John Lilburne's journal about with an essay on Quinton's Spaces and Times.



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2243 K Thu 25 Oct 2001

Today I got back an essay I wrote for Metaphysics and have decided to publish it here.

AP326 Short Paper of 500 words, due 11 October 2001.
Explain and comment on a piece of seminar reading from weeks 5-9. Reading chosen: "Spaces and Times" by Anthony Quinton (from Philosophy Volume 37, no. 140, April 1962, pp. 130-147).

Normally we think of there only being one space and time. When we speak of "spaces and times" we refer to parts of one all-encompassing space and all encompassing time. Quinton asks if this is true, whether there could be other spaces and times.

Quinton argues that it is conceivable that there are places that are not spatially connected. He presents a changed dream life at a lakeside: "replete with an appropriate and causally coherent variety of tropical incident" (page 141). On falling asleep there the character returns to England. The next night, when falling asleep, he returns where he left off, to the coherent life by the lakeside.

Would the two places be spatially connected? A materialist would say they were. If rather than a mind, there are simply brains and neural events, then the change in the brain, brought about by the dream, indicates a physical connection. Then the lakeside and England are spatially connected.

On page 133 Quinton writes "my after-image is plainly a spatial thing, it occupies at any one moment a definite position in my visual field, but it has no real location in the public world". A materialist would disagree: the memory of an image in the brain is a physical thing, just as the memory in a computer is, just as a photograph is.

Quinton considers the contention: "The contents of our imaginings are simply unreal." But he argues: "there really was something, a private entity, an image or dream-element, of which I was aware shortly before I woke up this morning." So Quinton seems to present the dreams as "real" but "non-physical". Quinton writes "Where the physical is vast and systematic, the experiential is small and fragmentary; where the physical is public, the experiential is private." (page 136). But in the story of the lake he is changing the experiential from "small and fragmentary" to "vast and systematic". He does this while retaining the status of the mind as non-physical.

On page 143 Quinton disputes the contention "either ... the dream-place was somewhere in ordinary physical space or else that it was still only a dream." He argues that there could be a non-physical but coherent dream: "But beside the lake there is a place for prudence, forethought and accurate recollection." (page 144). But even if one rejected materialism, that everything is physical, few would argue that there could be accurate recollection without some physical change in the brain.

I see this as the difficulty of the thought experiment: it posits two coherent, unified, but unrelated (and unrelat-able) sets of experiences.

{Footnote1: From the internet: on 9 Oct 2001 "Clarification of Some Ambiguities in System".}

If another space is known about, there is a link to it, and so it is not part of another space, because it is linked to this space.

I agree with Quinton's conclusion "it seems unintelligible to speak of a collection of events as constituting the experience of one person unless its members form a single temporal sequence". But in the same way it seems unintelligible to speak of a collection of places as constituting the experience of one person unless its members are part of a single space.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 25 October 2001.