Tuesday, October 05, 2004

To Be Or Not To Be


Or both? To be alive or to be dead. Or both? I thought I'd present my muddy views on some tough (I think!) philosophy.

This strange option is suggested by a peculiar logic called Dialetheism . This word seems to have no obvious deconstruction - "di" obviously implies a binary split (as in diurnal, didactic, division etc), but letheism (and variants) returns no search results. It turns up in a few Latin texts, but not in any dictionairies Latin or otherwise that I could find online. Closest match I could find was lethe, which is the river that runs through the underworld, Hades. Hopefully that is not relevant...

One of the cornerstones of most logic is that something can't be both true and false at the same time. In language, however, it is frequently true that things are both true and false. Consider a room with a door. Either you are inside the room, or not. However, if you have a door, you can be both inside and outside. While some may see this as a results of a poorly specified problems, there are more genuine although more difficult problems to which the same concept applies. One example is related to Zeno's paradox. From certain perspectives, space is considered as an infinite number of infinitely small points. Imagine now what happens as you enter a room. More and more of your body counts as being "inside", and less and less counts as being "outside". Now, let's consider an irritating person who is trying to stand "just not inside" while being as close to inside as possible. Because space is infinitely divisible, he can always move "a little closer" to being inside the room, without ever getting there. Dialethic logic allows us to express the idea of being perfectly on the boundary of "inside" and "outside". On both a common-language level and a deep physical level, it is not silly to talk about situations which appear to be both true and false at the same time.

Obviously, it also allows us to say things that are clearly ridiculous, like "This pepsi can is a coke can". But we could also say "I feel both happy and sad", which is not impossible even although happiness and sadness are opposites. Dialetheists try to discriminate with assertions like ((coke can is not pepsi can) is not a deletheic) is true. However, is that, too, a dialetheic statement?

Essentially, dialetheism allows us to formally express things which don't fit a binary classical logic assignation. It seems like we frequently use language and hold ideas in a way that is inconsistent by ordinary logic, which might be reason enough to consider dialetheism seriously. A deeper question might be "can all ideas be described in a logical framework". The meaning of negation is to some extent lost in dialetheism, which might be a good criticism of it. Is reality something which corresponds properly with the expressions of logic, or is the binary nature of logic something which is a property only of logic itself?

Do you agree, or do you disagree with dialetheism?



Blogger robert said...

Sometimes there is no 'deconstruction' of a word. The word in question has been created to fulfil a void in which the subject exists but not the means to identify it.

See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dialetheism/ for the origin of the word 'dialetheism'.

10/05/2004 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, bingo. Alethia... Oh well. Good work Robert.


10/05/2004 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger C D M said...

Would another example be the binary genders? Society thinks only in terms of male and female, and it has varied methods of assigning gender.

First and foremost is genatalia. A baby is born - is it a boy or a girl? For most parents it appears to be a simple choice. But what of the approximately 1% who don't quite fit normative measures?

Intersex - neither wholly male nor female, or being both male and female. The word hermaphrodite springs to mind, but is rarely used these days. Intersex is a broader label that not only encompasses the physical but also genetic ambiguity.

While it is rare to have both male and female genatalia, it is even more common to have something other than an XY or XX set of chromosomes (variants include XXY, XXX) though must people can go through life without knowing they do not fit the binary gender.

Sexuality was once thought to be a binary (heterosexual v homosexual). The modern view of a continuum is now inclusive of bisexuality and pansexuality of varying degrees.

Thus, gender is dialetheistic, is it not?

10/06/2004 04:33:00 PM  

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