Monday, October 08, 2007

Some Thoughts On Bivalence

If you haven't heard, there is a new blog in the sphere. Waves and Particles is subtitled random thoughts from the biosphere and beyond, and it might be a pretty good description. Today Bob has a post of quotes titled Food For Thought. It set me to thinking, and here is my response (also posted there).

You have inspired me Bob, so I will give you a passage that has inspired me for several years now. Though I make mistakes, I try to remember this passage and that it describes one of the fundamental problems in our dialog:

Everything is in flux. Everything flows. The universe unfolds as rivers run. The cosmological fluid seems to obey Einstein’s laws of general relativity in the large and seems to obey the laws of quantum mechanics in the small and obeys we do not know what in between.

Things flow smoothly to nonthings. The atoms in our fingers swirl into the atoms in the air. There are finger atoms and nonfinger atoms. And there are atoms in between, the atoms to some degree both finger atoms and air atoms and some degree both. A rose is a rose is a nonrose when its molecules change. The finger shades into the hand, the hand shades into the wrist, the wrist into the arm. Earth’s atmosphere shades into space. The mountain crumbles into a hill and in time into a plain. The growing human embryo passes into a living human being and the living brain decays into death.

We can put black and white labels on these things. But the labels will pass from accurate to inaccurate as the things change. Language ties a string between the word and the thing it stands for. When the thing changes to a nonthing, the string stretches or breaks or tangles with other strings. “House” stands for a house even after the house falls apart or burns. Our world of words soon looks like a fishing boat adrift with thousands of broken and tangled an broken lines.

-Bart Kosko “Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic”

The point here might be obfuscated, as I am sure that I typed in some errors, but the point is that we too often try to ascribe bivalent attributes to a multivalent world. All things are a continuous, but we expend too much of our energy and debate on bivalent nonsense. You are either with us or against us. You are pro-choice or pro-life. It just doesn’t work that way, does it?

In one sense, limiting the debate to a discreet number of options might seem like a simplification process, but in fact it often makes the equation unsolvable.

Thanks for the quotes Bob, and thanks for the blog. Nice work.

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