Thursday, April 27, 2017

Notes on Norman Kemp Smith's Kant: SPACE and TIME

All the mobilities stuff, it's all already here, in Kant.  After wrapping up the preliminaries of the Transcendental Aesthetic in terms of first Space, and then Time (i.e. separately) we have a few pages on both (i.e. Space AND Time).  Here's where the combination is introduced:

"Motion presupposes the perception of something movable.  But in space, considered in itself, there is nothing movable; consequently the movable must be something that is found in space only through experience, and must therefore be an empirical datum.  For the same reason, transcendental aesthetic cannot count the concept of alteration among its a priori data.  Time itself does not alter, but only something which is in time.  The concept of alteration thus presupposes the perception of something existing and of the succession of its determinations; that is to say, it presupposes experience" (Kant, 1989, page 82).

In other words space and time are analytically separate.  Motion unites the two.  This is quite a crucial point.  We tend to think, however, in terms of space-travel when we think of motion, but it is useful to stick to Kant's original formulation of motion as fundamentally being about alteration.  We alter spatial coordinates only through time; temporal coordinates only through space.  Thinking time-travel, for example, H.G. Wells time-machine would never have worked because it did not move through space.  Nahin has pointed out that Wells' time machine would collide with itself as soon as it started, causing a thermonuclear explosion (Nahin, 2011, page 64).

Now, if what Massey (2005) is getting at is that spacetimes are inherently relativistic and that Newtonian considerations are in error because of this (i.e. because they keep space and time separate), we can answer that not only are space and time properly kept analytically separate for philosophical purposes, they are also properly kept separate for everyday conceptions of space and time.  These rely upon Newtonian mechanics and their representations.

A trace of your run depicted on Strava may have been generated by (relativistic) GPS signals, but the fact remains that you did not run anywhere near the speed of light.  Even if you had, in both cases, (slow and near-light-speed running) can only be thought of in terms of representations of spacetime.  They cannot be kept separate in any kind of 'alteration' as Kant would've put it because in motion space and time come together empirically, but not on a priori grounds.  Alteration/motion is therefore analytically an a posteriori proposition.

Not only does Massey leave out the cognitive (bodily) basis for her metaphysics of space; she also leaves out the considerable imaginative and presuppositional content inherent to spatiotemporal considerations in geography.  It is a lack of imagination that leads one down the dead-end path of non-representational theory.  It is an a-theoretical text that takes on space without any reference to Kant (Thrift is almost guilty of this too).

This review is also a review of Adam Roberts (2005) The Thing Itself, and I have more to say about this brilliant work of science fiction.  Its novum is strikingly original.  I (in my admittedly limited capacity as sci-fi critic) can think of nothing like it in the genre.  But perhaps that is due to its genre-defying capabilities.  The Thing Itself is a Kant-machine for generating implications of taking the idea of the thing itself literally, and to its most logical conclusions.  There are implications for space-time, which is why this review is wrapped up in a critique of non-representational geographical reason.  The novum, in short, is the thing itself, as time-machine, as bomb, as computational enabler, and many other things, many of which are given their own distinct chapters for exploration.  A couple of these chapters feel like short stories, but they feel no less like parts of a novel for that.

Kant, Immanuel.  1989.  Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith.  London: Macmillan Education.

Massey, Doreen.  2005.  For Space.  London: Sage.

Nahin, Paul J.  2011.  Time Travel: A Writer's Guide to the Real Science of Plausible Time Travel.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.

Roberts, Adam.  2015.  The Thing Itself.  London: Victor Gollancz.

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