[ExI] Pure Philosophy Dispute: Are Categories Objective?

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Fri Jun 22 05:47:41 UTC 2007

Jef writes

>> But maybe it's not the fault of the "similarity theory" [that it doesn't
>> return exact quantitative information concerning degrees of 
>> similarity between persons] because we could make the same
>> criticism of any kind of lumping into categories that mammals do.
>> The universe itself can perhaps be blamed, for so easily giving
>> rise to categories.
> You've been polishing your thinking about personal identity based on
> physical/functional similarity for decades and it allows you to see
> that duplicates can be **exactly** the same person.  That idea isn't
> "rough", nor is there any "fault" or "blame"; it's just incomplete.

Yes.  I can just imagine that perhaps (my luck holding) someday
I'll ask an extremely advanced ruling intelligence who deigns to
answer questions for me:  "So exacly how similar was I at age
20 to how I was at age 50?".  It will probably say, "Oh, it depends
on the metric.  There are about 10^4 very appropriate metrics
we can use. May I describe the top 200 or so to you? But first,
let me make sure that you are up to speed first on understanding
just how similar---in quantifiable terms---are the two strings


"Your 20th century 'diff' programs in computer science faced
the same difficulty. Just how similar are two programs? Notice
that some portions of one string above are exactly like displaced
portions of the other.

"Now then. We come to physical objects. I shall next instruct 
you in thirty-three metrics useful for indicating how similar are
two stones of the same mass made of just carbon, silicon, and
oxygen atoms..."

> My point involves the understanding that categories don't "exist"
> ontologically, they are always only a result of processing in the
> minds of the observer(s).

AH HA!   A genuine old-fashioned fundamental hard-core
knock-down drag out philosophical dispute!  Oh, but
it's been a long time!  This should be great.

You are dead wrong.

Categories are mainly *objective* features of our universe. 
There are several arguments I can use to prove this. Let
me begin with the observation that it is no coincidence that
many mammals with rudimentary intelligence are capable of
distinguishing night from day.  The difference between night
and day is entirely objective, and it does *not* merely
reside in the nervous systems of those animals which live
on the surface of the Earth and which can see.  Although
there are of course intermediate cases, basically either
solar radiation is impinging on the Earth (the case called
"day") or it is not, (the case called "not-day" or "night").

Can you imagine an alien intelligence that reached our
solar system that would not place between 8 and maybe
20 objects in orbit around our sun in a special category
that we might as well call "planets"?  They would 
definitely see that about out to 2 AU there are four
outstanding real objects (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and
Mars) that objectively existed and were categorically
distinct from other debris orbiting the sun.  It's hard
to believe that any typical evolutionarily derived 
intelligence that managed to reach our solar system
would be incapable of so distinguishing these objects, 
and I say that it is *no* coincidence that they formulate
almost exactly the same categorization that we have.
Why?  Because that categorization is objective, and
does *not* merely a result of processing in the minds
of "observers".


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