IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: The Opposite of Elementalism?
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, May 30, 2007 - 09:48 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

In the context of general semantics, which ostensibly eschews "two-valued orientation", what can it mean to apply the term "opposite" to a high level abstraction such as "identification"?

I think we can consciously perform "identifications". Example: The artillary spotter must "identify" "up", "down", "left", and "right" with an imaginary grid around the target in order to direct successive hits closer to the intended target, and, it seems to me, this can be done with full consciousness of abstracting. If the shell hits to the left and closer than the target, the spotter might say right 2, up 3 to the artillary gun controller, so that the next shell will be more to the right of and further away that the one that just missed.

This assumes that I understand "identification" as treating one level of abstraction as if it were, or in terms of, another level of abstraction. I do not see this as the same as "confusing" levels of abstraction, in which it is presumed that the purpetrator is unaware of the difference.

The same question applies to "elementalism".
If we are going to look for a two-valued distinction and label one 'elementalism', then it seems logical to see where the word 'not' is "not used" and insert it or is used and remove it from the formulation that "defines" elementalism.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 31, 2007 - 10:36 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The visual abstraction the spotter sees is one level of abstraction. Abstracting a horizontal vs vertical grid with the origin at the location of the last hit is another level of abstraction that is "superimposed" on the picture of the target area. The spotter treats the first level of abstraction it terms of the second in order to direct the next artillary shell. A "miss" is a difference that makes a difference, so that difference has to be "equated" or "identified" with some quantification in terms of two directions - up-down and left-right. Without both directions and quantification, we cannot tell how to correct our aim. Of course, this can all be done without verbalizations if you are both the spotter and the gunner if you rapidly "identify" the differences with cranking one handle one way and the other handle another way.

If you are Dick Cheney and Whittington was not close to Quail . . . it's only a case of rotating the shoulder and elevating the arm.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 31, 2007 - 03:57 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

In that case, the "reverse" of elementalism - verbally splitting what cannot be emprically split, it seems to me, would be the application of the extensional device the hyphen - verbally uniting what cannot be empirically split.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, May 31, 2007 - 10:02 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

These two later questions confuse epistemology ("making a distinction" in the sense of coming to know by abstraction) with metaphysics ("where there 'is'/'is not' one").

In our best case, we have a model to account for what is going on, and we compare the language that describes that model with the language we use in ordinary daily life. If we are using terms, which the model requires being used together, separately in our daily lives, then we label these terms an elementalism. We should probably label these terms as "used elementalistically" (with respect to such-and-such model). For example using 'time' and 'space' separately is using them elementalistically with respect to the standard model of physics in which all events have both space and time coordinates

Can the terms space and time be used, with respect to the Newtonian physics model, separately without being elementalistic, because, in the Newtonian model, space and time are independent? We know that the Newtonian model of physics is "wrong" even though it is a resonable first approximation at low speeds.

In the human scale of time, we answer the question of our address with a spatial coordinate and no time coordinate. Are we being elementalistic? We frequently ask "what time is it" and get a time coordinate without a spatial coordinate. Are we being elementalistic?

I think not, because our ordinary social and cultural model does not require all abstractions of events to include both a space and a time coordinate. With respect to our cultural model, "what time is it?" requires only a temporal coordinate answer. Unlike modern physics, we are not required to refer only to events with both a space and time coordinate.

If we confuse these type of abstraction with events that do require a description in both time and space, or vice-versa, then, we may risk failing to communicate. In those cases, however, we should be asking not when or where, but when and where.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, June 2, 2007 - 05:44 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

A "died in the wool" realist holds that there "really are" things with structure "out there" in "what is going on" independently of all observers.

Three umpires:
1. I call them the way they is.
2. I call them the way I sees them.
3. There ain't nothing till I call it.

Flying fast and loose with terminology...
1:"realism"
2:"relativism"
3:"general semantics"

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Saturday, June 2, 2007 - 08:55 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

David,
Your first question presumes realism.
Your second question also presumes realism.
In both cases you used 'exist'.
Underlying both questions is the principle idea of a world of existing (or not) "things". In neither question are the things seen (or not seen) dependent, as to what they "are", upon a perspective.

If you "really are" a "died-in-the-wool" realist, then the perspective of general semantics will not be visible to you. The belief in the realist perspective will strongly inhibit seeing from the point of view of the third umpire.

The human nervous system interfaces to what is going on with billions of parallel binary neurons that are either in a state of discharge (on) or recharging (off) at any given instant. A single such cell is either in a state of discharge or not, and this is the only "bottom level" distinction that is possible. It is an effect (response) not a "cause". As neurons cascade into the sensory system, some neurons respond to combinations of other neurons, so represent combinations of bottom-level distinctions. Others respond to sequences of activations, not unlike recognizing Morse code. All such distinctions are "constructed" within the nervous system, some as the result (according to our current scientific model) of evolutionary directed "hard wiring", others as the result of recorded experience - learning.

This description allows us to infer nothing about why individual sensory cells become active. What we do have inferences about is through the history of time-binding, but we know that can be fraught with errors that need to be periodically corrected. Even with our time-binding use of language the best we can do is construct a model to account for our experiences. We do not know that anything our model constructs has some corresponding "similar" structure "out there" in the "what is going on". Realists take it on faith that some such structures corresponding to our model structures exist (independently of any observers).

Philosophically, I do not hold the realist perspective, but for ordinary, every day, practical, matters, I do.

As for "seeing distinctions that do not exist" see All the Believers have Died.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, June 3, 2007 - 12:12 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

David wrote, "I think it is important for you to take responsibility for your meanings and not attribute them to me."
I think it is important for you to take responsibility for learning that your words evoke my experiences, NOT YOURS, and that my paraphrases reflect my understanding (not yours). If what I say in response to your words does not seem to jive with what you intended, it is up to you to provide another go at it with slightly different formulations.

No listener has the ability to hear the speaker's words with the speaker's experiences and intent; the listener can ONLY hear and understand the speaker's words with the LISTENER'S experiences.

You asked me how I would characterize them. You got a straight forward answer.

Your remark, "In my experience, other people aren't as foolish as we sometimes think they are.", seems gratuitous to me. I never assume people are "foolish", especially when discussing interpreting general semantics.

"According to scientific realists ... you will have good reason to believe ... the ... truth of the claims ... about the existence and properties of atoms, molecules, sub-atomic particles, energy levels, reaction mechanisms, etc. Moreover, you have good reason to think that such phenomena have the properties attributed to them ... independently of our theoretical conceptions." (1).

"Roughly put, scientific realism is the thesis that the unobservable things talked about by science are little different from ordinary observable things (such as tables and chairs)." (2).

A scientific realist believes ("takes on faith") that the unobservable entities such as electrons and such predicted by the current scientific theories have the same kind of physical existence as everyday objects like chairs and such.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, June 3, 2007 - 09:14 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

David, You wrote "So there is structure to be had". This particular form of phraseology is indicative of realism. You also said "it requires a nervous system to abstract it". This phraseology is consistent with a point of view that what is abstracted "is" the "structure to be had". It indictates a form of identification that does not allow for different nervous systems producing different abstractions from what we (realists) presume is "the structure to be had" [italics mine]. If this is not what you intend, then try a slightly differnt way of formulating your assertion.

David, this is VERY important.

You said, "I'm not sure I agree with the proposition that my words evoke your experiences,". It was Don Kerr at a number of general semantics seminars who frequently elaborated on this theme in general semantics. That you would either disagree with this principle of general semantics or that you simply do not understand what is being said here seems to be commensurate with your statements I abstracted above in this same post. Both of these formulations seem to suggest or indicate that you see the process of abstracting "conveying" some stable characteristic up the abstraction levels such that what "is there" at the bottom "just is" what everybody "should" be able to see. Colorblindness is a simple counter example to this inferred point of view. Individual brains are uniquely wired by cumulative experiences; even twins "see" things differently. What one experiences to the even more abstract verbal structures differs even more. We have to infer, based on our individual experiences of "common usage" what the other person intended using OUR OWN memory and experiences. Here is an illustration of my point: Strange Rites.

Not every one gets the same joke in the same way. It depends on experience.

Two technical terms illustrate the differnt views, 'transform' and 'transduce'. An electrical transformer converts alternating current electricity (ac) from one voltage to another. Your little ac adapter has a step-down transformer that converts 110 volt ac current down to, for example, 12 volts ac. Many also then rectify the ac and convert it to direct current (dc). Transformers retain the medium (in this case electricity). A transducer, on the other hand, converts a signal to a differt form. A speaker converts varying alternating current electricity to sound pressure waves in the atmosphere. A microphone does the reverse. Abstraction in our nervous systems first does transducing and then processes transformations, so that what gets into our brains is an entirely different medium - nerve firings. It in no way "preserves" any characteristics of the source of the stimulation. Because brains are "wired" differently in two ways (genetics and experience) no two people have the "same" experiences to anything, especially words. For me to understand your words with your experiences, I would have to have a genetically identical brain that was identically wired by experience as yours was.

Does this topic relate to elementalism and non-elementalism? Absolutely. The term elementalism indicates the practice of using terms separately which our best current theories of the external world hold to be insepable, and the paradigm case examples are 'space' and 'time' for space-time and 'body' and 'mind' for body-mind. 'Space' and 'time' are justified as "elementalisms" on the grounds that our current theory of physics holds that all events have a cordinates of space and time. The perspective on the use of language in this regard is limited to the semantic perspective (1) and the philosophical perspective is that of Scientific Realism.

If we take a general semantic perspective, in which our models are seen as constructed by nervous systems, then the notion of "elementalism" becomes something incoherent, because we cannot know "what is", so to even suggest that we are verbally splitting something that cannot be empiricaly split is already presuming both that structures exist and that we can know what they are.

What does "empirically split" mean? We talk in our culture all the time about time without respect to place; we also talk all the time about place without respect to time. If this is not empirically splitting space-time, I don't know what is. It is only in hard physics that we only talk of space-time events.

And, just to annoy orthodox "general semanticists", "hard physics" holds that no space or time exists without mass/energy, so even space-time and "mass/energy" are elemantalisms in the strict sense of the definition, because all physical events involve space-time-mass from the perspective of hard physics.

The first umpire, the na´ve realist, would say there are space-time-mass events. Newton said so.
The second umpire, the relativist, would say space-time-mass events depend upon the perspective of the observer. Einstein said so.
The third umpire, the "general semanticist" would say we construct space-time-mass event models to account for our experiences. Xenophanes, "the first general semanticist" said so when he said "Even if a man should chance to say the complete truth, he cannot know that it is the truth."

This applies particularly in the case of each of us understanding the other's words. We cannot know what the other "really" intended. We can only bring forth our own personal experiences to the words. This is particularly true of such high-level abstractions as general semantics terminology.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, June 3, 2007 - 11:21 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Obviously my abstractions failed to distinguish distinctions that were "really there". The first quote was indeed from Thomas, and the second from David. I've done this before when two quotes are back-to-back, and I confuse the name above with the name below. My apologies for getting the wrong name.

Thomas, It's no sin to be a naive realist. Most people are. Even I am most of the time. Moreover, its a right I grant to everyone.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, June 5, 2007 - 10:23 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

David,
Regarding your post, talk expresses my view of the communication process. Recall also that "questions" have multiple functions, and behind each function or combination are the speakers motives, which may cross the spectrum of human activity. What is actually said may have little to do with the intent, both conscious and unconscious, of the speaker. In the background of this process is the general semantics recognized "fact" that everyone has different experiences, and what any given word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, etc. invokes in the hearer is dependent on (a function of) the listener's experiences.

You might say that it's sheer luck if any understanding occurs at all.

What I do, and that is all that anyone can do, is respond to formulations by evaluating one's own semantic reaction, preferrably delayed, to the formulations for consistency with one's own overall world view. In this general semantics learning context, it's my choice to provide my experiences and understanding, in the form of assertions, questions, corrections, etc., with varying degrees of force. This includes projected inferences. I also take two things into consideration. One is time-binding - how the phrases have been and are being used as recorded in our symbolic environment. That is the starting point for understanding the formulation. Another is analytical consistency with the context of this discussion - general semantics formulations. Both involve frequent extensional checking - in the form of google searches of the web and of the general semantics literature (in my possession) including searchable cd's.

I will use figures of speech such as personifying general semantics, analogies, and metaphors, as these are all forms of mapping, and the hope is that one side of such a mapping will "inform" the other side. I choose consciously to be verbose and pedantic - verbose because the more a topic is bracketed with different ways of expressing it, the lower, I think, the ambiguity resulting. A single words is very ambigous; a phrase less, a sentence less, a paragraph less, etc. Pedantic - well, that's been my style practically forever, and I'm not inclined to change it. I'm inclined to see and include more context and related notions that, in my opinion, help to bracket the topic at hand.

I take no offense if someone corrects me, especially when they provide a reason. I may have a counter reason, and we may negotiate an understanding or disagree or not. That's life.

While I was drafting and revising this you posted further I like to think my questioning behavior is triggered when I first hear something that doesn't make sense to me. So, instead of responding with a declarative that paraphrases or refutes what seems to be nonsense, I respond with an interrogative that attempts to confirm or disconfirm the existence of nonsense.

One point I've been "harping on", which you have repeatedly said belongs in a thread of its own, but which I deem highly relevant to this discussion, is the general semantics "fact", belief, principle, etc., that each person has a unique semantic reaction to words and sentences that is highly idiosyncratic and dependent upon the individual's experience. It is, in my experience, more rare for a person to evaluate something as "nonsence" than it is for the person to have a semantic reaction that includes their idea of what the formulation means and that they "understand" the formulation by that meaning. Said semantic reaction may be "right on" or out in left field with respect to the formulation or the intent of the original speaker. In addition, I think it seldom that a person says something that "is" nonsence. "Non-sense" involves the metaphor that understanding is seeing or sensing and that the person can not see or sense what is formulated. This makes it not "nonsense" in any absolute sense, but that a particual person cannot sense or see what the other person did sense or see and formulated. Subsequent negotiated communications may lead one to be able to "see" or "sense" the other's position.

One other point, the words that "rubbed you the wrong way" were not directed at you, as they were the in the context in which I got your name wrong.

You wrote Ralph wrote:
> David, You wrote "So there is structure to be had".
> You also said "it requires a nervous system to abstract it".

I don't recall saying those words, Ralph. I think you've made an invalid assumption. I can't help but think that you could have avoided that mistake if you were more concerned with understanding what I actually think, and less concerned with convincing me that I am what you think... a "naive realist".


They were directed at who said the words, but I had mistakenly put your name to it. I did not make an invalid assumption; I got the name of the author of the words wrong.

When somebody says I said something, and I don't remember it, the first thing I do is go back and look for the original source - my implementation of extensional orientation. Then I have the capability of discovering if I made an error or if the other person misquoted me or, as in my case, quoted somebody else. (The actual author of those words came back with "guilty as charged".)

Instead of checking to see the words in context by searching for them, you appear to have reacted as if my words directed at the quoted words were actually directed at you personally.

I say my words were directed at the quoted words of Thomas because the phraseology showed consistency with realism. Formulations merely encode a person's thoughts, so its an inference to conclude that because a person's particular phraseology is consistent with a particular philosophical perspective that the person holds such a view. I don't generally make that jump, and that's particularly why, in that instance, I stated my analysis and made my remark "If this is not what you intend, then try a slightly differnt way of formulating your assertion." following my analysis and paraphrase. If Thomas did not change his formulation, I would have no different words to work with. It's that simple. But the point is moot because he acknowledged my analysis to be essentially valid. May I assume my words "rubbed you the wrong way" simply because I did not include the word "please" in spite of the fact that they were not even your words I was writing about?

There's always more that can be said, but I think I've said about all I care to.