Discussing that Crazy “A is A” Paper by O.G. Rose

(Philosophical Dialogue): Completing What Aristotle Started

O: So, you read “On A is A” by O.G. Rose.

G: Yea.

O: I’m sorry.

G: It was something.

O: Did you understand it?

G: Does anyone understand it?

O: Analytical writing was never Rose’s gift

G: Seemed like the paper wanted to say that ontology and logic are always married.

O: Well, let me see if I can explain it. See this cup.

G: I’m not blind.

O: Is it a cup?

G: I mean, it’s technically a mug.

O: You can leave if you’re going to be difficult.

G: Yes, yes, it’s a cup.

O: Is the cup the word “cup?”

G: If your American.

O: Fair point, but the logic I’m about to lay out applies regardless the language, so let’s stick to English. So, this cup isn’t a “cup?”

G: No.

O: What is it?

G: Well, I guess I’d call it a thing-cup or something.

O: It’s not easy to put something outside of words into words, but thing-cup works for me. Would you say this thing-cup is equivalent to your idea of it?

G: No…

O: So the thing-cup and idea-cup are different?

G: Yes.

O: But you can’t really experience a thing-cup without doing so through an idea-cup, can you?

G: I can look at it thoughtlessly.

O: Sure, but even then, you’re interpreting or perceiving the cup “out of” its atoms and parts into a whole that you experience as a thing-cup, right? Rose talks about that in “Read(er).”

G: I guess.

O: So, when you experience this thing-cup, you do so through an idea-cup, or perceived-cup, or experienced-cup — take your pick — I’m just going to stick with the term “idea-cup.” No, they’re not all the same — Rose gets into that — but the logic “A is A” lays out applies equally to all of them.

G: Is that something you can prove?

O: If you want the full argument, go read the paper. You wanted a summary, so don’t complain. Anyway, do you get that you understand the thing-cup through something it isn’t?

G: You’re a really weird teacher.

O: You don’t actually understand the thing-cup through its thing-cup-ness (though it seems that way), but through an idea version of it.

G: Did you just say thing-cup-ness?

O: You experience the thing-cup through an idea-cup, and by extension, you know things in the world through things they are not. And yet if you didn’t have ideas — things which things in the world aren’t (ideas are in the world but not of it) — you couldn’t intelligibly or meaningfully experience anything in the world.

G: Ideas are caused by material neurons: they are in the world and of it.

O: I didn’t say ideas didn’t have material sources. My point is that the idea-cup isn’t in the materiality you experience while the thing-cup is. I’m also saying you can’t reduce ideas to their material sources. Is the neuron-for-idea-cup the same thing as the idea-cup?

G: Are you about to digress?

O: Rose makes a distinction between “earth” and “world,” and even if ideas are in and of the earth, they’re not in your world. Yet they are what make the experience and perception of your world possible (on earth).

G: Sounds like Platonism.

O: It does and doesn’t. I guess you could say that the earth is what makes possible your world and your world is how you know the earth, and there are things on earth that can’t be in your world but make your world possible (like neurons).

G: Yup, digression.

O: Another way to put this is that the earth is an internally consistent system unto itself, the world is an internally consistent system unto itself, and yet neither “work” alone in lived experience. What we find in lived experience is something like earth/world, but earth/world can’t be internally consistent unto itself, because it’s not even a “thing” unto itself, but an appearance of one “between” the world and earth.

G: A repetitive and confusing digression too.

O: Our life is where dimensions overlay, the space (if that’s the right metaphor) where ideas and things mix. But there’s nothing that’s literally constructed out of both ideas and materiality in experience. You can’t see a cup that’s half thing-cup and half idea-cup, can you?

G: Would half of it be transparent like a ghost and half of it solid? Sounds like man-bear-pig.

O: Very funny, but in a way, it’s almost “like” you do, because your experience of thing-cup is so married to and dependent on your idea-cup, that earth/world seem like it’s a dimension of its own. And in a way, it is: when milk and dye mix, milk/dye is real. But milk/dye isn’t a thing-unto-itself: it’s a combination of two things that are things-unto-themselves (milk and dye). Does that make sense?

G: I guess, but milk/dye is practically a thing-unto-itself, right?

O: Practically, yes, but not actually, and that’s what I want you to really get. The earth/world borrows it’s (practical experience of) internal consistency from the earth and world. It’s almost like a debt, something fragile yet always fragile, so it doesn’t shatter. The earth/world is unstable, and the fact it is fragile suggests there isn’t just a single internally consistent system or dimension we are stuck in and between, but multiple. What we live in and think is solid is not. It practically is, but it’s not actually, and at random times that instability pops up and breaks through and we find ourselves in irony, contradiction, paradox, and misinterpretation. The fact our lives are unstable is why these things can happen.

G: Well that was a jump…

O: Okay, well, the stuff on earth and world isn’t critical to get, but hopefully it helps provide clarity more than confuse. I mean, even if somehow the neuron-for-idea-cup is idea-cup, we certainly don’t experience them as the same, and even if you could observe the neuron, you wouldn’t experience idea-cup. Even if they are two different “A is A’-things that are somehow the same “A is A”-thing, they are distinct in your experience.

G: The main thing you want to say seems to me to be that if there was no idea-cup, the thing-cup wouldn’t mean anything to me, right?

O: If there was no world, the earth wouldn’t be intelligible. On the other hand, if there was no earth, there would be nothing for the world to make itself out of.

G: So if something is intelligible, it is thanks to something the thing isn’t?

O: Identifying something is always indirect. There is no such thing as direct identification. The moment you talk about a cup, since the thing-cup is not equivalent to the idea-cup, you are not discussing the cup, and yet there is no other way to discuss the cup. The only possibly way to understand the earth is through an incomplete world.

G: Would you say it’s through error?

O: I want to, but we can’t say for sure that my idea-cup is “nothing like” the thing-cup, that it is a mistake. Sure, it’s a mistake if I say the idea-cup is equivalent to the thing-cup, but as long as I don’t make that mistake, it’s not really through a mistake I understand the thing but through an incomplete understanding that can never be complete. The world can never be the earth, or at least not confirmed as such (and so not meaningfully so).

G: Why can it never be complete?

O: Because you can never get to the thing itself. Well, maybe you can, but even if you did, you couldn’t be sure you did. I mean, if your idea-cup “works” for you in practical life, there’s “reason to believe” your idea-cup is “enough like” the thing-cup to live your life as if they were the same (think Karl Popper). That said, you should always keep in mind that your belief is not ultimately certain or complete.

G: And your point is…?

O: That the principle of identity is incomplete, and since the Law of Non-Contradiction is based on the principle of identity, then the Law of Non-Contradiction is incomplete too. Not wrong, but incomplete. Yet if that Law didn’t work, the whole universe would fall apart, so we need to establish a new understanding of the principle of identity, Aristotle’s “A is A,” in order to reestablish how Non-Contradiction applies rightly.

G: But we know contradictions negate themselves and that things that exist must by definition not self-annihilate. This is a waste of time

O: Yes, but why don’t they negate themselves?

G: Because they are themselves.

O: But what are things! Try to tell me what a cup is, and I’ll show you that things do negate themselves yet don’t fall apart.

G: Well, something you drink out of.

O: No, that’s a reflection of your idea of a cup. You think cups are used for drinking, when I could use them as a weapon for hitting you in the head. Utility always reflects ideas.

G: I don’t know, a cup is what it is.

O: A cylinder?

G: Sure.

O: But what’s a cylinder?

G: A shape.

O: What’s a shape?

G Atoms — or something.

O: What are atoms?

G: The building blocks of the universe.

O: So a cup isn’t a cup.

G: Well, it is, but it’s also atoms.

O: Oh, so things are themselves and other things at the same time then? Things are what they are and what they are not?

G: Well no, because embedded in what the thing “is” are also those parts.

O: But each of those parts aren’t the whole, are they? Sounds like identities are always misidentifications too.

G: Fine, cups are illusions and only atoms exist.

O: What do you mean cups are illusions? I can hit you in the head with them.

G: Well when you call it a cup, you mislabel atoms.

O: Are you suggesting that naming reflects ideas? That you can’t name something without naming it something it’s not?

G: Well, okay, how about when you perceive a cup: are you misperceiving atoms?

O: Are you suggesting that human perception translates things in reality into things those things aren’t so humans can comprehend them? Are you suggesting all perception is a kind of misperception?

G: I wouldn’t say its misperception…

O: Me neither, because by what standard can we say that atoms aren’t their wholes? It seems like a bias to say the smallest parts of things are their realist parts and that bigger things aren’t as real. Reductionism, right?

G: Perhaps instead of misperception, we could call it “alternative perception” (a-perception, even?) I mean, we can’t say it’s a “misperception” unless we could know our perception of the cup was “nothing like” the cup-thing itself.

O: Fair enough. So all perception and thought is “alternative perception” and/or “alternative thought,” right?

G: That’s fine.

O: Wouldn’t that mean that all identity is “alternative identification” (if it is intelligible to human beings)?

G: What?

O: If all the ways that we make things in the world intelligible to us is through perception or thinking about them “alternatively” (which is only possible thanks to subjectivity, please note), then isn’t only “alternative identification” possible?

G: I guess.

O: Well then the Law of Non-Contradiction must be “alternative” too.

G: I don’t get that jump.

O: Alright, listen. A thing is a thing, right?

G: Yes.

O: A thing is not an idea, right?

G: No.

O: If it was, that would be a contradiction, right?

G: Right.

O: But ideas are how we know things. We have to treat things “as if” they are ideas to understand them.

G: I get that.

O: So we make the world intelligible by constantly flirting with contradiction.

G: Okay.

O: Sounds unstable, right?

G: Like you, yes.

O: Hence, I make a thing-cup intelligible to me by experiencing over it an idea-cup (or perception-cup), which means I’m treating a thing-cup “as if” it’s an idea-cup, which means it is a practically contradictory situation that makes the world intelligible to me.

G: Your word-vomit almost caused choking in my ear.

O: I mean, in your experience of a cup, you hold together the idea-cup over or with the thing-cup “as if” they are the same thing. But if the idea-cup is the thing-cup, that’s a contradiction, a negation. That’s not what you do, but it’s almost what you do. Every day. All the time. You exist in a practically contradictory situation, both in that it’s almost a contradiction and in that you practically live as if the two are the same (practically making a contradiction).

G: But it’s not an actual contradiction, right?

O: No, but it’s weird. It isn’t the case that thing-cup literally is the idea-cup, but in your experience, it’s “as if” they are. And here’s the key: you can’t meaningfully take idea-cup and thing-cup apart without making the experience of the cup unintelligible (not even a comprehendible experience). So your experience of the cup is an experience of thing-cup/idea-cup, not thing-cup and idea-cup. The merging is much deeper than an “and” because the idea-cup is not just an additional characteristic of the thing-cup: it is “the ground of being” that makes possible the intelligibility of the cup.

G: Yup, my ear is choking.

O: “Idea-ness” is not another attribute like “redness” or “cylinder-ness:” it is what makes possible the comprehension of attributes. It’s like what Kant says on Anselm, that existence is not a predicate: idea-ness (or perceptibility, experience-ability, etc.) is the ground that makes comprehension possible. Without thinking, things wouldn’t even really be “things,” just (an) “is-ness” that’s not even that or that or that…

G: So you’re saying the world is understood by humans through the creation of situations like contradictions but not exactly?

O: Fair enough, and yet the Law of Non-Contradiction based upon “A is A” creates the impression that the world is understood through hunting out and correcting contradictions.

G: That’s not true?

O: It is but simplistic. It’s through practically contradictory situations that we identify contradictions to root out. It’s weird.

G: But it’s not self-negating.

O: It can be if we make the mistake of confusing the idea with the thing. We’re always vulnerable to, and a second away from, self-negation, and we practically make the mistake all the time. And there’s no way to escape this vulnerability because of the nature of reality itself (world/earth), but Aristotle’s “A is A” creates the impression that we can.

G: People are dumb — that’s no revelation.

O: Look, when you deconstruct something down to its root identity, whatever identity you come up with will be the identity to you (and if it’s more than that, you can’t be certain, only confident). It won’t be what the thing is to itself or necessarily what it is to other people. So then whatever non-contradicting and/or internally consistent system (for perception, ideology, etc.) you construct based on that root-thing won’t contradict (only) relative to the subjectivity, and/or contingent identity you chose to accept at the foundational level. Ultimately, all “Laws of Non-Contradictions” are based on a foundational identity that will just be a possibility versus a Law. We should call it “The Possible Law of Non-Contradiction,” “The Alternative Principle of Non-Contradiction,” “The Ideal of Non-Contradiction,” “The Framework…” or something.

G: This sounds like madness. Do you mean “A is A” is impossible?

O: Dang it, no: it’s incomplete and Noumenon-istic. The problem is that you have a coin and heads is the earth and tails is the world, and what we experience is a spinning coin that never stops spinning. Our classical logic and ontology work great when the coin isn’t spinning but turns out the coin is always spinning.

G: So you want something like Quantum Logic or Quantum Identity, right? You’re like a Quantum Computer Scientist or something.

O: That’s not a bad connection. I mean, the moment you talk about a thing, you’re not talking about it. The moment you discuss Aristotle, you’re talking about your “take” on him. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong, just incomplete. We never get the whole picture. All thought is like negative theology. And the fact thought is like that might give us “reason to believe” theology has something to it, or at least that theology can teach philosophy something even if God is dead, but I’m not going to get into that right now.

G: So “A is A” is impossible and the universe chaos?

O: I said no! The idea-of-a-cup is the idea-of-a-cup, and the thing-cup is the thing-cup, so “A is A” holds with an idea to itself (the world to the world), as it holds with a thing to itself (the earth to the earth), but we as humans are always understanding things through ideas. We are caught between the “A is A” of ideas and “A is A” of things (world/earth), as if we’re caught between two dimensions that don’t contradict unto themselves, but that in experience we put together into an unstable state that is almost a contradiction but not quite. We live caught between two dimensions where “A is A” applies in a third dimensions where the two internally consistent dimensions blend and try to avoid canceling each other out, and yet the earth and world necessarily can’t be reduced to one another (even if “enough like” one another to practically be identical) — in the same way neurons and ideas could cause one another but can’t be treated as identical. And in the middle of this mess, we try to establish identities for ourselves and the things around us, and then erect a “Law of Non-Contradiction” upon those attempts. Sounds stable.

G: Are you drunk?

O: We as subjective beings live in a state of idea/things where meaningful identity isn’t possible unless we use ideas to discuss things and have things to be backgrounds for ideas as if they are identical. If we don’t use things that things aren’t, we can’t understand or identify things. So direct identity is ultimately impossible, and even if we could correctly identify something directly, we couldn’t know we succeeded when we did. Similarly, when we theorized an example of the “Law of Non-Contradiction,” even if it was an actual law versus possibility, we couldn’t be certain it was. Maybe “The Unstable State of Non-Contradiction” would be a better term…

G: Are you trying to say that the Law of Non-Contradiction isn’t helpful? That it’s idealistic?

O: I’m saying it applies best relative to the two dimensions we are caught between but not so much in our dimension that is a mixture of those other two.

G: And that’s why only alternative identity is possible? Do you want to say something like only alternative logic is possible too?

O: A more worldly logic, yes. I mean, I don’t want to say that we are contradictions or that everything we experience is a contradiction, only that everything is always flirting with self-negation, of making a mistake of confusing things with the things they aren’t but are known through — and so on. Life is dangerous.

G: It sometimes sounds like you’re trying to make a really simple point and other times it sounds like you’re trying to break the world in two. Aren’t you just saying that subjectivity is bad?

O: I’m saying even perfect subjectivity is incomplete. A non-contradicting, internally consistent, and flawless subjectivity that was even “like” actuality wouldn’t actually unveil things in themselves.

G: Okay, so you are saying that “A is A” is impossible.

O: I’m saying that the moment “A is A” is translated into terms that are meaningful to people, linear identity no longer applies. If you’re talking about simple and linear identity, you are not discussing what humans deal with, and by extension a simple “Law of Non-Contradiction” is not something that readily applies to human experience except perhaps in instances when ideas are discussed relative to ideas and when things are discussed relative to things (neither of which I’m sure is actually possible — maybe the first in math departments, but I don’t know). When we experience a thing, it is always “toward” a dimension in which it is itself, but it never arrives in our experience. It always fails. All experience fails itself.

G: So everything is a Noumenon-wannabe? Cute.

O: When I experience a thing, I experience it as what it isn’t, which I could only do if there was an actual thing (that was itself to itself) that I was experiencing. When I form an idea or perception of something, I am generally trying to capture what that thing is in the idea, but this is impossible. Thus, my “take” of a thing is always “reaching” for what it actually is (and never arriving — or at least not in any way we can say for sure constitutes “arriving”). When I experience a cup, I experience “an idea of a cup (that is itself to itself) trying to be the thing-cup (that is itself to itself).” If there was nothing for ideas to try “reaching” (to be), if there was nothing to perceive — nothing would exist.

G: You sound sad.

O: All experience is thus tragic and ironic, because we are why we can’t fully know anything or ourselves: we are the source of ideas that makes knowing possible and incomplete. This situation is due to the paradox of our situation of needing things different from things to know those things, a situation which is always flirting with contradiction. Do note that the ontology that makes irony possible is also what makes paradox and contradiction possible, hence why they always seem related: they are from a soil that births them all.

G: Straight talk: are you saying the Law of Non-Contradiction is wrong?

O: No, I’m saying it’s incomplete. “A is A” is the basis of identity and logic for ideas-unto-ideas and things-unto-things, but “ ‘A/(A-isn’t-A)’ is ‘A/(A-isn’t-A)’ (without B)” is the basis of identity and logic for ideas-unto-things.

G: So you’re saying that humans being have used a foundation for their logic and ontology that leaves them out?

O: Yes.

G: What does the “(without B)” mean?

O: “B” means a thing that is itself without also being something it’s not. “A/(A-isn’t-A),” on the other hands, means a thing that is itself while also being what it’s not. Everything you experience is a thing being itself while married to something it isn’t while toward that same thing being itself and only itself.

G: This is all fine and dandy, but I don’t get why it’s important, so I must conclude I don’t understand it. You’re acting like this formula will change the world.

O: Am I? I mean, it’s a modification of the principle of identity, which might be important to some people, but I don’t know if it will be to everyone. Aristotle’s “A is A” is only approximately right, but it’s true that working “as if” ideas are their subjects is effective enough to practically get by.

G: Has Rose’s formula benefited you?

O: Well, understanding that identity is always a mixture helps me be humble. When I think I know something, I don’t, but at the same time, the paper has kept me from going too far and being an epistemic nihilist. The paper convinced me that things are known through what they are not, and since ideas are “toward” things, we have reason to think ideas have connections with the world even if those connections are incomplete. Rose helped me find a balance between certainty and intellectual despair; it helped me be confident.

G: Is that it?

O: It also helped me fight my brain’s natural disposition against instability. The brain likes to believe everything is math or everything is story, per se (one “A is A” or the other); the brain does not like thinking everything is a mixture (“A/(A-isn’t-A)”). To be smart, we need our brain to do what it doesn’t like doing and maintain a state of instability. Our brain is more interested in surviving, and frankly, feeling stable is more advantageous for our basic survival. The brain gravitates toward “A is A,” and if we try to pull it back, it will think we’re crazy. And that’s how we’ll feel, but we have to press on.

G: I’m glad, but the paper seems irrelevant to me.

O: Well, maybe it hasn’t impacted you, but how do you know it hasn’t and never will? How can you be certain which ideas will practically impact you and which won’t? I’m not saying it will, just don’t be so quick to assume it won’t.

G: Sounds like you’re trying to rationalize the usefulness of esoteric nonsense.

O: Maybe, but I think the paper helps justify the work of Deleuze in terms of formal logic. It justifies the assertion that “difference” is essential like “identity” has classically been thought to be. But the paper doesn’t deconstruct identity totally either. Things are spinning coins, both heads and tails at all times, but they are coins.

G: So logic needs to be rethought on grounds of difference versus identity?

O: On grounds of difference/identity, but that’s impossible for the human brain to do, because we must always translate difference/identity into something linear and “low order” — a static thing (with an identity). We can’t imagine a coin that is both on heads and tails at the same time. So a complete logical system is impossible, only something approximate.

G: And you think the “A is A” paper will help us construct a better and more approximate logic than the work of Aristotle?

O: It’s certainly impacts my logic and reasoning for the better. When you think that even the foundation of logic should be approached with humility, you get a lot humbler, and when you’re humbler, I think you’re more willing to learn. Haven’t you experienced how arrogant people tend to think they’re logical? Well, this paper says that they’re not very logical if they’re arrogant: it kind of makes arrogance and logic share an inverse relationship.

G: Well, I can see that.

O: The paper made me realize that linear logic wasn’t wrong but incomplete and likely very incomplete, so I’ve attempted since reading it to be much more dynamic in my thinking. The logic you live by will be your orientation to the world, and the paper has made my orientation much more dynamic. When I try to “get to things themselves,” I know I’m trying to get to something with layers. So when I find layers, I don’t despair and assume I did something wrong. I know layers are what I’m looking for: I understand the target.

G: But aren’t Liberals always talking about difference and diversity? It just doesn’t seem like you’re making much of a contribution.

O: They are, but they’re still operating in Aristotle’s “A is A”-framework in being Anti-“A is A.” In other words, they tend to favor difference over identity, but difference is itself relative to identity (so they still need identity), while I’m proposing a synthesis more than a deconstruction. That’s my problem with a lot of Postmodernism: it’s still in the “A is A”-dialectic. The revolution is part of the system. Or on the flip side, Postmodernism entirely destroys stable identity, which leaves us with chaos.

G: I’m not sure all Postmodernists make that mistake.

O: I’m sure they don’t, and maybe I’m misreading all the Postmodernists, but I feel like classical logic is a glass container with nothing in it, Postmodern thinking is water without a glass to hold it, while Rose is after a cup full of water.

G: You don’t think Derrida accomplishes that?

O: I think there’s reason to think he intended something similar — assuming James K.A. Smith is right in his book about Derrida — but I wanted an expression of the balance in formal logic.

G: Wait, are you O.G. Rose? No one has ever seen him.

O: You could say “A is A” is Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem in terms of Aristotelian logic, if you wanted.

G: You ignored my question. Fine. Gödel proved we couldn’t know anything, right?

O: No, he proved we couldn’t confirm we knew something even if we did. It’s a nice balance that the paper “A is A” claims should be at the heart of logic itself. Maybe it could be called the “(In)completeness Theorem” to help get the idea across: the possibility of being incomplete is never separated from being a complete thing (because you cannot know a complete thing is in fact complete).

G: That’s weird.

O: Very. I guess the paper “A is A” matters to me because I think the majority of the world is plagued by linear logic. Not many people understand that “the map isn’t the territory.”

G: Sure they do.

O: Linearly, maybe. And maybe they do: I don’t know. The point is that if you believe in linear logic, the world is the world — you know it already. But if dynamic logic is the only real possibility, the earth isn’t the world, and there’s always a lot more to discover. The “A is A” paper by Rose puts exploration at the heart of logic. Logic ceases to be something that builds walls and instead opens doors.

G: But: you can’t have a house without walls.

O: Sure, but doors are walls when they’re shut.

G: So that’s the logic that will incorporate human experience? A shut door?

O: You can also open it.

Written by

2020 UNO Prize Finalist. The Write Launch. Iowa Review. Allegory Ridge. Streetlight. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M Review. Poydras. www.ogrose.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store