Some thoughts on Reference and Natural Kinds

I wrote the following after my metaphysics class in which we are reading and discussing Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity:

Everything collapses under scrutiny. When we theorize about something we are attempting to locate a boundary that separates one thing from what it is not. The harder you push though, the more fuzzy the boundaries become. You see things you didn’t notice before, get more detail, or see things where you thought there were none. At the end of this perhaps the only claim you can make is “it is what it is.” This claim can mean different things at different levels of scrutiny. On one level, to pick out one thing, gold for instance, it may be enough to say “it’s shiny.” This will allow you to pick some gold out of a pile of dirt so long as that’s all you’re concerned with for the moment. Obviously this level of specificity is below that of most of our vernacular speech, because we can think of other shiny things, or gold that isn’t shiny, etc. Fools gold is an obvious counterexample. So we add more detail to allow us to deal with gold on a deeper level. A certain degree of malleability. Now we can tell the difference between gold and pyrite. At some point we get atomic number 79. That’s where science is now, but maybe we will discover that there is another thing with that atomic number, some division between different types of gold, or something. Which one does “gold” refer to? One? Both? It doesn’t matter, because in the end “gold” is just a word. It is functionally attached to a concept that has evolved over the course of history and will continue to evolve, but the designator itself is not connected to the actuality of the thing. We can always know, gold is gold, but, be we have to remember that “gold” is not that thing. Our usage of the word has to change according to what we know about the thing, and at a certain level of scrutiny, we will always be able to find a case in which the designation doesn’t quite hold. The best we can do is attempt to describe new situations accurately, and our language will adapt to accommodate the new information. That’s what has happened, and it will continue to happen. Metaphysics as a form of inquiry is really just the process of elucidating the epistemology behind our conscious interpretation of what is. What is has always been what it is, but our knowledge of it has morphed and changed, as has our knowledge about that knowledge. We can’t get too attached to words and concepts, but at the same time, we can’t really move about in the world without them. Theories about the relationships between words, concepts, and things, are themselves subject to the same concerns. Their value lies in their functionality, not their truth, and they are necessarily distinct from the world they describe. That they break down if pushed to their limits is to be expected.

My First Tarot Reading

Today I had a Tarot reading done at work by my friend and co-worker, Angie. She just got a deck as a gift and we had a snowy day with nothing to do, so she read my cards. I’d never had one done before but it was a pretty cool experience, and the reading I got seemed pretty relevant to my life right now. I had to shuffle the deck with a clear head and break it into four piles. The photo shows the cards that came up on top of each pile: Justice, The Sun, the 4 of wands, and the 9 of swords. The first card I think was supposed to represent the main subject/problem of the reading, the second and third food for thought about the problem, and the fourth the solution. The first card, Justice apparently represents objective and rational thinking, and as a problem can be interpreted as bureaucratic struggle or intellectual conflict. Based on this card, Angie advised me to seek the council of elders and to do healthy things, both physically and spiritually. The Sun card linked personal growth to self expression, enthusiasm, and self-assurance, and the the 4 of wands advised against getting stuck in old patterns of behavior. The 9 of swords suggested that the answer involves depression and self doubt, meaning perhaps that I should be aware of these obstacles and not lose focus.

I found these cards very interesting. I immediately connected the first to my ongoing struggle to finish college and the difficulties I have with concentration and time management. I have a great desire to express myself (both academically at school, and otherwise – through music, photography, and other projects) but often find myself very unproductive, and have difficulty getting things done at all without approaching deadlines, and even then don’t always finish them on time. At school, this often results in me feeling quite overwhelmed and sometimes depressed.

The cards interestingly seem to reiterate the things that I know I need to change in my life. I need to avoid my habit of procrastinating, and be more assertive and self-assured. I’ve been meaning to take on new projects – like yoga, bass lessons, building a coffee table, etc. – and I need to just suck it up and go for it. The bit I found especially intriguing was the fact that the depression card was “the answer.” This, combined with the advice to seek the advice of elders also plays into a thought I have had about a possible action I could take. My grandmother is a Jungian analyst, and I have thought of asking her to refer me to another analyst for counseling. I have heard that counseling (and Jungian analysis in particular) can be a very fulfilling and illuminating experience, and I think it might be of great help to me, both pragmatically and spiritually. So, I think I am going to try and get rolling on some of the things I’ve been meaning to do, try to stay optimistic and productive, and I’ll shoot my grandma an email about an analyst.

Day 7 – Do you want to get married and/or have kids?

I don’t care if I get married. I wouldn’t mind it, nor would I be upset if it didn’t happen. I do care about having a meaningful relationship (which I happily already have! – Christie and I are pretty much functionally married already). I would like to have a wedding though, whether or not it is official. Weddings are fun.

I do want to have kids. I think I’d make a damn good dad, and I feel like having kids is an experience I wouldn’t want to miss out on. I also might like to adopt a kid (in addition to a child of my own). I’d feel guilty adding new people to an already overpopulated earth, especially when there are already so many kids on it that need help and love, and adoption could present a partial solution to this problem.

Day 6 – What are your views on love? Do you think it’s real? Do you think we only experience one love per lifetime? Does everyone have a soul mate?

This is a strange question to me. I think we all (or most of us, at least) have feelings for other beings, some of which we identify as love, and these feelings are real, to the extent that any feelings are. I do not, however, think that love exists in and of itself as some kind of platonic form or whatever. That said, I think that the feeling of love is a very powerful and unique force with great transformative potential, and one that we could definitely do with more of in the world.

As for the bit about one love per lifetime: I don’t believe in predetermined soul mates. I think that the potential for love – romantic or not – exists between any two people (or combination of people, for that matter), and whether that potential is realized depends on infinite chance happenings, the choices we make, and our ideas about ourselves and others. I also see no reason to believe that we cannot love more than one person simultaneously. I would say that I love hundreds of people, each to different extent (I don’t like the idea of measuring love quantitatively, but I can’t think of a better word here) and expressed in a different way. I’d also say that I love all people, but in a general sense, as I obviously haven’t met everybody and cannot feel specific feelings toward everyone.

Day 5 – Do you think sex before marriage is okay?

Yes, I think sex before marriage is perfectly fine. I don’t really care much about marriage, and I think that sex is just one facet of human interaction. It can be powerful and special, yes, but I don’t think it is fundamentally different than shaking someone’s hand, having a conversation, or making out, and it is certainly not as evil or dangerous as some people make it seem. It can definitely be very meaningful, but I don’t think that the act itself inherently carries any one particular meaning. We are animals and animals have sex. What we make of it is up to us.

Day 4 – What is your view on gay marriage?

I think anybody should be allowed to get married to anybody else. In my opinion, the real problem in this issue is that our idea of marriage itself is kind of confused; marriage as a legal entity is too tangled up with the Christian idea of marriage. Legally, there is absolutely no reason to continue denying a right that we claim is basic to our society to some citizens, and pretty much the only opposition to legalizing it is coming from a religious perspective. How particular religious institutions choose to interpret their scriptures is one thing, but in a country where so many religious beliefs are represented, those of one religion cannot be allowed to impact government policy so blatantly.

Day 3 – Are you proud to be from whatever country you are from?

This is a tough one. I definitely recognize that I’ve had a lot of opportunities that may not have been available to me if I hadn’t been born in America (and a boy, and white, and straight, and Christian, and not handicapped, etc etc…), so I am thankful for that i guessssssss, but I also see that my privilege has come at the expense of others’, and I don’t feel any more worthy of it than anyone else. I’m generally not a fan of the American government, American capitalism/big business, or the “American Dream,” “American Family Values,” or any of that nonsense. History has seen arrogant white men do some pretty disgusting things to basically everyone else, and I think that despite all the progress we’ve made, this country still has some way to go to escape that tradition.

Day 2 – Do you believe in an afterlife? What do you believe happens when you die?

No fucking clue. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Day 1 – Do you believe in God? What religion are you?

I don’t really take stock in any particular religious/metaphysical stance. I feel that any belief of this kind, no matter how sophisticated or elegant, is merely an attempt at describing The Way Things Are, and since none of us have the ability to step outside of our own experience to observe this, we don’t really have a vocabulary to talk about it. We do the best we can to make sense of things from our limited perspective, and religion, science, and superstition are just attempts at finding meaning in all this sense-data we are swimming in. The difference between statements like “God made it,” “It made itself,” “It is because…,” and “It just is,” is really just where they place that meaning and the terms they use to describe it. So, while I do think it is worthwhile to theorize and experiment to try to uncover as much about the universe as we can, we have to recognize that any conclusion we reach is extremely limited.

I can say though, that I personally don’t think about the universe in terms of a personal god. My view is more along the lines of a Daoist perspective, based on balance and harmony between opposing forces (Man/Nature, Heaven/Earth, Masculine/Feminine, etc). I try to align my actions with the natural way of the universe, and maintain balance in my life. I was raised Quaker, and that also had a large impact on how I look at the world. Quakerism generally emphasizes pacifism, equality, direct relationship to the divine, and thinking/feeling for oneself rather than accepting the interpretations of authority, all things that I try to employ in my life. Sorry if this was long, but I don’t have a simple answer, haha.

The Touchy-Tumblr-Is-Going-To-Fight Challenge

I’m doing this challenge on tumblr, and I’m going to post my responses here as well.

Day 1 – Do you believe in God?/What religion are you?
Day 2 – Do you believe in an afterlife? What do you believe happens when you die?
Day 3 – Are you proud to be from whatever country you are from?
Day 4 – What is your view on gay marriage?
Day 5 – Do you think sex before marriage is okay?
Day 6 – What are your views on love? Do you think it’s real? Do you think we only experience one love per lifetime? Does everyone have a soul mate?
Day 7 – Do you want to get married and/or have kids?
Day 8 – Do you think any drugs should be legalized? Do you think there should be an age for drinking?
Day 9 – Pro-life or prochoice?
Day 10 – What do you think about straightxedge?
Day 11 – What do you think about prostitution? Should it be legal?
Day 12 – What do you think about bisexuality?
Day 13 – Do you think there should be an age to get tattoos/piercings without the consent of a parent?
Day 14 – Do you believe in aliens?
Day 15 – Do you believe in regrets? do you have any terrible ones?
Day 16 – What do you want to happen to your body when you die?
Day 17 – Have you experienced your ‘first true love’ yet? Do you believe you ever will?
Day 18 – What is your take on people who self harm (cutting, burning, scratching etc etc.)
Day 19 – Do you think high schools should give out free contraceptive?
Day 20 – What do you think about plastic surgery?
Day 21 – What do you think about the death penalty?
Day 22 – Do you say your country’s national anthem/pledge of allegiance when it is said/listened to?
Day 23 – What do you think about thinspo?