Trying To Think
Thursday, July 17, 2003
Some Metaphysics Quotes

The limited actual world we successively overcome by fictions and by the mind's inventions that cannot be quite arbitrary (and hence do reflect the actual), but can escape the actual (and hence may become art).
- William Stafford, "The Discovery of Daily Experience"

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Philosophical Investigations", 1953

The world is the totality of facts, not of things
- Wittgenstein (Tractus)

Facts and events are terms of measurement rather than realities of nature
- The Way of Zen

[Analytical Philosophy] is concerned not with matters of fact, but matters of meaning. Its province is not the domain of empirical truth or falsehood, but the domain of sense and nonsense.
- Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience / Bennett and Hacker. QP360.5.B465/2003

I made up a little fable about people who speak a language in which they talk about being beset by "fatigues" where you and I would talk about being tired, exhausted. When we arrive at the scene with our sophisticated science, they ask us which of the little things in the bloodstream are the fatigues. We resist the question, which leads them to ask, in disbelief: "Are you denying that fatigues are *real*?" Given their tradition, this is an awkward question for us to answer, calling for diplomacy (not metaphysics)."
- Dennett, Freedom Evolves, pg 223. See Brainstorms for the longer, original version.

Theories are accepted as an answer to some specific questions, which have been posed against a background of common assumptions, and with respect to specific alternatives. In addition, available methodological and empirical techniques influence what level of description one can give a physical system and consequently influence the types of legitimate questions one can pose. The bottom line is that theories are tied to a particular scientific community, operating during a particular time, with particular players.
(Hardcastle, How to Build a Theory in Cognitive Science, p10)

Existence exists - and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.
If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.
-- Ayn Rand, "Galt's Speech," Atlas Shrugged

Absolute continuity of motion is not comprehensible to the human mind. Laws of motion of any kind become comprehensible to man only when he examines arbitrarily selected elements of that motion; but at the same time, a large proportion of human error comes from the arbitrary division of continuous motion into discontinuous elements.
-- Tolsty, War and Peace, http://remote.science.uva.nl/~thk/fiction/tolstoy.html

World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural.
-- Louis MacNeice, "Snow"

- "Outside! What's it like?"
- "Well -- It's sort of big"
-- (Terry Pratchett, Truckers)

Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Anna Wierzbicka (ANU) and Semantic Primes
"I really believe that languages are the best mirror of the human mind, and that a precise analysis of the significations of workds would tell us more than anything else about the operations of the understanding" -- Liebniz
And so she (and her friends) have proposed 20 or so semantic primes, and claim that any other word (or phrase) can be made out of these "atoms".
1. Saussure would argue that the meaning of a word is relative to the meaning of all other words in the semantic space.
2. Many linguists (esp. anti-realists and Chomskians) argue that the true meaning of single words is unattainable.
3. The semantic molecules are made of semantic atoms, but the atoms are combined in what looks like a non-trivial syntax (eg "bottom: a part of something, this part is below all the other parts")
4. The problem of "texture" in even the simpliest of things: we seem to be able to talk about "atoms" like "good", implying that the concepts have internal structure.
Tuesday, July 15, 2003

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