Musing the Obvious

Here they are asking whether there is such a thing as empty space or whether space is actually described by the objects in space.


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Back in 1995, Roberto Casati and Achille C. Varzi came out with a book titled Holes and Other Superficialities. In it, they raised questions like: Is a hole a part of a thing or apart from a thing? Is the hole in the donut, or is the hole independent of it? Now they are considering space in a new book,Parts and Places: The Structures of Spatial Representation (The MIT Press for both books). Here they are asking whether there is such a thing as empty space or whether space is actually described by the objects in space.

Admittedly, these are abstract questions for many people (okay: most people), not the sorts of things that are considered during day-to-day existence. But if, just for the heck of it, you were to bring one of the subjects up, the topic of discussion would be rather unusual. The authors suggest, "[J]ust ask any person to tell you what holes are—`real,' everyday holes [like in a tire], not the abstract holes of geometry—and he will likely elaborate upon absences, nonentities, nothingness, things that are not there." (Of course, by asking someone about holes, you'd run the risk of their becoming acutely concerned about your mental balance; they'd start wondering whether you have a proverbial "hole in your head"—even though that person had just tried to explain "nothing" to you in some detail.)

Although the issues of holes and space do have some practical applications—for example, a spatial representation theory, Recognition-by-Components, is of interest to those involved in robotic vision systems, so those robots out on the assembly line, carefully positioning windshields into the frame of a vehicle-in-becoming, actually have a connection to some philosophical discourse—for me, trying to make my way through the professors' books is an exercise that prods me to consider everyday things from another perspective. When you start to idly wonder what holes are (e.g., say you have a piece of metal into which you drill a 1-in. diameter hole 1 in. deep, then you drill a 0.5-in. diameter hole 0.5 in. deep into the center of the first hole. Do you have two holes?), it isn't long before you start realizing that the status quo isn't as solid as it might seem.

Too often we take too much for granted; we are too accepting of things as the way they are (or, perhaps more accurately stated, as they seem to be). This could simply be a natural function of self-preservation inasmuch as if we question everything, then we'd be incapable of doing anything (i.e., analysis paralysis). But taking things for granted can be profoundly debilitating in its own way. People who are truly successful in any endeavor are those who do and think differently.

One can argue that whether it is a kaizen project or a leapfrog development, these are things done differently. People who are afraid of change call the "leading edge" the "bleeding edge." But how often do we remember someone who comes in second or third? Perhaps not all those people who lead succeed, but followers never come in first.

Thinking "outside the box" is an uncomfortable thing for many people to do because being inside that chamber is a much safer place to be. It is also confining and restrictive. The safety may be more apparent than real.

One of the widely accepted notions throughout the auto industry is "Bigger Is Better." This is one characteristic, it seems, of the status quo. For some reason, that idea tends to be an unexamined belief—at least with regard to suppliers. Certainly the most criticized of the major vehicle manufacturers is General Motors, and a frequent topic of criticism is that it is too big and consequently incapable of being an agile competitor. Yet for some reasons, supplier consolidation is generally considered to be the way of the world. Tier One suppliers are either working to gobble up those at lower levels of the supply chain or are combining so that they are coming up with some new version of math:

Tier One + Tier One = Tier 0.5

But no one seems to be asking the question: Isn't there the distinct possibility that a Big Supplier becomes as bureaucratically bloated as a Big OEM?

Isn't the more appropriate notion that "Better Is Better"?

Hard-and-fast rules don't seem to make it in the world of philosophy. Nor do they really hold in the world where we make our daily livelihoods. But you can count on the fact that if you aren't thinking about what you are doing, how you are proceeding, then there is little chance that you'll be succeeding.