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Great Description of Objectivist Metaphysics

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It's a talk on Vedanta philosophy, but it's almost a word for word exposition of Rand's take on metaphysics.

He explains how the validity of perception ('appearance') cannot be denied through reasoning, because the concepts used in reasoning are derived from perception.

Unfortunately, he then claims to have a solution, which is to 'go beyond' the notions of space, time and causality.

But one can easily retort: 'beyond' and 'within' are spacial concepts. You can go the whole way and say that without those structures of thought, it would be impossible to cognize concepts such as 'true reality', 'illusory reality' and so on.

----
What about 'outside' and 'inside'? They are a pair of mental concepts, so your mind can theoretically use them to postulate an external world without there actually being one. Right?

Nope.

Let's put it this way. I possess this pair of concepts, 'outside' and 'inside'. I assume that this is true independently of anybody's opinion, including attempts on my part to deny this.

An idealist system will never make sense, because it describes how the structure of reality is solely mental while simultaneously assuming it to be fully mind-independent. This was one of Rand's genius insights. She showed that a metaphysics is possible, but unlike the grand systems of the past, it's short and sweet.

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  • 2 months later...

>because the concepts used in reasoning are derived from perception

I don't understand that statement. How are the concepts of an "asymptote" or a "limit", for example, derived from perception, unless the meaning of "derived" is taken very loosely. No one has ever perceived either one. For that matter, no one has ever perceived a perfect circle, yet the concept of "pi" depends on there being such a thing. Actual, concrete, perceived circles -- with actual, concrete, perceivable diameters and circumferences -- will not yield "pi"; in fact, they will yield different values for the ratio of the latter to the former in each concrete case one tries to measure it. Obviously, concepts are categorically different from percepts, though the latter might an aid in forming or clarifying the former. That percepts might aid in the formation or clarification of concepts does not mean concepts are derived from percepts.

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54 minutes ago, Economic Freedom said:

I don't understand that statement. How are the concepts of an "asymptote" or a "limit", for example, derived from perception

Geometry presupposes the ability to perceive shape, size and position, otherwise you wouldn't even conceive of a science dedicated to that. Percepts don't just 'aid' in the formation of concepts. The latter is literaly impossible without the starting point of perception.

Abstraction allows you to mentally isolate aspects of things, such as action, size or weight, but those remain aspects of something that acts and is of a certain size or weight.

"Pi" does not depend on the actual existence of a perfect circle, any more than knowing you can count forever (1, 2, 3...) depends on actually doing it. However, those do depend on the ability to know what a circle is, and the ability to regard percepts as units.

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I had to look up asymptote. If you can conceive of a circle with as large a radius as you can (nearing infinity would be best) and then conceive of a straight line drawn another plank length farther away, that would be a concrete that would serve as a basis for me. 

Limit has many more contexts to it, thus delimiting a particular limit you had in mind would lay some groundwork for doing something similar. As an example, on engineering drawings, limits of size are specified. If the material was to be 1mm thick, ±0.05mm, the size limit could be between 0.95mm and 1.05mm and still be acceptable.

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EF,

I'd suggest that 'derived from perception" very loosely is something more assured than any 'derived from perception' in a 'tighter' sense. We have perception of a straight line before our various lexical definitions of a straight line such as "a line stretched to the utmost". Having it in words is good leverage, metaphorically speaking, but we've levers from their utility earlier and more substantially. Similarly with "looser" and "tighter". Perspective drawing with vanishing points does not depend on understanding limits or asymtotes for their construction. I see nothing wrong with speaking of "derived from perception" as distinct from "perceived" (sensorily perceived) in a loose way, without a specifically claimed method of abstraction or set-characterization or itererate-characterization.

Further, that "derived" have a strictest sense or only one strict sense would be something I'd aim to conclude; I'd not take so for setting out. Similarly, I wouldn't assume that all sensory perceptions from which abstract talk is derived is of one peice. How I visually percieve that there are fewer spaces between my fingers than fingers could be different than how I visually (and motorifically?) perceive that some of my fingers are longer than others or visually that a picture on the wall is not level could be different than how I visually perceive that it is taller than it is wide.

Thanks for the stimulating comment.

PS - 

Spinoza proposed that our best ideas---the ones he called 'adequate'---were those exemplified turning a fixed point compass (circle) or spinning a circle about one of its diameters (sphere). These look suspiciously like derivatations of cirlcle and sphere by perception "in the mind's eye".

 

 

 

Edited by Boydstun
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1 hour ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Geometry presupposes the ability to perceive shape, size and position, otherwise you wouldn't even conceive of a science dedicated to that. Percepts don't just 'aid' in the formation of concepts. The latter is literaly impossible without the starting point of perception.

Abstraction allows you to mentally isolate aspects of things, such as action, size or weight, but those remain aspects of something that acts and is of a certain size or weight.

"Pi" does not depend on the actual existence of a perfect circle, any more than knowing you can count forever (1, 2, 3...) depends on actually doing it. However, those do depend on the ability to know what a circle is, and the ability to regard percepts as units.

>Geometry presupposes the ability to perceive shape, size and position

No it doesn't. That's an assertion with no proof, and certainly no historical basis. It has to do with conceiving perfection (which is the reason it can be thought of but not conceived as a picture): perfect angles, perfect circles, perfect diameters, perfect circumferences, etc. Since we cannot perceive "perfection", it stands to reason that geometry is not "derived" from perception. Perception -- a form of experience -- confirms, or validates, geometric truths, but it isn't "derived" from perception. As for "Pi", it depends on the intellectual -- i.e., mental only -- concept of a perfect circle. If you actually draw circles in the sand, or on a piece of paper, and physically measure the circumference and diameter, you will never be able to calculate the exact number "Pi"; every circle, diameter, and circumference you draw will give you a slightly different ratio. Finally, by relying on perception, you will also never have concepts in mathematics such as negative numbers, irrational numbers, imaginary numbers, or transcendental numbers. The notion that our knowledge base exclusively rests on, or is somehow exclusively derived from, perception, is (frankly) nonsense.

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Our concepts are built up from perceptions by a complicated process that includes abstraction from abstractions.

We can set up a Fahrenheit or Celsius temperature scale with a zero point and then perceive that there are lower temperatures.  There are other examples of negative numbers, such as negative net worth, that we can arrive at after we have built up conceptual knowledge that starts with perceptions.

50 minutes ago, Economic Freedom said:

irrational numbers, imaginary numbers, or transcendental numbers

Also ultimately based on perception, with a lot of conceptual work along the way.

 

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15 hours ago, Economic Freedom said:

Since we cannot perceive "perfection", it stands to reason that geometry is not "derived" from perception.

EF,

Try to imagine a line that has no color, texture and resembles absolutely no line that you've seen (with your eyes) before. If you can't, that's likely because you can't summon any memorized percept whose defining quality is that 'you haven't experienced it'.

A line is a percept. The measurement of a line is an action enabled by a specific mental faculty that you possess, and other species might not.

That action (measurement) can itself be conceptualized, but only by noticing what you are doing while measuring chalk-drawn lines or the roundness of tomatoes. No measuring = no way to conceptualize measurement.

Mentally conceiving something depends on the prior existence of that which is doing the conceiving: a faculty that is precisely what it is, not less or more than that. Existence (the world) is the starting point, not the product of that faculty.

You can conceive a circle without impurities, or a perfectly square-shaped opera singer if you want, assuming you have a prior acquaintance with circles, squares, human males and opera.

Reversing the percept-concept order does not make a point for 'immaterialism'. Physical vs. Immaterial doesn't mean Unalterable vs. Alterable by mind. It's a distinction between two different classes of existents: mind, plus the general category of whatever else there is, including but not limited to: matter, energy, choco-puff wave-squares and not-yet discovered particles.

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>A line is a percept

Maybe to a graphic designer, but not to a mathematician. A "line" is simply an idea. It can be represented by a percept, or it can be represented by an algebraic relation (y=mx + b). One doesn't even need to perceive the algebraic symbols; one merely needs to understand their meaning.

You're confused between the idea of a "sign" (something that points) and the "signified" (the thing or idea being pointed at). The former is nothing more than an aid to the latter. 

Also, there are many concepts -- especially in mathematics, but probably in other fields, too -- that don't depend on perception because they cannot be perceived: infinity (whether extensively, as in a number line; or intensively, as in a mathematical limit used in calculus); the imaginary number "i" (square root of -1, or "i^2 = -1") is simply an idea. Come to think of it, "0" is an idea, too. In physics, there are no perceptions of an electron going through the 2-slit experiment because any attempt to "perceive" the electron requires you to interact with it in some way, and interacting with it changes the outcome of its behavior. It can't even be imagined: something that's simultaneously a particle (self-contained and occupying a given volume of space) and a wave (something that's not self-contained but instead "concentrated" or "peaked" at a certain location but then receding to all other areas of space to infinity).

Feynman was clear about that in his Cornell lectures. He affirmed that no one "really understands" quantum mechanics because the sub-atomic world in which strict deterministic causality appears to break down is just too weird, bearing no relation to the macroscopic world.

Finally, I'll point out something that many Objectivist Fundamentalists omit from their catechism of quoting ITOE and other "inerrant" texts: percepts themselves are not fundamental. What enters the eyes and ears (as well as other sense organs) is nothing but sensation -- physical stimuli. The integration of various stimuli into a whole known as a "percept" is done by an act of thought -- it's entirely mental. So thinking precedes perception. If the thinking does not occur, then the percept remains what the psychologist William James called it in his Principles of Psychology (1890): "A blooming, buzzing confusion."

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3 minutes ago, Economic Freedom said:

The integration of various stimuli into a whole known as a "percept" is done by an act of thought -- it's entirely mental.

There is an alternative way to view this:

1 hour ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Mentally conceiving something depends on the prior existence of that which is doing the conceiving

In other words, existing precedes perceiving. That which leads to perception, performs the integration of sensations. And if we integrate this insight with other available evidence, that would be the brain.

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>Mentally conceiving something depends on the prior existence of that which is doing the conceiving

I don't think I wrote anything about mentally *conceiving* something.

A though process is required to take physical stimuli and integrate them into a percept. "Percepts" are interior and subjective; they don't exist "out there"; they exist in the mind only. Modern science agrees on this: the only things that exist "out there" (that is, independent of mind) are particles of various sorts and empty space between the particles. Mainly empty space.

The upshot is that, while the particles might be the same for a human and a non-human, a percept formed by their respective thought processes might be very different.

Percepts are subjective.

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28 minutes ago, Economic Freedom said:

Percepts are subjective.

EF, you might find this post to be of interest to you.

This book is very much in line with your arguments. On another note, studying books like these, as well as German Idealism, is a very good challenge for Objectivists who want to test the strenght of their understanding of the O'ist position regarding metaphysics and epistemology.

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18 hours ago, Economic Freedom said:

>Geometry presupposes the ability to perceive shape, size and position

No it doesn't. That's an assertion with no proof, and certainly no historical basis. It has to do with conceiving perfection (which is the reason it can be thought of but not conceived as a picture): perfect angles, perfect circles, perfect diameters, perfect circumferences, etc. Since we cannot perceive "perfection", it stands to reason that geometry is not "derived" from perception. Perception -- a form of experience -- confirms, or validates, geometric truths, but it isn't "derived" from perception. As for "Pi", it depends on the intellectual -- i.e., mental only -- concept of a perfect circle. If you actually draw circles in the sand, or on a piece of paper, and physically measure the circumference and diameter, you will never be able to calculate the exact number "Pi"; every circle, diameter, and circumference you draw will give you a slightly different ratio. Finally, by relying on perception, you will also never have concepts in mathematics such as negative numbers, irrational numbers, imaginary numbers, or transcendental numbers. The notion that our knowledge base exclusively rests on, or is somehow exclusively derived from, perception, is (frankly) nonsense.

There is no proof that when you perceive a string from which you have suspended a bob, you are not perceiving perfect verticality. An no proof that when I lay my level on a stone after each adjustment that I have not achieved in some cases perfect levelness. Indeed, it is by perceptions with our instruments, natural or artificial, that we determine the closeness of things to "perfection" in the sense you are engaging here, EF. Plato was wrong. Heron, Newton, and Descartes were right.

To say that perfection of this sort cannot be attained without thought, does not show that it can be attained by thought without perception. Before being old enough for geometry class, my father could teach me to determine the straightness of a board by raising one end of it from the ground and looking down the edge of it. Same comprehension when sighting with your rifle.

 

 

Edited by Boydstun
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2 minutes ago, Boydstun said:

There is no proof that when you perceive a string from which you have suspended a bob, you are not perceiving perfect verticality. An no proof that when I lay my level on a stone after each adjustment that I have not achieved in some cases perfect levelness. Indeed, it is by perceptions with our instruments, natural or artificial, that we determine the closeness of things to "perfection" in the sense you are engaging here, EF. Plato was wrong. Heron, Newton, and Descartes were right.

 

>There is no proof that when you perceive a string from which you have suspended a bob, you are not perceiving perfect verticality.

When you perceive a string suspending a bob, you are perceive a string suspending a bob. Period. Where did you suddenly make the jump from "string suspending a bob" to *PERFECT* verticality? You believe you're actually perceiving something called "perfection"? I don't think so. I think that's a classic example of what Rand criticized so many others of doing: concept stealing; i.e., sneaking in implicit concepts to help their conclusions hold together.

You're avoiding the argument. Where does "perfect" verticality; "perfect" circularity; etc. come from, since it obviously doesn't physically exist, and therefore (according to ITOE) cannot be a percept. It's a so-called "abstraction"? You can only abstract (per ITOE) from percepts. Cite for me the percepts -- percept-to-percept -- leading from "string suspending a bob (um, under the influence of gravity, in still air; not, for example, underwater or under conditions of high wind) to "this is an acceptable example of a perfectly straight vertical line"? I don't see any percepts allowing you to make such a conceptual leap.

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2 minutes ago, Economic Freedom said:

Where does "perfect" verticality; "perfect" circularity; etc. come from, since it obviously doesn't physically exist, and therefore (according to ITOE) cannot be a percept. It's a so-called "abstraction"? You can only abstract (per ITOE) from percepts.

See:

2 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

The measurement of a line is an action enabled by a specific mental faculty that you possess (...)

That action (measurement) can itself be conceptualized, but only by noticing what you are doing while measuring chalk-drawn lines or the roundness of tomatoes. No measuring = no way to conceptualize measurement.

 

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EF,

Perfects are only to purposes. We use 'perfect' also when we mean exact, as in the flawlessness of a crystal array. Neither concept under the term "perfect" can be grasped without having pertinent living experience in the world.

You have not presented arguments, EF, only repetitions of commonly held cliches having the authority of Plato or Feynman and much repetition.

 

 

Edited by Boydstun
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16 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

EF, you might find this post to be of interest to you.

This book is very much in line with your arguments. On another note, studying books like these, as well as German Idealism, is a very good challenge for Objectivists who want to test the strenght of their understanding of the O'ist position regarding metaphysics and epistemology.

Thanks! I'll check it out. However, I never claimed to be an "idealist" (German or otherwise). It's a commonplace in the field of experimental psychology -- specifically, the psychology of perception -- that percepts exist in the mind only. A physicist would tell us (and no doubt, prove to us) that a tree is a bunch of particles and lots of empty space. The particles are pretty much the same ones that compose the rock next to the tree, yet we obviously register something on our retinas and visual cortexes two things that look very different. We then reify the difference by giving each one a different linguistic sign: "tree" and "rock." It's also a commonplace in psychology that one of the main functions of language is, in fact, to perform such reification, essentially "carving out" an outside world putative of "things" that correspond to our percepts. What actually exists objectively, however (as physics shows) is just a bunch of boring particles. 

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What is this notion of "perfect" to which you are referring, if it does't exist? If it doesn't exist, then those who use it are uttering nonsense brush it aside. If it does exist, one's inability to grasp it leaves them where, exactly?

A standard of perfection that cannot be achieved is duplicitous.

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6 minutes ago, dream_weaver said:

. . .

A standard of perfection that cannot be achieved is duplicitous.

Greg, there are places where a "perfect" that cannot be achieved is sensible, warranted, and useful. That would be in talk such as a "perfect refrigerator" as a limit that the second law of thermodynamics holds as out of reach in our devices. The unreachable perfections that EF refers to are without such backing as in thermo, but are merely from the philosophy-of-mathematics armchairs of Plato, Leibniz, . . . .

Edited by Boydstun
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@Boydstun, I wasn't thinking on the margins, when the thrust has been more of a general attack on perfection, as a more general concept. With refrigeration, you have a grasp of what can't be achieved. In circularity and straightness, acceptable levels of perfection can be stipulated and maintained/produced. Even with such a specification, it is known (abstracted) what the level of deviation is a referenced of.

 

Edited by dream_weaver
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7 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

See:

 

???

I said nothing about "measurement." I don't think Boydstun did, either. He simply jumped from "string suspending a bob" to "perfect verticality" as an arbitrary assertion.

I don't see how measurement is relevant. Pray tell, which measurements -- and how many measurements -- take us from "string suspending a bob" to "perfect verticality"? Don't assert, please. *Cite the actual measurements that one would have to make to go from "this particular string suspending this particular bob" to "a universally abstract PERFECT verticality"*. I don't see how one goes from the former to the latter via any act of physical or conceptual "measurement."

Miss Rand was hung up on the idea of "measurement", even claiming -- with no background in mathematics -- that measurement was the basis of all math (wrong). She then imports the idea of a "unit" into her hypothesis of concept formation -- in which the concept "chair" is a kind of "unit" of an existing, physical chair; but then explains away some obvious difficulties in that idea by quickly asserting, "Oh, but I don't mean a physical unit -- because that would be a metaphysical statement. I mean an *epistemological* unit!" -- As if the latter actually were intelligible (which it isn't, and which I believe is the reason that not only is ITOE the weakest part of Objectivism, but explains why no one else has tried to do anything more in Objectivism regarding epistemology (I don't count Peikoff's "DIM Hypothesis"). Acolytes merely quote from ITOE in the same way devout Catholics recite a catechism.)

In any case, Boydstun's example was arbitrary, too. Why jump to "perfect verticality" from a string suspending a bob? Why not, for example, pouring water from a bucket onto the ground? The stream of water is somewhat vertical, just as a string suspending a bob is only somewhat vertical. Boydstun failed to validate the conceptual jump from "somewhat vertical" to "perfectly vertical." And I maintain that it cannot be validated at all simply relying on percepts -- which are always "in the mind of the perceiver" anyway -- as being at the putative "base" of knowledge.

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21 minutes ago, Boydstun said:

Perfects are only to purposes. We use 'perfect' also when we mean exact, as in the flawlessness of a crystal array. Neither concept under the term "perfect" can be grasped without having pertinent living experience in the world.

You have not presented arguments, only repetitions of commonly held cliches having the authority of Plato or Feynman and much repetition.

 

 

>You have not presented arguments, only repetitions of commonly held cliches

You have not presented refutations, only repetitions of falsehoods and half-truths from Ayn Rand's works.

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23 minutes ago, Boydstun said:

EF,

Perfects are only to purposes. We use 'perfect' also when we mean exact, as in the flawlessness of a crystal array. Neither concept under the term "perfect" can be grasped without having pertinent living experience in the world.

You have not presented arguments, EF, only repetitions of commonly held cliches having the authority of Plato or Feynman and much repetition.

 

 

>flawlessness...

A synonym for "perfect". Where did you get "flawlessness" from? From "measurement" of something?

You haven't answered the question.

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