Events rather than Things

Descartes kicked off  modern Western philosophy with his thought experiment of deciding what he absolutely couldn’t disbelieve in. He concluded  that he could, momentarily at any rate, disbelieve in all sorts of things, even other people, but that he couldn’t disbelieve in the existence of himself, the ‘thinking being’. Now for anyone who has done meditation (and for some who  haven’t likewise), Descartes is way off. It really is possible to disbelieve in one’s own existence if by this we mean the ‘person’ who was born at such and such a date and place, went to such and such a school, and so on. This ‘entity’ simply drifts away once you are alone, reduce the input from the outside world and confine yourself strictly to your present sensations. Indeed, it is often more difficult to believe that such a ‘being’ ever did exist, than to doubt its existence !
However, what you can’t dismiss even when meditating in isolation in a dark quiet room is the idea that there are some sort of events continually occurring, call them mental or  physical or psychic (at this level such distinctions have little meaning). My version of the cogito ergo sum is thus, “There are sensations, therefore there is something”. Sensations and thoughts are not physical objects but events of a particular kind, so could one not take the concept of the event as primary and see where one gets to from there. (Somewhat around this time I found to my surprize that a whole school of Buddhism had developed this line of thought and even formulated exactly the same starting point. See subsequent post.)
Moreover, one can, at once follow on from this by making certain deductions. There must seemingly be a ‘somewhere’ for these sensations/thoughts to occur just as there must be a ‘somewhere’ in which to locate extendable bodies. So we require a ‘place’ of some sort : I call it the Locality. However, there is as yet no obligation to identify this ‘place where mental events are occurring’ as the head of René Descartes or Sebastian Hayes (the author of the present pamphlet) and to rashly conclude, as Descartes does, that such a person necessarily exists . Nor yet is there any need just yet to identify the Locality with modern Einsteinian ‘Space-Time’ (though clearly there is a temptation to do so. A second deduction, or rather observation, is that these mental/physical events that are continually occurring do not occur ‘all at once’, they come ‘one after the other’, i.e. are successive. If by the vague and contradictory word/concept of Time we mean Succession, then there is undoubtedly such a ‘thing’ as Time. Space in the ‘extended body’ sense we do not need as yet, since we have not got to bodies (and possibly never will).
A further question is whether these individual fleeting thought/sensations are connected up in some way. This is not so easy to answer. In some cases quite clearly a certain thought gives rise to another, or a certain physical impulse triggers a certain idea or even action. But there also seem to be cases where thought/sensations simply emerge from nowhere and drift away into nowhere, i.e. are entirely disconnected from other events. The first category forces us to believe in some form of Causality but we can leave it open as to whether it is always operative.
All this seemed enough to make a start. I had a primary entity, the Event — primary because I couldn’t disbelieve in it — and, following closely after it in the sequence of ideas, the notions of an Event-Locality and of an Ordering of Events or Event-Succession. Finally, some causal principle was
required which I eventually baptised Dominance, partly to emphasize the usually one-sided rapport between two or more events and to avoid undesirable connotations of the word cause 

 What is an Event?

Modern  mathematical systems usually leave the basic notions, such as ‘lines’, ‘points’ &c. undefined for the good reason that, if they really are fundamental,
there is nothing more basic in terms of which they can be described. In a sense this is reasonable enough but has always struck me as somewhat of a cop out. The authors know perfectly well that they can take for granted the reader’s ‘knowledge’ of what a line or a point is — so why not say so?  My basic concept, the event, cannot be defined using other concepts but what I can do is to appeal to the ‘intuitive’, or rather experiential, knowledge that people have of ‘events’ and simply make this ‘prior knowledge’ more precise.
So what is an event? ‘Something that happens’, an ‘occurrence’. It is perhaps
easier to say what it is not. An event is not a thing. Why not? Because things
are long-lasting, relatively permanent. An event is punctual, it is not lasting, not permanent, it is here and it is gone. And it seems to have more to do with time (in the sense of succession) than space (in the sense of extension). An event is usually pinpointed by referring to events of the same type that happened before or after it, rather than by referring to events that happened alongside it. The Battle of Stalingrad came after the fall of France and before the Normandy invasion : what was happening while fighting was going on in parts of Russia near Stalingrad is never mentioned.
An event is ‘entire’, ‘all of a piece’, ‘has no parts’, it is not a process, has
no development since there is no ‘time’ (duration) for it to develop, it is here and then gone. The decline and fall of theRoman Empire is not an event.
One consequence is that events cannot be tampered with: once they have happened, they have happened and they happen too fast for interference.
“The moving finger writes and having writ,
moves on, nor all they piety nor wit
Can lure it back to cancel half a line”
But objects, since they are more spread out in time, are alterable, can be increased, lessened, painted, varnished; likewise personalities can change for the better or worse.
Events also seem to be more intimately involved with causality than things. The question, “Why is that tree there?” though not nonsensical sounds somewhat peculiar. But “Why did that branch break?” is a natural question to ask. Why indeed. Events, then, seem to be  causally connected, are indeed generally  very strongly bonded to certain other events particularly when they form pairs we call  ‘cause-and-‘effect’.
This is enough to give the event a certain definiteness even if the description is partly negative. An event, then, is punctual, sequential,  entire, evanescent, irrevocable, and usually dependent on other events for its appearance.

Ultimate Events

But here we come across a problem.
Although an event such as a battle, an evening out, a chance meeting with a friend, even a fall, is conceived as a ‘single item’, as being entire — otherwise we would not call it an event — it is obvious that any event you like to mention can be subdivided into a myriad of smaller events. Even a blow with a hammer, though treated as an impulsive force  in physics and thus as having no duration to speak of, is not really a single event since we can take photographs showing the progressive deformation of the object struck.
So, are we to conclude that all events are in fact composite? This is, I
suppose, a permissible assumption but it does not appeal to me at all since it
leads at once to infinite regress. It is already bad enough imagining that
‘space’ is infinitely divisible as the traditional mathematical treatment of motion generally assumes it is, but it is surely even worse to suppose that any little action we make is in reality made up of an ‘infinite’ quantity of smaller
events. I certainly don’t want to go down this path and so I find myself
obliged at the outset to introduce an axiom which states that there are certain events which cannot be further decomposed. I name these Ultimate
Events
and they play much the same role in Eventrics as atoms once did in physical theory.
Ultimate events, if they exist at all (which I certainly believe) must be very
short-lived indeed since there are many physical processes which are
known to take only nanoseconds and any such process must contain more than one ultimate event. Perhaps ultimate events will remain forever unobservable and unrecordable in any way, though I doubt this since the same was until recently said of atoms and even molecules before the invention of the electron microscope. What can certainly be done is to assume that there are such things as ultimate events and that what we normally refer to as events are actually complexes of ultimate events. In fact all the features that we attribute to ordinary events can henceforth be assumed to be only approximately true, but are (by hypothesis) strictly true of ultimate events.     Thus ultimate events really are punctual, all of a piece and so on.
Again it would seem to follow that ordinary events, since they are not actually entire, must contain gaps, in other words are discontinuous. This is an extremely important corollary since it affects absolutely everything (with the possible exception of the Locality itself). There are, thus, apart from the Locality, no continuous entities whatsoever with the single exception of ultimate events themselves that we do not directly perceive, though perhaps indirectly intuit. As Heidegger put it, “Being is shot through with nothingness”.

A Visual Image
Undoubtedly many of the early Western scientists had a clear mental picture of bodies knocking into each other like billiard balls and reputedly Newton obtained his great idea when seeing an apple falling to the ground (it is not clear whether this story is a myth or not). When thinking about events and their occurrence I picture to myself a sort of grid extending in all possible directions. A black dot represents an event that has occurrence on the Locality and a square can only receive one dot. This is just my picture of an (ultimate) event occurring somewhere, it just means, “That event has occurrence there and nowhere else”. Moreover, I visualize an ultimate event as entirely filling this position : there is no room for any other ultimate events.
I now introduce as an assumption that a ‘square’ of this grid is either occupied or empty but not both at once. This might seem obvious but it is nonetheless worth stating : it is the equivalent of the logical Law of Non-Contradiction as applied to events. No kind of prediction system would be much use to anyone if, say, it predicted that there would be an eclipse of the moon at a particular place and time and that there would simultaneously not  be an eclipse at the same spot. (One might object that Quantum Mechanics with its superspoition of states does not verify this principle, but that is precisely why Quantum Mechanics is so worrisome).
Thirdly, I find it reasonable to assume and thus state as an assumption that once a square of the grid is occupied it remains occupied ‘forever’. This is merely another way of saying, “What happened has happened”, and I doubt if many people would quarrel with that. It is not possible to rewrite history because past events are not accessible to us and even if they were could not be tampered with : there is no way un-occur an event.

Axioms of Ultimate Event Theory

Putting these last three assumptions together, along with my requirement that every occurrence can be chopped up into so many ultimate events, also my requirement that there be some sort of interconnectedness between events, we have a set of axioms, assertions which it is not necessary or possible to ‘prove’ — you either take them or leave them. The whole art of finding the right axioms assumptions is to choose those that seem the most ‘reasonable’ (least far-fetched) while readily giving rise to various non-obvious deductions. Ultimately the validity of the axioms depends on what they give rise to.
As it happens, since sketching out the barebones of this theory some thirty years ago, I have somewhat lost faith in the power and appropriateness of the axiomatic method but, until something better is available, one continues to use it. This method reached its zenith during the era of (modern) classical physics with the implied paradign of an intelligent supreme Being constructing the universe with a handful of key Principles and mathematical formulae in His mental tool-kit. Science today has by and large dispensed with the Supreme Being but otherwise retains the basic ‘essentialist’ (or Platonic) paradigm. The ‘laws of physics’ and higher mathematics are somehow supposed to ‘pre-exist’ out of time, prior even to the emergence of the universe. But in reality we enter the drama of life in media res, and, subject to some fundamental constraints, we may suppose that the universe, like human societies or animal spcies to some degree ‘makes things up as it goes along’. I have the feeling that quite soon a very different type of ‘reasoning’ will be developed, somewhat in between deduction and induction and which combines the virtues of both. But, for what it is worth, Ultimate Event Theory, or my version of it, seems to require the following set of Definitions and Axioms :

 FUNDAMENTAL ITEMS:    Events, the Locality, Succession, Dominance.

DEFINITIONS:
    An ultimate event is an event that cannot
be further decomposed.
    The Locality is the connected totality of all spots where ultimate events may have occurrence.
      Dominance is an influence that certain ultimate events exert on others.

AXIOM OF LOCALIZATION

A  spot on the Locality may receive at most one ultimate event, and every ultimate event that has occurrence occupies one, and only one, spot on the Locality.

AXIOM OF EXCLUSION

 A spot on the Locality is either  full, i.e. occupied by an ultimate event, or it is empty, but not both at once.

AXIOM OF FINITUDE

Everything that has occurrence is made up of a finite number of ultimate events.

AXIOM OF IRREVERSIBILITY

 If an ultimate event has occurrence,  there is no way in which it  can be altered or prevented from having occurrence.

AXIOM OF DOMINANCE

 Only events that have occurrence on the Locality may exercise
dominance over  other events.

 

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