Hugo Fjelsted Alroe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fri, 19 Sep 1997 10:37:47 +0100
Platt Holden, I very much liked your mail on the big now. In order to show
how a view on the past, present and future inspired by Peirce's metaphysics
might look like, I append a mail I send to Peirce-l in january. I haven't
tried to link this to Pirsig explicitly, but I see some evident similarities.
-------------------------mail to Peirce-l 31/1-97-----------------
Ken Ketner asks: What is the reality of the subject of history? What is the
reality of the past? Intriguing questions indeed.
I dont think the subject of history is anything but the present.
On the other hand 'the present', the actuality of the world holds traces of
past actualties. These traces are nothing but Peirces habits, or Bergsons
'duree' (duree should have a little 'accent' above the first e). That is,
ontologically, the duree or endurance of actuality is the basic sort of
habit. And duree and habit is what enables both our selves and our knowledge
of the past.
Pre-diction and post-diction (post-diction being the telling of history) has
much in common, and yet there is a distinctive difference. We can say with
near certainty that the earth was around, wearing its lively coat, 100 mio
years ago, and we can even say quite a lot of what this lively coat was
like. But we cannot predict the same of earth, 100 mio years from now.
Why this difference? Is it because the past is somehow more real than the
Perhaps, but it is a matter of degree. We can in fact say with near
certainty that the globe itself, or at least most actual structures in the
universe, will endure another 100 mio years. The future has some degree of
I believe the seeming reality of the past is to be found in the evolutionary
nature of our world. In an entirely non-creative world nothing could happen
that were not predestined, there would be only firm habit, both future and
past would be as certain, as real, as the present. (This would be the block
universe of relativity theory.)
Allowing for destruction in this world would distinguish the future as less
certain than the present and the past, less real; it would seem like reality
was gradually fading away.
But can we allow for destruction without creation?. I don't think so. Take a
coin and a piece of string, then destroy the midle of the coin, - now you
can wear the coin in a way you could not do before. Destruction is just the
other side of creation; making a difference is destroying uniformity,
destroying a difference is creating uniformity.
Either we live in a non-creative world, where the past and the future is
just as real as the present. Or we live in a creative world, where creation
and destruction makes the past and the future less real than the present.
We strongly feel that there is a difference in the reality of past and
future. I think this difference has to do with the very fundamentals of
being. It stems from the tendency of possibility becoming actual, the
tendency of stiffining, of habit forming.
The past looks real because the actuality of the present have arisen from
possibilities of the past, which were founded in the actuality of the past.
What actually is now can only have arisen from possibilities that were
before, possibilities that rested on actuality then, which again arose from
possibilities that were before, - and so on into the mist of creation.
We know the past so well because we have arisen from it, because in some way
we are still resting on it. The past has no reality, no actuality, but it
exists in some subtle way in our actuality, as actualized and hence embodied
possibility. Actuality is a tiny tip of past existence, - this is our
We can predict the future, the future has some kind existence, too. But it
is not the same kind of existence as the past. The necessity of the future
is not that of an evolutionary history, the necessity of the future is the
_im-possibility_ founded in actuality.
Impossibility rests on the habits of actuality, duree being the basic kind.
But habits are only habits, not eternal laws. In a creative universe there
is always the possibility of the destruction of actualities, of the breaking
Were we humans to disappear nearly traceless within the next century, a not
entirely unthinkable future, our precious history would have no special plea
for reality in the actuality to come. We _know_ our history, but would it be
there without us remembering, without anything showing any actual trace of it?.
No, our history would be gone in every respect and have no reality at all.
Just like the 'parent universe', that we might imagine was destroyed in the
birth of our own universe, has no reality except for the traces it might
have left in our actual universe.
Actuality itself stays around, even when we neglect it, the falling tree of
Berkeley is holding its own reality. But as the actual traces of the tree
that fell weathers away, it looses actuality. The reality of the unseen
fallen tree slowly faints away, until it is forever lost from this world.
This, I think, we wil have to come to terms with.
-------------------------end mail to peirce-l----------------------
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