março 08, 2013

Ontology & Epistemology

I tend to gravitate around "the Map is not the Territory" concept in the ontology/epistemology discussion. I understand «territory» as the event generator, aka reality. We are only able to measure events indirectly using our senses and tech (events with no effects are non-existent for all purposes). The 'map' is a tangled web of shared and private beliefs that we, Humanity, build and maintain for centuries. The «Map» is the meaning generator (I'm dropping the guillemets now).

The terms objective/subjective imho only make sense in the Map. Objective beliefs are those not dependent of personal mind states, and those dependent are subjective (this is more like a spectrum than a boolean feature, but let's keep it simple). Beliefs not dependent of private or social features (even if they are known just because of specific historical contexts) and which are known using logic/evidence/reason are (more) objective like Math. This does not mean that objective beliefs are necessarily 'true' (it depends on the semantics of the word 'true') but they are not, or should not be, dependent of persons X's or Y's state of mind. This also does not mean that objective beliefs are necessarily better than subjective ones (that requires a value judgement which is context-dependent). Anyway, this is why I think that, say, my liking of ice-cream is subjective. That is a private belief that would not exist if I would not exist. It depends of my current mind state. On the other hand, the theory of evolution by natural selection or the Central Limit Theorem are beliefs that do not depend on any person's mind. But, either objective or subjective, all are map denizens. Even scientific models are just that: maps; not intrinsically true or false, just more or less adequate to the known relevant evidence and current knowledge. 

However this way of classifying beliefs is just one way not the way. Thinking about the divide between public or private beliefs is as important as seeing them as objective or subjective (Ethics and Politics seems a much more interesting and important subject that Ontology and Epistemology but that's my perspective). 

One more thing: in a subtle way, every belief belongs to the Territory -- human beliefs are caused by certain neuro-electric impulses, and those are measurable events -- which is a trivial fact and not that interesting (even if it is important, because it protects this model of ontology against the charge of dualism, the Map is not independent of the Territory). The meaning of those brain impulses only makes sense in the Map. Without humans -- the makers and keepers of the Human Map -- the only thing that would exist would be the physical phenomena that we label with words and inject with meaning. Without a 'Map' there would be no stars, no colors or sounds, no art or philosophy or love. There would only exist 'meaningless indifferent stuff' (for lack of better words).

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