[FoRK] materialism

Jef Allbright <jef at jefallbright.net> on Sun Dec 30 08:38:50 PST 2007

On 12/30/07, Russell Turpin <deafbox at hotmail.com> wrote:
> From: jef at jefallbright.net:
> > Even more philosophically, I would argue that by each action an agent
> > demonstrates commitment to an ontology, albeit one that is necessarily
> > incomplete and evolving.
> Or whimsical. Or vengeful. Or reluctant. Or pretend. Or
> any of the other attributes that characterize motive and
> agency. Which pretty much belies the notion that
> commitment can be inferred, much less ontology.

By "Even more philosophically", I meant "at a deeper level of
understanding", beyond the illusion of a discrete self and its
attendant unwarranted assumption of an objective point from which to
"rationally" commit or not commit to any particular ontology.

When Lucas Gonze wrote " Lately I have stopped saying that I am an
atheist. Instead I am saying that I am a materialist.", I thought
something like "good for you, but your formulation is essentially
incomplete, like describing the nature of an aircraft wing without
reference to the fluid through which it travels, without which any
discussion of dynamics is empty and meaningless."

Please note in the above paragraph that I did not say or mean
"technically incomplete" in the sense that a technical description is
necessarily incomplete due to the impossibility of including an
effectively complete description of the environment.  Rather, I said
it was "essentially incomplete", due to the model lacking any
description of an observer.  Please note also that in my analogy of
the airfoil, the atmospheric fluid acts not as the environment but as
the **context** supporting the **meaning** of an airfoil, and by
extension an aircraft wing, and so on.  [Contrast with the **meaning**
of an airfoil-shaped structure embedded in an environment of solid

My point here is that meaning inheres entirely in the observer,
dependent entirely on context, and to say "I am a materialist" leaves
a large gap in the description of meaning-making.

So, when Russell Turpin wrote "Philosophically, I don't think it's
rational to commit oneself
to an ontology." -- while making a perfectly valid point within the
limited context of a hypothetical rational actor -- it's jarring in
that it purports to improve upon the statement by Lucas Gonze while
compounding the error of the transparent assumption of an objective

Of course such thinking follows a long line of tradition going back
(at least) to Descartes' famous and flawed "Cogito...", but to
summarize my point in very few words, Descartes wasn't a Basyesian.

- Jef

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