Thursday, May 10, 2012

Something In Between

To say that things happen in time means in part that they happen in a certain order.  To say that things are located in space implies that they have a certain position vis-à-vis each other.

The following statements all refer to temporal and spatial relations:

(          (1) The abdication occurred between the two world wars.
            (2) The Napoleonic wars were followed by a period of relative calm.
(          (3) Belgium is east of England and north of France. 
            (4) The table stands between the chair and the window.

With respect to time, some of the basic relations are simultaneous, before,  and between.   Whether this list is essentially complete, or perhaps redundant in some respects, are questions that we shall not try to answer at this point.  (The answers may seem obvious to the reader now, but that impression may change as we follow the history of the problem.)  At least, a theory of time must give an account of these relations and thus explicate such common assertions as (1) and (2).

     With respect to space, it is not easy to make even a plausible preliminary list of basic relations.  It is hard to believe that such relations as north of and east of – though they are clearly spatial relations – can be in any way basic to the subject.  For these relations concern entities on the earth primarily; we may say that Polaris is north of any point on earth, because a sighting of Polaris indicates the northerly direction.  But this seems already to some extent an analogical extension of the term “north,” and it would certainly not make obvious sense to ask whether Polaris is north of the sun or the star Alpha Centauri.  Moreover, is Asia Minor east or west of North America?  The relation between of example (4),  however, is not subject to these restrictions and ambiguities.  Thus, a theory of space must at least give an account of the spatial betweenness  relation.

Now, relations give rise to order.

Text:  Bas C. van Fraassen, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Time and Space, New York,  Random House, 1970, pp. 3-4.

Illustrations: (1)  Sara Rubinow, They All Agreed Something Was Missing, 2010; (2) Dolphin pod (unknown photographer); (3) Daniel Maclise, Lawn Before The Duke’s Palace, Orlando About to Engage with Charles the Wrestler (scene from As You Like It), oil on canvas, 1854; (4)  Framed passport photo of F. Scott Fitzgerald inscribed to his Princeton roommate, J. Biggs, "Yours in ironic humor, F. Scott Fitzgerald" and counter-inscribed "Recieved (sic) as given in gentle humor, J. Biggs"; this photograph later served as frontispiece illustration for Fitzgerald's "This Side Of Paradise"; (5) Albrecht Dürer, St. Jerome In His Study, engraving, 1514.


  1. The farther I get away from professional philosophy, the stranger it seems.

    "Between the desire
    And the spasm
    Between the potency
    And the existence
    Between the essence
    And the descent
    Falls the Shadow"

    That seems, if anything, clearer (though by no means clear).

  2. You put that very well. I have no good sense of direction and GPS put an end to whatever natural compass I once had. During the years I spent long periods in suburban Chicago shuttling between the Mundelein Crowne Plaza and the office in Vernon Hills (a real estate term -- there are no hills in the Chicago suburbs), never driving myself and often totally exhausted, I would tell people who asked where I was that I was somewhere "on the map." I had no idea really what I meant but I liked the sound of it and thought is must be correct until I thought how theoretical mapping could be. My favorite villain in Dr. Strange comics was one called "The In-Betweener." It wasn't until years later that I learned that was a sort of in-joke based on the fact that "in-betweener" is a traditional artist job at comic book companies. Merry must know all about this. Currently I'm lost in a few contracts. Curtis

  3. I'm bad at maps and spatial relationships as well. My father had a map in his head and used to ask me to point where I thought our destination was when we were driving places--and I would always be off, way off. He had an explanation for it, but I have never been able to correct that.

    But then my husband has students who think it's downhill from Ohio to Florida . . . Evidently that's not all that unusual.

  4. Downhill from Ohio to Florida? I get that, I'm afraid. A former Pilates teacher (and friend) pointed out to me (not that she needed to) in front of my wife that I have no idea whatsoever of where I am in space. I'm trying to see that as an unusual talent, but I'm afraid I can't get there. Curtis

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  6. Dear Sri: I do not indeed. What a very odd link. Curtis