A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

There Are Two Books On My Desk

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on August 30, 2007

Is it an objective truth about the universe that there are currently two books on my desk?

Or is it true that this is a truth only as much a conceptualization of a conscious being (me) is involved.  That aside from the human concept of books (lingering in human minds/brains, intersubjective realm of communication or whatever), there are no books in the ontology of the universe.

Really, if one takes methods of physics, and starts to make analysis of the situation on my desk *at a given moment* one will find a configuration of little particles, or alternatively quantum wave(s). I guess depending how one is analyzing it one could find waves or particles. (Isn’t this an argument that the waves and particles are merely abstraction – an aspect, and that we can find both aspects just depending how we look at the world?)

So, if we think that the results of those analyses at a given moment tell us what the world is at that given moment, in order to claim some objective truths about books, we would need some precise formula to translate this particle-talk or wave-equation-talk to a book-talk. What we need is a definition of book in terms of particles or wave-equations. But, of course such precise equation which would allow such translation is apparently impossible, and so that makes it impossible to talk about objective number of books on my desk.

Now, that would be an example of a reasoning, where human awareness which can handle so many notions and phenomena, is forced into a little box of notions, just because it is this box of notions which are susceptible to the empirical investigation of physics.

If we let our awareness outside of this box (and get back to our normal selves), we can properly analyze the situation in this way… In the past there was a person – Einstein, which was physicist and gave few great theories about movement, gravity, photoelectric effect, and so on. This person sit in some period of his life, and wrote a popular explanation of his theories of relativity. After he wrote it, he found an editor, a publisher, etc… The books started to be produced, then sent to book sellers, bought by readers and so on. Later a translator translated the book to English, and several editions were published. Among other Amazon.com sells them. So, I ordered one of those printed books – Relativity, by Albert Einstein, and got it through post. Now, I have a copy of the book right here on my desk.

While all those things are not a part of any “state of the universe at this moment expressed through the quantum-waves talk or particle talk”, all this really happened. Writers, editors, publishers, sellers, and also writing, editing, producing, selling and so on, are more or less easily identifiable phenomena in the reality. Not because they have nice and clean ‘borders’ that separate those from other phenomena in the reality – indeed, those phenomena exist only as fully dependent on certain contexts. For this or that reason, people are involved in different activities, and those activities aren’t in some unrecognizable continuum, there are borders even if they are fuzzy, and even they are dependent on the context. The books are phenomenon, which is part of the wider context of the phenomena. For these or those reason, people actually write prose in this or that format, and publisher publish it in this or that format. Those reasons are there to be found… Probably have to do with history, maybe with incidental decisions and other things. But pretty complex story can be told about those phenomena, even in some parts it might by fuzzy.

If we look at the world in this way, and see the history of events, and the wealth of phenomena relevant for what makes a book – a book, any of those books on my desk is objectively a book, because it is part of this phenomenon of there being books which I in short described (really full description would go into the history of printing, the history of the writing in general, and so on). What is relevant for it to be a book, is not present in the physical description of the universe at this moment, but there are also truths about the past, and there are complex phenomena of which we are aware of, and which while not self-subsistent are real.

And so, having on the desk, Einstein’s Relativity, and Mario Livio’s The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved, I have on my desk two books. It is an objective truth.

Now, I guess the biggest problem one can have with approaching the issues in this way, is accepting that the physical description is merely an abstraction – an aspect of the reality which ‘leaves’ aside lot of things from which it abstracted from (really everything which can’t be nicely quantified). If one doesn’t accept that, I think it will be hard to accept that one can talk about different aspects (also abstractions) which are not reducible to the physical description, but of which we can become aware of (be it phenomena of bachelors, chairs, books, tigers, and so on).  BTW, the talk of supervenience doesn’t go with this story too – one can talk only about the correlation of the different aspects in this or that way.


4 Responses to “There Are Two Books On My Desk”

  1. I really like your view on things.

  2. I guess this might be some spam thing, and not a real person. But I rather say thank you to a bot than be rude to a visitor with nice words for my view on things…

    So – thank you Brittany L. :)

  3. Enigman said

    Very thought-provoking post… I think that there being 2 books on the desk is objectively physical because there are 2 connected solid lumps there, that can be picked up and moved about. Those chemical bonds are real, even if there are really only physical particles, forces etc. If a few particles fall away or adhere now and then, there remain the 2 connected solid lumps (?)

  4. Thanks Enigman!

    I agree that usually books are solid lumps, but I want to put attention on two things:

    1. Not everything which is solid lump is a book. So while the statement “there are two solid lumps on my desk” might be reducible to some physical description, it is not same as “there are two books on my desk”. I think that even if one is physicalist, she would need to either a) say that the fact that there are two books on my desk supervenes on the history of physical events (and not just the physical state of affairs now), which would include the people who wrote the books, their motivations, being in the society in which writing a book is a social phenomenon (hence maybe going into the history of the writing, language), etc… or b)deny that there is objective state of affairs that there are two books on my desk

    2. Books can be worn-out, pages can get disconnected, even the book can be cut into two (or more) physically unconnected parts. I think we still would talk about having two books on the table, even if we instead chemical forces what holds the pages together is the fact that they are placed on the table one on another.

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