Language – From Abstract To Concrete

I wrote about my thoughts on the phenomenon of names in multiple posts, mostly analyzing it in terms of few abstractions, i.e. the intentional acts, intentional content, and how in case of baptizing it appears with two aspects – the baptizing is connected to particular intentional act, but the content is transcending that act.

The abstract analysis, however complete, shouldn’t be seen as a full account of the phenomenon. It even shouldn’t be seen as a ground for the phenomenon so that we can give full account by merely adding details to that abstract picture. On contrary – moving from more abstract to more concrete aspects of the phenomenon, should provide the ground for the abstract. (This is different from the usual reductionist view, in which the most abstract is seen as the ground, and everything “upwards” is fully determined by that ground. Those “higher” levels are then in reductionist picture, in some sense merely incidental and of smaller importance than the ground.)

Such non-reductionist movement from abstract to concrete when talking about phenomenon of names, I think can be seen in few posts where I wrote about the issue of non-existence. In these posts I argued that there is no single criterion for (non)existence that would be found on the abstract level of intentional act/content. Instead we need to understand it in more concrete cases of intentional acts. That is, certain intentional acts (imagination, hallucination, assuming, etc…) are those that actually cover the abstract notion of “non-existence”. One word is used for all of them because they  show some kind of family resemblance. (I haven’t talked about what this resemblance consist of, but I would take that it consist of a negation of the simple relation with the world)

When we move towards concrete, the “abstract” is now something which is a result, not a ground. The procedure of abstraction is such that we start from something, and put our attention on certain aspects while ignoring others. Hence movement to “more concrete” can be understood as moving towards fuller comprehending of the phenomena (and not just noting incidental patterns of the higher level). The abstract case is then merely a specific case of the more concrete case, and its role is that it helped us to understand the relation of certain aspects isolated from the richness of the whole, so that when we analyze the “big picture” we are not confused by those abstract aspects. The intentional act is concrete intentional act (and is not abstract ever, except in our abstract analysis), and the same holds for the content.

To make example in case of math – one such case of movement from more abstract to more concrete would be the movement from the special case to general case. For example the Pythagorean theorem says that the lengths of sides of right triangle will satisfy the equation a^2+b^2=c^2. On other side we have a law of cosines which is true for any triangle, and is expressed by equation: a^2+b^2-2ab\cos\gamma=c^2. It is clear that Pythagorean theorem is a special case of the law of cosines. We get it from the law of consines when we use gamma=90 degrees. It is also clear that the special case doesn’t really contain anything that isn’t already present the general case.

Analogical situation with language, would be movement from the language as used to mean something, to language as acting. On the abstract level, words do mean something, but on concrete level we can say that they are used to mean something, and now all kind of complexities appear, one might mean by word what that word doesn’t usually mean. You won’t be able to comprehend this fact on the level of abstract account, you need to include the humans, their intentions, the learning of language and so on.  And then on level of sentences, the meaning shows even more complex features, the sentences are used in the context of some more or less fixed background of the communication, by same sentence lot of things can be meant depending of what the speaker think should be inferred from them having on mind the background.
-“She is coming.”- the meaning of that sentence, is not contained in the abstract meaning of each of the words, but is connected to the context.

So, we can say that it is not that concrete usage of the language is grounded in some Platonic abstract level in which words mean things, but words mean things only as part of the phenomenon of language in the society. The abstract is grounded in the concrete.

In some future post, I want to talk about common nouns, and how their proper account requires analysis on more concrete level (though of course abstract “words mean things” and “we can baptize only whatever we are aware of” would still hold).

UPDATE:I updated the format of the formulas. I don’t use much math in the posts, so I thought I might as well do a little experiment with MathML capabilities of

Atomism and A Riddle

One can:

1.Take two or more bodies Pi (i=1..n), apply on them specific procedure Pc, and as result get a body W.
2.Take the body W, and by specific procedure Pd, get the original bodies Pi

We might be inclined to say that the person by the procedure Pc constructed the whole W out of parts Pi; and that the person by the procedure Pd deconstructed the whole to the parts Pi.

One way to explain what we mean when we say that wholes consist of parts, is to say that the whole is not self-subsistent. It exist only so far as its parts exist (in the specific configuration).
I think in this idea carries within it implicitly the following principle:

(P) Each of the parts Pi keeps its identity:

  • through the procedure Pc
  • between the procedures Pc and Pd (or as we could say – while the whole exists) and
  • through the procedure Pd.

Let’s take for example a case where few atomic nulcei and electrons form a molecule. We could also speak of atom for that matter, as, it seems to me, atoms are in no way more fundamental than molecules – it is a configuration with one nucleus and electrons, while the molecules are configurations of two and more nuclei and electrons.
So, in this case we imagine that at a previous time there was a bunch of nuclei and electrons, and that those entered in specific relation among each other (by mutual effect on each other through their energy fields). And we imagine that in fact if we can grasp in thought the whole interrelation of the nuclei and electrons, the atom or the molecule is nothing over that set of things and their mutual affect.
And it seems intuitively very plausible that it is so. What we observe is that we have starting parts SPi, and after doing Pc and Pd, we are left with ending parts EPi. We can further relate both sets in such way that for every part SPi, we can find a part with same properties in EPi.  So, what would be more intuitive than to think that the elements of set SP are the ones which create set EP, and that those parts existed before Pc where we count and categorize each, through Pc, between Pc and Pd, through Pd and after Pd, where we again count and categorize each.

That is however metaphysically not the only possible way to think about it, and there are some reasons which can be taken from Quantum Mechanics where that kind of picture might be problematic.

The alternative way to view the whole think would be through the laws of conservation of different properties and talk about more and less stable configurations which are characterized with those properties. In such case what we have is a set of more or less unconnected many, which set can be characterized through the sum of their properties (like momentum, mass, energy, spin and so on). Now we imagine that after Pc what we have is a whole – a one in which the many lost their identity. And the One is now characterized by those properties which “got” into it, and also is also characterized as less or more stable than the original many, and also with nature which is compatible with the possibility for it to be less or more easily “deconstructed” by procedure Pd, again into many, so that for every part SPi, we can find a part with same properties in EPi.

Why we should want to see things in this way?

1. This way gives a role to the procedures Pc and Pd, and we can point that really having different procedures we can get different wholes, but also deconstruct the wholes to different ending sets than the one we started with, as long as the laws of conservation of this and that are satisfied.
2. The previous picture talks about identity of nuclei and electrons, but to be consistent it needs to talk about the identity of protons, neutrons and electrons, as the nuclei are wholes themselves. The protons and neutrons are in turn seen as configurations of three quarks each. This points to problems however because:

  • According to this entry in Wikipedia quarks do not exist as isolated. It seems to me, that if the existence of something is found in this kind of way as dependent on existence of something else, it points that thing is probably not self-subsistent in first place.
  • Any of those particles can be annihilated into energy, (lot of them decay when free – e.g. neutron has mean lifetime of around 15 minutes), and from energy due to QM uncertainty pairs of particles/antiparticles can be formed. In this way those particles are far from the ancient idea of atoms which would be fundamental principle. Those particles we have in physics are finite.

So, metaphysically we don’t get much from taking any of those “parts” as self-subsistent and as keeping their identity through forming of wholes.

Other thing to consider, is that this second view is better suited when thinking about the issue of identity in the Quantum Mechanics. Here is what I got from SEP article – Identity and Individuality in Quantum Theory by Steven French :

Both ‘classical’ and ‘quantal’ objects of the same kind (e.g. electrons) can be regarded as indistinguishable in the sense of possessing the same intrinsic properties, such as rest mass, charge, spin etc…

That a permutation of the particles is counted as giving a different arrangement in classical statistical mechanics implies that, although they are indistinguishable, such particles can be regarded as individuals…

If such permutations are not counted in quantum statistics, it follows that quantal particles cannot be regarded as individuals … In other words, quantal objects are very different from most everyday objects in that they are ‘non-individuals’ in some sense.

The article gives a lot of views from which is clear that the conclusion from the quote is far from generally accepted, and as I am already over my head in talking about things I don’t know, I won’t even try to comment if the alternative views are right or wrong. What I want to point is that there is an alternative metaphysical view of looking at the wholes/parts, in which while the whole exist, the parts might not be seen as self-subsistent thing in which th existence of the whole is grounded, but that the whole is such that it can “produce” (so to say) certain smaller things without thinking of those things as existing within the whole within its identity.

So, anyway I’m interested in the possibility of this – especially in the sense that “bigger” things we encounter in everyday life, like molecules, chunks of this or that, chairs, animals, humans and so on, are not merely configurations/dynamics of more basic elements, even if they can be divided to more basic elements, and even they can be created by more basic elements (by some procedure); but that they are proper “things”. If one buys into this there appears an interesting issue of when something can be said to be a self-subsistent (if ever), and when it should be seen merely as a part of a whole (like e.g. a top of the ball is not a separate proper part, or the nose is not separate from the face).

two self-subsistent sheep,and one which is not

And here is the riddle…
If a person offers you one atom of gold for every second that has elapsed since the Big Bang, how much gold he is offering you?
I found the question and the solution at John D. Norton’s site.

A Seductive Picture of Concepts

I have noted lot of times that in my view the everyday concepts are incommensurable with the physical concepts, and that it isn’t possible to reduce the former to the later.

But, sometimes (probably professional deformation) I think about what would it take for a machine/computer program (be it “normal” or neural network) to implement concepts and have some kind of semantics. And how the working of such machine can be related to our own thinking. So, here is some of my thoughts on this.

A Simple Picture

Let’s imagine:
A sensory input which can receive data of a predetermined form. For example we can think of a matrix of artificial sensory neurons each with possibility to be excited and to give out signal of some kind.

The signals from the input then go into some processing part of the machine. Additionally there are the signals from whatever previous processing there was. The concepts are then limited by the capacity of the sensory input and whatever capacity for combining this input with previous state we have.

In this picture a simple “learning entity” with two sensory off/on neurons (A and B) in its “eye”, might be able to learn concepts like (1)AonBon, (2)AoffBoff, (3)AonBoff, (4)AoffBon, (5)A=B, (6)A<>B. If additionally the processing part has possibility for memory, we would have possibility to learn a bunch of new concepts depending on the changing of the (1)-(6) concepts, and also the new more abstract concepts like – T1=T2, T1<>T2, etc..

The possible concepts are in this picture limited and defined by the structure of the sensory input and the capacity of the “processing part” to combine that input in different ways. In the example that results with combinatory concepts (like 1-4) and on this combination a possibility for abstract concepts is possible (like 5 and 6 in the example). We can also note that there we can talk about “is” relation between some of the concepts. For example (1) and (2)  are (5), and (3) and (4) are (6).

In the example, there is just two sensory input neurons, with simple Off/On state. If we imagine how many input neurons we have (e.g. in the eye), and the amount of states they can get into (not a simple Off/On), it is clear that we have a lot of combinations to account for, and also lot of abstractions that can be taken out of them.  Also, it is not clear for how much time the sensory information is retained (for example in some kind of buffer), and thus how much additional combinations one can get.
In the example there is not much semantics to this info, but in case of one eye for example, the neurons also have semantic information in sense that neuron A is closer with neuron B than neuron C; that neuron A is “more intensive” than neuron B; combination of all this, additionally temporal relations of all kinds; abstractions on all of this and so on.

Which Semantics?

BTW, when I say semantics, I’m talking about sensory semantics, which is based on the morphological information from the sensory input which can be used in the “further processing”. For example every neuron from a  two-dimensional matrix of neurons is characterized by its “position”, also two neurons can be “more or less close” one to another. A neuron can be “inside” or “outside” a set of other sensory neurons which form some “closed area” and so on. It should be clear however that from there being sensory semantics – i.e. information which is based on morphology of the sensory input (and not on the contingent information they transmit in certain moment) doesn’t necessary imply that there will be some “meaning” in such system in the sense we have in us. So, in such system there is nothing problematic to form a concept of “circle” (e.g. by differentiating the dx/dy movement of a sensory motor which follows a form across activated neighboring neurons – think our eyes following a form and there being information about how the eyes were moving), “point within a circle”, “big/small circle”, and so on. However those words are referring to the sensory semantics, and for all we know it might be only us which are able to relate that sensory semantics to the meaning of our words “circle”, “point within a circle”, “big/small” etc…. That goes for every word I put in quotes within this post.

We can have “
A Priori Synthetic Judgments” in Such Model

I said that in this picture one can talk about “is” relation between concepts. I should say also, repeating the note in previous paragraph, that it isn’t clear if our “is” is the “is” of such system. We can see that there is something which we might understand as is, but if there is any meaning in the machine, any awareness of the relation between the concepts, and so on – that doesn’t follow at all.
Except “is”, what makes this kind of system compatible with the way we learn concepts is this – while it is necessary to have some input from the neurons in order to form concepts, concepts are possible which are based on the morphological information, and which don’t depend on the information about “external” world. Such is the case for the mentioned concept of “circle”, or mentioned concept of “inside/outside of shape”, and so on. Those are based on the morphological semantics.
So, we can have some kind of a priori synthetic judgments in this picture, as far as we can put in work some kind of reverse-activation process, call it “imagination”, in which the concept can somehow activate the possible input space from which this concept can be abstracted, and then the machine can figure out that some other concept will also be activated in that case. (Of course how far the reverse-activation process goes is another issue, it can just to one previous level, or very close to the sensory input. One might imagine “fixing in the imagination” the position of the “circle”, so that one can “imagine circle on a specific place”).

Cross Modal Concepts

What we imagined thus far is a two-dimensional matrix of sensors. If we compare those with “eyes” we can also imagine different sensors. We can imagine “ears”, “skin” and so on. Each of those can have its own semantics, but if we want to compare this system to us, we need to have cross-modal semantics, a semantics which will “integrate” eyes, skin, ears, and so on in one semantics. We should be able to say that the voice comes “from left”, and it should be the same concept “left” as in the visual information, etc… To do that, we need to imagine that there is “integration” of semantics from different sensory inputs , which means that one set of abstractions “work” upon information which comes from different sensory modalities.
One interesting thing to think about, is that on sufficient level of abstraction, we can have a central “less/more” comparison semantics. In any case if by learning “more/less” once we are to be able to use it in every case of different concepts.


One can speak about “metaphors” also in this model. Because in the hierarchy of abstractions same abstractions might appear in different things (that is, same abstract structure might appear), together with backward-activation mentioned in case of “synthetic a priori judgments” + some abstractions (ignoring some things about the concept), one can imagine that one can “get” from one concept to the other more or less easily, depending on the similarity of the abstractions which are the concept.

Connected to this, and the cross-modal working of some of the concepts, one can speak about e.g. time is length in space metaphor, by pointing that there is a cross-modal abstraction which is applied for both cases. Of course that is not the only way to “implement” it.

Happy Birthday To The Blog, Blogging Will Be Light

It’s been one year from the opening of A Brood Comb. Many thanks to the readers and all helpful comments and emails in the last year.

The blogging will be light in future on this blog. I feel that I need to think more on some issues before posting further, and that will take lot of time, lot of reading, learning and thinking. Also, I have some professional projects that I need to spend more time on (Which in past few years consisted mostly of developing of the LCMS system in Xyleme).

In this post let me just recapitulate some of the views I hold in general.

1.The notions of physics are incommensurable with the everyday notions of color, sounds, intentionality (“thinking of”, “seeing X”, “fearing X”, etc…), emotions, and so on. The project of reducing the second to the first seems to me as impossible as the project of the Pythagoreans of reducing everything to a math notions. And it seems to me also as analogous one, number being one abstraction, and physics adding new ones like mass, position, time, momentum, energy, and so on.

2.Dualism in general is accepting this given position, but instead of taking that the problem is in the impossibility to reduce the world to a set of abstract notions used in physics, it takes the assumption of “physical world as ground” as given, and tries to place those other notions in the realm of mental, which is seen as separate. The problem of interaction and the lack of it (in epiphenomenalism) instead of solving, produces a lot of new issues.

3.So, instead of these views, I think that the more plausible view is where we accept a richer world as a ground instead of that one described by physics. What is meant by richer is open for discussion. At least, it should be as rich as the world of naive realism and include the notions of which we are directly aware as mentioned in the point 1. Then we talk about physical description of that world, without reducing it to merely physical world.

4.In relation to 3., an account of the relation is needed between the world and its physical description. In simplest form this relation is understandable as one of abstraction – any measurement of physical quantity being abstraction (in sense that one ignores lot of things, and attends just to one specific aspect). More specifically measurements are connected to the “ideal measurement apparatus” – what constitutes a measurement of time, what constitutes a measurement of length, of speed, and so on. I take seriously the possibility that if one understands exactly those measurements, and the symmetries that appear as a result of the nature of those measurements – that lot of what we call “physical laws” will be merely a consequence of the nature of the concepts of physics (connected to the the ideal measurements concepts). If that is so, those “physical laws” will tell us about the world just as much as the mathematical theorems tells us.

5.As an abstract description, the physical can’t describe fully the world. I think that that phenomena as quantum mechanical uncertainty is related to this thing. In describing the richness of the world through abstract categories, necessarily there will be a missing information. In connection to the nature of measurements mentioned in 4, I hope it to be possible for this to be understood more clearly, by appeal to the nature of the physical measurements and their relations.

6.In relation to 4 – instead of the mystical relations of dualism, in this picture we have a possibility of relation between the world and its physical description (or any other abstract description), and we are expecting in this picture for whatever is happening in the world, to be also visible at the abstract levels. So, even the physical laws might be just on level of mathematical theorems (i.e. tell us nothing about the world), whatever is happening in the world will be visible on physical level, and more than that the physical laws will hold (for the description given on that level). However, as mentioned in 5, some things are lost, and thus we can talk about two things… “Abstractifacts”… things whose functioning is connected merely to some abstract categories – and the human made machines would fall in this category (also the procedures like those for multiplying two decimal numbers on paper would fall here). And real things whose functioning is not reducible to those abstract categories. The humans and animals would fall in this category, namely are not abstractifacts, as the possibility of their to access the non-abstract notions can’t be analyzed in terms of abstract notions. A consequence of this would be for example that zombies are impossible, because they can’t be created based on abstract models.

7.It is possible for the subject to become aware of the world and the relations of the notions used to describe it (including the metaphysical, epistemological and other notions), and only as far this is possible, the philosophy is possible. In such way, I’m inclined towards idealism and seeing the world as a reasonable place. As, in this view the “problematic” things aren’t pushed under the carpet of the mental, nor are (wrongly) equated with physical abstractions, but are in the world, and are accessible to the subjects in that world, the issue of other minds is also handled not by appeal to everyone having theories about the intentional behavior and mental processes of the other, but by learning about real phenomena in the (unreduced) world – phenomena which can be noticed.


Even there will not be lot of posts, I will check and maintain the blog including the list of philosophy lecture videos, which gets 50-100 hits every day, and the blog aggregator that gets around 20-30 visitors every day. You are welcome to submit a link to a new video, or link to a new philosophy blog to be added to the aggregator (or maybe some other feature/change you would like to see there)…

Happy Birthday To Me

Instead of cake, I put several music videos in the widget on the left sidebar featuring traditional (folk) songs from my country which you probably wouldn’t hear otherwise.

And here is one more – just audio, it is by local band called Synthesis(which is in the first video from the sidebar) featuring Toše Proeski(the singer from the fifth video from the sidebar)