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Re: Misleading Indicators: "Mirror" Metaphor/"Real Principles
by francesco ranci
17 June 2002 10:18 UTC
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Dear Luke Rondinaro,

My problem with the mirror metaphor is that, as the
skeptical tradition pointed out repeatedly, we can not
compare the results of our mental activity with
anything else than other results of mental activity.

The "mirror" metaphor implies a comparison of two
(sets of)items - one "ouside" and the other "inside"
our mind/brain(s). We would have, for example, a
"real" horse versus a "representation" of a horse and
we would be sure that we are in front of a horse only
when comparing our representation with the real thing,
and find them similar enough. This is an undue and
impossible spatial duplication of the items of which
our knowledge is made (of the horse, in this case) -
that puts us in the unhappy situation of never knowing
if what we perceive is "real" or "unreal".

What I argue, instead, is that we compare memorized
items with currently perceived items: so that the
comparison is actually between two results of mental

The discovery of how this happens is, and will be I
hope, a fascinating enterprise.

Language, scientific activity and many other topics
are involved, but I would stop this letter here for
now and wait for your comments before continuing. I
may already be on a wrong path of thoughts.

Best regards,
Francesco Ranci
--- Luke Rondinaro <larondin@yahoo.com> wrote:
> Francesco Ranci wrote:
> I find the metaphor of the "mirror" (when you say:
> "The terms we use and the intellectual formulations
> we make roughly “mirror” the realities we are
> talking about, but they are not the realities
> themselves") very misleading. A misleading metaphor
> that I fear even more than the misleading indicators
> we started talking about.
> I do not believe in "real principle behind" an item
> of language, if you mean by that something that is
> not a result of our mental activity. I would enjoy a
> friendly discussion about this crucial topic. 
> **********
> What do you find misleading about “mirror”?  It
> seems to me to be a very good metaphor to use when
> discussing these issues we’ve been talking about
> (and, yes, many other intellectual concerns).  
> Indeed, my phraseology of a rough[ened] “mirror”
> seems quite adequate to the task of arriving at the
> truth of such realities. The “mirror” is not a
> perfect mirror, and our words/concepts in and of
> themselves can’t fully “replicate” or even
> completely “image” such realities, but they can get
> a fraction of the way there towards doing do (even
> if the ratio for this is only 1 in a million-plus
> chance of being able to accomplish this feat).  Even
> this is worlds more of an accomplishment above
> absolutely “not” being able to do so.  
> If there’s absolutely no connection between the
> realities we try to study and our
> (terms/intellectual formulations/and even our
> descriptions or explanations of such matters), then
> why should we even bother ourselves?  If that’s the
> case, wouldn’t it be a lot more sensible for us all
> to be doing something else with our lives? [This is
> a perfectly serious, perfectly honest,
> well-intentioned question with no cutting sarcasm
> intended] ... What do you think about this point I
> am making here? ... 
> “Real Principles” behind
> words/conceptions/understandings/descriptions/&
> explanations) may be problematic, I would agree. 
> Problematic, for one reason, because: single words
> and simple concepts themselves cannot possibly
> encapsulate or adequately describe the realities of
> our world (even if we accept the axiom that ‘words
> have [real] meaning.’)  Problematic, for another
> reason, because: have we {and can we} truly gear[ed]
> our rudimentary language toward an adequate
> description or explanation of things we perceive in
> our world?  And, is it within the power of language
> – communication – to be able to do so? If it’s not,
> then what can language do?  What can it accomplish
> in and of its own communicative power?
> Clearly many of the Greco-Roman Classics and late
> Medieval Scholastics believed that language could
> more clearly “mirror” the realities of the universe.
>  {Perhaps, others in the long human past and around
> the globe, also believed in the ability of the human
> mind to strive after and attain a true knowledge of
> reality or at least a symbolized counterpart of
> such.  But even if they did have vastly different
> visions of metaphysical-cosmological reality in our
> world, and didn’t aspire to the former notion, they
> did, it seems, posit some level of a connection
> among words-meaning-realties if only in a very
> minimalistic sense.
> Your point is a very interesting one when you say “I
> do not believe in a "real principle behind" an item
> of language, if you mean by that something that is
> not a result of our mental activity.” Would you be
> willing to say, then, that you wouldn’t believe in
> even a real material thing existing behind an item
> of language (i.e., the idea that our words can – or
> may - correspond to material realities)?  Would you
> say that our conscious and more importantly
> subconscious sensed perceptions of the real world
> have been shaped by what I can only call our
> conscious mental activities?  Or is there a level to
> our senses & perceptions of that reality that
> precedes our higher mental activities?  These are my
> basic questions on such a matter.
> The way I understand “real” principles is this. 
> They’re different from the intellectual notions we
> formulate (conveniently termed by the Scholastics of
> the Late Medieval era (Scotists and Thomists) as
> being “intellectual principles.”)  Real principles
> underlie Real things, whether one chooses the
> Platonic interpretation of such or the Aristotelian.
>  Clearly these “real principles” are not real
> material things, but still I would bet both
> Aristotle and Plato would be hard pressed to call
> these things ‘spiritual’ realities as modern
> Catholic scholars have done.  These “real
> principles” may be nothing more than dimensional
> aspects of unitary, substantial realities or things;
> distinguished from our conceptions by the fact of
> our senses/minds first noticing or perceiving such
> realities, then formulating a set of ideas about
> them.  
> But, more and more, I tend to view these “real
> principles” as being something else, something far
> more scientifically intriguing than just dimensional
> aspects of things. I tend to think what we’re
> witnessing, in terms of real principles, are
> templates of sorts.  Maybe they are bundles of
> energy-force relationships that precede matter and
> more complex forms of radiant energy.  They’d act
> like rudimentary bonds for real things, keep them
> held together in their substantial forms, and from
> dissipating into nothingness, or better-said, base
> matter/energy which we might probably even perceive
> as being nothingness.  This may be a misconception
> on my part, but that’s what I think.  (If I’m wrong
> or if I have mischaracterized any scientific
> understanding of things though what I’ve said in
> this paragraph, someone please correct me).
> In any case, these are a few of my questions for you
> on the topic and, indeed, some of my basic
> understandings/perspectives.  I invite you now to
> respond to my questions and offer some of your own
> ideas.  Anyone else is welcome to jump in with
> pointers also.  I look forward to hearing from you. 
> Best! 
> Luke R.
> ---------------------------------
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