knowledge is based on empirical observations. However, from the standpoint of epistemology, this gives rise to a particular set of questions. The indication is that if we have knowledge of these things, then correlationism is a false explanation of these things. I invite you to read my posts Meillassoux II and III for a more thorough explanation of this argument. Before proceeding, as an aside, this way of posing the question is identical to how Kant proceeds. Kant begins from the fact that Newton’s laws are right, that we know geometry and arithmetic, and then proceeds to ask how this knowledge is possible.

    I think Husserl aptly gets to the core of correlationism when, on page 116 of Ideas I, he remarks that physical nature cannot be a condition of consciousness because consciousness is the condition of nature. In other words, there can be no nature independent of consciousness. If this is the case, then all sorts of problems begin to emerge when we talk about ancestrality. Suddenly I have to discard the theory of evolution because the theory of evolution teaches me that consciousness evolved from physical nature. Likewise, I am unable to think any time prior to human beings because, strictly speaking, this consists of talking of a nature that is not a correlate. That is, it consists in thinking of a time that is not the time of givenness. Now Kant directly tells us that 1) the forms of time and space do not belong to things-in-themselves, and 2) the forms of time and space are therefore only how we encounter the world, not how things-in-themselves are. This is why the ancestral is such a conundrum, because it requires us to think a time that is a time of objects in themselves, not a time of phenomenality. The correlationist, obviously says that we simply retroject the phenomenality of our own experience of time back on to this ancestral time. But if the correlationist says this, what he’s really saying is that the time of ancestrality described by scientists must be a fiction, because the idea of a time belonging to things-in-themselves is an incoherent idea.

    As for your question of mathematics, I have mixed feelings. First, it seems to me that you’re comparing apples and oranges when you evoke mathematical propositions and compare them to ancestral propositions. This is because mathematical propositions are about ideal entities, whereas ancestral statements are about real entities. If one is a mathematical realist, then of course they will hold that numbers are real existences that would be there regardless of whether anyone thinks or knows them. But, one could consistently be a realist about things like the big bang, while also holding that mathematics is simply a construction of the human mind.

  2. It sounds to me, Mikhail, that you’re actually a realist.

    I am a realist, of course, if realism is what you stated earlier it is, i.e. positing the existence of the world outside of our perception of it, that is, I accept that that there are things out there whether I perceive them or not, it’s just that I cannot know what are like in-themselves.

    The indication is that if we have knowledge of these things, then correlationism is a false explanation of these things.

    If by “these things” you mean “ancestral statements” then my question is again – so what? how does that help you debunk correlationism today when there are humans and when you claim that we can know the difference between for-us and in-itself. But we do not, of course, because you yourself admitted that you are not able to distinguish between primary and secondary qualities, which is where it really matters – thus my “who needs?” title. Even if I accept the validity of QM’s observations about ancenstrality, what’s the point if you cannot tell me how to distinguish between primary and secondary qualities in my day to day attempts to know the difference?

    This is because mathematical propositions are about ideal entities, whereas ancestral statements are about real entities.

    So we can use mathematics and its ideal entities to add actual apples, can we not? And the way you use ancestral statements as being about real entities to then make conclusions about ideal entities like “correlation” is totally fine with me as well – your statement was about a statement that was true without correlation, 2+2-4 is true without correlation as well, if all humans die tomorrow, there will be no correlating, as you argue, but will 2+2=4 still hold true?

    If one is a mathematical realist, then of course they will hold that numbers are real existences that would be there regardless of whether anyone thinks or knows them.

    Not really important here whether one is a realist and all these issues of real existence and so on are irrelevant – how is ancestral statement different from 2+2=4 in its power to prove that there’s a possibility of truth outside of correlation? that was my question and you did not really answer it directly. If I can be sure that 2+2=4 and prove that it is true without having any need for a correlation between thought and being, why can’t I be sure that the Big Band indeed took place 3.5 billion years ago, again, without any need for correlation? And if 2+2=4 does not somehow destroy my correlationism, then why does ancenstral statement manage to do so?

  3. Mikhail, I really wish you’d state where you come down on Husserl’s claim about nature and mind.

    We are getting somewhere here. You claim that we cannot know things-in-themselves, so you are not a realist. Believing in an external world does not a realist make. In order to qualify as a realist one must hold that we can have knowledge of primary qualities or things-in-themselves. In a subsequent post I did give a thumbnail sketch of how we can come to know primary qualities. Primary qualities are those properties of an object that can be mathematized and which are discovered empirically through observational and experimental science.

    I don’t think you can have it both ways. If you are a correlationist committed to the thesis that we cannot know things-as-they-are-in-themselves, then you are also committed to the thesis that there are real constraints on our knowledge. This is Kant’s whole point about limits to knowledge. This entails that strictly speaking, for the correlationist, any point in history where correlation is not operative must be nonsensical. Because there’s no possible correlation between the big bang and consciousness, it follows that claims about the big bang must, for the correlationist, be meaningless and absurd. The correlationist will hedge saying “this is how things seem or appear to have taken place, for us” and thereby try to preserve the science here. But that hedge just doesn’t work because claims about the big bang aren’t claims about how things appear or do not appear for us– indeed there was no us about at all –but rather are claims about the event itself. Yet if we are consistent in our correlationism, we simply can’t talk about being in this way. Thereby as correlationists we’re committed to the thesis that claims about a world without humans are, strictly speaking, meaningless and devoid of any knowledge content.

    The correlationist responds: how is this any different from claims about things I’m not currently perceiving in space? After all, I know that my computer has other profiles, I know that there’s a desert in Africa, etc., but I’m not experiencing it right now. Right, for the correlationist the unperceived in the present does not pose a problem because, in principle, we could actualize these absent profiles and they would be structured, for us, in this particular way. What short-circuits correlationism is any thought of being where there is no possible correlation whatsoever yet where nonetheless there is knowledge of how that being was.

  4. This entails that strictly speaking, for the correlationist, any point in history where correlation is not operative must be nonsensical. Because there’s no possible correlation between the big bang and consciousness, it follows that claims about the big bang must, for the correlationist, be meaningless and absurd.

    Not really, if you are bringing up history, after I die correlation between me and the world is no longer operative, I don’t see how history has anything to do with our discussion here. I would understand it if you brought up time and how, for example, for Newton time is there and for Leibniz it is a relation between objects, so no objects, no time (or space), that would be a problem indeed for something like Big Bang, but that’s not what you’re saying, you are looking for an Archimedean point from which to overturn correlationism once and for all, and I am saying that it is not working out for you.

    There is a correlation between Big Bang and consciousness, my consciousness indeed as I am thinking about it right now, and it’s working fine for me. Scientists who propose that 3.5 billion years ago there was a big bang do it, I argue, the same way as I am proposing 2+2=4 and I don’t need either history nor correlation to affirm both. Am I some genius or what?

    Yet if we are consistent in our correlationism, we simply can’t talk about being in this way.

    Um, yes we can! Scientists talk about Big Bang, they are humans with human capacities, yet they have knowledge of an event like Big Bang, right? They are not reliving the Big Bang and they are not traveling back in time to witness it, they propose a hypothesis and they provide a proof for it, I don’t see how it challenges anything in philosophy.

    I think you’ve created a rather ghostly enemy in the figure of this famed correlationist and your efforts at defeating him are rather quixotic, I think. Nothing you or QM wrote made me lose sleep and as a hardcore correlationist I should be shaking in my boots, right?

    As for Husserl, I really don’t care to divert the attention at his point, I still think my 2+2=4 example is a good example of truth without correlation and I don’t see how it destroys anything…

  5. Pingback: Time, Turtles, Kant, and Correlationism « Larval Subjects .

  6. Mikhail,

    I’ve just written a post over at Larval Subjects extensively dealing with these points, drawing textual evidence from what Kant himself says. The problem, as I see it, is that big bang statements require us to posit a time of things-in-themselves before [correlationist] which Kant explicitly forbids as being meaningful or knowable. At the end of the post, I propose a rough picture of an alternative explanation of both how it is possible to have a priori mathematical knowledge (knowledge of some features of objects prior to their being given) and a realist account of the mathematical structure of the universe.

    It looks like we’re at loggerheads in this debate and are just repeating ourselves at this point. But, to emphasize just one more time, correlationism is not identical to “relation”. Clearly the scientist, a human, relates to the big bang. He has to gain access to the world, study it, and all that. The correlationist thesis is much stronger. It is the thesis that we can’t know things in-themselves or have any knowledge of whether things-in-themselves are like the manner in which they appear to us or are disclosed to us. That’s where all the problems arise. Anyway, off to grade.

  7. And many thanks for the convo! Much better this time around without gouging each others eyes out! Apparently we can disagree without being disagreeable and that’s so much more agreeable and productive!

  8. Levi, it seems to me that by repeating our respective positions we sharpen our respective arguments, I’m sure there’s no harm in that – if it gets too repetitive and boring, we can always walk away, that’s the beauty of blogging.

    I left a long comment on your post – again, in the spirit of our debate here, so hopefully it will come through as engaging and not dismissing…

  9. Yes, I agree Mikhail. I’ve decided to take your manner as playful sparring as two friends might engage in at a bar and not as an insult. Phenomenologically, I suspect that I would experience your style quite differently in such a setting and given that you do engage so carefully and diligently with me, it is reasonable to conclude that while you certainly differ from my positions that difference is nonetheless one that is valued even if consensus isn’t reached. In this respect, friendship might be conceived as a bit like prairie dogs in a field. If you’ve ever had a chance to observe prairie dogs in a field, you will have noticed how they pop up and look about, determining whether any predators are about. They behave as eyes for each other, seeing where the other ones can’t see. Likewise in the case of intellectual debate, which often brings aleatory and unexpected perspectives to one’s own convictions and positions.

    Best,

    Levi

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