Here's to a good time, a good life, and a good death.
So for my first “official” post, I would like to establish the roots of how I am looking at the world. I want it to be academic and in doing so, utilize a good set of disciplinary, analytic tools under the proper conceptual framework. I’m going to call this the Functional Approach Methodology (FAM). FAM is a process of analyzing the relational components between different interactive agents or variables; it incorporates many of the concepts of complexity theory.
It is generally understood in the scientific academic circles, that in order to test the validity of an idea, one must determine the measurable properties of a subject. Further, no measurement correctly captures all information; measurements are all flawed in some capacity. Thus, we always want to recognize multiple measures and acknowledge their subsequent flaws.
In its most fundamental form, we might say the world carries in it two primary types of native mental processing. First, we have individuals who observe the world in a polarized, two-way fashion where categorically they distinguish for the majority of the time on two different dimensions. This is commonly described as “black and white” thinking. Many people think in this fashion, simply because it is the default way to think about the world. It is easier to think on two dimensions than multidimensions. Thinking in a simpler fashion also allows for a sort of “ignorance is bliss” phenomenon to occur. In other words, if I think that God either exists or does not exist, then all I have to do is answer that question. There are no in-betweens. It becomes easier to arrive at a given answer, and becomes easier to satisfy myself with that particular answer simply because the only options are A or F, there can’t be a B,C, or D.
Now, individuals who generally share a skeptical disposition or find themselves often more interested in “discovering truth” will find that dualistic thinking fails to account for the complexity given in many situations. They become less contented with answers and realize that thinking “black and white” often fails to yield “informed and well-thought” answers.
Now, this is not to say that dualistic thinking cannot be useful for certain types of categorization. It can work well for separating apart concepts of distinct thresholds; Just like anything in this world, it has some merits. However, I just want to emphasize that being trapped in this mode of thinking becomes harmful when you are A) either not aware of it or B) unable to move outside the boundaries of it.
So, in essence, I am advocating that we see the world in “shades of grey” or rather in a gradient-based approach. This frames concepts in relative degrees rather than in concrete terms.
For example: Instead of water being viewed as either only “hot” or “cold” we should think of water as “warmer relative to X” or “colder relative to Y” etc.
The reason that I use water as an example is that warm and cold are merely interpretations of relative concepts. They are relative to a person’s senses and corresponding expectations. In other words, one person may say the water is warm, while another says the same body of water is cold.
So how do we graphically visualize multidimensional thinking or “shades of grey” thinking? A good way to demonstrate this is to construct some sort of physical representation of a theoretical base. This is formed in the number line seen below.
Subject Matter <—————————————>
This number line spans the possible values that the respective subject can take. For my example, the subject is water and one of the properties that it can hold is motion or heat. The line demonstrates the various values within the water’s property of heat. We will say that 0 is neutral and either direction illustrates either positivity (right) or negativity (left). Once the values of the property have reached a specified threshold of some sort, we can then better define or delineate that new subject. That’s where the beginning of dualistic thinking can take merits, e.g. boiling and freezing points. Those thresholds demonstrate the concept of a tipping point found in complexity theory.
(Negativity) cold <—–x—-|———-|———–|——–>
(Positivity) hot <———|———-|———–|-x——>
Graph of Tipping Point (for illustrative purposes)
To elaborate on the idea of a tipping point, think of how water drastically changes in its properties once it surpasses that respective temperature value. For instance, over 212 degrees F, water boils into the air and under 32 degrees F, water freezes to ice. Those are some tipping points for water. Not every threshold is a tipping point, but it is useful to be cognizant of when they are.
Now, what I have provided is a basic example of degree-based thinking where we think on margins rather than on just “is or is not”. In any variety of given scenarios, there are often a variety of concepts like tipping points where the properties can significantly alter the subject. However, right now, I’m simply interested in practicing working with this approach because it will be useful in my applications for morality and religion.
So now, I want to take this way of measuring different subjects and apply the reasoning into language, communication, and morality. For example, in a moral aspect, when we talk about things like “Is physically punching someone wrong?” or “Is lying to someone wrong?” or “Is murder wrong?” we want to think about these questions on multiple dimensions. For instance, so at what point is killing someone now classified as a murder? At what threshold does bending the truth become a lie? how is physically punching someone wrong?
Now, economists like to measure economic activity and thus, think more or less along these lines. Hence, this type of thinking is commonplace in the study of economics, for its the very essence of what microeconomics is founded upon – marginalism. Barzel’s Economic Analysis of Property Rights discusses a very enlightening case study with Nixon’s gas price controls in the 1970s. Anyone interested in learning more about how agents faced with increasing constraints will interact and optimize on new margins can check out that in this book.
I hopefully have established the rudimentary groundwork using gradient-based thinking to help better understand how ideas can be thought of in a better way. A way that can better be measured and hopefully more thoroughly tested. Now, I would like to progress to the next step, which is to actually tackle the main question of this particular post.
Where does meaning come from?
This question is highly relevant to a great deal of what I will be discussing. Frankly, it matters a great deal because it reveals the most core source of how people understand the world and share it between each other. It is the reason for communication, politics, morality, or even religion. Meaning is the source of any individual or collective judgment. Without meaning, how does anyone understand another? And visa versa.
So, then, where does meaning come from?
Well, let’s start with asking how do we communicate meaning to one another? Most fundamentally, humans communicate through language. Spoken language is assigned meaning in the form of verbal cues. Language connects an intentional, structured arrangement of sounds, gestures, or characters to an object, concept, or entity of some sort. Basically, it establishes a correspondence. Assuming language is the product of meaning, we can work backwards and postulate that meaning is derived from the relationship between a person/object to that respective entity/person. Think of bread as an example. We use the ordered combination of characters that form the word “bread” to assign meaning to a combination of food made of flour, water, and yeast or another leavening agent, mixed together and baked. The significance here is that meaning is delivered through the relationship. “Bread” means bread because people associate it that way. A word develops its meaning through the connotative properties assigned to that particular word. And connotative properties come from a complex function of humans relating to concepts to each other. So, we see, that relationship/correspondence becomes the source of meaning; the source of reality in a way. So how do we refine and create more meaning? Through the ability to define in language. We can use words to differentiate “bread” from say a “muffin” or a “crescent role” or a “scone” although each of those bears similar attributes. Without language, communication gets reduced to a very rudimentary level. It becomes very difficult to interact and establish a mutual understanding with another individual. We lose the ability to delineate and define, and thus we effectively lose meaning. Furthermore, put yourself into the past. How does a hunter-gatherer tell his friend about a good hunting spot and coordinate without the use of language? I suppose through hand gestures or pictures, but he’ll be very limited and will be unable to get very specific.
This hashed-out understanding of meaning eventually expounds out into a whole richness of Eastern Thought in the inherent interconnectedness of everything as illustrated in the popular symbol Yin-Yang. This will be explained further later.
This concept matters significantly because it will directly provide us with some fundamental understandings of how we arrive at the word “truth.” For the sake of these lectures, truth will be most fundamentally defined as a correspondence between what someone says and “what is.” We will divide truth into two basic kinds, functional and factual, but more on that later.
So at this point of writing this post, I figured that someone probably had written on this subject of meaning somewhere on the web and I could search and see what they put so I don’t duplicate. Literally, to my amazement, someone had written almost the exact same thing in a blog post before (even on WordPress) and in a much more detailed form on this question of meaning. It’s so good I’m simply going to link and refer others to it. Here one can do much more reading on this subject in fine detail.
And so now I want to try to tie some of this together. We combine gradient-based thinking along with the construction of meaning and we have the concepts to create an illustrative dimensional space. Essentially, we are expounding upon the number line to construct the two dimensional space of a graph. Two dimensional space illustrates the relational composition between two variables. In economics, it is the cornerstone of nearly all fundamental analysis.
2-Dimensional Graph that illustrates a linear relationship between two variables.
Graphs are extremely useful for their practical demonstrations of relationships. In the example above, the linear line shows that when 1 unit of change occurs in X, 1 unit of change subsequently increases in Y. These are the building blocks to observing the world’s relationships in a scientific sense.
Now so far we have been reviewing basic, two-way functional thinking, or a relationship between two variables. However, as I was trying to illustrate with the water example, there can be several different relationships between variables. In using FAM thinking, I will be considering multifunctioning analysis.
Functional Approach Methodology (FAM) – The approach of using a measured, multidimensional analysis of relationships between corresponding entities through using the concepts inherent to economic’s complexity theory. FAM does not produce a value judgement, but instead seeks to better understand the framing of religious and moral contexts by emphasizing the evolving social norms of religious groups. Of course, value judgments are implicit in FAM, like any other framework or approach, but the value judgments tend to be highly objective. In the macro context, FAM postulates that the dynamism of social institutions, religious activity, and spiritual research causes new properties to emerge that impact and generally improve religious interpretation and acceptable behavior; the dynamism can also give rise to new religions and deviant cults.
For instance, in the FAM framework, a religion is not just a belief system that an individual holds. Religion represents an evolving set of institutions based upon similar elements.
So now that we have set the ground for thinking about these pending philosophical questions, let’s test an example.
Let’s take another, more complicated question and see the outcome. A pupil asks “Is God real?” A traditional thinker would say the answer is either yes or no depending on what his thoughts were. But, as gradient thinkers, we should ask, well, it depends, what do you mean by real? Like in a physical or conceptual or spiritual or metaphysical sense? Because depending on what you mean by real, God may be alive, dead, and partly alive/partly dead. The pupil asks “but how can something exist and that same thing not exist at the same time?” We reply, “Well many people believe in God, so as a concept, he definitely exists. But perhaps as an actual metaphysical being that exists in another dimension, maybe he does maybe not. We simply do not know.”
And so, we are just beginning to see how the world seems to be much more complex and much more grey…
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
“The world may be more grey, but sometimes I think people want it that way.”