January 3rd, 2006

ozarque figure

Linguistics; semantics; "reality"

I do read all of your comments, and I save most of them -- and the one thing I can tell you from reading them and studying them is this: At least for the people who comment here, there are a multitude of different perceived realities. I don't happen to believe in a Single Really-Real Objective Reality that's "out there" to be perceived and that remains the same no matter how well or how badly human beings perceive it. But even those who do believe in an SRROR, if they were given the corpus of your comments for analysis, would have to conclude that your perceptions of the SRROR vary wildly. Which is very, very interesting.

In order to function successfully within a culture, human beings have to subscribe to a Consensus Reality for that culture -- composed of prototypes, reality statements, scenarios, and scripts that everyone in the culture is willing to accept. The prototype Road in native-speaker-English culture is firmly attached to the landscape it runs through; the prototype Floor holds still when stepped on; the prototype Lightbulb is not surrounded by a halo of colored streamers of light. The reality statements include "Birds have feathers, beaks, and two legs" and "Sugar melts in water." The going-out-to-a-restaurant-to-eat scenario specifies that your food won't arrive unless you order it, and that there will be someone present in the restaurant to order the food from, and that you will have to pay money for the food, and that all the parts of the "eating out" experience will happen in a certain order with only minor variations. The scripts tell you that responding to "Good morning! How are you?" with "Only sixteen people will fit in the back seat of a Volkswagen" cannot qualify as carrying on a conversation. And so on. To participate successfully in the culture you have to sign on to this inventory of stuff.

This doesn't mean that it has to match your perceptions, or even that you have to believe that it's a roughly accurate description of Reality. But children learn pretty early that if you talk about your disagreements with Consensus Reality you'll at least get in trouble, you might get rushed off to a doctor, and you could even end up in an institution with a fancy label attached to you. Suppose your perception of birds is that they always have three legs; you learn very young not to mention that. If your perception of trees is that angels live in them, you learn to keep that to yourself. If your perception is that when you put sugar in water it sings a little song at you, you don't talk about it. [Except, perhaps, in blog-postings, where you are safe because you are anonymous, or in poetry, where you are safe because it's poetry and "everybody knows" poetry doesn't have to make sense, or in writing science fiction, where you are temporarily in charge of Reality.]

And then there are the reality statements that you have to set aside in order to function at all, like "All the objects ordinarily referred to as 'solid' are made up mostly of empty space." No time this morning to go there.....