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The map is not the territory.

  1. Nov 14, 2011 #1
    Throughout most of the discussions I have had about science, philosophy, physics, math, and life in general over the past 35 years (since beginning my first undergraduate class in philosophy) there is one element of every discussion that returns. It has to do with the statement "the map is not the territory" (Alfred Korzybski). This statement by Korzybski means that "an abstraction derived from something, or a reaction to it, is not the thing itself" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Map–territory_relation). As I have gone through some of the discussions contained within this site there are many references to terms as objects or tangible things themselves. I think it is important to point out that the concept 'time' is not a thing or an object. 'Time' is something used to measure distance between events or objects. The same goes for the concept of 'space'. 'Space' concepts are used to measure distances between evens or objects. By stretch of the imagination the terms 'time' and 'space' could be used to describe processes but not be referred to as actual objects or the objects or processes being mapped. This might seem like a small point to make and to many people they would argue that 'space' and 'time' are actual objects or concrete substances. But for the sake of rational discussions some time should be given to the study of words and thought processes otherwise things get real confusing for people and the lines between real and imaginary get crossed and seriously blurred.
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  3. Nov 14, 2011 #2
    FWIW I think the problem is not with the use of the words "time" and "space", but with the philosophically undefined terms like "substance" or "thing" or "object" or "concrete". When you say "space is not a concrete substance" as a physicist I have a much clearer idea of what I mean by "space" than of what you mean by "concrete" or "substance".
  4. Nov 14, 2011 #3
    Thanks for your input. You make a very good point. I would be interested to know the different meanings of the word "space"? As you point out every discipline has it's own particular vocabulary and meaning/s of certain words. Specifically, I was talking about the area/space between two objects (such as two hands extended outward) that is visible with the human eye. If you don't mind me asking, what is the meaning of the term "space" that you are referring to? Or, in your own discipline what does the term "space" refer to or describe? Thanks.
  5. Nov 14, 2011 #4


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    Yes, this is a basic point. It is why in philosophy there is a fundamental distinction between epistemology (the business of mapping) and ontology (what may actually be "out there" as the truth).

    So "everything is just models in our head". That is agreed. Then the debates start about how that actually works out in practice. All sorts of extreme positions can be adopted.

    Is this what you want to discuss in detail?

    Well modelling theory would say that concepts like space and time are qualitative ideas that are operationally/pragmatically justified in terms of the quantitative measurements they motivate. And yes, it does then make a big difference if you are thinking of things like space and time as "objects" or "processes". You will have quite different intuitions about how the world really works "out there".

    So yes, all is just models. And then a major division in modelling would be between objects and processes. Does it simply exist or does it get made? etc.

    The belief that spacetime gets made of course underpins "background independent" approaches to quantum gravity, such as loop and spin foam approaches. So it is a current scientific question based on a broadly shared metaphysical view, yet there are hundreds if not thousands of actual models being proposed.

    Picking up on what you said about time, this is a good one to focus on. Seeing time as a dimension is the object view. It is just imagined to exist, like a path down which other things can move. But a process view would describe time as change. So then time only exists as things are changing. Which can then be perhaps modelled in terms of thermodynamic concepts like gradients, thermalisation and equilibrium.

    See for example this discussion....
  6. Nov 14, 2011 #5


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    In metaphysics, there is indeed a way to define such terms. This is done as dichotomies - polarities or complementary concepts that are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. In other words, they separate reality into the logical extremes of "what can be the case".

    The ancient greeks did such a good job of sorting out the basic metaphysical categories that we no longer even remember there was a debate much of the time.

    So we have all the familiar dichotomies, such as stasis~flux, discrete~continuous, part~whole, atom~void, chance~necessity, particular~universal, etc, etc.

    The metaphysical partner of substance is form. The stuff of which an object (or process) is constructed seems a completely different question to the form (the shape, the organisation) that constrains it. So you have two fundamental poles of description when it comes to dealing with objects/processes. You need to deal with two aspects (that are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive).

    Objects and processes are of course themselves a kind of dichotomy. (Not a "pure" example though, as objects may be just processes observed on a particular spatiotemporal scale).

    Concrete can be opposed to abstract. A dichotomy which in turn not sufficiently "pure" and so usually mapped back to something like particular~universal.

    Time and space are a further putative dichotomy. Again, there seems an obvious correctness that some such fundamental categorical division exists, but it needs refining. Which is why, taking a process view, the critical distinction might be stasis~flux - what changes (the existence of a global temporal gradient) vs what stays the same (ie: the possibility of things existing at a place - the being a set of spacetime locales).

    In the process view, for instance, this now gives a concrete reality to history. Once past events have happened, that can't be changed. They are part of the stasis rather than the flux, even if we are giving them a location in "spacetime".

    So the modelling can change radically. Time can be seen as a dimension (leading to block universe type notions). Or as a developing process (leading to thermal time and Kauffman's "adjacent possible" type notions).

    But either way, the way to make the underlying concepts clear is the metaphysical dichotomy. Identifying the polarities that set the farthest boundaries on what (we can imagine) to be the case.
  7. Nov 14, 2011 #6
    Thanks for all the feedback. I am reflecting on much more now than previously thought about. I guess that in my original post, I was thinking in terms of something much more simplistic along the lines of "the map is not the territory" (Alfred Korzybski), and "an abstraction derived from something, or a reaction to it, is not the thing itself". The posts help me see there are a variety of levels of complexity depending on one's personal and professional perspective.
  8. Nov 14, 2011 #7
    Is that what Korzybski called it really? What is a thing in itself?

    It seems that in drawing this distinction Korzybski has brought out something unusual.
  9. Nov 14, 2011 #8
    (Is that what Korzybski called it really?) I can't say for certain what Korzybski said but Wikipedia usually is a good reference source in my experience. This quotation is also cited in many other places and Korzybski is given credit for making the observation.

    (What is a thing in itself?) My guess would be that a "thing" has it's own innateness and the abstract representation of the "thing" also has it's own separate innateness but more representative of thought processing rather than natural process or product.

    (It seems that in drawing this distinction Korzybski has brought out something unusual.) I believe his observation rises to the same level as Newton's apple/gravity observation (if that also really ever happened).
  10. Nov 14, 2011 #9
    Well, crudely, space and time are what is measured by the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_tensor_%28general_relativity%29" [Broken]. "Space" distances are measured by the (three) positive-eigenvalue terms in the metric tensor; "time" is measured by the (single) negative-eigenvalue term. You have to think of the metric tensor as a generally-covariant object, however: the values of the elements of the metric tensor depend on the coordinate system, but given any one coordinate system, the values in every other coordinate system are fixed by the tensor transformation law. However, the spatial and temporal distances between two events are generally covariant -- i.e. they are "real", unlike the coordinates themselves.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  11. Nov 15, 2011 #10
    I notice that apeiron has replied, so whatever he said plus here's my pedestrian two cents. Space refers to the objects of our senses. Time refers to the configurations of those objects. We assume that those objects exist independent of our sensory apprehension. That assumed independent existence is the territory. Our apprehension is the map. We have only neuronal analogies of reality to go by. And, wrt certain sensory apprehensions, there seems to be an underlying reality that's not amenable to our direct sensory apprehension, which we attempt to map by inference from our direct sensory apprehension. Wrt to these phenomena, we have no way of knowing how our maps correspond to the territory.
  12. Nov 16, 2011 #11
    Hi chontherogue, don't forget about the literal perspective i.e. if you want to create an accurate map of an ocean, so you can navigate from one side to the other without running into obstacles, do you base your map on what an obstacle looks like or do you base it on what the ocean between both sides looks like with all the obstacles in between identified on it?
  13. Nov 16, 2011 #12


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    having read many of your insightful posts, i have to wonder: apeiron, are you a p-zombie?
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