Picking a Path Through the Forest


Our plan, with this metaphor, has been to rise above the trees so that we can see the forest. Then, with this view, to pick out a path from where we are to a clearing where we can understand and explain a little more of reality than we can now. One problem with picking a path, however, is that it forces us to reduce our effort to a single dimension. That is, we are forced to find a sequential step-by-step progression that will lead us to that clearing. It's not a lot different from my brother John's bread-and-butter job of coming up with a plan for building a shopping center or a high rise. Even though each project is extremely complex, John comes up with a master schedule showing all the various steps necessary to complete the project, and this schedule is a single sequential set of steps. Yes, there is overlap among them in time, but the schedule itself is a single sequential string of steps. That is what I'll try to come up with now.

It may take me a while, and a few false starts, to come up with this path using my stream-of-consciousness method of musing, but hopefully the path will emerge eventually.

Since language is the fundamental basis for all the other disciplines, as we have noted, we might start there. And, to avoid Descartes' demons, we should be rigorous as we go to make sure whatever we express in language is undeniable. Of course, it's already too late for that. Here I am typing in language statements, none of which meet high standards of rigor. So I guess what we have to do is to muse un-rigorously until we stumble on some statement that we can stand behind, and then set that statement aside, or add it to an accumulating collection of rigorous statements which will end up being the result we are looking for. On second thought, that describes how we might come up with the answer to the question of what do we know about reality but not how we get there.

That wasn't very clear. What I meant to express was a parallel to the way in which mathematical theorems are proved. There is the formal proof which consists of a sequential list of true if...then... type of statements the last of which is the theorem itself. But there is also the historical development of the proof which in all likelihood is nowhere near as neat as the formal proof. In the historical development, there may be many dead-end branches, parts of the formal proof might have been developed in different sequences, or even concurrently by different people.

So the "path" I am trying to find is more like the historical development of a proof, but by following that path, a rigorous proof of, or argument for, some final statements about reality might emerge.

What we need to start with are some concepts and some terms to refer to those concepts. That will give us a start on a vocabulary. Then we need the equivalent of axioms. That is, we need to adopt some statements, which are couched in our new vocabulary, and which statements we will consider to be true. We may believe these statements at our choice, I suppose, but that is not necessary. We may just as well doubt them. The important thing is that we simply suppose, or consider, that they are true and then using logic, see what those statements imply. We'll see what we can deduce or derive from them.

The idea is that if we start with axioms that seem to be true, and then discover that if they are true, then some other statements must be true, then we can see whether those other, derived, statements match up with reality.

This is nothing new. This is the method of science and the method of mathematics. It's just that we might start with some unusual definitions for concepts and some unusual axioms. If anything new ever comes out of these musings, it will probably be in the choices of those unusual definitions and axioms. So now it's probably time to come back down to the ground and start laying out our path.

Earlier I established what I think our starting point should be: that is the statement, "Thought happens". That statement uses two terms, as is obvious. We have a choice to take either or both of these terms as primitive undefined terms, or we can try to define either or both of them in other, more primitive, terms. Let's take them one at a time.

Can we define 'thought' using terms that are more basic and/or familiar and/or less ambiguous?

Back in the first installment, I developed this idea of 'thought' a little and stated the following: "So we have this unquestionable notion of thought which comes and goes in a sort of a stream. And, the only thing I know for sure, is that each thought on that stream gets experienced in succession. I know that. And the "I" that knows it seems to be the same "I" that does the experiencing. "Seems to be", but I can doubt that. Maybe there is one experiencer of the thoughts and a different experiencer of the thought of knowing about the thoughts."

[I ran out of time; I'll take this up later]

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