Monthly Archives: November 2019

Innate ideas

Think about the innate idea of the iPhone. If we take innate ideas on face value, then the innate idea of the iPhone should have existed during Plato’s lifetime (or eternally according to the theory).

If this is true, then why didn’t we have the iPhone then, or even mention of it somewhere? Clearly this is nonsense. Innate ideas do not exist. We only have things as they come into existence and then known when experienced.

Space

Imagine pure space without a single object in it. Not even you, the observer, but nonetheless for some reason you are still able to “observe” this space.

In what way can you differentiate one dimensionless point in this space to another dimensionless point? By what means can you understand the distance these two dimensionless points? How do you discover the size of this space? Or else does this space have a size at all? And how do you differentiate between a point and space, when there is no way to differentiate between the two?

Democritus and Leucippus called this void, but only when compared or contrasted to atoms. In other words, void is defined by the things, or the absence thereof, not by any positive means.

Parmenides found this troubling. For then void cannot be truly void. Nothing must be “something”. He drew the conclusion that all is one, and that change as observed in the world is an illusion.

Einstein described with the equation E=mc2 the world as mass, space, time, and energy. For any one of these elements to have a value would mean the entirety is zero, nothing or void. But nothing seems to have zero energy. Atoms brought to near zero Kelvin slows motion but can never stop it. Everything is in flux as Heraclitus had concluded. So space is energy, and not empty void as such.

Space is likely a thing, but because of its nature as a “homogenous” thing it cannot be observed directly but only by indirect means or inferred through the relationship of things.

Out to lunch

There was a knock.

It was Gabriel. He doesn’t usually come at this time, thought God.

“What is it?”

“The English are asking for Your help.”

It was the French yesterday. Today, the English. They are at war with each other. What a dilemma, He thought.

“Which side do you think I should take, Gabriel?”

“Well, You always take the right side, do You not? I’m sure whichever choice You make You’ll be fine. Besides, You always win.”

Gabriel had a point. He was God after all.

“Very well. Give them my blessing.”

“Which side, Sir?”

“Whichever you feel like Gabriel. I will win either way. No?”

Gabriel rolled his eyes, turned around, walked out and closed the beautifully decorated awe-inspiring Door behind him.

God was glad the telephone hotline had been removed in His room. Peace and quiet, especially on Sundays. But He paused for a moment. Why it is a phone anyway? There were no phones in the days of this war. He decided not to think about this contradiction. It was safer. The thought might drive Him crazy, He thought.

The Door abruptly open and Gabriel rushed back into the room with a look of satisfaction. [So soon! Time had never meant much to Him.]

“We won!” he said.

“Well, that was to be expected. I have never lost, have I?”

Gabriel shook his head in half disappointment.

“Congratulate them for Me.”

Gabriel did as he was told. On his way back he ran into those Chosen People. They needed God’s help. So he went back to tell God. But He wasn’t in. A sign hung on the doorknob. “Out to lunch,” it read.

Gabriel waited and waited, but God never came back.

Differance and the metaphysics of presence

A is a because it is not b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, or z.

B is b because it is not a, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, or z.

C is c because it is not a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, or z.

And so on until z.

A does not have an inherent meaning, only meaning because it differs to the other symbols.  And by not having an inherent meaning it defers meaning. This is what Derrida had meant by differance. The choice of a different letter but identical pronunciation was to highlight differing, deferring and difference. The implication is that nothing has meaning present unto itself, only meaning via absence. He terms the mistake to think otherwise metaphysics to presence.

Metaphors we live by

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s important work Metaphors We Live By pointed out an aspect of conceptualisation and language – that we must resort literal physical meanings and relationships in order to talk about the abstract.

The employment of metaphors of the real is the only way we can talk about unreal.

Consider these sentences.

  1. He is in the kitchen.
  2. The concert starts in three hours.
  3. She is in the choir.
  4. They are in love.

All sentences employ spatial relation “in” to describe the concepts.

But only 1 is literal or real. Both “he” and “the kitchen” are real things. The person is located in a space. In 2 uses space to talk about time. And 3, and 4 use space to talk about membership and emotional state. While it can be argued that one can use non-space to describe things, it is neither easy, economical, nor natural. In other words, abstract or unreal concepts simply cannot be mentally, psychologically or conceptually manipulated without recourse to the real literal world.

Type and token things

There are things. Let us call each thing a token. Let us begin with the smallest unit – the atom.

There are unfathomable, countless multitude of atoms in the universe. Yet, as we look at each atom carefully we see similarities and differences between them. Let us call one a and another b. a and b are dissimilar, in fact, so dissimilar that we will continue to call them a and b.

We look at another atom but this one is similar to a and different to b. So maybe we shall call it a1. After a while we have a whole bunch of grouped together. Here, they can be called A to represent all of the tokens called a. This big A we shall call type that which is a general representation of all tokens.

This A, of course, does not exist in the world, only as a classification or categorisation within the mind of the thinker. It is a concept that becomes a thing by virtue of being the actual letter A. It is in the sign that we mistake it for being real. The concept until being turned into a sign had no reality other than being a process within the mind/brain. The sign makes it “materialise” so to speak.

Furthermore, the person who speaks has not seen all the tokens of a but generalises this to all the a. A is thus a “rough estimate” of any a mentioned. Even if we are talking about a specific instance of a we cannot help but be drawn into the estimation that is A.

This is the quality of language that is continually (dis)missed, in all language use, ordinary, philosophical, or otherwise.

A piece of paper

I hold up a piece of paper in front of you.

Question: you see the front of the paper but does the back not exist because you do not see it?

I flip the paper.

Question: does the back (now front) exist but the front (now back) cease to exist?

The inside of my safe

Imagine that last night, I locked one million dollars into my safe.

Question: does the money disappear the moment I close and lock the safe?

This morning, I open my safe.

Question: does the money reappear the moment I open the safe?

Planet X

I am the first person to visit a distant and unseen planet called X.

Question: does the planet come into existence the very moment I visit it?

I leave this planet called X.

Question: does it cease to exist the moment I leave it because no remains to see it?

Szczurolap (The Rat Exterminator)

Warning: this video contains visually disturbing scenes.

Szczurolap (The Rat Catcher) is a 1986 documentary about the one of the few remaining rat exterminators in Poland.

The film begins with a scientist describing an experiment where a rat is shown to drown in a matter of 15 minutes when left alone. Another rat which was rescued by way of a plank but later returned to the water survives for 15 hours. The point is that a rat given hope will have the will to live.

In the rest of the film we follow the exterminator in his task at exterminating the entire population on a rat-infested farm. He describes how he needs to be patient. By using poison he could kill off perhaps only three-quarters of the population, leaving the stronger and smarter rats to survive and passing on their genes (and knowledge) to the next generation . But by waiting and gaining their trust he can exterminate a far higher percentage from the beginning. So much so that he will feed the rats, other rats will continue to eat his poison ladened or by hardening their stomaches with plaster, even when rats are dying around in front them all the while he stands there watching. The remaining rats are shot with an air rifle. The last surviving rat – the boss – is then literally lured out with bait on fishing hook then killed by smashing it against the wall.

The film ends with the exterminator revealing to his listeners that his real job is that of watchmaking.

The narration, while about rat extermination, is really a philosophical meditation of sorts. Very little information about this film exists in English. I highly recommend it. But it is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Brown

“There is a book on the table. The book is brown. I will accept the book exists. But does the colour brown exist?”

Brown is a wavelength. White light bounces off the book. The characteristics of the book absorb certain wavelengths. What is not absorbed is reflected. Let us call this isolated, reflected wavelength (low-intensity light at 600 nanometres) which reaches our eyes “brown”. The eyes, which are receptive to wavelengths, transmits that information from the retina down the nerves to the brain where it is equated to “brown”.

You see the book. I see the same book. The colour which is reflected corresponds to “brown” in your vocabulary and my vocabulary. But whether we see the same colour in the same manner does not matter. As long as we are talking about the same “thing” is all that is important.

In this sense, we have isolated the property “brown” to be the wavelength and given it this agreed-upon name. The wavelength exists as light, as energy. I would say “yes”, it physically exists.

Linguistic efficiency

Chomsky believed there were innate ideas when it came to language. But cannot the patterns (deep structures) of language explained by the limitations of probable choice and the tendency towards linguistic efficiency, rather than some kind of pre-determined given?

In some ways this is what Chomsky is saying. But somehow there is a gap between his understanding of the physical reality and the reality of his language.

Language is a physical property and should be treated as such, not as some mystery akin to religions and gods.

Statements of non-facts

By simply saying, “God” does not bring God into existence anymore than saying “Harry Potter” will bring this fictional character into existence.

Human beings are very good at creating abstract objects. And indeed we treat ideas and thoughts as objects, often mixing them up with the real objects of the world.

Absolutes

Do absolutes exist? Or do they only in relation to relative things … thus making it relative. Furthermore, since absolutes are not affected by the relative things it is a constant. It also works in the opposite direction where it does not affect the relative. This suggests absolutes can be safely ignored.

Nirvana has no value

Central to the teaching of Buddhism are the three marks of existence (trilaksana).

The three marks of existence are:

  • saṅkhārā aniccā — “all saṅkhāras (conditioned things) are impermanent”
  • sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā — “all saṅkhāras are unsatisfactory”
  • sabbe dhammā anattā — “all dharmas (conditioned or unconditioned things) are not self”

Conditioned things (sankhara), according to Buddhism, do not make up the entirety of things. There are also unconditioned things. Together conditioned and unconditioned things are called the dharma – the entirety of the world.

Nirvana (the realization of the non-self or emptiness of everything, conditioned and unconditioned) is neither impermanent nor permanent, and neither unsatisfactory nor unsatisfactory. To say it is permanent would be to not understand its characteristics. To say it is satisfactory would be to not see the inconsistency of duality. The neutral, zero position of Buddhism is something rather hard to grasp. And by being unenlightened is to be not fully understanding the zero position, but be like somewhere between -1 and +1, other than 0. By having a value – positive or negative – we are not understanding the meaning of 0. The irony is, we cannot know zero without recourse to every other number, that is, zero means nothing without something.