Answering Skepticism about Persistence and Change

Say we have a sphere traveling through space, it is removed from view, and then it appears in a location ten feet ahead of where it was, continuing on along the same speed and trajectory as before.

Is the object of this event two or one?

On the face of it, this question concerns epistemology, or else, methodology, about how we are to know or determine which is the case from the information given. But as a metaphysical concern, there should really be no deep question here. As the question implies, there are just two possibilities, and it is one or the other. What are these two possibilities?

As one object, it does not go elsewhere out of the vicinity, nor does it just disappear into complete nothingness; rather, it simply fades from view before it reappears ten feet ahead of where it was. That it is the same object should be unproblematic—the instantiated properties are the same, except for its changes in space and time and the removal for a moment of its visible properties.

As two objects, on the other hand, the former object either disappears from view not to return to view again, or else it leaves the vicinity, where a new object appears from whereabouts unknown to the observer, and travels along the trajectory the other object would have gone down had it continued along its path as it did when visible.

However, perhaps there is a deeper question that centers on how it is possible that something (a sphere say), changing in some way (traveling through space and changing its location, say), can be nevertheless the same object. What if sameness of object never references anything at all, since any change in properties whatever implies that the object is now a new and different one?

What would it be for objects to be a sequence of objects ever new and different in the context of a sphere traversing space?

Here’s a simple picture of such an event: Sphere 1 is in a position in space and time. The next moment necessitates that its temporal property has changed, and in moving its spatial location has changed besides, and so Sphere 1 is no more (since it has different properties), and the new sphere that constitutes the current instantiated properties is different, and hence is now to be named Sphere 2. Such a non-sameness of the object will continue alongside every property change.

Thus is a picture of everyday objects as being ever new and non-identical according to changes in property. No sphere along a trajectory is the singularly persistent sphere as we are typically inclined to believe, but rather is a multiple-object sphere such that any change in a property implies a sphere that is entirely separate from any sphere with the slightest differing properties.

Such a picture is definitely unintuitive, and perhaps confounding. Yet what, if anything, is substantially wrong with it? And if nothing is, are we not then in a position to be forever skeptical that the regular objects around that populate our world admit of ever being identical with what precedes before or follows after them?

I really think the answer must be that there is something wrong with the logic of such a metaphysical view that denies a persistence to the sphere traversing space (or any other event typically taken to involve a singular object that changes in one or more of its properties). To give this metaphysical view a name, let’s call this the non-persistence view.

What strikes me about the example of the many-objected sphere is the supreme wastefulness of the objects in question. Where does Sphere 1 go off to once Sphere 2 takes over? Moreover, and more problematic traditionally speaking, where does Sphere 2 even spring up from?

I think it can be made clear that there are at least two logical principles in the background of considering any object to be identical across property changes, which are violated in the non-persistence view. The first is the principle that you cannot get something from nothing, since out of nothing only comes nothing (ex nihilo nihil fit). The next is the related notion that from something something remains (or something cannot ever be completely negated to nothing). I will not make much of an effort to defend these two principles, but the former one has a long history in philosophy and, more importantly, seems certainly true. The Big Bang is sometimes said to come from nothing, but the ‘nothing’ used there is merely the absence of particles, and not of the fundamental field that led to the Big Bang. The Big Bang did not come from strictly nothing, just from no objects in the typical sense. What’s more, that anything at all exists proves that, at a minimum, the conditions that would bring about such things were also in place prior to their coming to be. Such conditions would not be nothing in a strict sense. Nothing is at once non-descriptive in any positive sense, and is the negation of anything descriptive in the positive sense.

A related principle is that something does not become completely negated. I believe this is also a highly intuitive and correct view, such that anything that violates it is to be rejected outright, unless some very good and clear reasons emerge to the contrary. I find it more difficult to argue positively for this notion, but i believe it to be basic to our notion of objects. If an object disappears from view, we are inclined to go looking for it, and if it is gone, the most gone it could be is that is was destroyed in the sense of becoming some more basic and currently unusable set of things. There is the notion of the conservation of energy in all levels of physics, that energy cannot be destroyed but transformed. The history of physics has many such conservation principles. Had the universe operated with different forces, some such relation would have nonetheless held between them. Something is immovable in the sense of always remaining something.

With these two principles in hand, let me now give a proof against the non-persistence view.

Proof Against Non-Persistence

By our example above, Sphere 2’s properties had to change to go from not inhabiting the location to inhabiting it, or, if it always inhabited the location being considered, then it went from not having visible properties to having them.

Yet by the non-persistence view that a change in properties implies an entirely new object, Sphere 2 must be an entirely new object.

So its properties, visible, inhabit-ory, and all the others it has, either must have come out of nothing, or else it was caused to have the properties it has by some cause.

If the former, then we have a case of ex nihilo.

This latter possibility introduces a lemma concerning the cause of the properties of Sphere 2 coming to be. Staying away from an ex nihilo possibility requires a supremely complicated metaphysical view. Let’s get into it a little before completing our proof.

Suppose such properties were indeed caused. That is, just to give some examples to consider, suppose a switch is released, or a button pressed, or some billiard balls collide with one another, and that one or the other of these produces the effect of Sphere 2 coming to be with the properties it has instantiated. Yet the cause, whatever it is, would also have to be broken into multiple objects, and would have to come either from nothing or from some other prior cause.

I don’t know how a sequence of static objects can sensibly cause anything, but I won’t tackle this issue here. What is clear is that either such causes themselves would come from nothing, or they would have to continually reference some prior cause, where each examination of the supposed prior cause would have to reference another supposed prior cause, and so on.

Such a causal chain is perhaps thought to be possible. Consider a simplified example, where Sphere 1 which has distinct fixed properties causes Sphere 2 which has distinct fixed properties, which causes Sphere 3 which has distinct fixed properties, and Sphere 3 causes Sphere 1 to once more be.

We thus have a circular causal chain, or one that repeats its objects indefinitely:

Sphere 1 —> Sphere 2 —> Sphere 3 —> Sphere 1 . . .

Yet this will not work for how we have been running our examples with properties, since any repeated Sphere will differ from what came before it in respect to its temporal properties. Thus, there is no possible circular causal chain. The best we could do is have distinct Spheres (or other entirely distinct objects) that go on indefinitely into the past and future.

An alternative answer to what causes Sphere 2 to have the properties it has is that it was just the time ordained by the universe for Sphere 2 to be. What caused it is therefore some physical law of the universe. So it did not have to come from nothing after all. Yet even so, we would consider the universe as a whole that changes according to which objects inhabit it. Yet this would have to indicate that the universe is a series of ever new universes, since the properties of the universe change for any difference of or in objects that inhabit it. The picture is one of a multitude of objects that is exponential to the amount of particles under a persistent theory on the universe (as numerous as those already are!).

It is good to turn to the final key to our proof at this point, that something cannot just become nothing. So far we have had a profusion of distinct objects taking the place of temporally former objects, with no consideration about what becomes of these former objects. With the new sphere that takes a new spatial position from the old one, the old one is just assumed to completely disappear. Does it have to be that the non-persistence view implies that something becomes absolutely nothing?

Consider that Sphere 1 evaporates into tiny dust fragments, or even that it becomes some quantum field that admits of no particles—all the same, the Sphere becomes something (that is, it is not nothing). Yet by our metaphysical view of non-persistence, we’d have to rather say that Sphere 1 and what it purports to become are actually separate objects. Thus, Sphere 1 would have to recede into complete nothingness after all.

Therefore, we conclude that the non-persistence view implies either something from nothing, or else the negation of something into nothing.

Since both are unacceptable, so too is the non-persistence view.

I hope I have illuminated more clearly how the principles of nothing making only nothing, and in something never being negated into nothing, serve in the background of our intuitions of the persistence of objects across change.

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