Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Ordinary vs. the Ontological

Epistemic status: provisional, may break something else I've already said.

If you come to this post from a link, it may be helpful to read this part from the end first:

I tend to use "ontologistic" and "ordinaristic" to apply to the uses of "ontology" and "ordinary" in this post.


Let's say you have a balloon. You can see it in front of you, drifting toward the floor (since you filled it with your breath and not helium). It is round and has a certain latex-y texture. It has a particular color -- perhaps it is red. You can kick it and it will fly in the air, then drift down to the floor. If you put it in the freezer, it will shrink.

And you could go on interacting with this balloon, yourself, using your own senses.

And that is all the balloon is. A round object, a thing. It is physical and you interact with it.

Arguably, this may be closer to how people related to balloons or the like in pre-modern cultures.

But if you ask a modern person what a balloon is, they leave the above world at some point. The above could be called the ordinary. And then they enter the world of the ontological.

What is a balloon really? Well, it's made up of molecules, both solid and gas. Has anyone seen a molecule? No, except in electron microscope images. So they've seen the images, but have they seen the molecules? No. But we take it on faith that balloons are made up of molecules. Well, the fact that balloons shrink in the freezer has to do with there being little molecules flying around inside the balloon, which slow down and don't push as hard against the latex when the temperature goes down. So some of us feel strongly that there is so much reason for molecules to exist, they do so much explanatorily, that that's good enough for them to exist. But in ordinary life, we never experience them.

When you look at a tiny speck on a slide, with your unaided eyes, and then look at an ordinary lab microscope pointed at the same spot, and see something of the same shape, but much more detailed, are you looking at the same tiny speck? You make a powerfully persuasive inference that you are, but it's not really the same thing. Likewise with a telescope. You could walk down a road, looking at a landmark with a telescope, and see that the landmark gets more and more similar to the magnified image you saw from a distance, as you approach. But when you get to the landmark, no matter how similar the image is, it's not the same thing at all. But you feel a strong poetry, like with the microscope, that convinces you that all along you were looking at the landmark that you now see up close, through the telescope's lenses. Maybe that poetic, inferential-linking phenomenon is so natural in these cases that even a pre-modern person, using a telescope or microscope, would feel it without needing to be taught it in any way, although they might not find it credible without being taught, when told that little particles are inside a balloon, called "molecules".

Once I've heard a convincing ontological explanation, I look at the balloon differently. But the balloon never changed. And while the explanation is convincing, it does not really mean that the things it posits by way of explanation, such as molecules, exist. They are just a helpful theoretical concept for understanding balloons (and electron microscope read-outs). The ontological is the world of poetry. And you can see how both literary poetry and philosophical and scientific theorizing expand our understanding of ordinary objects and experiences.

When we ask "what is consciousness?" we are asking an ontological question. But consciousness itself just is its contents. These contents vary for each person. I have to pick a specific example. Perhaps one of the few things I have in common with you, the reader, is that we are both reading sentences such as "These contents vary for each person", the very ones I am typing. You see the letters as well as I do. That is consciousness. Consciousness isn't some kind of filmstock. What is is what we are actually conscious of. But it's useful to talk about consciousness as a material, when constructing philosophical poetry.

I think that the ordinary is all that there is. But philosophy (and other forms of poetry) are helpful in understanding the true nature of the ordinary. So I think proofs of the existence of God, although ontological, can help a person to understand that what they are seeing in the ordinary is God. We can't see molecules, but we can see our experience bodies, and understand how they are spoken to us by God, that we are experiencing God when we experience them.



Maybe you can see a molecule "noetically", with the eyes of belief. And then it it is part of the ordinary. It got into the ordinary through the poetry of scientific reasoning. Perhaps we can perceive philosophical and scientific theorizing in its own independent world, through noetic "eyes" or "ears". It could be that we can alter balloons by understanding about molecules, because we can perceive the molecules in them noetically, which changes what the balloons are to us. Poetry is what links interpretations, a form of noetic perception, to sensory objects. The ontological is the world where we imagine the underpinnings of reality, and the world of the imagination is real, and some of the things that we imagine are fitting to apply to what we sense. When we pursue the ontological well, we find what is fitting to apply to the sensory.

All existence is ordinary, first-hand. But some of it says that it connects to certain things when it doesn't. And that is where we get our concept of non-existence from. A noetic thing (an imagined object or person) can be said to be unreal if it does not connect to the things it is said to connect to. A conceivable thing can be real in a way that bears more, or less, fruit, that which speaks to us as persons, with the voice of limitation or enhancement.

The ordinary is life as you experience it, not just sensory objects, or sensory objects plus noetic objects. The balloon is the balloon as you interpret it. Sometimes it's really just a balloon, has no latex or molecules or even any gases, although you can turn your noetic eye to them in other moments or contexts. Just a thing you can kick, or that your friend can pop, startling you.

You, as a person, experience life, spoken to you simantically. In earlier drafts of these ideas, I thought to call the ordinary the simantic, but thought it was too confusing and question-begging. I think it's good to have a way of talking about what is not "ontological" without committing the person speaking to simantism. But what I want to say is that reality is simantic, over and above being ordinary, and "ordinary" is a kind of scaffolding to reach "simantic".

I tend to use "ontologistic" and "ordinaristic" to apply to the uses of "ontology" and "ordinary" in this post. I don't 100% like making up these particular new words, but this is also done to avoid confusion.

No comments:

Post a Comment