The Problem of Indexicality

There is an issue which is very hard for me to talk clearly about and yet continues to plague and itch at me begging for clear resolution. This is what I believe is called the problem of indexicality in modern philosophy, although I may be mistaken in my understanding of the usage of the term therein. Regardless, I will borrow the term and use it as a label for this most intractable and ineffable of conversations that I will be attempting in what follows.

Why am I looking out at the universe from this most particular of locations and times? Why is the present right now and not some other time? Of course, these questions seem absurd and nonsensical, and thus one might brush them off as such without really probing into the heart of the matter. In my case, the questions serve merely as a linguistic form of the strange paradoxical feeling of the problem which I have called the problem of indexicality and serve the function of facilitating conceptualization and communication, both of which remain hazardous at best in this instance. This problem has also been sketched out elsewhere in the philosophy of mind as the conflict between subjectivity and objectivity. Here a thought experiment is attempted wherein an observer imagines the universe in its entirety and hence objectively, and then asks himself where he is (or who he is), at which point he is confronted with the dilemma that he must be in the universe, at some random time and place, all the while the universe is in him, in his imagination. This is because what he is, subjectively, is limited to a very particular position in spacetime, which if one were to imagine the whole, that is objectively, would comprise an infinitesimal part thereof.

This morning as I was brushing my teeth I was struck by the arbitrariness of where and when the here and now are. It is a feeling which seems to hint at eternal timelessness. With space it is harder for my consciousness to intuit the way in which objectivity can be enfolded within subjectivity, maybe because there are three dimensions to reconcile. But if the truth is just here and now, how can others exist, each in one’s own individual here and now? Is it because spacetime is a delusionary tactic employed by minds consumed by their desire to be individual? This artifice may be all that veils off unity and truth from us stranded sufferers. The absurdity in my questioning arises from the clandestine presupposition of spacetime, within which framework it must surely be nonsensical to ask why any position is where it is, since this is part of the very definition of spacetime. In questioning even this most basic of assumptions, namely that spacetime is absolute and exists independently of us, we arrive at a possible solution to the problem of indexicality, given below.

If the problem is formulated as ‘why is it now and not then, here and not there?’ the answer follows that there is no such thing as then and there, only here and now, and that the belief in then and there arises because of our obsession with our individuality which requires spacetime, and hence, a continuum of times and places. But this will be dismissed as no solution at all, since it does not give any positive account of what there is and merely relegates the ontological status of spacetime. Well, while I do not offer a positive account of what there is which is framed objectively, that is in terms of a universe which exists independently of minds, and in a spacetime which likewise exists, I do offer a subjective account, namely that the present moment and whatever ephemeral experience it contains is all there is. And now one might object that ‘how can a present moment exist without previous moments which conditioned it?’ To this I would answer that all the previous and conditioning moments are contained within this one present moment, which seems almost to not exist at all, ever slipping through our objectivist lens the moment we home in on it. An infinitesimal piece of a fractal is the entire fractal. Again, with space it is still hard for me to see the same truth, namely that every infinitesimal piece of the universe IS the entire universe, but this is probably because I am still too fascinated by my individuality to reach those sorts of intuitions.

So, these considerations have led me right back to my fundamental beliefs as all sincere reflection does. It seems that I have recently become re-enchanted by the possibility of individuality offered by spacetime, forgetting the lessons of purer days when layers upon layers of veils were shed, only to be donned again until their root is expunged which I am certain it someday will.

May all beings purify their minds of the craving for becoming

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *