Reid has another interesting post up further developing his concept of Dark Matter. While I do not share Reid’s views about Dark Matter, his post does evoke some thoughts with respect to the ontology I’m trying to develop. Reid begins by asking us to,
Imagine an unspecified object. This ‘object’ image is a variable the value of which we cannot deduce. If we introduce this variable into a series of relations with other specified objects, we can determine that value and hence make definite or specific claims about it. Yet we will refrain from doing so. Let’s hold this object in reserve, so to speak, and grant it only the minimal qualification of existentiality: this object has a value that can be judged in terms of its existence or non-existence.
Yet we cannot definitely or definitively make such a judgment until we can relate this object to the field within which it is implicated as existing or not; or until we can attribute to this object some qualitative properties that derive from its constitution or interior composition. The object as variable must be related to an exterior field within which it is implicated, or an interior field of which it is composed: it is by virtue of these relations that we can deduce the existential value of this variable-object.
Yet we will hold such judgments in suspense by refusing any such relational qualification (and yes, the inward relation of an object to its components is still a relation, and even a relation of exteriority). We do not do so for the sake of some thought experiment or theoretical game. Rather, we want to raise the real question of the existential status of unqualified variables. We have already allowed that this variable-object is minimally taken in terms of an existential value, though this value is unknown. Yet without any specification or qualification, the variable-object which admittedly has some existential valence, which admittedly exists in some mode or magnitude (even negative), only has the effect of suspending the existential status we have admitted of it. As an unqualified variable, one which admittedly exists somehow, in some way, the variable-object exists in the manner of having an unspecifiable, indeterminable existence or existential value. Far from being a mark of epistemological limitation, this is a positive claim on the object, one which converts the suspense of value itself into a value.
This completely unqualified variable is what Reid calls “Dark Matter”. I am not entirely certain I understand Reid’s last move where he converts what appears to be an epistemological limitation into, if I read him properly, an ontological limitation. That is, on the one hand we have the properties of an object that manifest themselves in terms of a field. For example, water has the capacity to boil, but this capacity only manifests itself in response to certain conditions, i.e., a rise in temperature.
My nervousness about Reid’s remarks– and really this pertains to issues I’m struggling with at the moment in my own ontology –lies in his repeated references to judgment, knowing, decision, etc. It is difficult for me to see how all of these terms don’t remain in the epistemological register, rather than entering the ontological register. That is, the issue of whether or not water requires conditions to boil is not an issue about our knowledge of water, but rather pertains to the ontological register or what water is. Regardless of whether or not there were anyone there to know it, water would require certain conditions to be met so that it might boil.
This, then, leads me to wonder what it would mean to claim that something of objects is held in reserve beyond all determinations. Does the fact that water is not now boiling entail that water is undetermined? Here, no doubt, I catch a lot of flack from Graham, but doesn’t part of being water consist in possessing the power to boil? In evoking the concept of power– here used in a different sense than that of how I employ it in The Principle of Reality –isn’t the claim that water, in its being, not our knowledge of its being, is determined in a particular way? That is, water is not a completely undetermined or undifferentiated entity, but has a determinate structure such that, under appropriate conditions, this power is triggered and it boils. This would be an ontological feature of what water is regardless of whether anyone knows it or not. Moreover, water would, under this account, have this power regardless of whether or not it ever encounters a field in which this activity is triggered. Why? Because having this power– and many other powers besides –would be just what it is to be water.
It is perhaps here, above all, that Hegel goes astray in his critique of the Kantian in-itself. Hegel is right to denounce Kant’s in-itself as a sort of ghost projected by mind behind the manifold appearings of the object that is ultimately nothing at all. In a manner not dissimilar to Kripke’s rigid designators that are the same in all possible world, that are invariant over and above any specific accounts of the object, while itself being nothing, Hegel argues that the in-itself is nothing at all, but simply a mirror of the ego itself suffering from a sort of ontological depersonalization. The in-itself, according to Hegel, is nothing but the ego itself, but under the condition of the ego not recognizing itself as its own. Hegel’s move is then to suggest that the object is nothing but its actualizations or the properties that it manifests in relating to other objects. That is, there is no object in-itself in excess of the object as it manifests itself in interactions with other objects, but rather objects just are these manifestations in relation to other objects. Thus, for example, iron is not something more than the rust that is produced when it undergoes oxidation in relation to oxygen, but just is this effect. And likewise with oxygen.
The problem here is that objects have all sorts of powers that are there in the object in a perfectly determinate way, but which nonetheless are not active or currently producing these effects. If iron rusts when it encounters oxygen, this is because there is something about the nature or power of iron that rusts under these conditions. So long as iron exists in the world it has this determinate structure, regardless of whether or not there are any conditions under which these triggering conditions might be met. Carbon has a structure that can take diamond form regardless of whether the geological (or other) pressures ever occur for diamonds to be produced. Perhaps, in this connection, a properly ontological account of Dark Matter would refer not to whether or not any humans have knowledge of the actualizations of which an object is capable, but rather would refer to unactualized powers in an object that never encounter certain conditions to produce certain actualizations. Here the object wouldn’t be indeterminate or undefined– it has a perfectly determinate structure –but rather it’s powers would not have combined with the powers of other things to produce other assemblages or objects with distinct powers as in the case of carbon that requires intense pressure and heat to become a diamond.