Language and science as abstraction layers

The nature of reality doesn’t come up so often in general conversation. It only just occurred to me that that’s amazing, since pretty much everyone I know who has thought about it thinks something different. I know Platonists, relativists, nihilists, positivists, constructivists, and objectivists. Given the very deep differences between their beliefs about the nature of their own existences, it’s really a miracle that they can even have conversations. Regardless of the fact of the matter, what you think about these things affects what language means, what words means, and what it means to talk to other people.

And not only can you complete sentences with these people, you can do science with them, and science can build on a slow, steady accretion of facts and insights, even if each nugget was contributed by someone with a totally different, and utterly irreconcilable conception of the nature and limits of human knowledge. How?

I think of science as an abstraction layer. That’s sad, probably for a lot of reasons, but most immediately because it means that the only easy metaphor I was able to find is the computer programming language Java. Java was important to the software industry because it made it possible to write one program that could run on multiple different operating systems with no extra work. Java took the complexities and peculiarities of Unix and Windows and Moc and Linux and Solaris and built a layer on top of each that could make them all look the same to a Java program. I think of the tools of thought provided by science as an abstraction layer on different epistemologies that makes it possible for people with different views to get ideas back and forth to each other, despite all their differences.

Here is an excellent illustration.


This entry was posted on Thursday, November 12th, 2015 and is filed under Uncategorized.