Saturday, February 19, 2005

chaos and order and mind

I'm revisiting an old issue, largely thanks to Dr. Vallicella's very interesting discussions about the Trinity, how to count entities, and so on.

Dr. V's most recent post deals with the question of a single parcel of land, A, divided into two sub-parcels, B and C. Are we looking at three entities? I think that, from Dr. V's point of view, we're not seeing three entities. A = (B + C), he says. In an earlier post, he argued similarly about taking a six-pack of beer to the checkout counter. If the entire 6-pack costs X dollars, you don't pay 2X dollars for it (i.e., X dollars for the six cans in the 6-pack plus another X dollars for the 6-pack taken as a whole).

This makes sense to me. Parcel A remains forever on its side of the equal sign; it never leaps over to the other side to be lumped with B and C. But at the same time, it seems to me that if we can differentiate between A, B, and C, then there must be some reason to refer to A as something separate, even if we can't declare A to be an entity separate from B and C. After all, that equal sign is separating distinct mathematical elements from each other even as it's equating them, yes?

Dr. Vallicella's argument, if I understand it, is similar to the move he makes in his paper about Buddhist no-self: his idea is that parcel A is not merely B + C, but B + C in their connectedness.

I tend to think, along with the Buddhists, that connectedness is an imposition of the mind, not an objective reality. So I appended the following (rambling) comment to Dr. Vallicella's post:

Question: if connectedness is empirically undetectable, is it simply inferred? If true, this might imply that "connectedness" is a subjective human notion and not an objective reality. Is connectedness discovered or invented by the mind?

Let's say we're talking about a trailer truck, its parts all properly connected so that it's recognizably a truck. Its "truckness" (for lack of a better term) arises from the antecedent connectedness of the truck parts, right?

But what is the truck from the point of view of, say, a rabbit*? Does the connectedness of the truck parts mean anything in lagomorphic phenomenology? What if connectedness is simply a function of how a mind parses the things it perceives and conceives of?

I don't mean to be flip, and far be it from me to presume to read a rabbit's mind (such as it is), but I think it's a legitimate question: what makes us think that "connectedness"-- whether we're talking about trucks or any other phenomena-- holds any objective reality?

I could say the same about chaos and order. Let's say I'm staring at two pixels that are just sitting there. Perhaps we can describe the scene as "orderly." (Or maybe it represents maximum entropy.)

We zoom the camera back a bit and now see three pixels-- the vertices of an invisible triangle. Things still seem more or less orderly as we stare at the three pixels.

Now we zoom back even more, and see a thousand pixels arranged in what appears to be a chaotic (random?) distribution. Are we staring at order?

We zoom back more, and the cloud of pixels turns out to be a single dot.

Another backward zoom, and we see that the dot is part of a facial feature-- say, a nose. Are we looking at order?

Indeed, we zoom back more and find that we're staring at a face composed of these dots.

Then we zoom back even more and see that this face is actually one dot among billions in another random pattern of face-dots. Hmmm.

I could go on and on, but I think you get my point: it's impossible for me to isolate a single pixel in this mess and declare it, definitively, to be a constituent of an ordered pattern or of a chaotic field. To make such a statement requires me to be arbitrary-- simply to claim "this dot is part of a larger chaos" or "this dot is part of a larger order."

Here, I think, we see that the mind makes the chaos and makes the order: the patterns and fields simply are what they are before they've been adjudged chaotic or orderly by human minds. We impose "chaos" and "order" on the phenomena around us**.

What, then, does this do to the idea of the objective reality of connectedness?

Or am I treeing up the wrong bark?


*If you don't like the rabbit idea, substitute a Cro Magnon man. I don't see how this changes the problem that much.

**I realize I'm probably angering some information theorists, but I think that "information" has no objective reality: it requires a mind that can be informed. Without such a mind, information has no existence.


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