Sunday, February 17, 2013

Waves & Boats; Substantialists vs. Processists

One of the philosophical battles for the ancient Greeks was between the substantialists and the processists.

The substantialists such as Democritus there are fundamental things that persist in time, things like you and me, atoms and boats. A boat is a thing apart from its surroundings, identifiable, nameable.

On the other hand there were processists such as Heraclitus who countered that in a deep sense there are no things, that everything is like a wave: it comes and goes and in its vanishing its water remains but is changed.

They would argue that a ship is not a thing, just a temporary combination of materials, and use a classic thought experiment in their defence:

If you took a ship and one by one replaced each of its components would it be the same ship? If you used the replaced components to build a ship from scratch, which would be the "real" ship?

The process argument has no difficulty here: the ship, for the time it exists, has function, then the materials that comprise it are changed: identity is never complete, but transitory and incomplete.

But what about consciousness? Isn't that pretty separate and whole? Maybe a processist would argue that like a crest of a wave we exist for a moment before being absorbed into the greater sea, but that isn't the point.

So what is the point?

Updated: see the following post


Tillerman said...

We are stardust.
Billion year old carbon.
We are golden..
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.

JP said...

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep