Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Chapter Four Summary of Stephen Mumford's Metaphysics

       Continuing on in my summary of Stephen Mumford’s Metaphysics, chapter four brings us to the topic of change. What is change? Thus far Mumford has introduced us to particulars (i.e. cups, tables, cats, etc.), and properties (i.e. redness, tallness, fragility, etc.) Surely there are other things too. “But what of someone blushing, a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, an iron bar heating up, or a book falling from a table?” (p.34). These all involve change, something that we can all agree is real and without it make our world static which, just by sheer observation we can say, it is not.
In order for there to be change, something has to happen. An event. An event can be just a single change, however what if there are several in a specific order? This creates a process. So, at what point does an event become so big it is considered a process? And at what point does a process become so small it is an event? It seems to me that if there is more than one event taking place in a specific order, you have a process. Rearranging the order of the events will still produce a process but it will be different than the original.
Now, in order for there to be change, something has to be the focus. Look at our examples listed above. SOMEONE blushing, CATERPILLAR becomes…, IRON BAR heating…, these are all things or subjects that are having something happen to them. Aristotle is credited with this idea; that in order for there to be change, there needs to be a subject. So how do we count what a change is for that subject? For example, on pages 37-38 Mumford explains, “Suppose that energy passes from one object to another, perhaps when two snooker balls collide. Is the transfer of energy just one change, involving a relocation of energy, or do we actually have two seperate changes here: one the loss of energy by the cue ball and the other the gaining of energy by the object ball?” Another example, if a tomato has the property of being round, then what happens when it is flattened? Is that one change as in an exchange of properties? Or two separate changes, the loss of roundness and the gain of flatness? Before I read on in the chapter, putting in my two cents here, it seems to me like this can be explained by Newton’s third law which we have all heard since we were kids, every action has an equal or opposite reaction. So, can we say that change can occur and either circumstance is acceptable or even the same (one event or two separate) because there has to be a balance or equilibrium that must be sustained throughout and after that change occurs? Meaning, the snooker balls collided. This can be seen as both being one change (transfer of energy as one change) and two separate changes (one the loss of energy and the other a gain) because the outcome is the same. The event took place with the same end result no matter which view point you take. The tomato is flat again can be viewed as both a single event (the tomato was smashed) or two (the tomato lost its roundness and gained its flatness). Even when change occurs within a property itself, there still has to be a balanced end result. As a flower grows, the height can be measured at any time. The height is always determinable but it is also always changing, switching out its old height and gaining its new one. The tomato cannot gain flatness without losing roundness, nor can the snooker ball gain energy without the other losing. There must be a balanced outcome. Change can only occur if the end result maintains this universal balance. Again, I should point out here I am but a novice in Philosophy and these are just the ramblings taking place in my head as I read through this text
Now what about change in existence? Where ‘the change does not occur in the properties of something but to the thing itself.’ (p. 39). For example, if my laptop is taken apart, I know a change has occurred. My laptop no longer exists but its parts still do and can be parted out, becoming a part of a different laptop but never the same again. This leads us into our next topic, spatial parts and temporal parts.

If my laptop is made up of parts, they each reside in a particular place in space, yes? So can we also say they reside in a particular place in time? But what of change then? Let’s go back to our tomato example. Mumford explains, “In the old Aristotelian theory, in which things endure through change, different qualities have to be ascribed to one and the same particular. The tomato has both the property of being green and the property of being red.” (p. 40). So it makes sense that in temporal space, we can believe the same tomato can hold the properties of being green and red. But this leads us to problem. The tomato was green, and at that time its temporal property was green. Then change occurred and the tomato is now red, changing its temporal property. Thus, properties are not dependent on their particulars, they are not static. It is here Mumford reminds us, “When something changes, we should not see it as a single thing bearing contrary properties, according to perdurantism, but as different things- temporal parts- bearing those properties. If the view is an attempt to explain change, then it means that each of those temporal parts must themselves be changeless. Were a temporal part to be capable of undergoing any change itself, then the problem that originally motivated the view would resurface. So it is clear that there must be a different temporal part for every slight change.” (p.41). After reading this I cannot help but think of a flipbook. I believe that is what Mumford is explaining here. Each page shows a static picture that, for that particular spatial and temporal part, hold true. The previous and following pages vary slightly, but are in succession and create change as each is viewed in order as the book is flipped. So perhaps that is what our reality is? Just a giant flipbook of static moments playing out in order? I opened this paper with a statement of, ‘These all involve change, something that we can all agree is real and without it make our world static which, just by sheer observation we can say, it is not; but perhaps what we perceive as change and a process really is static spatial and temporal parts playing out in a specific order. Change requires steps, gaining and losing of properties. Perhaps our static ‘life slides’ are so seamless, we cannot detect them? Then what is preventing us from stopping on one slide? What is pushing us along? What is keeping the slides in motion? What is causing the continuation? There has to be some sort of driving force, no?


  1. Interesting discussion, and coincidentally parallel to what we're doing in CoPhi: Heraclitus said all is flux, Parmenides said nothing changes, Zeno said nothing moves. My view: we're fully aware, once we get up out of our proverbial/metaphorical armchairs, of change in ourselves and in the world as it impinges upon us. And, we're aware of what James called "the feeling of effort." If not, we're missing our cue to engage life, history, the universe, everything.

    1. You may be interested in considering Bertrand Russell's thoughts on change, as excerpted in the post below.

  2. I'll look that up this evening. Thank you for the suggestion!