Monday, February 18, 2008

Notes on Tracking Systems, Indexical Systems, and Indexicals

Tracking x – an activity that involves retaining/maintaining a semantic or cognitive “fix” (reference, mere indication, or attention or some other focused attitude). An activity that, at each successive time, updates the fix on the item to reflect the new time. A tracking system is just a system which functions to track something. To keep track of x generally involves maintaining some sort of “cognitive fix” at each time t on the current slice, stage, or state of x. So, for instance, keeping track of the number of green marbles in a jar involves at each time having some kind of fix on the current number of marbles in the jar that are in fact green. Keeping track of, say, Peter involves at each time having some kind of fix on the current stage of Peter. And so keeping track of time, understood in this way (that is, keeping track of the current time), is just to maintain a cognitive fix at each time t on the current slice of time – which is just t itself – so that keeping track of time involves simply having a fix on the current time at that very time. Other ways of keeping track of time might involve, say, keeping track of whichever time is two hours in the future. This would involve maintaining at each time t a cognitive fix on whichever time, at t, is two hours in the future. Or keeping track of the temporal distance from some reference event.

A tensed system is just a system for tracking time and a clock is a tensed system which maintains its semantic fix on the current time (given that it is functioning properly, that is) by constantly changing states to reflect the change of time. “Now” tracks time, but without any changing of states, so it counts as tensed but not clock-like in any sense. It can itself, though, be part of a tensed, clock-like system or used to express states of or relations to such a system. A system can then exploit these coordinations between tensed system or representation and time to act in a timely manner.

A tracking system, perhaps, then can also be considered a tensed system since by tracking something over time one is thereby also implicitly tracking time in relation to it since it is keeping track of items or facts at successive times.

Tenseless representations cannot so closely match the representational state of a tensed system as tensed ones since only the tensed ones have some of the tracking capabilities of such a system and so can express the representational state of a tensed system in a constant, unchanging manner. Non-indexical representations cannot do such a thing – they cannot track time on their own and hence cannot be used to directly express the representational state of a tensed system in such a close way. So even if tensed and tenseless representations express the same tenseless propositions or facts, only the tensed ones will most closely match the cognitive role of the tensed system itself – only they share the feature of tense with the system that can in turn be exploited by the larger agent for action. Tensed representations, then, provide better “translations” for the states of tensed systems.

Indexicals themselves are not essential for action, but indexical systems are. Indexicals themselves are essential only for adequately expressing states involving such systems. Most primitive representations are probably indexical or perspectival in some way yet also probably lack explicit indexicals. Rather than I AM HOT NOW, we would more likely simply have HOT and rather than THERE IS NOW FOOD THREE FEET TO THE RIGHT OF ME, we would have THERE IS FOOD THREE FEET TO THE RIGHT. The difference between humans and most other animals, then, may be our explicit indexical concepts. Self-consciousness, perhaps, involves the acquisition of an explicit ‘I’ concept which, given the plethora of first-person representations – the person parameter of which ‘I’ makes explicit – enables us to attach an explicit I THINK to our thoughts so that we might think our thoughts and have the ability to be self-consciously aware of our thinking them. (NOW is also perhaps a step in making explicit our implicit parameters – in this case, of time. NOW may help in the construction of tenseless specifications of the temporal parameter or at least in connecting representations where the parameter is non-specified with the tenseless ones. NOW, then, may perhaps help us in forming objective timelines and stories about the world.)

Like the case of a tensed system, we need a first-person system for “tracking” me and making sure I do what I need to do. This would be needed if we are to take general thoughts about what agents should do in various situations and make them effective and carried out by the agent. Take only third person representations. We would need a system to coordinate these with the agent and get the agent to do actions assigned to that agent rather than others. This system decides which third person representations to act on and thus represents appropriately designated agents as me. More likely, the whole system leaves the person-parameter implicit and uses these apparently subjectless (there is only an implicit subject) representations to act by acting on these and only these. This is the parameter made explicit by ‘I’. So I am implicitly referred to in many of my representations and acts of awareness – and hence implicitly aware of myself – even when I do not show up, say, as an explicit object of thought or perception. It takes more mental energy, though, to unpack the reference and become explicitly aware of oneself in a first-person manner.

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