I want to make this into a series – writing about words that in my opinion have no base in reality. It is kind of fun to think this through for certain words but it also has practical reasons.
When I talk to someone about science, philosophy or even just everyday things, discussions often run into a dead end. More and more I notice that it’s often simply a problem of word definition. And not rarely the word/topic we discuss does not even exist in reality. Having an argument about it is a waste of time.
I’ve tried here before to argue about this in the case of “free will”. Which also shows you that these “false words” are not just keeping me and my friends busy – but can spawn whole fields of philosophy and science.
But before I go into tougher concepts like free will, let’s take “ghosts” as an example. It’s an easy one but illustrates really well what I mean. We could have endless discussions about ghosts… can they go through walls? Can they then fall through the ground? Can we see them? Can cameras see them?… forever and ever. If we would realize that ghosts are a mere fantasy, then it changes the whole discussion. Any argument about “what is true” becomes useless. One could still invent stories about them, but its more fun knowing there is no right or wrong.
The example of a ghost also illustrates how alluring a false concept can be. Everyone can imagine ghosts. In fact, most people nowadays still believe in ghosts. And historically it was so common, that it was accepted as part of reality.
Thats why I argue: Many other concepts are just as believable as ghosts were. But they are still around, since they’re harder to check. And this attractiveness keeps even the smartest people busy thinking about them – which is just as wasteful as if they would think about ghosts all day.
If I should indeed have the drive to continue the series, then I need proper conditions what I mean with “does not exist”. So here’s a try:
– a definition is not possible – or it’s definition has logical flaws.
– the currently existing definition is not realized in the real world (as object or concept).
I’ve shown above the logical problems with defining ghosts – and I think this definition problem is an important hint on at non-existence.
But the fact that things can exist in our minds makes the whole idea more complicated. The ghost for example does exist in our imagination and in stories. And while science can tell us convincingly that ghosts do not exist in the real world – with other concepts it’s tougher. But I do want to try to only accept words as “existent” if they are also outside our heads.
The second example of “wolves” will make the trouble clear.
I’m sure you have an image in your head. But what would your definition be? An animal with big legs, big ears, big eyes, big teeth. The Greeks believed there could be an ideal of what something is – and that’s how we know a horse is a horse, a wolf is a wolf. But we learned now its tricky, there are different kinds of wolves and it slowly developed out of other creatures. There is no easy way to tell from the outside – a coyote could be mixed up if someone just goes by a simple description.
We could go by gene code. But that’s still fuzzy. When did an animal become a wolf?
Also only a tiny percentage of the cells of a wolf we see are filled with its DNA. As with humans the majority is made of bacteria and other single cell organisms, that live in symbiosis with the actual wolf cells.
Let’s try this: A wolf is a creature made out of many organisms, but held together by cells of wolf-DNA. The skin is the boundary.
Maybe you already see problems there: is everything within the wolf a wolf then? What if he ate a bunny? And this is all just in our human head – the universe itself doesn’t care about the skin boundary. We know that around the skin is a layer of bacteria for protection. Thus wolf changes the environment – so it becomes part of him. Everything mixes. A hint at that is that if you would have to define this animal, you would have to include his environment and that he lives in packs for example. And as major fail from my side: the definition of wolf actually includes the word wolf.
Proves what I’m trying to say though: It is tough to define anything. Any concept we can define will be fuzzy in some way.
Well, we can roughly live with this description. So conclusively: Wolves are a concept. The universe itself does not really care about concepts – but we can find this equivalent in the real world. Thus we can talk about them and research them. We should not though simply take this for granted.
Ghosts are a concept that is harder or even impossible to define – and they have no representation in the real world. Spending too much time on thinking about these things, beyond entertainment, is a waste of time and may lead to wrong roads.
And to anyone who has read ’til here: Welcome to my head! :)