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2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

A "unit" is not simply a "particular thing." "A unit is an existent regarded as a separate member of a group of two or more similar members." (ITOE, Ch. 1)

What does this have to do with anything? A unit may or may not be abstract. To say unit in this current context would only make things more difficult. Adding the word "unit" still doesn't alter the fact that metaphysically speaking, all that exists are particulars. 

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33 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Adding the word "unit" still doesn't alter the fact that metaphysically speaking, all that exists are particulars. 

A particular what? You're using a concept that depends on the concept of a "group." Without a group (quantity) of things, you can't identify particulars (units). What exists metaphysically are existents. Existents with similarities are regarded as groups. And each existent within that group can then be regarded as a particular. A mathematical word for a group is a quantity; and for a particular, unit.

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5 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

A particular what? You're using a concept that depends on the concept of a "group." Without a group (quantity) of things, you can't identify particulars (units). What exists metaphysically are existents. Existents with similarities are regarded as groups. An each existent within that group can then be regarded as a particular. A mathematical word for a group is a quantity; and for a particular, unit.

 

Quote

Thus the concept “unit” is a bridge between metaphysics and epistemology: units do not exist qua units, what exists are things, but units are things viewed by a consciousness in certain existing relationships.

--Ayn Rand

The word "unit" is NOT a synonym of the word "particular". The word "particular" is an antonym of "universal", both of which are metaphysical notions. Units are epistemological. If I wanted to talk about units, I would have used the word "unit".

 

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54 minutes ago, Eiuol said:
1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

A particular what?

I'm surprised you don't know this usage of "particular".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particular

So, you're talking about a particular kind of entity (concrete vs. abstract). That makes two units in your "entities" group.

Edited by MisterSwig
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Rand used the term unit in two ways:

1. Member of a set or class: “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated according to a specific characteristic(s) and united by a specific definition” (ITOE, 10).

2. The basis of measurement: “Observe that measurement consists of relating an easily perceivable unit to larger or smaller quantities, then to infinitely larger or infinitely smaller quantities, which are not directly perceivable to man” (ITOE, 8).

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

So, you're talking about a particular kind of entity (concrete vs. abstract). That makes two units in your "entities" group.

We aren't talking about units because that part of the discussion was about what exists before any act of conceptualization.

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14 hours ago, Eiuol said:

We aren't talking about units because that part of the discussion was about what exists before any act of conceptualization.

Do you mean any act of cognition? Because Rand argued for the existence of "implicit concepts" that are required before one can reach the conceptual level. (ITOE, Ch. 1) And one of those "implicit concepts" is "unit."

Also, from the Workshops: "The essence of the first two pages of the book is to point out that only when we learn, in infancy, to regard concretes as units--only then can we begin to form concepts." (p. 187)

Now since an "implicit concept" is not really a concept, but a percept with the "constituents of the [to-be-formed] concept," and since "to perceive a thing is to perceive that it exists," Rand seems to be arguing that a unit exists before any act of conceptualization, but after cognition begins, because "the ability to regard entities as units is man's distinctive method of cognition."

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On 2/26/2020 at 9:43 AM, Grames said:

If there is some aspect of thought, such as visualizing spatial manipulations, that is neglected by this theory that is because that is not part of the philosophical problem at hand.  If you think it does touch on the problem, please elaborate.

I'm ready to come back to this now.

The process of perception provides and uses measurable and quantifiable information. For the most part, the content we have access to is qualitative. It is impossible to access the quantitative measurement about wavelength that cones use during visual processing. We have access to some quantitative information by virtue of some quantitative information being embedded within all (concrete) things. This makes it possible to sometimes make very rough, ordinal judgments. But this is only a fraction of the perceptual content we have access to. Orientation was not a good example before because everything within the early stages of visual processing is primarily or completely quantitative. Philosophically speaking, all we need to know is that what our eyes do is not itself perception. Perception is the total experience (but not your thinking about it). To experience color is multidimensional, and although some of it we can access as quantitative, we are also are experiencing aspects about the object as is (binary in a sense, there are neurons that simply detect if light is hitting them or not, which therefore only tells something binary about the object being perceived). If we use perception to make concepts, then I need to accept that qualitative features must be considered during concept formation. Otherwise, we are leaving out part of perception.

Rand did not seem to know how much perception encompasses. She wasn't wrong to consider how quantitative information may be used, she was trying to do too much science. Fortunately, this really only causes issues for the stuff about measurement omission. 

The thing about forming a concept is that it requires memory. Forming a concept does not require you to look at a thing while you think. A memory may or may not have the quantitative information you need for measurement omission. If anything, the quantitative information is usually not there. This doesn't make memory an unreliable source of information about objects, it just means that people might not have as much information available as Rand assumes. When it comes to memory, spatial thinking is critical. It affects how you retrieve your memories. To recall something, you recall what it was, but also where it was. You can't have one without the other. When memories are encoded, spatial relations abound, without any need for spatial concepts. I'm not going to theorize more about that, because scientists know so little about it, and it is my own research interests as well so I have a good idea of how much is unknown. 

At the very least, spatial information matters, even if no one knows exactly how yet. Spatial information is not strictly speaking quantitative. Your neurons encode position on a grid, not as a series of distances or other quantities. Without neuroscience, we can still recognize that things have a spatial location without measuring anything. Here or not here. There or not there. And the same thing can be done in your memory. And from there, you can form concepts. 

I know I mixed psychology and philosophy there. It's important to recognize that this topic is heavily psychological, so if you want to talk about it, it is crucial to be informed of the science. 

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  • 1 month later...

So based on reading some of the discourse you guys went through, when I was discussing forming the concept “length,” I think that what I really had in mind was actually “extension,” I was just using the word “length.”  It looks like the concept “length” is derived from the concept "extension."  I think @merjet made a good distinction between length and extension.  I also think that length can be thought of as “the longest spatial dimension of an object” and “extension” is just “a spatial dimension of an object.”

I wanted to try expressing my main point with the examples I gave last time but this time I wanted to compare them more explicitly.  I want to start with the concept “blue” and go through the cognitive process that Peikoff has identified in words.

I’m gonna paraphrase what he said because now I cannot find the exact quote:  “To form the concept blue you observe one blue object (blue1) and another blue object (blue2) AS OPPOSED TO A RED OBJECT.”  You observe the similarity between the TWO blue objects, abstract, designate a word to use to refer to the group, and you have formed the concept blue” (again I’m paraphrasing this into my own words because I cannot find the quote)

Notice that to form the concept blue there are three existents involved:  blue1, blue2, and red.  Also notice that the existent that serves as the unit that the units of the concept are differentiated from is “red.”  So there are THREE existents but only TWO of them get integrated into the concept.

Now I want to present an exact quote of the cognitive process he identified in words to form the concept “length:”

 

Quote

We perceive a match, pencil, a stick, we perceive a certain similarity among these objects – extension.  We selectively attend to this aspect and consider it separately, we integrate into a single mental unit, choose a word, and we have a concept.  Now what went on.

Our minds discovered a certain connection among these concretes.  What kind?  It discovered that they could all be related quantitively to the same kind of unit of measurement or in other words that we are here dealing with the same attribute in each case, and that what differs in the three cases is only the quantity of the attribute.  The pencil is longer than the match say and shorter than the stick.  The three lengths have different measurement, they are identical in attribute; the difference is one of measurement.  What then did our mind have to do to integrate the three into one mental unit?  It had to retain the attribute and omit from attention the varying measurements.  In reality of course, specific lengths always have some specific quantity, but the point is that length the attribute may exist in any quantity and what we do to form such a concept is to retain the attribute apart from its quantity in any particular case.

 

Notice that in order to form the concept “length,” THREE existents are also involved:  match, pencil, stick.  HOWEVER, WE DO NOT FOLLOW THE SAME PROCESS THAT WE FOLLOWED TO FORM THE CONCEPT BLUE.  It’s not like it was with the concept “blue” in which we were dealing with Existent1, Existent2, and we differentiated Existent1 (blue1) and Existent2 (blue2) from Existent3 (red).  We do not differentiate a match and a pencil from a stick to form the concept length, as we differentiated blue1 and blue2 from red to form the concept “blue.”  Also notice that for the concept “blue,” the first two existents were integrated into the concept while the third existent (red) was EXCLUDED from the concept.  But that is not the case with the concept “length.”  For the concept “length,” ALL THREE existents were integrated into and included in the concept “length” WITHOUT ANY EXISTENT BEING EXCLUDED.

Ayn Rand is supposed to be presenting a SINGLE theory of concept formation.  These differences that I’ve called out between the process of forming the concept “blue” and the concept “length” are CAUSING ME TO DOUBT that a SINGLE theory of concept formation was used to form them.  Again just to summarize the differences that are tripping me up:  For the concept “blue,” three existents were involved with two of them being integrated into the concept, and the one that was excluded was differentiated from the former two and it was COMMENSURABLE with the former two unlike for the concept “length,” in which three existents were involved with ALL THREE integrated into the concept, all were commensurable and NO EXISTENT WAS EXCLUDED.  I was hoping that somebody could reconcile these differences that I have pointed and explain to me WHY the SAME, SINGLE theory of concept formation is still being used to form both the concept “blue” and the concept “length.”  I find it very hard to believe right now that the underlying mechanics are the same in both cases.  It seems to me that our minds might be forming different concepts differently.

I tried to apply Ayn Rand’s theory of concept formation to validate my concept of (and these are just some random examples) “exam”.  To form the concept “exam,” I go to school and observe Exam1 and Exam2 and a Quiz.  I differentiate Exam1 and Exam2 from a Quiz to and integrate them to form the concept “Exam.”  To form the concept “Car,” I observe Car1, Car2, differentiate them from a Truck, and integrate them to form the concept “Car.”  And notice what I’m doing here.  I am following the format that Peikoff followed when he identified the cognitive process of forming the concept “blue” in words, i.e observe blue1, blue2, as opposed to red and so on and so forth…

As I mentioned before, I’ve had very limited success with this like with the concept “Color.”  I tried to follow the same format (like with the concept “blue” that I just discussed):  Observe Color1 (red), Observe Color2 (blue) and that’s far as I’ve gotten because the rule that Ayn Rand stated is that the third existent has to be COMMENSURABLE with the first two but I can’t figure out what to choose to be that third existent.  If I am following the SAME process as I did for the concept “blue,” the third existent will be something that I will differentiate the former two from, in this case Existent1 (red) and Existent2 (blue).  And what about a very abstract concept such as the concept “culture?”  If I were to try to apply Ayn Rand’s theory as I understand to form the concept “culture,”  I would say in social studies class I observe Culture1 (some civilization) and I observe Culture2 (a different civilization) and I differentiate the two of them from something else that is commensurable to them and integrate them to form the concept “Culture?”

I had an additional question about the necessity of doing any of this in the first place and I wanted to start it off a Peikoff quote.  He makes this statement close to the beginning of his lecture on concepts and he purposely makes it close to the beginning to emphasize the weaknesses that knowledge would have if he simply stopped there:

 

Quote

Now I assume you see the kinds of questions that we have not yet answered.  And so long as we haven’t, we have not properly understood or objectively validated concepts.  We haven’t established their relation to reality and therefore we would have left a gaping hole in epistemology.  And we would have left any conceptual conclusion we ever come to vulnerable.  We would leave ourselves wide open for instance to the kind of people who hear an argument and say “oh well that’s an abstraction come down to Earth.”  The implication being abstractions of course have no connection to Earth or reality they’re divorced from reality.   Or the kind of people who hear and argument and say “that’s just semantics, that’s just how you use words.”  Which implies that the use of words, in other words of concepts, is arbitrary, reality has nothing to say about concepts on that view.

 

Later on in the lecture he makes another statement:

 

Quote

Now I’d like you to note that when we talk about measurement omission we are speaking about the underlying mechanics of the process of concept formation.  In other words, about the process that is performed for us by the very nature of our conceptual faculty.”

“To form a concept, a person does not have to perform measurements consciously or even know how to go about performing them.  On the conscious level, all a man has to do is perceive similarity, abstract, decide to designate the group by a word, and he has a concept.

 

How can this be true?  Is he saying here that you can form a concept without knowing how to form a concept?  That sounds like a self-contradiction?

Then later he makes another statement:

Quote

Now you might ask me well what then is the practical purpose of knowing this theory if your mind goes through the necessary steps by its nature without your knowledge.  Part of the answer is that you have to know what concepts are including the theory of measurement omission in order to discover the rules to guide the parts of the process which are not automatic which are volitional.  If you did not know fully what a concept was and how it was formed, you could not prescribe how to perform the aspects of the process which are in our conscious control.”

Even more basic, the theory of measurement omission is essential to the validation of conceptual knowledge as such.  So long as we do not know the nature of concepts we are open to all the kinds of questions and doubts I indicated earlier, centering around the issue how are concepts related to concretes.  The answer to this is what the theory of measurement omission supplies.  Concepts, according to Objectivism, are based on and do refer to facts of reality.  A concept refers to the fact that its various concretes possess the same distinguishing characteristics and that the differences are differences only of measurement.  A concept, for instance, manness, is therefore not a product of arbitrary choice.  It is not a personal or social convention.  It has a real factual basis.  But the basis is not some mystical blob or secret ingredient hiding out in men.  We use the example of manness we could say manness is men is real concrete men who exist with all their attributes.  It is men viewed selectively.  It is a unit to stand for all of them interchangeably by the device of omitting all of their varying measurements.  It is an integration based on facts and processed by man’s mind.

 

This is where I wanted to ask my other major question:  Is it really true that without Ayn Rand’s Theory of Concept Formation we would REALLY NOT KNOW that concepts were valid?  If Ayn Rand never existed and her theory was never developed, would our knowledge really not be validated as such, as Peikoff stated?  Is it really true that before Ayn Rand people did not know ENOUGH about concepts to know that they were grounded in reality?  Do we really need to go as far as the measurement omission theory to be certain that concepts are grounded in reality?  I wanted to present an argument without using Ayn Rand’s theory for a moment just to argue that concepts are grounded in reality.  Just pretend we are in a world in which Ayn Rand’s theory of concept formation didn’t exist.  I would argue the following:

“We may not know how we form concepts but we do know that all of the concepts we have are formed AFTER observing reality.  All the ideas we have about how the world around us works were developed AFTER observing the world.  I didn’t get the ideas I have about how the world works from anywhere but from observing the world. Additionally, we can use the concepts we have formed to make predictions about what we will observe in certain situations and when our predictions come true, that implies that the concepts that we have are really describing how the world works, so they are AT LEAST grounded in reality and NOT ARBITRARY as some people try to assert.”

In my hypothetical argument above, I’m not trying to suggest my own theory of concept formation, I’m only saying that even without a theory of concept formation we can know that our concepts are valid, i.e grounded in reality and not arbitrary.  Is there anything wrong with my preceding argument about how we can know that concepts are grounded in reality?

And lastly, if I want to pursue and claim VALID knowledge about various topics, am I now obligated to go through every concept I have and identify IN WORDS how I have formed those concepts in accordance with Ayn Rand's Theory of Concepts (as I have been trying to do)?  If, for some reason, I can't do that, like if I encountered the problems that I discussed with concepts like "color" and "length," does that mean that I actually don't have those concepts formed?  Does it mean that my knowledge pertaining to those concepts is not valid (if I can't identify IN WORDS how I formed those concepts as Peikoff did for "blue" and "length")?

Edited by [email protected]
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[email protected],

I don’t consider having three objects – for the concept length – versus two instances – for the concept blue – of great importance. Rand used three objects for her example of forming the concept length, but I believe two of the three would have sufficed.

Regarding your noting no contrast object in Rand’s example forming the concept length, I don’t believe that implies there can’t be a contrast object. For some cases a contrast object may not be as obvious as it is in other cases. For the concept car, a truck affords an obvious contrast. But what about the concept vehicle? Vehicles encompass cars, trucks, ships, and more. It took me a few seconds to evoke an example of a non-vehicle, probably because there are so many possible.

Could a contrast property for length be width or weight?

Changing the subject, Ayn Rand often wrote like concept formation was a “bottom up” process, in which the word comes near the end of the process. See especially page 164 in the Q&A section of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Expanded Second Edition.

However, consider a young child learning new words from its parents, or even an adult learning about a new field of study. In such cases, the word comes at or near the start of the process, the word being taught by a teacher or other resource.

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1 hour ago, merjet said:

However, consider a young child learning new words from its parents, or even an adult learning about a new field of study. In such cases, the word comes at or near the start of the process, the word being taught by a teacher or other resource.

I would think of these more as special cases because all a person needs is to remember the sound or spelling. It requires no understanding of what the word means, no conceptual grasp. In this sense, a word that you learn from someone is a placeholder. Only at the end of learning and conceptualization does the word have any kind of conceptual meaning.

Take the concept "algorithm". 200 years ago, no one had this concept as we understand it. Scientists and engineers certainly had the ability to do algorithmic thinking, and there are plenty examples of it. Almost any geometric proof can be thought of as an algorithm. But it really wouldn't be accurate to say that the concept "algorithm" was formed by anyone until the 1900s. 

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19 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I would think of these more as special cases because all a person needs is to remember the sound or spelling. It requires no understanding of what the word means, no conceptual grasp. In this sense, a word that you learn from someone is a placeholder. Only at the end of learning and conceptualization does the word have any kind of conceptual meaning.

I don't understand how this conflicts with what I said about a person learning a word before having a good grasp of the concept. Imagine a parent trying to teach his/her child the concept and word car. The parent several times points to a car and says "car." Presumably the parent won't point to a bus, motorcycle, or 18-wheeler and say "car."  Indeed, the parent might also point to a bus, motorcycle, or 18-wheeler and say the correct word. But it could be a while before the child sufficiently grasps the similarities and differences among these objects well enough to reliably identify a car as a car, a bus as a bus, and so forth.

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On 4/13/2020 at 7:09 AM, merjet said:

I don't understand how this conflicts with what I said about a person learning a word before having a good grasp of the concept

I probably misread something. I guess I was thinking that you can begin with words (as simply sounds) and understand them in a incompletely conceptual way. We agree I think.

On 4/11/2020 at 10:23 PM, [email protected] said:

All the ideas we have about how the world around us works were developed AFTER observing the world. 

This might be a problem in your reasoning. I would say although all ideas will come about only after observing the world (thinking can't happen without any perception at all), so all ideas will have some content about reality as you observe. Even mythological things, like unicorns, or trying to picture god (as a timeless and sentient being, not the white-bearded god). But like with unicorns, or god, ideas we end up with can contain additional ideas that are imaginary. 

On 4/11/2020 at 10:23 PM, [email protected] said:

Additionally, we can use the concepts we have formed to make predictions about what we will observe in certain situations and when our predictions come true, that implies that the concepts that we have are really describing how the world works, so they are AT LEAST grounded in reality and NOT ARBITRARY as some people try to assert.

This sounds okay, but I think your language is too strong here. It's more like that predictions coming true provide some evidence that the related concept that describes the world is at least grounded in reality. The prediction may have been based on a spurious and arbitrary correlation, like a full moon being inside Capricorn correlating with rising stock prices. I mean, somebody was observing the world, their prediction came true, but based on what you know, this is mostly an arbitrary correlation. Not strong enough to say that the correlation is grounded in reality. 

On 4/11/2020 at 10:23 PM, [email protected] said:

And lastly, if I want to pursue and claim VALID knowledge about various topics, am I now obligated to go through every concept I have and identify IN WORDS how I have formed those concepts in accordance with Ayn Rand's Theory of Concepts (as I have been trying to do)?

I've always thought of validation as double checking. You probably developed these concepts properly, but you don't need to validate them until you run into a problem that you can't quite figure out.

Edited by Eiuol
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"Grounded in reality". Peikoff once repeated a Rand insight to him, that she wouldn't have a philosophy if it were not for induction. Much- maligned induction, in skeptical philosophies, is key to the Objectivist.

Edited by whYNOT
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