Monday, July 03, 2006

Recognition

I have observed that, before we can name a thing, we must be capable of recognizing it.

It is difficult to imagine uniquely naming a swirl of unrecognizable sensations. Rather, we would just call it something like "that unrecognizable thing that happened last Saturday night."

This requirement that named things be recognizable appears to apply to itself. If we are to name a process "recognition," we must be able to recognize recognition.

Recognition appears to be a sequence of experiences that trigger related experiences. In speaking of the sight of a friend, I might experience the sight of a face which triggers experiences of affection, memories of past experiences, empathy, etc.

While this reliance on recognition places obvious limits on what we can talk about, we should ask whether there are things we can know that we cannot put into words or symbols - things that might not rely on recognition. Let's consider what that might entail.

A statement of knowledge is a attribution of one thing to another. For example, the "carpet is red" assigns a color attribute to the carpet. Suppose that we cannot put this statement into words (not even for ourselves) because we cannot recognize the carpet, the color red, or both. In light of examples like this, it seems utterly implausible that we could know one thing about another without recognizing either. The content of a knowledge statement is precisely that pattern which we claim to be recognizing by its utterance.

Things get interesting when we start to create calculus for meaningful propositions. When I declare that "there are no neon pink things in the forest," then I am clearly creating a shorthand for the following statement:
If X is in the forest, then X is not neon pink, where X is a placeholder for a recognizable thing.
The requirement that X be a placeholder for something recognizable is implicit in most contexts, and its usually omitted. However, there are cases when it needs to be explicit.

If, through a calculus of propositions, we arrive at a proposition like this:
X is good, but X is not recognizable, where X is a placeholder for a thing.
then we have made a mistake somewhere along the way. This is because our statement really should include our implicit condition that X be capable of being recognized as a thing. Making explicit the foundation of our calculus, our statement reads:
X is good, but X is not recognizable, where X is a placeholder for a recognizable thing.
Thus the original statement is self-contradictory if it is regarded as part of a calculus of meaningful propositions.

Therefore, any conclusion we reach is only meaningful to the extent we can replace its placeholders with recognizable things.

I've already written about this as it applies to statements like "every event has a cause." In that post, I showed how easily confusion can arise when we are sloppy about how we recognize the terms in our expressions. Specifically, the recognition signature of total undetectability is identical with the signature of non-existence. When this fact was neglected, it was possible to come up with non-sensical conclusions, such as "every event that has no detectable cause has an undetectable one."

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