The First Trichotomy. Thought of the Day 119.0

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As the sign consists of three components it comes hardly as a surprise that it may be analyzed in nine aspects – every one of the sign’s three components may be viewed under each of the three fundamental phenomenological categories. The least discussed of these so-called trichotomies is probably the first, concerning which property in the sign it is that functions, in fact, to make it a sign. It gives rise to the trichotomy qualisign, sinsign, legisign, or, in a little more sexy terminology, tone, token, type.

The oftenmost quoted definition is from ‘Syllabus’ (Charles S. Peirce, The Essential Peirce Selected Philosophical Writings, Volume 2):

According to the first division, a Sign may be termed a Qualisign, a Sinsign, or a Legisign.

A Qualisign is a quality which is a Sign. It cannot actually act as a sign until it is embodied; but the embodiment has nothing to do with its character as a sign.

A Sinsign (where the syllable sin is taken as meaning ‘being only once’, as in single, simple, Latin semel, etc.) is an actual existent thing or event which is a sign. It can only be so through its qualities; so that it involves a qualisign, or rather, several qualisigns. But these qualisigns are of a peculiar kind and only form a sign through being actually embodied.

A Legisign is a law that is a Sign. This law is usually [sic] established by men. Every conventional sign is a legisign. It is not a single object, but a general type which, it has been agreed, shall be significant. Every legisign signifies through an instance of its application, which may be termed a Replica of it. Thus, the word ‘the’ will usually occur from fifteen to twenty-five times on a page. It is in all these occurrences one and the same word, the same legisign. Each single instance of it is a Replica. The Replica is a Sinsign. Thus, every Legisign requires Sinsigns. But these are not ordinary Sinsigns, such as are peculiar occurrences that are regarded as significant. Nor would the Replica be significant if it were not for the law which renders it so.

In some sense, it is a strange fact that this first and basic trichotomy has not been widely discussed in relation to the continuity concept in Peirce, because it is crucial. It is evident from the second noticeable locus where this trichotomy is discussed, the letters to Lady Welby – here Peirce continues (after an introduction which brings less news):

The difference between a legisign and a qualisign, neither of which is an individual thing, is that a legisign has a definite identity, though usually admitting a great variety of appearances. Thus, &, and, and the sound are all one word. The qualisign, on the other hand, has no identity. It is the mere quality of an appearance and is not exactly the same throughout a second. Instead of identity, it has great similarity, and cannot differ much without being called quite another qualisign.

The legisign or type is distinguished as being general which is, in turn, defined by continuity: the type has a ‘great variety of appearances’; as a matter of fact, a continuous variation of appearances. In many cases even several continua of appearances (as &, and, and the spoken sound of ‘and’). Each continuity of appearances is gathered into one identity thanks to the type, making possible the repetition of identical signs. Reference is not yet discussed (it concerns the sign’s relation to its object), nor is meaning (referring to its relation to its interpretant) – what is at stake is merely the possibility for a type to incarnate a continuum of possible actualizations, however this be possible, and so repeatedly appear as one and the same sign despite other differences. Thus the reality of the type is the very foundation for Peirce’s ‘extreme realism’, and this for two reasons. First, seen from the side of the sign, the type provides the possibility of stable, repeatable signs: the type may – opposed to qualisigns and those sinsigns not being replicas of a type – be repeated as a self-identical occurrence, and this is what in the first place provides the stability which renders repeated sign use possible. Second, seen from the side of reality: because types, legisigns, are realized without reference to human subjectivity, the existence of types is the condition of possibility for a sign, in turn, to stably refer to stably occurring entities and objects. Here, the importance of the irreducible continuity in philosophy of mathematics appears for semiotics: it is that which grants the possibility of collecting a continuum in one identity, the special characteristic of the type concept. The opposition to the type is the qualisign or tone lacking the stability of the type – they are not self-identical even through a second, as Peirce says – they have, of course, the character of being infinitesimal entities, about which the principle of contradiction does not hold. The transformation from tone to type is thus the transformation from unstable pre-logic to stable logic – it covers, to phrase it in a Husserlian way, the phenomenology of logic. The legisign thus exerts its law over specific qualisigns and sinsigns – like in all Peirce’s trichotomies the higher sign types contain and govern specific instances of the lower types. The legisign is incarnated in singular, actual sinsigns representing the type – they are tokens of the type – and what they have in common are certain sets of qualities or qualisigns – tones – selected from continua delimited by the legisign. The amount of possible sinsigns, tokens, are summed up by a type, a stable and self-identical sign. Peirce’s despised nominalists would to some degree agree here: the universal as a type is indeed a ‘mere word’ – but the strong counterargument which Peirce’s position makes possible says that if ‘mere words’ may possess universality, then the world must contain it as well, because words are worldly phenomena like everything else. Here, nominalists will typically exclude words from the world and make them privileges of the subject, but for Peirce’s welding of idealism and naturalism nothing can be truly separated from the world – all what basically is in the mind must also exist in the world. Thus the synthetical continuum, which may, in some respects, be treated as one entity, becomes the very condition of possibility for the existence of types.

Whether some types or legisigns now refer to existing general objects or not is not a matter for the first trichotomy to decide; legisigns may be part of any number of false or nonsensical propositions, and not all legisigns are symbols, just like arguments, in turn, are only a subset of symbols – but all of them are legisigns because they must in themselves be general in order to provide the condition of possibility of identical repetition, of reference to general objects and of signifying general interpretants.

Husserl’s Flip-Flop on Arithmetic Axiomatics. Thought of the Day 118.0

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Husserl’s position in his Philosophy of Arithmetic (Psychological and Logical Investigations with Supplementary Texts) was resolutely anti-axiomatic. He attacked those who fell into remote, artificial constructions which, with the intent of building the elementary arithmetic concepts out of their ultimate definitional properties, interpret and change their meaning so much that totally strange, practically and scientifically useless conceptual formations finally result. Especially targeted was Frege’s ideal of the

founding of arithmetic on a sequence of formal definitions, out of which all the theorems of that science could be deduced purely syllogistically.

As soon as one comes to the ultimate, elemental concepts, Husserl reasoned, all defining has to come to an end. All one can then do is to point to the concrete phenomena from or through which the concepts are abstracted and show the nature of the abstractive process. A verbal explanation should place us in the proper state of mind for picking out, in inner or outer intuition, the abstract moments intended and for reproducing in ourselves the mental processes required for the formation of the concept. He said that his analyses had shown with incontestable clarity that the concepts of multiplicity and unity rest directly upon ultimate, elemental psychical data, and so belong among the indefinable concepts. Since the concept of number was so closely joined to them, one could scarcely speak of defining it either. All these points are made on the only pages of Philosophy of Arithmetic that Husserl ever explicitly retracted.

In On the Concept of Number, Husserl had set out to anchor arithmetical concepts in direct experience by analyzing the actual psychological processes to which he thought the concept of number owed its genesis. To obtain the concept of number of a concrete set of objects, say A, A, and A, he explained, one abstracts from the particular characteristics of the individual contents collected, only considering and retaining each one insofar as it is a something or a one. Regarding their collective combination, one thus obtains the general form of the set belonging to the set in question: one and one, etc. and. . . and one, to which a number name is assigned.

The enthusiastic espousal of psychologism of On the Concept of Number is not found in Philosophy of Arithmetic. Husserl later confessed that doubts about basic differences between the concept of number and the concept of collecting, which was all that could be obtained from reflection on acts, had troubled and tormented him from the very beginning and had eventually extended to all categorial concepts and to concepts of objectivities of any sort whatsoever, ultimately to include modern analysis and the theory of manifolds, and simultaneously to mathematical logic and the entire field of logic in general. He did not see how one could reconcile the objectivity of mathematics with psychological foundations for logic.

In sharp contrast to Brouwer who denounced logic as a source of truth, from the mid-1890s on, Husserl defended the view, which he attributed to Frege’s teacher Hermann Lotze, that pure arithmetic was basically no more than a branch of logic that had undergone independent development. He bid students not to be “scared” by that thought and to grow used to Lotze’s initially strange idea that arithmetic was only a particularly highly developed piece of logic.

Years later, Husserl would explain in Formal and Transcendental Logic that his

war against logical psychologism was meant to serve no other end than the supremely important one of making the specific province of analytic logic visible in its purity and ideal particularity, freeing it from the psychologizing confusions and misinterpretations in which it had remained enmeshed from the beginning.

He had come to see arithmetic truths as being analytic, as grounded in meanings independently of matters of fact. He had come to believe that the entire overthrowing of psychologism through phenomenology showed that his analyses in On the Concept of Number and Philosophy of Arithmetic had to be considered a pure a priori analysis of essence. For him, pure arithmetic, pure mathematics, and pure logic were a priori disciplines entirely grounded in conceptual essentialities, where truth was nothing other than the analysis of essences or concepts. Pure mathematics as pure arithmetic investigated what is grounded in the essence of number. Pure mathematical laws were laws of essence.

He is said to have told his students that it was to be stressed repeatedly and emphatically that the ideal entities so unpleasant for empiricistic logic, and so consistently disregarded by it, had not been artificially devised either by himself, or by Bolzano, but were given beforehand by the meaning of the universal talk of propositions and truths indispensable in all the sciences. This, he said, was an indubitable fact that had to be the starting point of all logic. All purely mathematical propositions, he taught, express something about the essence of what is mathematical. Their denial is consequently an absurdity. Denying a proposition of the natural sciences, a proposition about real matters of fact, never means an absurdity, a contradiction in terms. In denying the law of gravity, I cast experience to the wind. I violate the evident, extremely valuable probability that experience has established for the laws. But, I do not say anything “unthinkable,” absurd, something that nullifies the meaning of the word as I do when I say that 2 × 2 is not 4, but 5.

Husserl taught that every judgment either is a truth or cannot be a truth, that every presentation either accorded with a possible experience adequately redeeming it, or was in conflict with the experience, and that grounded in the essence of agreement was the fact that it was incompatible with the conflict, and grounded in the essence of conflict that it was incompatible with agreement. For him, that meant that truth ruled out falsehood and falsehood ruled out truth. And, likewise, existence and non-existence, correctness and incorrectness cancelled one another out in every sense. He believed that that became immediately apparent as soon as one had clarified the essence of existence and truth, of correctness and incorrectness, of Evidenz as consciousness of givenness, of being and not-being in fully redeeming intuition.

At the same time, Husserl contended, one grasps the “ultimate meaning” of the basic logical law of contradiction and of the excluded middle. When we state the law of validity that of any two contradictory propositions one holds and the other does not hold, when we say that for every proposition there is a contradictory one, Husserl explained, then we are continually speaking of the proposition in its ideal unity and not at all about mental experiences of individuals, not even in the most general way. With talk of truth it is always a matter of propositions in their ideal unity, of the meaning of statements, a matter of something identical and atemporal. What lies in the identically-ideal meaning of one’s words, what one cannot deny without invalidating the fixed meaning of one’s words has nothing at all to do with experience and induction. It has only to do with concepts. In sharp contrast to this, Brouwer saw intuitionistic mathematics as deviating from classical mathematics because the latter uses logic to generate theorems and in particular applies the principle of the excluded middle. He believed that Intuitionism had proven that no mathematical reality corresponds to the affirmation of the principle of the excluded middle and to conclusions derived by means of it. He reasoned that “since logic is based on mathematics – and not vice versa – the use of the Principle of the Excluded Middle is not permissible as part of a mathematical proof.”

Nomological Unification and Phenomenology of Gravitation. Thought of the Day 110.0

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String theory, which promises to give an all-encompassing, nomologically unified description of all interactions did not even lead to any unambiguous solutions to the multitude of explanative desiderata of the standard model of quantum field theory: the determination of its specific gauge invariances, broken symmetries and particle generations as well as its 20 or more free parameters, the chirality of matter particles, etc. String theory does at least give an explanation for the existence and for the number of particle generations. The latter is determined by the topology of the compactified additional spatial dimensions of string theory; their topology determines the structure of the possible oscillation spectra. The number of particle generations is identical to half the absolute value of the Euler number of the compact Calabi-Yau topology. But, because it is completely unclear which topology should be assumed for the compact space, there are no definitive results. This ambiguity is part of the vacuum selection problem; there are probably more than 10100 alternative scenarios in the so-called string landscape. Moreover all concrete models, deliberately chosen and analyzed, lead to generation numbers much too big. There are phenomenological indications that the number of particle generations can not exceed three. String theory admits generation numbers between three and 480.

Attempts at a concrete solution of the relevant external problems (and explanative desiderata) either did not take place, or they did not show any results, or they led to escalating ambiguities and finally got drowned completely in the string landscape scenario: the recently developed insight that string theory obviously does not lead to a unique description of nature, but describes an immense number of nomologically, physically and phenomenologically different worlds with different symmetries, parameter values, and values of the cosmological constant.

String theory seems to be by far too much preoccupied with its internal conceptual and mathematical problems to be able to find concrete solutions to the relevant external physical problems. It is almost completely dominated by internal consistency constraints. It is not the fact that we are living in a ten-dimensional world which forces string theory to a ten-dimensional description. It is that perturbative string theories are only anomaly-free in ten dimensions; and they contain gravitons only in a ten-dimensional formulation. The resulting question, how the four-dimensional spacetime of phenomenology comes off from ten-dimensional perturbative string theories (or its eleven-dimensional non-perturbative extension: the mysterious, not yet existing M theory), led to the compactification idea and to the braneworld scenarios, and from there to further internal problems.

It is not the fact that empirical indications for supersymmetry were found, that forces consistent string theories to include supersymmetry. Without supersymmetry, string theory has no fermions and no chirality, but there are tachyons which make the vacuum instable; and supersymmetry has certain conceptual advantages: it leads very probably to the finiteness of the perturbation series, thereby avoiding the problem of non-renormalizability which haunted all former attempts at a quantization of gravity; and there is a close relation between supersymmetry and Poincaré invariance which seems reasonable for quantum gravity. But it is clear that not all conceptual advantages are necessarily part of nature, as the example of the elegant, but unsuccessful Grand Unified Theories demonstrates.

Apart from its ten (or eleven) dimensions and the inclusion of supersymmetry, both have more or less the character of only conceptually, but not empirically motivated ad-hoc assumptions. String theory consists of a rather careful adaptation of the mathematical and model-theoretical apparatus of perturbative quantum field theory to the quantized, one-dimensionally extended, oscillating string (and, finally, of a minimal extension of its methods into the non-perturbative regime for which the declarations of intent exceed by far the conceptual successes). Without any empirical data transcending the context of our established theories, there remains for string theory only the minimal conceptual integration of basic parts of the phenomenology already reproduced by these established theories. And a significant component of this phenomenology, namely the phenomenology of gravitation, was already used up in the selection of string theory as an interesting approach to quantum gravity. Only, because string theory, containing gravitons as string states, reproduces in a certain way the phenomenology of gravitation, it is taken seriously.

Modal Structuralism. Thought of the Day 106.0

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Structuralism holds that mathematics is ultimately about the shared structures that may be instantiated by particular systems of objects. Eliminative structuralists, such as Geoffrey Hellman (Mathematics Without Numbers Towards a Modal-Structural Interpretation), try to develop this insight in a way that does not assume the existence of abstract structures over and above any instances. But since not all mathematical theories have concrete instances, this brings a modal element to this kind of structuralist view: mathematical theories are viewed as being concerned with what would be the case in any system of objects satisfying their axioms. In Hellman’s version of the view, this leads to a reinterpretation of ordinary mathematical utterances made within the context of a theory. A mathematical utterance of the sentence S, made against the context of a system of axioms expressed as a conjunction AX, becomes interpreted as the claim that the axioms are logically consistent and that they logically imply S (so that, were we to find an interpretation of those axioms, S would be true in that interpretation). Formally, an utterance of the sentence S becomes interpreted as the claim:

◊ AX & □ (AX ⊃ S)

Here, in order to preserve standard mathematics (and to avoid infinitary conjunctions of axioms), AX is usually a conjunction of second-order axioms for a theory. The operators “◊” and “□” are modal operators on sentences, interpreted as “it is logically consistent that”, and “it is logically necessary that”, respectively.

This view clearly shares aspects of the core of algebraic approaches to mathematics. According to modal structuralism what makes a mathematical theory good is that it is logically consistent. Pure mathematical activity becomes inquiry into the consistency of axioms, and into the consequences of axioms that are taken to be consistent. As a result, we need not view a theory as applying to any particular objects, so certainly not to one particular system of objects. Since mathematical utterances so construed do not refer to any objects, we do not get into difficulties with deciding on the unique referent for apparent singular terms in mathematics. The number 2 in mathematical contexts refers to no object, though if there were a system of objects satisfying the second-order Peano axioms, whatever mathematical theorems we have about the number 2 would apply to whatever the interpretation of 2 is in that system. And since our mathematical utterances are made true by modal facts, about what does and does not follow from consistent axioms, we no longer need to answer Benacerraf’s question of how we can have knowledge of a realm of abstract objects, but must instead consider how we know these (hopefully more accessible) facts about consistency and logical consequence.

Stewart Shapiro’s (Philosophy of Mathematics Structure and Ontology) non-eliminative version of structuralism, by contrast, accepts the existence of structures over and above systems of objects instantiating those structures. Specifically, according to Shapiro’s ante rem view, every logically consistent theory correctly describes a structure. Shapiro uses the terminology “coherent” rather than “logically consistent” in making this claim, as he reserves the term “consistent” for deductively consistent, a notion which, in the case of second-order theories, falls short of coherence (i.e., logical consistency), and wishes also to separate coherence from the model-theoretic notion of satisfiability, which, though plausibly coextensive with the notion of coherence, could not be used in his theory of structure existence on pain of circularity. Like Hellman, Shapiro thinks that many of our most interesting mathematical structures are described by second-order theories (first-order axiomatizations of sufficiently complex theories fail to pin down a unique structure up to isomorphism). Mathematical theories are then interpreted as bodies of truths about structures, which may be instantiated in many different systems of objects. Mathematical singular terms refer to the positions or offices in these structures, positions which may be occupied in instantiations of the structures by many different officeholders.

While this account provides a standard (referential) semantics for mathematical claims, the kinds of objects (offices, rather than officeholders) that mathematical singular terms are held to refer to are quite different from ordinary objects. Indeed, it is usually simply a category mistake to ask of the various possible officeholders that could fill the number 2 position in the natural number structure whether this or that officeholder is the number 2 (i.e., the office). Independent of any particular instantiation of a structure, the referent of the number 2 is the number 2 office or position. And this office/position is completely characterized by the axioms of the theory in question: if the axioms provide no answer to a question about the number 2 office, then within the context of the pure mathematical theory, this question simply has no answer.

Elements of the algebraic approach can be seen here in the emphasis on logical consistency as the criterion for the existence of a structure, and on the identification of the truths about the positions in a structure as being exhausted by what does and does not follow from a theory’s axioms. As such, this version of structuralism can also respond to Benacerraf’s problems. The question of which instantiation of a theoretical structure one is referring to when one utters a sentence in the context of a mathematical theory is dismissed as a category mistake. And, so long as the basic principle of structure-existence, according to which every logically consistent axiomatic theory truly describes a structure, is correct, we can explain our knowledge of mathematical truths simply by appeal to our knowledge of consistency.

Quantifier – Ontological Commitment: The Case for an Agnostic. Note Quote.

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What about the mathematical objects that, according to the platonist, exist independently of any description one may offer of them in terms of comprehension principles? Do these objects exist on the fictionalist view? Now, the fictionalist is not committed to the existence of such mathematical objects, although this doesn’t mean that the fictionalist is committed to the non-existence of these objects. The fictionalist is ultimately agnostic about the issue. Here is why.

There are two types of commitment: quantifier commitment and ontological commitment. We incur quantifier commitment to the objects that are in the range of our quantifiers. We incur ontological commitment when we are committed to the existence of certain objects. However, despite Quine’s view, quantifier commitment doesn’t entail ontological commitment. Fictional discourse (e.g. in literature) and mathematical discourse illustrate that. Suppose that there’s no way of making sense of our practice with fiction but to quantify over fictional objects. Still, people would strongly resist the claim that they are therefore committed to the existence of these objects. The same point applies to mathematical objects.

This move can also be made by invoking a distinction between partial quantifiers and the existence predicate. The idea here is to resist reading the existential quantifier as carrying any ontological commitment. Rather, the existential quantifier only indicates that the objects that fall under a concept (or have certain properties) are less than the whole domain of discourse. To indicate that the whole domain is invoked (e.g. that every object in the domain have a certain property), we use a universal quantifier. So, two different functions are clumped together in the traditional, Quinean reading of the existential quantifier: (i) to assert the existence of something, on the one hand, and (ii) to indicate that not the whole domain of quantification is considered, on the other. These functions are best kept apart. We should use a partial quantifier (that is, an existential quantifier free of ontological commitment) to convey that only some of the objects in the domain are referred to, and introduce an existence predicate in the language in order to express existence claims.

By distinguishing these two roles of the quantifier, we also gain expressive resources. Consider, for instance, the sentence:

(∗) Some fictional detectives don’t exist.

Can this expression be translated in the usual formalism of classical first-order logic with the Quinean interpretation of the existential quantifier? Prima facie, that doesn’t seem to be possible. The sentence would be contradictory! It would state that ∃ fictional detectives who don’t exist. The obvious consistent translation here would be: ¬∃x Fx, where F is the predicate is a fictional detective. But this states that fictional detectives don’t exist. Clearly, this is a different claim from the one expressed in (∗). By declaring that some fictional detectives don’t exist, (∗) is still compatible with the existence of some fictional detectives. The regimented sentence denies this possibility.

However, it’s perfectly straightforward to express (∗) using the resources of partial quantification and the existence predicate. Suppose that “∃” stands for the partial quantifier and “E” stands for the existence predicate. In this case, we have: ∃x (Fx ∧¬Ex), which expresses precisely what we need to state.

Now, under what conditions is the fictionalist entitled to conclude that certain objects exist? In order to avoid begging the question against the platonist, the fictionalist cannot insist that only objects that we can causally interact with exist. So, the fictionalist only offers sufficient conditions for us to be entitled to conclude that certain objects exist. Conditions such as the following seem to be uncontroversial. Suppose we have access to certain objects that is such that (i) it’s robust (e.g. we blink, we move away, and the objects are still there); (ii) the access to these objects can be refined (e.g. we can get closer for a better look); (iii) the access allows us to track the objects in space and time; and (iv) the access is such that if the objects weren’t there, we wouldn’t believe that they were. In this case, having this form of access to these objects gives us good grounds to claim that these objects exist. In fact, it’s in virtue of conditions of this sort that we believe that tables, chairs, and so many observable entities exist.

But recall that these are only sufficient, and not necessary, conditions. Thus, the resulting view turns out to be agnostic about the existence of the mathematical entities the platonist takes to exist – independently of any description. The fact that mathematical objects fail to satisfy some of these conditions doesn’t entail that these objects don’t exist. Perhaps these entities do exist after all; perhaps they don’t. What matters for the fictionalist is that it’s possible to make sense of significant features of mathematics without settling this issue.

Now what would happen if the agnostic fictionalist used the partial quantifier in the context of comprehension principles? Suppose that a vector space is introduced via suitable principles, and that we establish that there are vectors satisfying certain conditions. Would this entail that we are now committed to the existence of these vectors? It would if the vectors in question satisfied the existence predicate. Otherwise, the issue would remain open, given that the existence predicate only provides sufficient, but not necessary, conditions for us to believe that the vectors in question exist. As a result, the fictionalist would then remain agnostic about the existence of even the objects introduced via comprehension principles!

Fictionalism. Drunken Risibility.

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Applied mathematics is often used as a source of support for platonism. How else but by becoming platonists can we make sense of the success of applied mathematics in science? As an answer to this question, the fictionalist empiricist will note that it’s not the case that applied mathematics always works. In several cases, it doesn’t work as initially intended, and it works only when accompanied by suitable empirical interpretations of the mathematical formalism. For example, when Dirac found negative energy solutions to the equation that now bears his name, he tried to devise physically meaningful interpretations of these solutions. His first inclination was to ignore these negative energy solutions as not being physically significant, and he took the solutions to be just an artifact of the mathematics – as is commonly done in similar cases in classical mechanics. Later, however, he identified a physically meaningful interpretation of these negative energy solutions in terms of “holes” in a sea of electrons. But the resulting interpretation was empirically inadequate, since it entailed that protons and electrons had the same mass. Given this difficulty, Dirac rejected that interpretation and formulated another. He interpreted the negative energy solutions in terms of a new particle that had the same mass as the electron but opposite charge. A couple of years after Dirac’s final interpretation was published Carl Anderson detected something that could be interpreted as the particle that Dirac posited. Asked as to whether Anderson was aware of Dirac’s papers, Anderson replied that he knew of the work, but he was so busy with his instruments that, as far as he was concerned, the discovery of the positron was entirely accidental.

The application of mathematics is ultimately a matter of using the vocabulary of mathematical theories to express relations among physical entities. Given that, for the fictionalist empiricist, the truth of the various theories involved – mathematical, physical, biological, and whatnot – is never asserted, no commitment to the existence of the entities that are posited by such theories is forthcoming. But if the theories in question – and, in particular, the mathematical theories – are not taken to be true, how can they be successfully applied? There is no mystery here. First, even in science, false theories can have true consequences. The situation here is analogous to what happens in fiction. Novels can, and often do, provide insightful, illuminating descriptions of phenomena of various kinds – for example, psychological or historical events – that help us understand the events in question in new, unexpected ways, despite the fact that the novels in question are not true. Second, given that mathematical entities are not subject to spatial-temporal constraints, it’s not surprising that they have no active role in applied contexts. Mathematical theories need only provide a framework that, suitably interpreted, can be used to describe the behavior of various types of phenomena – whether the latter are physical, chemical, biological, or whatnot. Having such a descriptive function is clearly compatible with the (interpreted) mathematical framework not being true, as Dirac’s case illustrates so powerfully. After all, as was just noted, one of the interpretations of the mathematical formalism was empirically inadequate.

On the fictionalist empiricist account, mathematical discourse is clearly taken on a par with scientific discourse. There is no change in the semantics. Mathematical and scientific statements are treated in exactly the same way. Both sorts of statements are truth-apt, and are taken as describing (correctly or not) the objects and relations they are about. The only shift here is on the aim of the research. After all, on the fictionalist empiricist proposal, the goal is not truth, but something weaker: empirical adequacy – or truth only with respect to the observable phenomena. However, once again, this goal matters to both science and (applied) mathematics, and the semantic uniformity between the two fields is still preserved. According to the fictionalist empiricist, mathematical discourse is also taken literally. If a mathematical theory states that “There are differentiable functions such that…”, the theory is not going to be reformulated in any way to avoid reference to these functions. The truth of the theory, however, is never asserted. There’s no need for that, given that only the empirical adequacy of the overall theoretical package is required.

Utopia Banished. Thought of the Day 103.0

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In its essence, utopia has nothing to do with imagining an impossible ideal society; what characterizes utopia is literally the construction of a u-topic space, a space outside the existing parameters, the parameters of what appears to be “possible” in the existing social universe. The “utopian” gesture is the gesture that changes the coordinates of the possible. — (Slavoj Žižek- Iraq The Borrowed Kettle)

Here, Žižek discusses Leninist utopia, juxtaposing it with the current utopia of the end of utopia, the end of history. How propitious is the current anti-utopian aura for future political action? If society lies in impossibility, as Laclau and Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics) argued, the field of politics is also marked by the impossible. Failing to fabricate an ideological discourse and incapable of historicizing, psychoanalysis appears as “politically impotent” and unable to encumber the way for other ideological narratives to breed the expectation of making the impossible possible, by promising to cover the fissure of the real in socio-political relations. This means that psychoanalysis can interminably unveil the impossible, only for a recycling of ideologies (outside the psychoanalytic discourse) to attempt to veil it.

Juxtaposing the possibility of a “post-fantasmatic” or “less fantasmatic” politics accepts the irreducible ambiguity of democracy and thus fosters the prospect of a radical democratic project. Yet, such a conception is not uncomplicated, given that one cannot totally go beyond fantasy and still maintain one’s subjectivity (even when one traverses it, another fantasy eventually grows), precisely because fantasy is required for the coherence of the subject and the upholding of her desire. Furthermore, fantasy is either there or not; we cannot have “more” or “less” fantasy. Fantasy, in itself, is absolute and totalizing par excellence. It is the real and the symbolic that always make it “less fantasmatic”, as they impose a limit in its operation.

So, where does “perversion” fit within this frame? The encounter with the extra-ordinary is an encounter with the real that reveals the contradiction that lies at the heart of the political. Extra-ordinariness suggests the embodiment of the real within the socio-political milieu; this is where the extra-ordinary subject incarnates the impossible object. Nonetheless, it suggests a fantasmatic strategy of incorporating the real in the symbolic, as an alternative to the encircling of the real through sublimation. In sublimation we still have an (artistic) object standing for the object a, so the lack in the subject is still there, whereas in extra-ordinariness the subject occupies the locus of the object a, in an ephemeral eradication of his/her lack. Extra-ordinariness may not be a condition that subverts or transforms socio-political relations, yet it can have a certain political significance. Rather than a direct confrontation with the impossible, it suggests a fantasmatic embracing of the impossible in its inexpressible totality, which can be perceived as a utopian aspiration.

Following Žižek or Badiou’s contemporary views, the extra-ordinary gesture is not qualified as an authentic utopian act, because it does not traverse fantasy, it does not rewrite social conditions. It is well known that Žižek prioritizes the negativeness of the real in his rhetoric, something that outstrips any positive imaginary or symbolic reflection in his work. But this entails the risk of neglecting the equal importance of all three registers for subjectivity. The imaginary constitutes an essential motive force for any drastic action to take place, as long as the symbolic limit is not thwarted. It is also what keeps us humane and sustains our relation to the other.

It is possible to touch the real, through imaginary means, without becoming a post-human figure (such as Antigone, who remains the figurative conception of Žižek’s traversing of the fantasy). Fantasy (and, therefore, ideology) can be a source of optimism and motivation and it should not be bound exclusively to the static character of compensatory utopia, according to Bloch’s distinction. In as much as fantasy infuses the subject’s effort to grasp the impossible, recognizing it as such and not breeding the futile expectation of turning the impossible into possible (regaining the object, meeting happiness), the imaginary can form the pedestal for an anticipatory utopia.

The imaginary does not operate only as a force that disavows difference for the sake of an impossible unity and completeness. It also suggests an apparatus that soothes the realization of the symbolic fissure, breeding hope and fascination, that is to say, it stirs up emotional states that encircle the lack of the subject. Moreover, it must be noted that the object a, apart from real properties, also has an imaginary hypostasis, as it is screened in fantasies that cover lack. If our image’s coherence is an illusion, it is this illusion that motivates us as individual and social subjects and help us relate to each other.

The anti-imaginary undercurrent in psychoanalysis is also what accounts for renunciation of idealism in the democratic discourse. The point de capiton is not just a common point of reference; it is a master signifier, which means it constitutes an ideal par excellence. The master signifier relies on fantasy and imaginary certainty about its supreme status. The ideal embodied by the master is what motivates action, not only in politics, but also in sciences, and arts. Is there a democratic prospect for the prevalence of an ideal that does not promise impossible jouissance, but possible jouissance, without confining it to the phallus? Since it is possible to touch jouissance, but not to represent it, the encounter with jouissance could endorse an ideal of incompleteness, an ideal of confronting the limits of human experience vis-à-vis unutterable enjoyment.

We need an extra-ordinary utopianism to the extent that it provokes pre-fixed phallic and normative access to enjoyment. The extra-ordinary himself does not go so far as to demand another master signifier, but his act is sufficiently provocative in divulging the futility of the master’s imaginary superiority. However, the limits of the extra-ordinary utopian logic is that its fantasy of embodying the impossible never stops in its embodiment (precisely because it is still a fantasy), and instead it continues to make attempts to grasp it, without accepting that the impossible remains impossible.

An alternative utopia could probably maintain the fantasy of embodying the impossible, acknowledging it as such. So, any time fantasy collapses, violence does not emerge as a response, but we continue the effort to symbolically speculate and represent the impossible, precisely because in this effort resides hope that sustains our reason to live and desire. As some historians say, myths distort “truth”, yet we cannot live without them; myths can form the only tolerable approximation of “truth”. One should see them as “colourful” disguises of the achromous core of his/her existence, and the truth is we need more “colour”.

Perverse Ideologies. Thought of the Day 100.0

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Žižek (Fantasy as a Political Category A Lacanian Approach) says,

What we are thus arguing is not simply that ideology permeates also the alleged extra-ideological strata of everyday life, but that this materialization of ideology in the external materiality renders visible inherent antagonisms that the explicit formulation of ideology cannot afford to acknowledge. It is as if an ideological edifice, in order to function “normally,” must obey a kind of “imp of perversity” and articulate its inherent antagonism in the externality of its material existence.

In this fashion, Žižek recognizes an element of perversity in all ideologies, as a prerequisite for their “normal” functioning. This is because all ideologies disguise lack and thus desire through disavowal. They know that lack is there, but at the same time they believe it is eliminated. There is an object that takes over lack, that is to say the Good each ideology endorses, through imaginary means. If we generalize Žižek’s suggestion, we can either see all ideological relations mediated by a perverse liaison or perversion as a condition that simply helps the subjects relate to each other, when signification fails and they are confronted with the everlasting question of sexual difference, the non-representable dimension. Ideology, then, is just one solution that makes use of the perverse strategy when dealing with Difference. In any case, it is not pathological and cannot be determined mainly by relying on the role of disavowal. Instead of père-vers (this is a Lacanian neologism that denotes the meanings of “perversion” and “vers le père”, referring to the search for jouissance that does not abolish the division of the subject, her desire. In this respect, the père-vers is typical of both neurosis and perversion, where the Name-of-the-Father is not foreclosed and thereby complete jouissance remains unobtainable sexuality, that searches not for absolute jouissance, but jouissance related to desire, the political question is more pertinent to the père-versus, so to say, anything that goes against the recognition of the desire of the Other. Any attempt to disguise lack for instrumental purposes is a père-versus tactic.

To the extent that this external materialization of ideology is subjected to fantasmatic processes, it divulges nothing more than the perversity that organizes all social and political relations far from the sexual pathology associated with the pervert. The Other of power, this fictional Other that any ideology fabricates, is the One who disavows the discontinuities of the normative chain of society. Expressed through the signifiers used by leadership, this Other knows very well the cul-de-sac of the fictional view of society as a unified body, but still believes that unity is possible, substantiating this ideal.

The ideological Other disregards the impossibility of bridging Difference; therefore, it meets the perversion that it wants to associate with the extra-ordinary. Disengaging it from pathology, disavowal can be stated differently, as a prompt that says: “let’s pretend!” Pretend as if a universal harmony, good, and unity are feasible. Symbolic Difference is replaced with imaginary difference, which nourishes antagonism and hostility by fictionalizing an external threat that jeopardizes the unity of the social body. Thus, fantasy of the obscene extra-ordinary, who offends the conformist norm, is in itself a perverse fantasy. The Other knows very well that the pervert constitutes no threat, but still requires his punishment, moral reformation, or treatment.

Constructivism. Note Quote.

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Constructivism, as portrayed by its adherents, “is the idea that we construct our own world rather than it being determined by an outside reality”. Indeed, a common ground among constructivists of different persuasion lies in a commitment to the idea that knowledge is actively built up by the cognizing subject. But, whereas individualistic constructivism (which is most clearly enunciated by radical constructivism) focuses on the biological/psychological mechanisms that lead to knowledge construction, sociological constructivism focuses on the social factors that influence learning.

Let us briefly consider certain fundamental assumptions of individualistic constructivism. The first issue a constructivist theory of cognition ought to elucidate concerns of course the raw materials on which knowledge is constructed. On this issue, von Glaserfeld, an eminent representative of radical constructivism, gives a categorical answer: “from the constructivist point of view, the subject cannot transcend the limits of individual experience” (Michael R. Matthews Constructivism in Science Education_ A Philosophical Examination). This statement presents the keystone of constructivist epistemology, which conclusively asserts that “the only tools available to a ‘knower’ are the senses … [through which] the individual builds a picture of the world”. What is more, the so formed mental pictures do not shape an ‘external’ to the subject world, but the distinct personal reality of each individual. And this of course entails, in its turn, that the responsibility for the gained knowledge lies with the constructor; it cannot be shifted to a pre-existing world. As Ranulph Glanville confesses, “reality is what I sense, as I sense it, when I’m being honest about it” .

In this way, individualistic constructivism estranges the cognizing subject from the external world. Cognition is not considered as aiming at the discovery and investigation of an ‘independent’ world; it is viewed as a ‘tool’ that exclusively serves the adaptation of the subject to the world as it is experienced. From this perspective, ‘knowledge’ acquires an entirely new meaning. In the expression of von Glaserfeld,

the word ‘knowledge’ refers to conceptual structures that epistemic agents, given the range of present experience, within their tradition of thought and language, consider viable….[Furthermore] concepts have to be individually built up by reflective abstraction; and reflective abstraction is not a matter of looking closer but at operating mentally in a way that happens to be compatible with the perceptual material at hand.

To say it briefly, ‘knowledge’ signifies nothing more than an adequate organization of the experiential world, which makes the cognizing subject capable to effectively manipulate its perceptual experience.

It is evident that such insights, precluding any external point of reference, have impacts on knowledge evaluation. Indeed, the ascertainment that “for constructivists there are no structures other than those which the knower forms by its own activity” (Michael R. MatthewsConstructivism in Science Education A Philosophical Examination) yields unavoidably the conclusion drawn by Gerard De Zeeuw that “there is no mind-independent yardstick against which to measure the quality of any solution”. Hence, knowledge claims should not be evaluated by reference to a supposed ‘external’ world, but only by reference to their internal consistency and personal utility. This is precisely the reason that leads von Glaserfeld to suggest the substitution of the notion of “truth” by the notion of “viability” or “functional fit”: knowledge claims are appraised as “true”, if they “functionally fit” into the subject’s experiential world; and to find a “fit” simply means not to notice any discrepancies. This functional adaptation of ‘knowledge’ to experience is what finally secures the intended “viability”.

In accordance with the constructivist view, the notion of ‘object’, far from indicating any kind of ‘existence’, it explicitly refers to a strictly personal construction of the cognizing subject. Specifically, “any item of the furniture of someone’s experiential world can be called an ‘object’” (von Glaserfeld). From this point of view, the supposition that “the objects one has isolated in his experience are identical with those others have formed … is an illusion”. This of course deprives language of any rigorous criterion of objectivity; its physical-object statements, being dependent upon elements that are derived from personal experience, cannot be considered to reveal attributes of the objects as they factually are. Incorporating concepts whose meaning is highly associated with the individual experience of the cognizing subject, these statements form at the end a personal-specific description of the world. Conclusively, for constructivists the term ‘objectivity’ “shows no more than a relative compatibility of concepts” in situations where individuals have had occasion to compare their “individual uses of the particular words”.

From the viewpoint of radical constructivism, science, being a human enterprise, is amenable, by its very nature, to human limitations. It is then naturally inferred on constructivist grounds that “science cannot transcend [just as individuals cannot] the domain of experience” (von Glaserfeld). This statement, indicating that there is no essential differentiation between personal and scientific knowledge, permits, for instance, John Staver to assert that “for constructivists, observations, objects, events, data, laws and theory do not exist independent of observers. The lawful and certain nature of natural phenomena is a property of us, those who describe, not of nature, what is described”. Accordingly, by virtue of the preceding premise, one may argue that “scientific theories are derived from human experience and formulated in terms of human concepts” (von Glaserfeld).

In the framework now of social constructivism, if one accepts that the term ‘knowledge’ means no more than “what is collectively endorsed” (David Bloor Knowledge and Social Imagery), he will probably come to the conclusion that “the natural world has a small or non-existent role in the construction of scientific knowledge” (Collins). Or, in a weaker form, one can postulate that “scientific knowledge is symbolic in nature and socially negotiated. The objects of science are not the phenomena of nature but constructs advanced by the scientific community to interpret nature” (Rosalind Driver et al.). It is worth remarking that both views of constructivism eliminate, or at least downplay, the role of the natural world in the construction of scientific knowledge.

It is evident that the foregoing considerations lead most versions of constructivism to ultimately conclude that the very word ‘existence’ has no meaning in itself. It does acquire meaning only by referring to individuals or human communities. The acknowledgement of this fact renders subsequently the notion of ‘external’ physical reality useless and therefore redundant. As Riegler puts it, within the constructivist framework, “an external reality is neither rejected nor confirmed, it must be irrelevant”.

Initial Writing Systems. Thought of the Day 84.0

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The discovery of the Sumerian civilization marks the culmination of the systematical exploration of the subsoil in the Near East, which got started in the late nineteenth-century. In the middle of that century, it was possible to spell and read the documents made with clay and covered with strange cuneiform or wedge-shaped signs, which had been found in the territory of Iraq a long time ago. This fact brought about the proliferation of excavations in the ancient Mesopotamia, just as it occurred in the Valley of Kings when the hieroglyphics were deciphered. Since these excavations were made in depth, they caused the vestiges or traces arranged in parallel layers to outcrop.

After having gone through layers with Arabian, Greek and Persian traces, the excavations got to testimonies dating from the middle of the first millennium B.C. The exploration thus reached the layer that stored the vast majority of the cuneiform documents. Consequently, were discovered the palaces, statues, treasures and weapons of the great Assyrian kings, who are mentioned in the Old Testament due to their conquests. In this way, the Assyriology was born as a scientific discipline from the cuneiform texts and the archeology of Mesopotamia.

Under that layer, other layers were discovered, which led to conclude that the apogee of the bellicose Assyrians proceeding from the north had been preceded in about one millennium by a people possessing a higher culture. These people originating from southern Mesopotamia were based on the Babylonians, whose code of laws (Hammurabi) symbolized their great cultural development and political equilibrium.

It was found out that the aforesaid code along with documents of that time were identical with the Assyrian annals and tablets, but with differences which determined that the Assyrian and Babylonian dialects came from an only language known as Akkadian. The Akkadian language is related to the Arabian, Aramean and Hebrew languages, and it is classified as a Semitic one. Then, the conclusion was that the empires of Babylon (in the early second millennium B.C.) and Nineveh (in the early first millennium B.C.) were of Semitic origin.

At the time that those archeological excavations were made, the cuneiform writing represented an enigma. This writing is composed of a large quantity of signs or characters (300 at its height), consisting of wedge-like strokes engraved on raw clay.

Initially, these linear drawings stood for concrete specific objects. In a second stage, each of the signs of this writing can be read in a text in two different ways:

  1. As the name of the object which originally was represented by that character.
  2. As the mark of a sound (syllable), but never an elemental irreducible sound like, for instance, those of the Latin alphabet.

Therefore, the cuneiform writing is ambivalent (both ideographic and phonetic). Thus, the drawing of a spike (e.g. a spike of wheat) within a cuneiform text can be read, according to the context, as the names of “grains” or the syllable “she”. In the same way, the engraving of a bird was ideographically interpreted as “volatile”, o else phonetically as the syllable “hu”.

The cuneiform signs were initially just a reproduction of objetcs. With time, they noticed that by means of such a rudimentary procedure as this, just a limited quantity of all that is possible to express in articulate language could be expressed. Only concrete typical objects could be depicted, but not actions or abstractions. For that reason, the solution was to disassociate in the character its reference to the object which reproduced, on one hand, and its pronunciation (phonetic value), on the other hand. So, the creators of this writing could write all that the spoken language expressed.

For example, the abstract word “vision” in Akkadian language is “shehu”, which could be represented by the drawing of a spike (i.e. a spike of a grain) followed by that of a bird (she + hu), but neither characters is related to a grain or something volatile in this case. Notwithstanding, in a different part of the text, those two characters might be directly translated as cereal and bird. This fact causes the decipherment of the cuneiform signs to be greatly difficult.

Because the Akkadian and Semitic name of the objects indicated by the cuneiform signs never corresponded to the phonetic value of those characters, it was inferred that the people who invented the cuneiform writing could not be Semites. The existence of another different and more ancient civilization prior to the Semitic Akkadians was then presumed.

The archeological excavations offered new cuneiform inscriptions, which, unlike the Babylonian and Assyrian texts, were written with ideograms only used due to their objective value, without any possibility of representing direct phonetic reading in either Akkadian or Semitic languages. Finally, the people who lived in southern Mesopotamia, whose monuments and cities underlying the Babylonian traces (2000 B.C.), were identified with the people who invented the cuneiform script.

As the ancient texts designated that zone of Mesopotamia adjacent to the Persian Gulf by the name of “Country of Sumer” (from the Akkadian term “shumerum”), it was agreed to call the predecessors of the Semitic Babylonians “Sumerians”. In the course of time, the investigations advanced until it was possible to reconstruct the Sumerian language, which had been lost for thousands years. Besides, this language had never could be classified within the well-known linguistic families.

The Sumerian language is really strange as far as its vocabulary (mostly monosyllabic) and even more its grammar (reconstructed in the most part) are concerned. In it, a big portion of the linguistic categories, which are indispensable according to our own way of viewing and expressing the things, is absent. As it was above mentioned, the Sumerian world is a finding of the nineteenth-century. It is the first civilization of the world, with the complexities this fact implies, namely: social and political organization, foundation of cities and states, creation of institutions, laws, organized production of assets, regulation of commerce, monumental artistic manifestations, and the invention of a writing system that would let knowledge be fixed and propagated. The appearance of this civilization dates from the fourth millennium B.C., in low Mesopotamia, between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, to the south of Baghdad.

Two very ancient civilizations such as the Egyptian one and the Protoindian civilization of the Indus valley, are several centuries later than that of Sumer. Unlike Egypt and its pyramids, which reminds us of the glories of that civilization, or Israel and Greece, which built monuments that reminds us of their golden ages, in Sumer no testimonies of its past splendor were left. All that we know about Sumer at present, comes from the archeological excavations. All knowledge about this civilization has been extracted from clay tablets containing plenty of tiny cuneiform characters. These texts that are so difficult of being deciphered and understood, have been extracted by the hundreds of thousands, and they cover all aspects related to the writers’ lives: government, justice administration, economy, everyday life, science, history, literature and religion.