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A unifying language for the metaphysical?

 
 
Cyracuz
 
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 12:46 pm
The though hit me today that if all the different brances of science were to use the language of numbers and formulas in their own exclusive way, then mathematics would be as controvertial as theology.

In metaphysics there is no common norm for the terms used to create the abstract landscape of thought. "The soul" and "god" mean different things depending on which branch or school of metaphysics you consult. Often the different definitons or understandings contradict eachother.

If we had the same problem in science... If for instance PI had different properties in geometry and algebra, the two schools of mathematics could easily contradict eachother.

And finally I am getting to the question I wanted to ask:
Could the differences between our metaphysical realities, and the conflicts these differences cause, be resolved by a unifying language that has clear definitions that all can understand?

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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 01:26 pm
@Cyracuz,
I have often said that human language is the greatest stumbling block that we, as a species, have in trying to understand anything fundamental about the world we live in. You may have a sudden brilliant insight; the moment you try to articulate it, it's either gone or you find that it cannot be articulated. Language does not enhance understanding. On the contrary, it derails understanding. Perhaps this is why the great sages of the past were more likely to speak in parables, to offer analogies, rather than to describe something directly.

Recall Lao-Tzu's famous dictum: "Those who know, do not say. Those who say, do not know."

There's a story about a Zen master who was asked by his students what those words meant. He thought for a moment, then said, "Do you know the fragrance of a rose?" They all said yes. "Describe it in words for me," said the master. The class was silent.

I doubt very much that your idea of a universal language of metaphysics could ever be realized. It's a quite different matter with mathematics or the so-called "hard" sciences. These disciplines deal only with apparent reality. Metaphysics deals with ultimate reality.

cicerone imposter
 
  0  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 01:47 pm
@Merry Andrew,
Good post, MA. (As usual.)
0 Replies
 
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 01:51 pm
@Cyracuz,
Quote:
Could the differences between our metaphysical realities, and the conflicts these differences cause, be resolved by a unifying language that has clear definitions that all can understand?

It could. But I don't think you can quantify the unquantifiable. So there will never be an accepted unified definition of things from which to build a foundation.

cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 02:29 pm
@rosborne979,
I agree with rosborne: That's the bottom line; you can't quantify something that isn't quantifiable even if we all spoke the same "language." Our universe just isn't capable.
Thalion
 
  2  
Reply Thu 2 Oct, 2008 03:35 pm
@cicerone imposter,
This reminds me of Wittgenstein's notion that there are not such things as philosophical problems but rather only misunderstandings of language, the famous quote being that a word, in nearly all cases, can be defined by the way in which it is used.
0 Replies
 
Cyracuz
 
  2  
Reply Fri 3 Oct, 2008 07:37 pm
@Merry Andrew,
Merry Andrew

You cut right to the core of what I am thinking about.

In the privacy of my own mind I tend to think of it as the secret everyone knows but no one can share.

So when it comes down to it, the universal language of metaphysics is a language that cannot be spoken. According to my take on it, understanding of the issues you describe enables the person experiencing it to see the truth or aptitude of a concept as it is defined by others, and its function in "their scheme of things".

Perhaps it is more poetic than aything else say that the "universal language of metaphysics" is silence. Silence in which words may reveal their limits and faith may be deprived of its roots.
But the reality of the matter is that any definition of these abstract matters is, at best, a subjective take. Beyond that, I agree with the claim that the idea of a universal language of metaphysics could never be realized, simply because the means we have to convey such a thing is inadequate. Any truth conveyed in words demands a never ending string of modifications...
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Oct, 2008 07:09 am
@Cyracuz,
Agreed (obviously). I believe that the deepest and most profound truths can only be intuited, never arrived at through rational thought and -- therefore -- never adequately articulated.
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sat 4 Oct, 2008 07:54 am
@Merry Andrew,
And I would also venture that it will always be "individualized."
0 Replies
 
Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Tue 7 Oct, 2008 09:47 pm
Another way of saying what has already been said is that the problems of metaphysics are not merely linguistic; sometimes they're also moral. It's not simply that people have conflicting definitions of "soul" or "God"; they also have conflicting moral values invested in those words. It is one thing to discuss the language of metaphysics (i.e. the basic vocabulary we use when we talk about it), and quite another to discuss our "metaphysical realities," as you put it. The latter involves not simply vocabulary but beliefs about how the ideas to which the vocabulary refers operate in relation to each other. Especially when dealing the cosmological/religious aspects of metaphysics, the terms carry with them quite a lot of social, personal, and moral baggage that would not be cleared away even if we arrived at a stable definitions. So asking if there can ever be a unifying language of metaphysics is tantamount to asking whether there can ever be universal consensus about the proper role of God, or of the soul, in our lives. Even if, for the sake of argument, we all agreed on a basic definition of God--say, as simply a nonmaterial entity--this would not in itself cause our metaphysical realities to be resolved.
0 Replies
 
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Fri 28 Aug, 2009 06:20 pm
It seems to me, at this moment at least, that metaphysics IS a problem of language, especially of grammar.
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Fri 28 Aug, 2009 07:15 pm
@JLNobody,
JLN, The issues of language and grammar is not limited to metaphysics.
Cyracuz
 
  1  
Reply Wed 23 Sep, 2009 04:38 pm
@cicerone imposter,
Not limited to, but in the realm of metaphysics is where they do the most damage.
0 Replies
 
Twirlip
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jun, 2010 02:09 pm
@Cyracuz,
Cyracuz wrote:

In the privacy of my own mind I tend to think of it as the secret everyone knows but no one can share.

So when it comes down to it, the universal language of metaphysics is a language that cannot be spoken. According to my take on it, understanding of the issues you describe enables the person experiencing it to see the truth or aptitude of a concept as it is defined by others, and its function in "their scheme of things".

Perhaps it is more poetic than aything else say that the "universal language of metaphysics" is silence.

But then, mathematics is silent; so the analogy with which you started may be a good one, and the prospects for a unifying metaphysical language may not be as bleak as they at first appear.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jun, 2010 09:46 pm
@Cyracuz,
Old discussion, but wanted to contribute something. First mathematical discourse has a particular characteristic, which could be called an 'external referent'. In other words within a mathematical system, there is little room for ambiguity, because there is something other than a quality of experience that is being referred to. Given certain axioms, certain outcomes are not subject to individual judgement. I think this is why the Pythagoreans and Platonists viewed mathematical reasoning as an analogy to understanding the Forms - because numbers are a kind of non-material reality. Plato however distinguished between mathematical reasoning, and noesis, which was held to be of a higher order.

Obviously the subject matter of theology (or theosophy for that matter) is of a different order to that of mathematics, despite some convergences. But there is, in fact, a school of thought which has attempted to create a unified metaphysical discourse (if not an actual language). I am referring to the 'Perennialist' school of the 20th Century, comprising scholars including Frithjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Titus Burkhardt, Martin Lings, and Seyeed Hossein Nasr, amongst others. This movement has attempted to chart a kind of 'universal lexicon' for metaphysics. Whether they have succeeded is a matter of judgement, but they did set out to do this. There is a lovely little publishing house which specialises in this school at http://www.worldwisdom.com/public/home.aspx
Twirlip
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jun, 2010 10:14 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
I think this is why the Pythagoreans and Platonists viewed mathematical reasoning as an analogy to understanding the Forms - because numbers are a kind of non-material reality. Plato however distinguished between mathematical reasoning, and noesis, which was held to be of a higher order.

Obviously the subject matter of theology (or theosophy for that matter) is of a different order to that of mathematics, despite some convergences.

I'd hesitate to disagree with Ramanujan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srinivasa_Ramanujan.
Quote:
He often said, "An equation for me has no meaning, unless it represents a thought of God."

There's an entire (expensive!) book on the subject: T. Koetsier & L. Bergmans (eds.), Mathematics and the Divine (Elsevier Science, 2004).
And an interesting sidelight, from this post to the Usenet newsgroup sci.math on 10 Oct 2001: http://groups.google.co.uk/group/sci.math/msg/37ab64194ba4a7bf
Quote:
A survey was done of the U.S. National Academy of Science members, asking them whether they believed in the kind of God that people can engage in meaningful dialogue with (to distinguish between that and less traditional theological beliefs). The members have a lower rate of such belief in general the general public in the U.S., but the section having the highest rate of belief was mathematics. (Lowest was biology.)
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Fri 11 Jun, 2010 02:56 am
I have discovered that I am a mathematical realist, despite having barely any ability in mathematics. I have just read Is God a Mathematician, by Mario Livio, which fails to really address the question posed in the title. Another that has caught my eye is The Mathematical Mystery Tour by A. K. Dewdney.

Underlying all of that is the growing conviction that Western philosophy is actually a spiritual tradition, and that materialism is one of its offshoots, not part of the mainstream.
0 Replies
 
john2054
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Sep, 2010 02:38 pm
@Cyracuz,
Hi Cyra.cus, thankyou for starting another interesting thread. I come at metaphysics from the somewhat limited perspective of only having a college education (I failed at university). So I do believe in God. Oh I cant concentrate now. Suffice to say that I think that we as good philosophers should try to open up our minds in order to understand the greater physics (the complete philosophy), which should be embracing and reflexive. That is metaphysics, a still new and exciting science.
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Sep, 2010 08:16 pm
@Cyracuz,
I believe eventually the emergence of a Global language not just for people ( be it the English or the Mandarin) but an epistemic language/code for Science (besides mathematics) will step out as a bi product of the huge real time network we are beginning now... it will be an emerging property ! The now so called Transcendental problems will be included in such endeavour...(there are a couple of them that will never be answered...)
0 Replies
 
north
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Sep, 2010 08:38 pm
@john2054,
john2054 wrote:

Hi Cyra.cus, thankyou for starting another interesting thread. I come at metaphysics from the somewhat limited perspective of only having a college education (I failed at university). So I do believe in God. Oh I cant concentrate now. Suffice to say that I think that we as good philosophers should try to open up our minds in order to understand the greater physics (the complete philosophy), which should be embracing and reflexive. That is metaphysics, a still new and exciting science.


the problem is that science is about knowledge

how is metaphysics about knowledge ?
 

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