PM5333: Categories of being

All that exists is minds and their experiences.

“Experience” must be understood broadly, to include both exterior experiences (sense perception) and interior experiences (thoughts, feelings, dreams, memory)

Matter is naught but patterns in the experiences of minds.

Not all patterns are material objects though; abstract ideas are also patterns in experience, but a pattern of a different kind.

I look at a tree. I have the raw visual sensory experience of looking at that tree. This belongs to a pattern which is this particular tree. Other sensory experiences, for example touching its bark, can also belong to the pattern of that particular tree. But that pattern also belongs to broader patterns: the pattern of that kind of tree, the pattern of trees in general.

Names are also patterns - the English word “tree” is a pattern present in all the auditory experiences when that word is heard - by different person’s voices, with differences in pitch, accent, stress, tempo, timbre, etc. It is also present in all the visual experiences when that word is read - in different fonts or handwriting, on the printed page or on a computer or TV screen, etc.

Patterns can have relations. Consider the English word “tree”. Here, we have an auditory pattern of the spoken language, a visual pattern of the written language, and the visual and tactile patterns of actually seeing or feeling a tree (or smelling it, or hearing it sway in the wind, or so on). All these different patterns are related together to form that word. A relationship between several patterns can also be understood as a greater pattern which incorporates all those lesser patterns.

But there are different manners of incorporation. For example, the pattern of an individual tree is incorporated into the greater pattern of all trees. The pattern of all trees is incorporated into the greater pattern of the English word “tree”. But these are two different modes of incorporation.

Experiences can be classified as: external or internal. If external, into different senses. If internal, into different types, some of which correspond to external senses, some of which do not. (If I imagine a green ball, or dream of a green ball, that internal experience has some relation to the external experience of seeing a green ball; but, the internal experience of feeling angry does not have any corresponding external experience.)

We can distinguish actual experiences from possible experiences. An actual experience is an experience that someone (some mind) actually has. A possible experience is an experience that someone (some mind) might have, whether or not anyone (any mind) actually does.

For each pattern, there is a corresponding set of possible experiences in which that pattern is present. We could view patterns as sets of possible experiences; as such, the set of all patterns is the power set of the set of all possible experiences.

If nominalism means “only individual things exist", then nominalism is false. For, individual material things are patterns in experience, and so are the “universals” they belong to. An individual tree, and trees-in-general, are simply narrower and broader patterns; they are not fundamentally different categories.

Nominalism: “Ideas” are merely “names”. On the contrary, the mind can recognise patterns without naming them. Consider infants: their minds learn to recognise patterns, familiar persons and objects and places, prior to learning words to associate with these patterns. The infant recognises its mother and father, long before it learns the words “mummy” and “daddy”, let alone its parents actual names. An infant will be able to identify familiar objects, for example a bottle or a nappy, and their functions, long before it learns their names, or is able to express their characteristics and functions in words.

A word is in fact a different pattern (both auditory and visual), from its meaning. The English word “dog” is a pattern with auditory and visual components; the idea of a “dog” has very different auditory and visual (and tactile) components; to those who know English, the two patterns are connected into one greater pattern, but someone who does not know English may be able to identify the word “dog” on the page or in speech, or even the correspondence between the two, without knowing the connection between the word and the idea.

Patterns necessarily have clear boundaries. Consider two patterns, “tall man” and “short man”. Sometimes, we can clearly recognise one pattern or the other; other times, we are presented with cases where we cannot readily distinguish the two - this is Sorites paradox. That patterns have fuzzy boundaries does not render the concept invalid.

“Sarah” is a pattern in experience - the experience of seeing her, of speaking to her. In fact, “Sarah” is multiple such patterns - different people have different experiences of Sarah, which maybe have some common elements, but also some unique elements. Of course, I believe, that Sarah is not just an experience in the mind of others, but also her own mind; but, others do not have direct access to the mind of Sarah, they only know her through the mediation of their experiences. These patterns in the minds of others exist in a correspondence to the mind of Sarah; furthermore, Sarah has her own pattern or patterns in experience of herself - when she looks at herself in the mirror, for instance.

“Sarah is a musician”: “Sarah” is a pattern in experience, or a collection of such patterns; likewise, “musician” is also a pattern in experience; “Sarah is a musician” is asserting a relationship between these two patterns; or indeed, it is itself a pattern composed of those two patterns: the pattern which incorporates all possible experiences which would lead one to believe that this particular Sarah is in fact a musician.

Categories of being
  • Souls
  • Their experiences
    • Patterns in their experiences (material and immaterial/abstract/spiritual)
    • Patterns between the experience of a soul at one time and that at another (correlations)
    • Patterns between the experiences of separate souls (correlations)
    • Basic types of experiences (senses); the dimensionality of qualia space (experiential topology)
  • Axiological principles and their applications (ethics, aesthetics, rationality)
  • Metaphysical facts? (like the fact that there are these very categories)
    • A form of conceptualism reduces most concepts to patterns-in-experience. But the most fundamental concepts are not so reducible. “All concepts can be reduced to patterns in experience” cannot itself be reduced to patterns-in-experience.