[ExI] The Reality of Categories

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Tue Jul 17 21:17:48 UTC 2007

Mike writes

> [Lee wrote]
> > [Stathis wrote]
> > > What would you actually say to an alien who
> > > thought you were crazy to assert that the rock
> > > was the same rock as yesterday?
> >
> > I would first make sure that there was not a communication
> > problem.  Then I would ask him why the two rocks were
> > not the same.  He might say that one was a "today-rock"
> > and one was a "yesterday-rock", but that would probably
> > indicate nothing more than a communication or language
> > difficulty.
> I wonder if the communication problem could be resolved.
> Sure, we can agree on language usage, but ultimately the
> message originates from a specific perspective and must
> reach a destination perspective different from that origin.
> In a human-to-human context, there is enough similarity
> in past experience that the point of view on an abstract
> point is negligible.

Yes, one is always struck by how quickly Europeans and
native peoples were able to understand each other. Cortez
(and I think Columbus himself) really had very little difficulty
in making themselves understood.  It's just as you say: the
human-to-human context could overcome thousands of years
of nearly absolute linguistic separation.

> Given the parallax between human and alien perspectives,
> there may be increasing difficulty constructing any language-
> encapsulated thought that could be properly received and
> understood.  Perhaps over the course of enough context-
> sharing where human-thought becomes more alien and
> alien-thought becomes more human, the gap can be narrowed.

Without doubt!  Especially if I'm right about categories being
universal and objective. In all likelihood the alien would have
"cut" up the physical world the same way we do, and I would
not be too surprised if his or her or its social world was
similarly configured.  Of course, science-fiction writers have
been in the forefront of exploring alien psychologies, though
I don't remember any of them dwelling for long on the
initial first-contact communication difficulties.  Oh, I take
that back:  I got halfway through "Blindsight" (before giving
up on it), and it went on and on and on and on and on in
the most mystifying way possible underscoring over and over
how nonsensical and bizarre the aliens seemed to be.
That may have been the most irritating feature of the book;
the ancient technique of substituting obscurity for difficult
description, which possibly started, I dunno, as far back as
the thirties?

> I also considered the rock example as a point of view
> problem like this:  The rock is the monolith from 2001:
> A Space Odyssey.  We are each in the same plane
> relative to the monolith, at equal distance and right
> angles.  You see a black surface that is 1 unit by 4 units.
> I see a black surface 1 unit by 9 units.  We are in
> agreement about the 1 unit measure (I assume our
> concept of "black surface" also agrees)  Our
> description of the other observable dimension
> is inherently a matter of our positions relative to
> the object.  A third (contrived) observer in another
> plane may only see the 4x9 face.  We may have
> some language or communication medium with
> which to exchange our concept of this object,
> but without a frame of reference we won't be
> able to communicate properly.

What?  Unless I've misunderstood, NO WAY.
Each of us sees the entire parallepiped, just as
you see a circle inscribed in a figure on a piece
of paper before you.  (You *perceive* an
ellipse, it is true, a point that wouldn't be called
for here except that this thread is about categories.)

> I wonder if the aliens from this example can
> directly observe a temporal dimension of the
> rock as we would examine spatial dimensions.

That'd be *great*  for their survival capabilities!
That such would be so powerful and yet it hardly
seems to have evolved to much (if any) degree
is what keeps me doubtful about psi.


> If that were true, then they would be more like the third observer than any in "our" plane.  I always wondered if the monolith's 
> dimension 1x4x9 continued as squares of the dimension, such that the fourth dimension of the monolith would be 16, etc.  Also, 
> considering the vanishing point notion of perspective, could a sufficiently wide object be detectable along its width even if the 
> depth were too small (less than a Planck length)  [reminds me of Flatland (1)]
(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatland

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list