January 14, 2007

the identity of indiscernibles

its snowing/icing/raining/sleeting/nasty outside and I'm pretty much stuck at home, so excuse the multiple updates in one day. not that i don't sometimes do that already, i just have an excuse today.

i did my first reading assignment for my Theories of Knowledge and Reality class on Friday evening. yes, i was at home reading about philosophy on Friday night. feel free to make fun of me for being lame. my pathetic social life aside, the selection i was supposed to read was out of the book Metaphysics: An Anthology. really really interesting stuff. hopefully the other 700 pages or whatever continue to be equally as intriguing.

the basic question the selection proposed was whether or not two objects can be truly identical in every way. i love thinking about ridiculous and confusing and relatively meaningless questions like that to begin with, so i was hooked before i even opened the book. i was also really encouraged because the majority of the arguments mentioned in the book were the exact ones i'd mulled over in my head before even starting the selection. i actually felt smart.

in the case of this question, as well as similar ones, my gut instinct is to be skeptical of both answers. because the motivation for such a question is solely to get you to think and struggle with answers. but my initial and final answers in this case were the same: i don't believe it to be possible.

my favorite reasoning is that even if two objects were physically 100% identical, they could never be 100% identical relationally. if you have two objects, a and b, they cannot be in the same place, otherwise they would be just one object, so they must be varying distances from any object c (unless, of course, object c was on the two dimensional plane centered between the objects a and b). for example, imagine i lay the two objects on my "desk" in front of me (anyone who has seen my room knows why desk is in quotes). if i lay them side by side and pick a third object in the room, say my lamp, and were to measure each object's distance from that lamp they wouldn't be the same. (the line between the two represents the center plane between the objects.)

____lamp__________A____|____B____

object B is clearly farther from the lamp than object A, and thus, in relation to the lamp, they are different. so the only way for them to be entirely identical relationally would be if 1) they were the only two objects in the universe or 2) if everything that happened on one side of the center plane was perfectly mirrored on the opposite side, so if a banana was to the left of A then an identical banana would have to be the same distance away to the right of B. but since neither situation exists then it is not possible.

but even if, lets say, they did exist, neither of those are even possible. both for weird strange reasons, but for reasons that make sense.

reason 1 (or the "only two items in the universe" theory): lets say the universe really does only exist of these two floating objects. first of all we could never label them "object A" and "object B" because then the labeler has made a distinction between them and, therefore, they aren't identical. the one on the observer's left is A and the one on the observer's right is B, that is a difference already. also, they could never been viewed at all. because the moment i see the two objects, then i am in the universe as well and the two are now are different relationally from me.

now you might say "well sure ap. but what if you're on the center plane?" well, my friend, that would mean that my entire left side would be identical to my right side. i would be ambidextrus, yes, but more importantly to this post, one side of my body would be mirrored to the other. thus, two hearts and two stomachs or two livers and two gall bladders (depending on which side of me was mirrored). that just doesn't make sense, nor would that work.

but even if we were biologically symmetrical and could view these two objects without screwing up the whole universe, we wouldn't ever be allowed to close our eyes or divert our sight from the objects ever. because once we did that there would be know way of knowing which object was which when you came back to look at it. A and B could've switched, and without knowing which object is which there can be no comparison.

reason 2 (or the "hugely infinite mirror between the objects" theory): the only way this would work is if the objects on the A side had no knowledge of the objects on the B side and vice versa. otherwise you could say that relationally object B is farther from any object c on the object A side, and vice versa.

assuming that to be the case, the objects would never be able to cross the center plane. once they started leaving one side they would start appearing on the other side. there would be morphing and overlapping and all sorts of of wack going on. but even if both of those scenarios were true, then you have two different universes both without the knowledge of the other and with no connection with the other. so how can anyone ever know that there are two objects in the first place? without the knowledge of the other object there can be no comparison.

and besides. even with all these ridiculous assumptions and scenarios, we live in a universe that is not the ones listed above, so whatever. let me know your thoughts.

-ap.

1 comment:

josh said...

that was metaphysically delicious. hmm...possible worlds...