An Essay Featured In (Re)constructing “A is A” by O.G. Rose

We can “change” the earth.

Photo by Anna Zakharova

1. We don’t naturally count the number of steps we ascend up a stairway; rather, we just walk. It is usually only when asked, “How many stairs did you climb to get to this attic?” that we try to count from a mental image or go back and see. By then though, we have already failed to answer the question.

Even if we did come back and say, “27,” we really walked up “zero stairs.” Why? Relative to us, we walked up “going-up-to-attic-to-talk-with-boyfriend,” “when-I-was-six-Mom-took-me-for-ice-cream,” and “I’ll-ask-him-to-get-ice-cream,” for these were the thoughts we underwent as we climbed.¹ In actuality, we used “27 stairs,” but to ourselves, we walked up “zero stairs” (for we didn’t think about the stairs).² In sum, we walked “(27 stairs)/((zero stairs)/(going-up-to-attic-to-talk-with-boyfriend, when-I-was-six-Mom-took-me-for-ice-cream, I’ll-ask-him-to-get-ice-cream, etc.)).”

Hence, when we are asked, “How many stairs did you climb?” and we reply “27,” we would be voicing an incomplete truth (at best). The “meaning” of “27 stairs” would come after the use of the twenty seven stairs, as would the “meaning” of the experience “going-up-to-attic-to-talk-with-boyfriend,” etc.

(Please note this isn’t to suggest meaning exists only after experience or verification, because if “going-up-to-attic-to-talk-with-my-boyfriend” didn’t have meaning before the experience, we wouldn’t be walking up the stairway in the first place.)

2. ‘It will be seen that no sentence can be made up without at least one word which denotes a universal.’³ So claims Bertrand Russell, but more broadly, I would suggest that every word “denotes a universal.” The word “I,” though meaning the speaker’s self relative to the speaker, signifies any given “I” on its own. The context of the word doesn’t reduce the term’s own scope, as the words “like” and “rose” likewise signify any given “like” and any given “rose” (unto the words’ themselves).

In the world, there are no universals, only particularities, and yet in the world of words there are no particularities, only universals. (though the intention behind most words is “toward” particularities. Even the word “Daniel” signifies “every Daniel” (unto the word’s self), though it is usually used by a given speaker toward a particular Daniel.

Seeing that nearly all the words to be found in the dictionary stand for universals, it is strange that hardly anybody except students of philosophy ever realize that there are such entities as universals.’⁴ Though this is true, it should be made clear that, though words are universals (and I cannot think of any words that aren’t), there are no universals in the world itself, only particularities.

In conclusion, humans seem to have an ability to create universals by speaking, yet there are only particularities in the world.

3. In what way do we know a chair is a chair? Is not a chair a combination of ‘atomic facts?’⁵ Does anyone perceive atoms?

To say “chair” when referring to a chair is to translate an object into a “meaning.”

To look at a cup silently is to translate it into a “cup” (within one’s mind).

To think about the sky is to ponder “sky.”

Every (thoughtful) act is an act of translation into words and/or “meanings” (almost like simulations), and since every word and/or “meaning” is a universal, every act is “out of this world.” Yet no actual act of translation occurs, for “chair” ≠ chair: all acts of translation are actually transpositions.

To (thoughtfully) engage with a chair is to make it a “chair.”

Every (thoughtful) act makes something “in the world” something “not in the world.”

Every (thoughtful) act makes something in the world “out of the world.”

It seems strange that something “in the world” could do such a thing.

4. Since every experience is an act of transposition — of making, for example, a particular chair a (form of or universal of) “chair” — every human experience and act is overall “particular/universal” (not just particular, not just universal).

No human can experience a lamp without experiencing “a lamp.”

To us, a chair is always and never a “chair.”

Every experience is “meaning(less/ful).”

“ ‘(A ≠ A) = (A ≠ A)’ = ‘A = A.’ ”

5. A sentence is every word…

A sentence is every word that makes up the sentence and every word in the language. (That is, once we go through all the strings and strings and strings…of definitions to explain each word in the sentence, and then the strings and strings and strings…of definitions of each word in those definitions, ad infinitum.)⁶

It’s not possible that when we hear “cup” (let alone “the cup is blue”) that our brain defines “cup,” every word in the definition of “cup,” and every word in those definitions, ad infinitum. Otherwise, the brain would eternally regress and think of nothing (which is impossible, unless that is nothing isn’t nothing).

Somehow, the brain works from the “top down”: it seems to “know” all the definitions of all the words and “drops down” onto the correct understanding of the expression all at once. If the brain rather constructed the understanding from the “bottom up,” it would construct ad infinitum and never succeed (due to the eternal regression). Thus, the brain seems to contain within it some kind of “infinity” from which it can “drop down” onto a particularity at any given moment. How could this be possible?

(Please note that all this suggests that, per usual, David Hume was right: we think more thanks to “common life” than “autonomous rationality,” but this is a topic that must be expanded on elsewhere, in “Deconstructing Common Life” by O.G. Rose.)

6. When we see a horse, how do we know we’re not looking at a man in a horse-outfit? If a man pops out of the horse, how do we know we’re not looking at a robot in a man-outfit? If a robot pops out of the man, how do we know we’re not looking at a man dressed as a robot? If a man pops out of the robot, how do we know we’re not looking at flesh and bones? If the human pops open and we see flesh and bones, how do we know we’re not seeing atoms? If the flesh and bones pop open into atoms, how do we know — ad infinitum.

When we see a horse, we see “ ‘a horse/‘a man dressed like a horse’/‘a robot dressed like a man’/‘a man dressed like a robot dressed like a man dressed like a horse’/‘flesh and bones dressed like a man’/…ad infinitum.”

When we see another human, we see “brain-in-vant/brain-not-in-vant/woman/man-who-had-sex-operation/…ad infinitum.”

To experience a given phenomenon is to experience every possibility of that phenomenon all at once. (And yet…)

Likewise, when we see “John,” we see “ ‘a person who isn’t Daniel’/‘a person who isn’t a red cat’/‘a person who isn’t a blue cat’/‘a person who isn’t (insert every phenomenon that doesn’t constitute John)’ /‘a robot dressed like a man’/‘a man dressed like a robot dressed like a man’/…ad infinitum…”

To experience a given phenomenon is to simultaneously experience everything a thing isn’t and every possibility of what a given phenomenon could be. (And yet…)

Every x is a “x = x = x…” and a “(x ≠ x) = (x ≠ x) = (x ≠ x) = (x ≠ x)…” and a “((x = x = x…) ≠ (x = x = x…)) = ((x = x = x…) ≠ (x = x = x…)) = ((x = x = x…) ≠ (x = x = x…))”…ad infinitum…To experience a given phenomenon is to experience a given infinity.⁷ (And yet…)

Somehow, the brain seems able to sort through various infinities and target the right “meaning.” Even if the brain makes mistakes, the very fact the brain can do this sorting without automatically breaking down seems impossible.⁸ As with words, the brain seems to work from the “top down” versus the “bottom up,” for if it worked from the “bottom up,” it would eternally regress (though it frankly seems like it should regress either way).

7. If I were to ask you “Do you know Sarah?” and you nodded, and then I told you “Did you know Sarah had a headache yesterday?” and you answered “I didn’t,” this would mean that when you suggested “I know Sarah,” you didn’t mean “I know the Sarah-who-had-a-headache-yesterday” (which means you don’t really know Sarah). Your idea of Sarah was “correct” relative to you, but “wrong” or “incomplete” relative to the actual Sarah.

Yet, even if you did know that Sarah had a headache yesterday, it would perhaps be impossible for you to know the “Sarah-who-fell-down-four-flights-of-stairs-when-she-was-four” — unless, that is, Sarah told you about the incident. But even if she did, it would be impossible for you to know about every experience Sarah ever underwent (and to remember them all simultaneously — not even Sarah can do that — suggesting perhaps artificial intelligence, merged with human brains, is the only way we could ever have a reliable, stable, and even real identity).

But even if we had a perfect memory and Sarah had time to tell us every second-to-second experience she ever underwent, Sarah would not have the time to tell us every emotion she experienced during those experiences. Even if she did, she would be unable to tell us about what was happening with her body’s biological functions (unless she opened herself up to watch her organs — killing herself). Thus, we could never know the actual “Sarah/(total sum of all experiences and phenomena that constitute ‘Sarah’).” It is impossible that we ever “know Sarah” like “Sarah knows Sarah,” and not even Sarah can know herself “as she is.”⁹ All we can do is approach an idea of Sarah — any given experience of any given phenomenon encounters a similar problem.

To know an “idea of Sarah” is to transposition Sarah (a kind of infinity, as described) into finitude/particularity. In this way, we can translate an infinity into finitude, and it frankly seems strange that something “in the world” could do such a thing. (Unless, that is, Hume was indeed right).

8. Relative to the world, there are only particularities.

Relative to humans (in the world), there seem to be “(infinities/universals/ideas/forms)/particularities.”

Humans can transposition particularities into infinites/universals/ideas/forms and transposition infinites/universals/ideas/forms into particularities.

Humans can change the world.

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Notes

¹Inspired by Marcel Proust.

²Note we would have walked up “1 stair” if we looked down and saw a bug and thought “a-bug-is-on-that-stair.” Also note that the though described here as implications for the thinking of Heidegger, considering his “invisible doorknob.”

³Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy. Rockville, MD: Arc Manor, 2008: 63.

⁴Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy. Rockville, MD: Arc Manor, 2008: 63.

⁵Inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

⁶Inspired by Jacques Derrida.

⁷Without thinking about it.

⁸Unless, that is, the brain has other mechanisms of operating than just thinking (such as perceiving).

⁹Unless perhaps Sarah is (a) God(/god).

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Additions

1. It seems that definitions are achieved through perception more so than through thought (to allude to “On Thinking and Perceiving”).

2. If “A = A,” the sound wave of “cup” should arise to an experience of “the sound wave of ‘cup,’ ” rather than an experience of (the) “meaning” (of “cup”). Likewise, the experience of a cup shouldn’t arise to “cup,” unless that is it is possible for humans to experience “A” as if it “weren’t A.” If this is possible, humans must not simply be a “walking A = A,” per se, but perhaps a “walking A ≠ A” (or A/B, as will be discussed).

3. We do not perceive unicorns, yet from the idea of “unicorn,” we can live “as if” unicorns exist. Likewise, we can live in a “world” “as if” it was the world we lived in. We can’t reside in two worlds, but we can reside in a “world” and a world simultaneously (a “x”/x) (but not one without the other).

4. Synthesism and Dualism are not similes.

5. There is a sense in which consciousness is pure subjectivity, yet it seems consciousness transforms phenomena into object-ivity. “A cup,” for example, is actually “atoms/space/color/etc.” — there is no “cup,” per se, yet the consciousness “reads” such into reality. Relative to consciousness, “cup is cup” (“A is A”), yet “what-actually-constitutes-the-cup isn’t cup.” In the act of “reading” “cup” out of “what-actually-constitutes-the-cup,” the consciousness begets an object-ive phenomenon which is (simultaneously) experienced subjectively. The legitimacy of the “objectivity versus subjectivity” dichotomy is hence questionable, for the dichotomy seems to be something consciousness projects onto reality, which seems constituted rather by “objective/subjective phenomena” (not to be confused with “objective and subjective phenomena”). It seems that objectivity and subjectivity are two sides of the same coin, which are “app(e)arently’ divided by consciousness (consequence of how consciousness “reads” spacetime). It seems strange that something “in the world” could do such a thing.

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