I’m still mulling over the Piaget talk I stumbled on last week. What lead me to it was a recollection of a Piaget quote that was something like “speed is a more primary instinct than time.” that quote is contained in the article I’ve been reading.
Also included in the same lecture are these words:
“…how is it that Einstein was able to give a new operational definition of simultaneity at a distance? How was he able to criticise the Newtonian notion of universal time without giving rise to a deep crisis within physics? Of course his critique had its roots in experimental findings, such as the Michelson-Morley experiment – that goes without saying. Nonetheless, if this redefinition of the possibility of events to be simultaneous at great distances from each other went against the grain of our logic, there would have been a considerable crisis within physics. We would have had to accept one of two possibilities: either the physical world is not rational, or else human reason is impotent – incapable of grasping external reality. Well, in fact nothing of this sort happened. There was no such upheaval. A few metaphysicians (I apologise to the philosophers present) such as Bergson or Maritain were appalled by this revolution in physics, but for the most part and among scientists themselves it was not a very drastic crisis. Why in fact was it not a crisis? It was not a crisis because simultaneity is not a primitive notion: It is not a primitive concept, and it is not even a primitive perception. I shall go into this subject further later on, but at the moment I should just like to state that our experimental findings have shown that human beings do not perceive simultaneity with any precision. If we look at two objects moving at different speeds, and they stop at the same time, we do not have an adequate perception that they stopped at the same time. Similarly, when children do not have a very exact idea of what simultaneity is, they do not conceive of it independently of the speed at which objects are travelling. Simultaneity, then, is not a primitive intuition; it is an intellectual construction.
Long before Einstein, Henri Poincare did a great deal of work in analysing the notion of simultaneity and revealing its complexities. His studies took him, in fact, almost to the threshold of discovering relativity.”
Peter Galison said:
“In his famous philosophical article of January 1898, Poincaré says that simultaneity is really just the exchange of signals, like two telegraphers trying to determine how much longitudinal difference there is between them.”
I’m preparing to move, and the closer I get to the move date the more my cat has been following me around and screaming at me. All my cleaning, boxing, and shuffling things around is affecting her strongly – and I can’t seem to convince her that we’re just moving.
She’s acting as if I’m shuffling her memory as I rearrange the things in my apartment. This is not the first time that I’ve felt the desire to teach her how to see things my way to allay her concerns – but nothing I can figure out helps.
It occurs to me that my cat’s sense of place is the result of a persistent “exchange of signals” between her and her environment. As she is connecting with other active elements this exchange of signals seems simultaneous. I’m simply much more aware of her end of the interaction.
I wonder if she really remembers much at all, in the sense that I do. To repeat, she seems, as do other animals, in a state of simultaneity with her environment where her sense of being and what I understand as memory, is always the result of a persistent, primarily realtime exchange of signals between other elements engaged in similar exchanges with other, and perhaps different parts of the whole. Her consciousness is really distributed around wherever she is and my understanding of her as having all of who she is bundled up and focussed in her small body is actually more a mapping, or reflection of my own, different experience.
I’m reminded of Piaget’s idea above that we humans have no primitive notion (which I think of as a primal instinct) for simultaneity. He states that this lack of a sense of simultaneity can be demonstrated experimentally. My sense of memory and my reliance on intellectual constructions (of which memory seems to be one example, and relativistic simultaneity is another) is clear to me when I compare my experience of moving to another apartment: planning, anticipating, making lists so that i can remember what to do when, etc., with my cat’s: an increase in the scope of the persistent change within her space, and a profound break from the daily rhythms. Her behavior has changed because the space has changed. My behavior has changed in anticipation of a future state, or series of future states. I feel and observe us to be very different in the way we interact with our environment.
I observe my lack of primal instinct for the simultaneity of which she is an active part.
About ten years ago I was installing an art work in a storefront window in Santa Fe, NM. The piece was a group of three robots that were programmed to try to imitate the sounds each of them made. I seeded each circuit with some preliminary sounds, along with a crude program to listen to, and then attempt to repeat the sounds from their robotic neighbors. I was using some PIC chips that I knew didn’t have the proper speed or internal memory to really imitate. Instead they would create a hybrid of sounds that was a mixture of what each of them started out with. The resulting experience sounded like, according to the people who ran the shoe store that hosted the piece, ‘Bill Gate’s Chickens’.
While I was setting up the project an elderly couple walked by, watched me for a while, and then asked me what I was up to. I explained the work as I did above, and turned it on for them to hear. They listened for a few minutes, and then the man said:
“I’m a retired e.e. it’s all delay.”
“Everything is delay?” I said, smiling, not really sure what he was talking about, and not knowing what he meant by ‘e.e.’
“When it comes to human communication and our replications of it, it’s all delay. Think about that, and have a nice life.” And he and his partner walked away.
About ten minutes later I realized that e.e = electrical engineer. His comment about delay has stayed with me a long time and every once in a while i think I see what he was getting at.