Events and Objects

The previous post brings to mind the fact that I want to preserve Whitehead’s idea that the fundamental units of reality are occasions (moments). This commitment gets me into a bit of trouble, I think, as it comes across as a bit Platonic. It may sound as though I’m saying that material things are, in some sense, less real than the events in which they participate. However, I think the tension between the abstractness of temporal moments and the objective components of reality can be bridged by reading “fundamental units of reality” in the right way.

To be a “fundamental unit” is to have priority in the sense of measurement. The event is prior to the object insofar as we only interact with objects in moments of experience. For us to do anything with them, ignore them, or learn anything about them, there have the be circumstances in which we find ourselves acting among one another. So, my ability to examine objects requires that they be in motion. The tension arises in this last statement. If the experience of objects requires the activity of those objects, it seems I need objects to experience an event. This is true as well.

I see a way out through considering the nature of objects relative to our experience. Our experience of objects in moments of experience sees their functions particular to the situation being observed. In this relationship, the event is what it is. Given the relevant period of experience, the relations are as they are; we see some, we miss others. The incomplete view of objects is due to the fact that the object is not wholly present in the event. By this, I don’t mean that the whole table I have my feet on isn’t under my feet, but that it only exhibits certain possible relations in the moment where I’m experiencing my feet on it. Hence, we never fully experience objects, only the aspects of them relevant to our understanding in a particular moment. I take this absence of objects in our experience to mean that we can’t start with objects as fundamental units because they are not unified to begin with. The nature of experience means we have to begin our observation and understanding in terms of the moments where experience occurs.

That said, I don’t want to deny the existence of material or immaterial objects and their presence in everyday life. I would rather have us understand objects differently, namely, as consistent patterns of relations maintained and evolving over time. Thus, when we talk about the objective table that I have my feet on, its claim to being an “object” is it’s position, form, material, etc, i.e. the consistent bundle of things that looks brown, has four legs, and that I can put my feet on. The permanent entity that I understand as an object, is the set of properties experienced as consistent over a duration of time.

While we can pragmatically say that the “objects” we experience are real, our access to them and their permanence is due to the event character of reality. They only are as they are in the moments where they exhibit what they are capable of. So, while we do exist in a world of objects, their activity in events is fundamental to understanding reality.


~ by Michael L. Thomas on November 24, 2010.

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