Matter, ontology, metaphysics

There is only evidence that there is matter. This is a question of ontology (of what exists), not of metaphysics (of the nature of that which exists). So we should talk about metaphysics as other than a fact of it being discussed, its “existence” is only that of being a concept.

The suspension metaphor

Speaking to a religiously-inclined friend on a live platform I had asked him what he thought about the concept of suspension of judgement. He said he used it for certain things when necessary. I asked him then isn’t that why not use it for all occasions. Have you not taken a course of judgement before you even started? He spent the next five minutes justifying why it is only useful in some situations only.

If one is to make headway in philosophy one must completely commit to all possibilities. In conversations here, I have suspended my judgement about objects of the mind. By inverting the priority, giving mental reality top position I have encountered seemingly unreconcilable problems. To be sure, there are conditions to which must be created to reach this, that is, “prior convictions” must be established. But then we are no longer suspending judgement as such.

We ask to each other to stand in each other’s shoes, yet we cannot, will not and must not remain in them, but return to our own rightful pair. Philosophical schizophrenia it seems cannot be held on to. Locating oneself is something we perhaps should not be afraid to do. Locating oneself however does not equate to locking into one position. The embodied self is still a kind of mobile body.

In short, the metaphors we choose to use may be the limiting factor to our philosophy. And sometimes it is not by choice, for how does one “suspend” a judgement in the first place? What alternatives do we have but to “suspend” judgement if not for this metaphor.

Why using voice recognition software is an act of language philosophy

I use voice recognition software on a daily basis. I turn to it when I am too lazy to type up on my computer or when I am busy driving but want get the smartphone to do something.

On the computer I use dictation mainly when I am copying text for students’ handouts or online quizzes. This act of requires me to look at a text and type at the same time. Although I am a touch typist, I still quite clumsy at it, especially when the text is not the text I am typing.

Now the mic on the computer is like a mic on any recording like my PCM recorder. It picks up sound. But, while my PCM recorder records the sound as pure audio data and does nothing with it, my computer, when I am dictating to it, does at least one extra step – it transforms that sound into written text. This extra step is like thinking; it needs to recognise the sounds to convert them into the text. In other words, sound and text are not one but two things.

When I dictate to my computer the computer does not initially “know” the meaning of the words. It only recognises the sound patterns then transforms them into corresponding written patterns. From experience, I know that I must pronounce the sounds clearly for the computer to be able to do its job – to transform the sounds into text. But even when I being most careful the computer cannot accurately do this and returns what it thinks the sound patterns it heard. The problem could be

  • my pronunciation,
  • the mic’s inability to pick up the sound because of incidental noise,
  • low level of the sound because I was too far away from them,
  • the quality of the mic,
  • the inability to distinguish similar sounds.

Most of the time I am required spend time to go through the text and edit it. (But, in the end, it still saves me a lot of time.)

Most days, too, I would say to my smartphone things like, “Hey Siri, play music,” or “Hey Siri, what’s my schedule for today?” And it (it isn’t a “she” or “he”, for we can choose and change the voice we desire to hear) would play some songs it thinks I like or maybe tell me I have a doctor’s appoint at 9pm.

Like my computer my smartphone also has a mic. Unlike my computer it is constantly “listening”. Until it hears a sound pattern that is Hey Siri it does nothing (it isn’t converting the sound pattern to the text Hey Siri every time, for that would use too much power). But once it does, it is instructed to

  • listen for new sound patterns,
  • transform the sound patterns into text,
  • decide on the meaning of the text, and then
  • do something (like play music or find and read out the day’s schedule).

What my computer or smartphone isn’t first doing is recognising meaning. It is listening for sound patterns. And before the advent of voice recognition it was looking for written text patterns.

The Hey Siri process is essentially no different than the text conversion process, except it is not converting to text but another action directly – the act of listening for what to convert into text.

As I sit here my wife is doing things like carrying laundry, washing the cups, turning on and off taps, removing plates from dishwashers. But none of these are sounds that I need to convert to text (except for me to translate that for here as to what is physically happening here). These are sound patterns of non-words. But nonetheless they all “translate” to have meaning (that I should feel guilty and start to help her with the day’s work) because I am processing them.

Sound or text patterns as received form (sensation) are undoubtedly separate from meaning (perception). They are clear as the difference between ear and nerve, and brain. The failure of the ear or nerve necessarily means the brain will not receive form from the outside. A person given the gift of sound for the first time with a prosthetic ear will likely break down in tears especially when sound matches vision. The world is a richer place with sensation. It has more meaning.

A serious “concept”

I am utterly serious when I say I do not believe concepts as things.

I am not trying to be clever, only to point out that language fools us into believing that concepts exist as things.

The self referential aspect of “concept” is what I am talking about.

We can never escape concept-as-thing because this is the only way we can deal with it. It is a kind of metaphor.

Do concepts exist?

I like lightning strikes. As an event they are dramatic and violent. They cause damage and they may even kill. But I cannot “catch” a lightning strike like I can catch a lion or a tiger. It is an event, process, action of a thing, not a thing in itself.

It is language that “catches” it as a thing. We call it a lightning strike. We conceive it that way. But we do not “catch” it that way.

Lakoff and Johnson, revolutionised our understanding words with Metaphors We Live By. The book gave us the concept of conceptual metaphor, showing how all language can be metaphorical. It is not just a device literary writers use but something that is inescapable as language. Apart from “literal statements” whatever that may be we have no recourse but to use metaphors.

Do concepts exist?

There are concepts, and concepts of concepts, but not the thing – concept.

Just like lightning strikes they are not things, but processes of things. A lightning strike is the conditions that make the process. Sequence of occurrences that have not “catchable” quality. Unlike lions which are catchable, cage-able.

There is no thing of concepts.

And just like the ‘is’ in the previous sentence is illogical to say there exists a negative. Materially impossible, conceptually create-able. Parmenides found this same problem and concluded that everything must be one. I do not think he drew the right conclusion.