To the clockmaker
, the universe runs like clockwork; to the computer scientist
, the universe is based on equations, algorithmic... but in the elemental sense, what any person deals with most with is patterns; to the abstractionist, the universe is crystallized abstraction
Let us say that abstraction consists of considering arbitrarily defined relationships
between arbitrarily defined objects
... where objects and relationships become interchangeable concepts. Now, of course, this definition
has no content
, but it should at least suggest to you some conception of 'pattern
'. As for what kind of pattern, this should be left as vague as is possible, for it is the idea of ‘pattern’ that we will examine.
Abstraction is an attempt at understanding
; we seem to have been built to recognize patterns, whether by design or by natural selection
. Our ability to reason
gives us the ability to bring patterns into our minds, thus ripping them free of their original context
. Yet the way we think about patterns internally suggests that our capacities for abstraction developed out of the senses that gave them reason to exist; primarily speaking, visual and spatial senses.
, particularly our language describing thought, is steeped in metaphor
, mostly relating to our visual and spatial experience: We 'see' ideas or else they are 'unclear' to us. We create abstractions, whether unconsciously or in the form of formal mathematical models, to be isomorphic
to things that we can sense, and predominantly, see. To say again: these models do not have to attempt to duplicate reality; it is the similarity between what we see and the model’s pattern of relationships that is essential
You see this everywhere, in associative
' diagrams, in charts and graphs, in symbolic representations
ranging from street signs to newspaper cartoons, and more esoterically in abstract art
and formalized systems in science and technology (periodic table
To sum up, I assert that our ability to think abstractly is based in a primarily visio-spatial framework
(the word ‘framework’ itself evidences this). When faced with an idea, any idea, we (consciously or not) hew them down to visceral gut-level visual concepts; number, translation, rotation, combination
, colour, variance and sameness, to name a few. This is not a new idea by any means, but I do not think it is an endeavor that is approached consciously as often and as pervasively as it should be. Here I hope to provide an example of its usefulness in dissecting and unifying a wide array of esoteric
ideas into a (more or less) consistent and (more or less) compelling framework.
A Note on Language:
My intention here is not to make any assertion about the way the universe
'is', or even 'should be'... but rather to attempt to encompass many of the cognitive modalities
people have used in their attempts to understand reality.
However: Language is an organic
phenomenon, a force of nature
, which only the very best writers
seem to have had even minimal conscious control over. I say this only because I feel compelled to "call 'em like I see 'em"; misunderstanding seems to be an underrunning current in any kind of human discourse
; at any given time ideas which we label 'new' are, almost without exception, unclear and misunderstood in their own time. We often need a 'historical' viewpoint in order to separate the pattern from the noise. Important note: I’m not claiming that my ideas are original, and I definitely don’t want to posture myself as ‘misunderstood’ (good god no, in fact)… this is actually part of a point I’m making, not intended to be self-referential… although I do have a unfortunate tendency to be unclear.
In addition, one of the acclaimed features of literature is the potential for 'multiple interpretations
', where different people seems to extract different 'cores of meaning' from writings without precluding the possibility that other, even contradictory, meanings are still there to be extracted. This suggests to me again an important separation between abstractions and writing about abstractions. It comes down to semantics
; almost any person that considers themselves 'educated
' will say that to obtain a ‘real understanding' of an idea (an abstraction), what is required is repetition
... Read different works by different authors
with different biases and outlooks; one's own conception comes out of the intersection of the works.
The Numeric Modalities Model:
Here, I construct a model with one viscerally visual independent variable: simply the number
of objects used to construct an abstract system; I have divided the potential values for the 'cardinality
' of object sets into five ordered categories
: Noncatagorical, Singular, Dichotomaic, Polycatagorical, and Continuous. I believe that many disparate worldviews
can be considered isomorphic to each of these modalities, and others can be considered as perspectives of one of these modalities towards another. Again, I simply assert that this is a valuable perspective; not that it is the only or the best. In reality, it is intended merely as an example of what has already been said:
This is the fallthrough
case for the system, where not only do boundaries
between objects and ideas become meaningless, but 'meaning' itself is meaningless. This is the Zen
worldview, and it passively but inexorably avoids categorization. All attempts to specify this abstraction using language will fail, because there is nothing for words to attach themselves to. Language here must be of the form of Zen ]koans]; ‘Non-sense’, literally, disguising itself as sense in order to break the mind from a rational, categorical outlook.
Worldviews: Zen, perhaps strong Nihilism (but I've never read anything that described itself as nihilist that took the view to this extent... more often a 1-Object concept)
1- Object (Singular, Holism):
This is the earliest level of abstraction where language
becomes possible, even though every statement becomes a tautology
. Here, 'true' and 'false' are non-contradictory
simply because they are the same, mapping to the same object. In the words of the Old Man of the Mountain
: "Everything is permitted, nothing is true."... or alternatively and equivalently: "Nothing is permitted, everything is true." It represents (from the western
viewpoint) a disillusion of boundaries between the self
and the outside world, but unlike the 0-catagory system, it represents an assertion of existence; that something 'is' (or 'is not', there is no difference), but it is purely assertive (or dismissive) since it has nothing to compare itself to.
Worldviews: Strong Existentialist attitudes, Nihilist attitudes steeped in either pessimist or optimist outlooks, the tautological essence of the Cartesian 'I think therefore I am'
On the New-Agey side: the Gaia hypothesis, the Universal Subconcious.
2-Object (Dichotomaic, 'Crusoe-ism'):
universe. With two objects, there arises the possibility for asymmetrical relations
between them. There is now dichotomy
; true and false. One can now draw a distinction between oneself and the universe. Classically, the distinction between the 'observer
' and the 'observed
'. Modern-ish: the distinction between 'physical reality
' and the 'model
' or 'theory
'. Cause and effect
. Evidence and conclusion. Confirmation and refutation. Mind and matter
. Worldviews: Basic logic, rationalistic views. Absolutism. Human sexual bipolarity is likely deeply ingrained in this modality.
Poly-Catagorical (Classificational, Social Universe):
Higher orders of classification and categorization; hierarchies
. There are now meaningful 'equivalency relations
', creating such concepts as 'equality' and 'inequality' (speaking mathematically, visual-intuitively and even socially). Societies containing multiple 'conscious' individuals, perhaps possessing 'innate rights' and/or 'innate responsibilities', being relations with respect to some encompassing force, whether it is 'reality', 'the physical world', 'god', what have you. This is the realm of science and mathematics, at least in their loftiest abstractions... Plurality and indefiniteness in the number of categories allows one to transcend dichotomies and develop alternative logics
and so on), as well as perhaps encompass the incompleteness results of Godel
Worldviews: Take your pick. This is the stuff and substance of western civilization. However, most worldviews in this category will not be strict isomorphisms given the fact that they are comprised of noticeably different numbers of objects and relationships… The reason I place them together is that I think they do have an important underling similarity... the biggest difference is probably in their degrees of fluidity and resistance to change… an attribute that a different visual metric might better bring out.
Continuum-Catagorical (‘Deep’ Universe)
: This system is necessarily an extension (completion
, to pun mathematical) of the previous three, but can be in many way akin to the first. One approach to it is to take 'abstraction' to be the ‘fundamental stuff
' of the universe… reality is composed of abstraction. Ref: some information-theoretic
views of the universe, some strong anthropic
views. This worldview is an attempt to implicate and encompass the 'meta': Ideas include the fractal disillusion of scale to arbitrary heights and depths... the idea that we create the universe as we explore it (we see particles when we look for particles), and its 'counter': Whereas succeeding scientific worldviews
could, for the most part, be considered polycatagorical, the continuum is home to the idea of successive theories approaching a never-attainable 'truth
.' It is a worldview immune to deconstruction, and as such it is where deconstruction finds its home. It is distinguished from the polycatagorical system in the depth of the abstraction; beyond any abstraction and inside any abstraction you will necessarily find a multitude
Worldviews: Strong Antrophic, Information-based views of the universe, not the philosophy of science, not the philosophy of the philosophy of science, but the idea of a ‘philosophy of the philosophy of science.’ This is generally a mystic worldview, with little content, but still a guide towards understanding whatever ‘trends’ the universes evidences on widely disparate levels.
Some viewpoints lie on the edges... For example, a semi-Gaian
assertion that 'we are all connected'. Considered loosely, it is polycatagorical... we, sovereign individuals, all affect each other. But if you adopt a truly holistic
view... then who is 'we'?
I view the middle three modalities as the 'rationalistic
' ones, which, being most familiar to me culturally and intuitively. The noncatagorical and continous models are the extremes; one is concerened with 'unmaking' boundaries (although as I've already explained this statement is misleading; there is no unmaking because there is nothing there, only that is also inaccurate, because nothing is ‘something’ by virtue of writing it down.), whereas the continuous modality 'eliminates' boundaries (again misleading) by making everything into boundaries.
I realize that this is all vague
as opposed to an organized philosophical approach... but I'd like to think this place (e2) is a testing ground for vague and uncertain ideas. In any case, don't hesitate to let me know what you think (assuming anyone read this all)... as long as it's vaguely constructive. Don't blame me for making you wade through bullshit... I wasn't holding a gun to your head. The authorities put a stop to my forced wadings a long time ago.