Ktismatics

27 September 2007

Ktismatics Manifesto — Realities

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 8:32 am

There’s more to be said about the Fink and Tomasello books. There are always more books to read and to talk about. But now I’m going to try to start laying out a systematic ktismatics – a theory and practice of creation. We’ll see how far I get, and whether it makes sense to those of you who feel like commenting – which I encourage you to do. I’m going to write it like a manifesto, with numbered points, revising them as appropriate based on discussion and subsequent elaboration. I’ll start with the idea of reality…

1. Things exist, but they have no intrinsic meaning – they just are.

2. Meaning is a mental scheme for making sense of things.

A universe can exist that has no intelligent beings in it. However, “universe” isn’t just all the stuff there is – it’s also a name for all the stuff, a way of categorizing and thinking about all the stuff. “Universe” means “all the stuff there is.” If the universe contains no intelligent beings who can think the idea of “universe,” then there can be no such thing as a universe. Bacteria and wolves live in environments, by instinct acting on and reacting to the stuff that’s around them, but they don’t have any idea of an environment.

3. Things embedded in a matrix of meaning constitute a reality.

The stuff that makes up the universe isn’t a universe. The idea “universe” isn’t a universe. The combination of the stuff and the idea is a universe.

4. There are many different ways to make sense of, or to ascribe meaning to, the same thing.

There’s an object in my pocket: it’s a thin disk, it weighs less than an ounce, it’s a piece of metal, it’s shiny and silver in color, it’s worth ten cents in U.S. currency, in a pinch it can be used as a screwdriver.

5. The same stuff participates in multiple realities.

The same object participates simultaneously in realities of shapes, of weights, of materials, of color and luminance, of economic exchange value, of tools.

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18 Comments »

  1. Shades of the early Wittgenstein are finally emerging from the self of Ktismatics.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 27 September 2007 @ 8:42 am

  2. You mean it’s all already been said, and then overturned by the later Wittgenstein? Crap. Perhaps you can clarify early Wittgenstein’s position in this regard.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 9:04 am

  3. To clarify briefly. I say the universe is comprised of stuff, not of facts. Facts — “this thing is a thin silver disk” — are meaningful statements about stuff. Multiple meaningful statements can be made about the very same stuff, so there is no one-to-one correspondence between stuff and facts. The meaningfulness of the statement comes from the ideas — thinness, silverness, diskness; the factuality of the statement comes from the correspondence of the idea with the stuff.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 9:11 am

  4. Or is it the numbered propositions format?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 9:14 am

  5. meaningfulness of the statement comes from the ideas
    Now that’s starting to sound like a Plato’s Forms approach. This is starting to sound very interesting!

    I was initially reminded of W’s Tractatus, which I originally and very foolishly tried to make sense of as a sophomore!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 27 September 2007 @ 9:36 am

  6. I should get me a copy of that thing. Rather than tempting comparisons maybe I’ll restart the number sequence over again with each post.

    Regarding Plato’s forms, I don’t think that things embody or represent the ideas. Rather, I think the ideas refer to the things.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 27 September 2007 @ 9:58 am

  7. Ktismatics:
    Things exist, but they have no intrinsic meaning – they just are.

    I tend to agree, but not yet completely sold on this….hhhhmmmm….in your opinion, would this statement change if God did (or did not) exist? That is, does the existence of God change this, in your view??? For example, could God have embedded meaning in certain things when he created – that is, not just creating the stuff, but creating them with intrinsic meaning? (Eg. not just creating the Ass, but imbuing it with meaning, hence the Golden Ass.)

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    Comment by Erdman — 30 September 2007 @ 6:06 pm

  8. The Biblical God certainly demonstrated the creation of new realities without fabricating new stuff, the covenants probably being the best example. And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years” (Genesis 1:14) — in this statement God embeds the whole universe in the pretty provincial reality of humans being able to track the seasons. Are we to believe that the stars’ intrinsic reality is to serve a calendrical function for humans? If so, then the stars have pretty much lost their raison d’etre, since we now have accurate timekeeping technologies that don’t rely on the positions of the stars in the sky.

    I’d say that if God created the universe, then what he created has the intrinsic meaning of being part of the universe — so it fits my contention. If nobody created the universe and it evolved without design, then it doesn’t acquire meaning until somebody thinks of the idea of a universe and applies that idea to what’s already there. Before somebody thinks of the idea of what something is, then it exists but it has no name, no concept attaches itself to it, it’s meaningless.

    A thing that has been designed and fabricated with a particular meaning and purpose in mind can be incorporated into other meanings not originally intended by the creator. The original meaning/purpose might be lost altogether, but the created thing persists in new realities. A trivial example: a barn gets turned into a house, or a restaurant, or a shop. Is that thing still a barn because that’s what it was originally intended to be, or is it a barn only in a reality where it is assigned the function of barn? I think the latter is true.

    Now if you believe in a more Greek or Medieval sense that things in both the raw and fabricated state “participate” God’s nature, then there are things that have meaning built into them. But still, they’re “built in” — designed that way, as part of a reality intended to reflect God. So the principal still holds, I think. And again, God’s intention doesn’t exhaust the possibilities: God’s idea of what an ass participates doesn’t preclude humans coming along and incorporating the ass into other realities, including its use as a paradigmatic example of stubbornnes.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 30 September 2007 @ 6:52 pm

  9. Ktismatics: Before somebody thinks of the idea of what something is, then it exists but it has no name, no concept attaches itself to it, it’s meaningless.

    “And the earth was formless and void”

    K: A thing that has been designed and fabricated with a particular meaning and purpose in mind can be incorporated into other meanings not originally intended by the creator. The original meaning/purpose might be lost altogether, but the created thing persists in new realities.

    New realities? Does this imply relativism? That anyone’s meaning goes?

    Ktismatics: Now if you believe in a more Greek or Medieval sense that things in both the raw and fabricated state “participate” God’s nature, then there are things that have meaning built into them. But still, they’re “built in” — designed that way, as part of a reality intended to reflect God. So the principal still holds, I think. And again, God’s intention doesn’t exhaust the possibilities: God’s idea of what an ass participates doesn’t preclude humans coming along and incorporating the ass into other realities, including its use as a paradigmatic example of stubbornnes.

    We shall have to consult the Golden Ass for more commentary…but it is the weekend and he is probably out on a date with one of the many attractive women in his life….so, in the meantime, back to relativism: If God does “build in” meaning (and I’m not so sure that he does, by the way) then does this mean that anytime we assign a different meaning that we are sinning? Can sin be committed at the level of meaning-giving? If there is no “built in” meaning, then this would seem to imply that anything goes. How could God hold us responsible for a “wrong” meaning if there is none. And yet, Woe to him who calls ‘evil’, ‘good’ and ‘good’, ‘evil.’

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    Comment by Erdman — 30 September 2007 @ 8:19 pm

  10. In the Doyle’s post on Genesis and True Myth over at OST, an interesting sequence has been noticed – though not yet fully explicated.
    In Gen 1, only God speaks, naming and creating simultaneously. In Gen 2, God forms things but they are named (and therefore functionalised?) by Adam. In Gen 3 the things named and defined earlier by God are redefined by the Serpent, who now takes over the speaking/defining role.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 30 September 2007 @ 10:48 pm

  11. “And the earth was formless and void” — precisely.

    Regarding relativism, I think yes and no. Yes, a thing has meaning according to whatever reality that’s calling the tune. But the reality and the thing have to make sense together, otherwise it doesn’t work. So to say that the sun is a moon of the earth would be a mismatch based on the way we understand what a moon is.

    “does this mean that anytime we assign a different meaning that we are sinning? Can sin be committed at the level of meaning-giving?”

    Can you decide that one of the meanings of the stars is to estimate cosmic distances? I don’t see that that sort of activity is prohibited. What might be sinful is to assign something a meaning that doesn’t fit the reality that God already set up, as in your example of calling good evil and evil good within the particular moral reality that God has set up.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 1 October 2007 @ 6:11 pm

  12. “In Gen 1, only God speaks, naming and creating simultaneously. In Gen 2, God forms things but they are named (and therefore functionalised?) by Adam. In Gen 3 the things named and defined earlier by God are redefined by the Serpent, who now takes over the speaking/defining role.

    The formula for Genesis 1: God say “Let there be X,” and there was X’ — after Day 1 the narrator’s repeat isn’t exactly the same as Elohim’s “let there be” proposition. So I infer that the narrator both understands the principle and augments it a little bit. So in Genesis 2 for God to have the man take more of a lead in naming things would be in keeping with the precedent hinted at in Genesis 1. Man assigns meaning within the reality already outlined by God; the serpent breaks frame and proposes an alternative reality. God doesn’t much like it, although one could say that the serpent’s story proved more accurate than God’s — man did become more like a god, and man did not die as soon as he ate from the tree. This latter point needs to be addressed in your OST commentary on Genesis 2-3, since it seems pivotal to Andrew’s interpretation.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 1 October 2007 @ 6:28 pm

  13. K,

    So, you would likely not agree with the statement that “Meaning is relative.” I say that based on the following statements you make:
    But the reality and the thing have to make sense together, otherwise it doesn’t work. So to say that the sun is a moon of the earth would be a mismatch based on the way we understand what a moon is.

    In the first case you are talking about things that don’t “make sense together.” And furthermore that there are “mismatches.” But I’m confused because number one on the manifesto is:
    Things exist, but they have no intrinsic meaning – they just are.

    If things just exist, then don’t I have a right, as a meaning-maker, to assign them meaning based on whatever makes sense for me??? Please advise.

    What might be sinful is to assign something a meaning that doesn’t fit the reality that God already set up, as in your example of calling good evil and evil good within the particular moral reality that God has set up.

    But intrinsically these things do not have meaning, but they have meaning b/c God has given them meaning and we can’t deviate from the parameters of meaning that he has established??

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    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 1 October 2007 @ 7:10 pm

  14. This latter point needs to be addressed in your OST commentary on Genesis 2-3, since it seems pivotal to Andrew’s interpretation. I have been dodging quite a few bullets somewhat effectively.

    Still it is actually supposed to be your post so, when did it turn into my commentary? I really do think that you should be the one to have the pleasure of belling Andrew’s cat.

    In reserve are those other juicy questions of gender, dominion, and sin!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 2 October 2007 @ 1:56 am

  15. There’s relativity because reality isn’t intrinsic to the stuff that “fits inside” the reality. Reality is imposed on the stuff by an intelligent act of creation, and many realities can be imposed on the same stuff. There are two anchors to a free-floating reality that keep them from being entirely relative. First, within a reality the meanings are generally fixed relative to one another — this is the structuralist position of the continental philosophers and linguists. Second, the stuff has to “fit” the reality — meanings have to make sense given our experience of what the “real” world is like. Here we can see a contrast to Lacan’s distinction between the “Real,” which is the raw stuff before being captured in language, and the Symbolic Order, or “Reality,” which is the Real embedded in conscious linguistic meaning. Lacan seems to believe that the Symbolic Order is internally consistent but arbitrary; I’m saying that symbolic meanings have to point to the Real in a way that captures regularities intrinsic to the Real. Here I’m with Tomasello and Davidson: there’s an objective component to realities, even if the objectivity isn’t absolute or certain. Even in a fictional reality, the descriptions and events have to make sense given the imaginary stuff that the writer puts inside that reality.

    “But intrinsically these things do not have meaning, but they have meaning b/c God has given them meaning and we can’t deviate from the parameters of meaning that he has established??”

    If in the reality you occupy you’re obliged to live by God’s moral reality, then you can’t deviate. You can deviate behaviorally, but you have to ascribe to your behavior the meaning that God assigns it; i.e., sin. One could contend that Paul’s discourse on the Law versus freedom suggests that God’s moral realities can change. Also, looking at the Mosaic Law the reader gets the sense that a moral reality can include some pretty arbitrary assignments of meaning; e.g., leprosy being deemed a sin.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 October 2007 @ 8:58 am

  16. Well, Sam, I moved the Genesis 2-3 thread at OST along a little bit today, but I think the theological implications of the Fall, death, and dominion need posts of their own.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 2 October 2007 @ 9:15 am

  17. I saw that, and yes the other subjects do deserve their own treatments. I thought it would be fun to try to point out what the text does and does not say at least re gender relationships and ‘sin’ and to dig into what dominion may have meant back then which would set the stage for a discussion on what the ‘new creation’ might/might not look like.

    Implications for things like difference and similarity, identity and reconciliation are fascinating…

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    Comment by samlcarr — 2 October 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  18. Sam, I see that in his continuing commentary on Romans Andrew just posted on Romans 5:12-14 — the passage where through Adam’s sin death came into the world. Here is an opportunity, which perhaps Andrew choreographed to coincide with your revival of the Gen. 2-3 discussion.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 3 October 2007 @ 5:22 am


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