Friday, 10 December 2010

The Classifications of Object

In the following remarks I describe objects and appearances in terms of their behaviours and so hope to put aside the competing ontological frameworks in which they are traditionally cast. I call object descriptions that arise in this ontologically-neutral framework "objects".

Wittgenstein also offers a generic formulation that appears to make no distinction between ontologies in his Tractarian declaration that the world is the totality of facts. But the book is a transcendentally ideal way of looking at world syntax - that elements or objects are described, identified, and manifested through manifesting frameworks that are themselves not subject to the laws or behaviours of their elements. Thus we find differences in the manner of the appearance of frameworks and their elements. Against Wittgenstein (and Kant as it happens), transcendental realists suppose that elements or objects are themselves the source of their appearance or actuality. However, this approach ignores the differences that are clearly evident in object behaviours. I suggest that it is the behaviours of objects, rather than the source of their manifestation that marks the difference between transcendental idealism and transcendental realism.

The Tractarian distinction between things that could be said and things that could only be shown was never abandoned by Wittgenstein who sought to enlarge its library through later ideas such as language games. As I have indicated, the saying/showing distinction is pertinent here as it highlights the two types of object behaviour that I argue is a sufficient, and ontologically-neutral, description of object types. I return to Wittgenstein later in this short essay.

Ontologies are invariably represented as privileged or mismatched binaries, such as realism/antirealism, subjective/objective, and less formally, though no less pertinent, rationality/superstition which also offers a unique ontology. I hope, then, to leave behind the traditional forms in which ontologies are cast and so avoid the ad hoc, often hidden values that accompany them.
I propose two types of object behaviour:

i) appearing/vanishing, and
ii) revealing or unveiling/being hidden

- (i), above, maps to Wittgensteinian "showing" in this essay, and ii) maps to "saying".

There are three, possibly four, types of object in the world, two of which are the subject of physics. Of these four types of object, one is a material object; another is an object of experience (such as colours or sounds); and the third type of object is a quantum object. The fourth class of object I refer to as the "superstitious object" (this is a noun phrase) as this is the common term by which we refer to it. Such a description is unwelcome but, for clarity's sake, is the term I will work with, in these notes at least.

These four object classes correspond to four permutations on the appearance/revelation binary ("revelation" is taken in the non-religious sense of being "revealed"). The ontological distinctions of these permutations are found in their respective nexus. By "nexus" I refer to the unit of behaviour that is exemplified by appearance/disappearance in one case, and hidden/revealed in the other case, and also to their mixed permuatations. For example, the nexus of the hidden/revealed binary describes material objects.

So let us analyse the phrase "the properties of objects" in terms of their nexus; in this case the nexus are simply "properties" and "objects". Then the nexus that we call "property" corresponds to the type of object whose behaviour can be described in terms of the nexus of the appearance/disappearance binary. And the nexus that we call "objects" refers in this case to material objects because it corresponds to the type of object whose behaviour can be described in terms of the nexus of the hidden/revealed binary. And this, of course, is how material objects behave. They neither appear nor vanish, but can only be hidden and revealed.

Material objects can be hidden or revealed but cannot vanish or appear without making redress elsewhere. "Redress" is not a property of the object per se but a description of the manner of manifestation of an object in its framework. Thus the annihilation of matter is redressed by the appearance of energy. On the other hand, objects that simply vanish and appear do not make redress. Thus the appearance of colours need not be accommodated for by a change elsewhere in the system in which they appear.

The above considerations are suggestive of a significant idea which bears upon the description of ordinary objects and appearances that I am laying out: without a framework of presentation the nexus of the four classes of object become indistinguishable. That is, without a framework of presentation material objects (to use their common descriptions), the objects of appearances or experience (Lockean "secondary" qualities, colours, sounds, etc.), and quantum and superstitious objects are indistinguishable. That idea leads to another: the monad object neither manifests nor does not manifest. By "manifest" I unspecifically refer to object behaviours. By a "framework of presentation" I describe the existential dependence of an object on others of its type, and the totality of instances of its type I refer to as its presentation. Thus the framework of presentation of the objects that are described by the hidden/revealed nexus (material objects) is simply the physical world of science that we talk as immediately presenting itself to us. Although they provide the foundations for a description of the association of objects, I do not further explore the nature of frameworks here (see concluding paragraph).

It must be noted that without the description of quantum and superstitious objects I could have reduced the descriptions of objects to their "redress" behaviours. For example, objects corresponding to the nexus of "vanishing and appearing" (appearances or "experiential objects" as I have referred to them), simply reference objects that make no redress in their manifestation. Whereas, objects corresponding to the nexus of "hidden/revealed simply refers to objects that make redress in their manifestation. However, the objects described in 3) and 4) (below) describe behaviours of vanishing and appearing yet also make redress elsewhere in the system.

Having briefly considered the foundations of the model I can now proceed with a summary and discussion of the types of object in the world that humankind has identified:

1) Material objects obey the laws of material objects: they do not vanish and appear but they can be hidden and revealed.
2) Perceptual or experiential objects obey the laws of experience: they vanish and appear but cannot be hidden or revealed. Such objects include colours, sounds, and Wittgensteinian frameworks such as language games.
3) Quantum objects seem, or are claimed, to vanish and appear like experiential objects, yet also can be hidden and revealed like material objects. This conjunction of object behaviours brings the quantum object close in description to that fourth class of objects whose members are unfortunately referred to as "superstitions" (but it is important I think to acknowledge that the invention of the superstitious object belongs to science alone):
4) A superstitious object is an object of experience made, or switching to, a material object (mind over matter, animism, etc), or a material object made, or switching to, an experiential object ("vanishing", miracles, etc).

Examining 3) and 4) in more detail, the quantum object doesn't quite fit the bill as a superstitious object - even though the quantum object, taken to be material (where materiality is a necessary if not sufficient description of the quantum object), appears to be affected by "measurement" by an experiencing observer according to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum objects.

Why isn't the quantum object taken as a superstitious object if it behaves as one, that is, if it behaves as if it is affected by objects that are not material? The reason is that the quantum object isn't taken to be merely either "material" or "experiential" in behaviour. Unlike superstitious objects, it does not switch from one behaviour or nexus type to the other. We give the quantum object some conceptual leeway in this regard: it is that class of objects that, unlike material objects, can both vanish and appear and also, unlike experiential objects, be hidden and revealed. This makes quantum objects different from a superstitious object which changes its objectual status from material to experiential and vice versa.

The ontology of the superstitious object is interesting for a number of reasons. I have presented two determinants of an objects ontology - appearing and being revealed. The number of permutations of two elements (A and B, here) would normally be three. And, perhaps, this is one reason why the superstitious object is regarded with disdain - it appears to offer a fourth permutation of A and B, that is, where A switches to B or B switches to A. As far as I am aware, such a switching of signs in the sciences of signs or syntax (logic, mathematics, etc.) is not "allowed". If we take the philosopher/logician Willard Quine at his word and make fundamental changes to the sign sciences - logic in this case - to suit the pragmatics of experience, then there is no reason why we should not in principle "allow" a logic of superstitious objects or objects that switch their nexus - subject, of course, to the proviso that we can find an example of such an object that it might be endorsed by a pragmatically-driven logic. Such a task could not be left to a pragmatic science as science only deals with the nexus of material objects. Finding such an example would force the relevant changes to the sciences of signs; then, indeed, we would find a schism developing in pragmatism itself as its sciences and logic support doctrinally incompatible objects.

But even if the existence of the superstitious object as I have here described it is, after all, only a theoretical proposal, then the sciences of syntax, as sciences per se, are still under threat from that other type of object - the experiential object (or, less accurately, Lockean secondary qualities). The logical, syntactical behaviour of the sign that represents the experiential object would not be allowed as it would vanish and appear without the sort of balancing or redress that normally accompanies the behaviours of signs in logic, mathematics, and the sciences; for example, we don't introduce signs half-way through an equation without balancing them appropriately.

To catch up with the Wittgenstein connection: the only "science" of signs that does allow the behaviour of signs to vanish and appear would be Wittgenstein's, whose syntax (as expounded in the Tractatus) arises or is "shown". Tractarian syntax looks the same as any syntax except that the author wishes to acknowledge, as any author of syntax ought to acknowledge (even if through "elucidation", hints and hunches) that syntax itself is an experiential object (or "object of acquaintance" as Russell might have put it) and behaves in the manner I have described (2), above). Thus in the Tractatus we find syntax per se appearing, and not being revealed, as an experiential object, while the elements or the signs of syntax themselves are indicative of the behaviour of the material objects of science - the hide/reveal binary. That is why Tractarian syntax cannot represent Tractarian syntax, indeed why any syntax cannot represent syntax - the signs and the system of signs represent two different types of object. (This description says more than a theory of types) Such a distinction between system and sign is not made in, for example, a Goedellian treatment of mathematics.

Further, if Wittgenstein gave up the idea of the General Form of Proposition it was because he wished to recognise the fact that propositions, as well as the syntactical framework itself, were distinct from the elements of syntax and could not be derived from them. In my model, the nexus of manifestation of the elements and their framework are distinct, and representative of 1) and 2) above, respectively. While Wittgenstein changed his framework of language from a phenomenalistic to a physicalist one to accommodate that insight, the phenomenalistic framework was, nevertheless, retained for that (syntactically) "unsayable" framework or "picture" that was distinct from its (physicalist) elements of syntax.

Finally, the above remarks provide an outline for a potentially much larger project concerning the nature and classification of objects. At this stage I have not, for example, been able to integrate the points made in the above discussion with the observation that material objects cannot appear or identify themselves. This was one of Kant's point, a point that was missed by Kant's transcendentally real interpreters. The relationship or rather congress/association of incommensurate object behaviours/nexus, such as I have described them, could be further examined to throw light on the coincidence of material and experiential object behaviours; notwithstanding the problematic behaviours of those two other types of object - the quantum object and "superstitious" object.

1 comment:

  1. I should read more Wittgenstein.