Thursday 15 November 2018

Man or woman: Thinking in Categories or thinking of Beings

I find a basic unsatisfactoriness in the usual way of thinking using categories - for example the debate whether each man has a body and soul; a body, soul and spirit - or just a body. For me, the argument bogs-down on what changes, what stays the same - what happens over time.

What happens over time seems (since the earliest records of Ancient Greeks) to be the problem with all categories - the reason for developing them, and the reason why they so seldom 'work'. It is, indeed, the basic problem of the philosophical tradition - how to talk-about anything (in a philosophical way) without getting into difficulties about change and not-change.

I think the problem comes-from the very roots of denying what is obvious to pre-conscious children - that this reality is one of Beings; and Beings are real in a context of time. What makes a Being is something to do with 'development'/ growth/ life.... we don't have a single category that works properly because of the problem with categories.

But if we start with Beings, and stick with Beings; we realise that the inadequacy of categories is precisely that they do not include this basic experience of entities that both remain themselves and also change through time.

It isn't a mystery or a paradox; not is it a logical problem - that is what Beings are. A Being may even metamorphose unrecognisably - caterpillar to pupa to butterfly - while remaining the same Being. A Being may exchange all of its molecules while remaining the same Being. This is built-in knowledge - and the problem only arises from trying to fit it into time-less categories.

The same with individuality... Something about modern thought pushes people into categories; and then these categories lead to further problems because they have blurred boundaries, they overlap, they change, they are perspectival... yet we don't spontaneously have a problem with individual people, once we get to know them - we regard each as a Being, and don't expect Beings to fall into categories.

As an example... What about sex, man and woman?

Well, we recognise that invididual human Beings are either a man or a woman; but we don't spontaneously create categories of men or women by using definitions, into-which each Being must be put... Man or woman is something that each person is - the beings neither derive-from nor are allocated-to categories.

And because Beings include time, then we don't expect a being to change from man to woman or woman to man; and if they appear to do so, then we may be confused about which they really are - but not about the fact that their state of Being is (if only we knew) one or the other.

The knowledge comes to us not in the form 'there are two categories that all humans must fall into, either man or woman' - but that we know many individual people, and each is either a man or a woman; or else we aren't sure which - but would prefer to know (if we want to deal with them).

We begin with Beings - and I believe that we should end with Beings, as the basis of our understanding of reality. That will means dealing with individuals, not categories - and as such, many of the intractable 'problems of philosophy' (and of Christian theology) simply dissolve. (Including the [pseudo-] problem of the Trinity.)

There remain the problems of living; but the problems of philosophy that have tormented thinkers of about 2500 years are seen as illusory; although, probably, struggling with them was valuable and perhaps necessary.

We began by unconsciously accepting the reality of a world of Beings; our task now is to choose to accept that this world really-is of-Beings.


Chiu ChunLing said...

While it is true that our actual experience of reality is made up of particular encounters with individual entities, language cannot be structured so as to reflect this without ceasing to be language. Language requires a common frame of reference, and this requires sorting things into categories that are likely to have some commonality with the experiences of others. Otherwise we can never reach the point of being able to communicate anything that is not already known by the direct experience of both the speaker and audience.

This begins with names for particular people, objects, and actions. We learn to say "Mama" and "Papa" and that each sound elicits a reaction from an entity with which we have familiarity. Eventually, we can elicit particular desired responses by sounds associated with previous actions, and specify them further with named objects. But this requires (generally on the part of the parent) categorical interpretation because they do not share the same experience stream even if they are present for all of it.

Thus our language must be categorical to function as language at all, despite our experience and consciousness being particular and unique. We must not forget that language is not consciousness, and consciousness is not language. Nor is it possible for either to be the other.

Epimetheus said...

Is it true to say that all categories and languages violate the logical law of identity?

If so, than a truly divine language would have no nouns, but use the true given names for every unique being that exists, no?

I suppose this is why visions and expansions of consciousness cannot be truly communicated with others.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - "Is it true to say that all categories and languages violate the logical law of identity?"

That's what I think - therefore, I would regard CCL's account of the origins of language as an example of the problem I am trying to critique.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Well, the origins of language are less the problem than the essential nature of symbolic communication and the limits of boolean logic.

Using proper names rather than categorical nouns doesn't solve the problem (besides, you'd also have to use proper names to distinguish each event, and good luck with that). After all, "No man ever steps in the same river twice", the river, and the man, have both changed in the interim.

Any serious attempt to think about reality (or even our limited perception of it) so specifically and particularly destroys the possibility of describing it in language...any language. We must content ourselves with saying that it is "indescribable, ineffable, beyond mere language."

This is the long-standing central problem of AI, we sorta know how to make a machine "talk" (though they still don't do so particularly well), but how do you get it to carry on consciousness? Nobody knows, because consciousness is inexplicable, precisely because it cannot be limited to symbolic logical manipulation at all.