Friday, 4 March 2011

Deep thought Friday

Normal service resumes then after last week's relatively earthbound subject. Of course, if you do want to go back a fortnight to respond to Jennie, there's nothing at all to stop you.

Here's this week's though, in the form of two related questions. Have a go at one or both.

Do we have any terms for things which just don't exist? Switching that round, are there things which exist we just don't have any terms for?

20 comments:

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

Define _exist_. Are we strictly talking about physical objects or are we talking about concepts as well?

Porky said...

Anything at all, concepts included. I'm using 'thing' only because I'm not sure 'entity' covers more. Go wide!

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Now, how are we supposed to describe a thing that exists but we don't have terms for?

Capcha: Adam Ingl. I wonder where he's from?

Porky said...

You've just done it, surely?

I have the sense capchas have been getting more fun recently, more purposely reminiscent of existing words. If so, it could be to make them less an intrusion. It might even be a fairly simple matter to match them to the subject of the site the comment is on. I got 'CONAN' a little while back, at ix I think.

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

In that case, anything that has been termed exists, if only conceptually. At most language can attempt to refer to non- or possibly non-existent things. Take the word "infinite" for instance. At most it is a far-reaching assumption and not a description of anything that is known to be.

As for the inverse: Yes. Absolutely. These include everything that we are not aware of, especially those things that lie outside our ability to comprehend.

Porky said...

The first explanation I can't dispute, but to answer the first question we would still need to say whether a thing with a term definitely can't exist.

If the inverse is the second question, I agree completely, in the narrow sense of an existing term. In the wider sense, could a thing which exists not be possible to give a term to?

ArmChairGeneral said...

Anything that has yet to be defined in the oceans of the Earth and the black ocean around it.

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

@Pork: Given the current complexity of human languages, I think there are far more things in the universe that are beyond our ability to grasp than those things which we have only begun to consider. Our comprehension is rudimentary.

Porky said...

@ ArmChairGeneral - As a tight answer to the question, I'd take 'oceans' to be 'spaces', 'Earth' to be 'world' and 'black' to be 'unperceived', but it's music to the eyes every which way!

@ Greg Gorgonmilk - More music to the eyes! A tale I like on just this theme.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

Some would argue many points in religion are things we have words for that don't exist.. the opposite is also true.. some of the religious would suggest much in science doesn't actually exist.

"null" is something that doesn't exist, but it's been given a name.. though technically "nulls" exist, it's just they are pure nothing. Does that count?

As for unnamed things that exist, yes. Every now and then we hear about a new disease that's not yet classified. For example, up until recent years (last decade or so maybe?) there wasn't a name for the disease that causes people to grow bone when they heal. Sounds cool at first, but it includes ALL healing the body does... pull a muscle, and bone grows through/around the muscle) I'm sure there's other rare diseases like this..

In science, there's A LOT of theories of things that can't be proven to exist.. or if one exists, it disproves another theory. Science makes shit up all the time.


sooo, yeah, I'd say there are unnamed things in existence and named things that don't exist.

ArmChairGeneral said...

Ah but what if one truncates or deprecates null?

John Lambshead said...

I write fantasy and SF - most of my language is for things that don't exist - starting with my Royalties. John

ArmChairGeneral said...

JOhn I Hear you there bud!

Von said...

Would dark matter qualify, as an occupant of that realm of 'stuff that exists mathematically and conceptually, but can't be perceived'?

Paul´s Bods said...

Muh ha ha!! Easy! Names for things that don´t exist.
The name for things that have happened...The PAST
The name for things that may happen....The FUTURE
The thing that ties them together....TIME
The thing that allows these to be...THOUGHT
All of these are concepts...therefore don´t exist.
There´s loads of others, Love, Hate, desire, jealousy and and....
Maybe I´m being a bit too Anti-realistic ie;
my meaning is I´m saying basically that we have no access to a mind-independent reality even if it may exist but that mind-independent objects do exist.Time, love, future etc are not mind-independant objects...they are as i have said concepts, quatifiers, abstractions...names in end effect. All pretty notional. ;-D
Cheers
Paul

Porky said...

Blimey. A hot subject then. You've got me thinking hard.

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus - "Some would argue many points in religion are things we have words for that don't exist.. the opposite is also true.. some of the religious would suggest much in science doesn't actually exist."

I'm glad you used "many" and "much". The two do seem to me too to overlap far more than some suggest.

Re illness, here's an interesting thought. If at the moment the disease is first noticed, that information is processed linguistically by the observer, we have one condition met. For the second condition, how do we know with an absolute certainty the disease existed before the moment at which it was noticed?

Re null, I don't know. Conceptually yes.

@ ArmChairGeneral - I still don't know..! Be careful though. What's stopping null biting back and deprecating or truncating us?

@ John Lambshead - I hope that's not any part my fault.

@ Von - If I only knew that..! I'd say 'mathematically' and 'conceptually' are already forms of perception. When we get this far down the road, objective existence starts to feel a clumsy concept. It takes me back to those overlapping circles, which now seem far too few.

@ Paul's Bods - Mind-dependence could be what we're getting at here. I have some speculations on this here. You should set the stuff on time out in a fuller form. This is the third comment at least circling the subject.

Jedediah said...

We have a ton of words for things that don't exist or better only exist as the absence of other things, privatives like darkness or cold or debt. We talk about abstractions a great deal but does that make them things? Paul mentioned love and hate as great examples for that.

There must be a ton of things out there for which we don't have any words or even a basic concept that would help us find the words. But I'm sure we will be able to adapt once we come across them. We are not the storytelling ape for being mute in the face of new things.

Jennie said...

Lao Tzu wrote that the named is the mother of the ten thousand things. At the instant that you name or conceptualize, you cause a rupture, a separation of something that previously did not exist apart from the undifferentiated Tao. I wrote a little about how this relates to fiction and things that might be said to not exist here recently. In some ways I don't know that something can be said to exist *as a ‘thing’* without being named. Things, are, after all, merely phenomena or ideas that we think share enough common elements or patterns that we have decided to group them together for the purposes of discussion. The boundaries that we place on “things” are largely arbitrary artifacts of the boundaries and scales of our own perceptions.

A consciousness that operated on bacterial, viral, or molecular scales of time and space would be unlikely, for example, to recognize a ‘human being’ as a “thing”, until very, very late in their cultural development. Recognizing what we would call an “ecosystem” or a “society” would be even more unlikely , simply because we are so big and slow in relation to them that the small-scale (to us) discontinuities and differentiations would be so much more obvious than the unifying aspects that they would likely be unable to perceive the coherence and continuity that appear only when looking at much, much larger scale phenomena. Likewise, a consciousness operating on planetary or galactic scales of time and space would be unlikely to recognize many small, fast 'things' that we believe to be obvious.

So I think that in many ways, no 'thing' really exists except as an idea or concept, so one could easily argue, depending on how one defines one's terms, that everything we talk about exists and does not exist, and that undoubtedly, many things may exist that we can neither perceive or conceptualize, and that there is no 'thing' that we cannot name or describe that could be said to exist.

It all comes down to how you look at it and how you talk about it.

Jennie said...

One more thing re:disease. Disease is primarily a conceptual construct that is largely independent of the physical phenomena laypeople typically associate with it. Did the 17th century patient with "quartan fever" and the 21st century patient with Plasmodium malariae infection both have the same disease? It wouldn't have been called the same thing, but the symptoms would be identical. The 17th century physician would almost certainly have scoffed if someone had attributed his patient's illness to "animalcules" or suggested that insect bites, rather than miasmas from swamps, were the means of transmission. He would have effectively treated his patient with Peruvian bark, which contains quinine, still one of the most potent and effective anti-malarials, and the likely treatment for the 21st century malaria patient as well. Two patients, only a few hundred years apart, with identical symptoms and identical effective treatments, would have been considered by their physicians to suffer from different diseases.

Let's consider another pair of patients, this time both here in 21st century North America. One has intermittent episodes of severe fatigue, joint pain without evidence of joint destruction or bony changes, hair loss, waxy casts in the urine, and an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate. The other has a persistent red rash across the face and chest, chronic inflammation of the membranes around the heart and lungs, and antibodies against her own DNA. Even though both are in the same place at the same time and they have very different symptoms, and very different experiences of their illness, they would both likely be diagnosed with the same disease - Systemic Lupus Erythematosis.

So the question of what a disease is and whether the disease exists in the patient without the diagnosis is even more complicated than it first appears.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

It's not lupus.