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Abstract and Physical Worlds


Physical World

Building the Abstract World from the Physical World

Physical World Objects

The approach being taken here is to build up an understanding and definition of the abstract world based on the physical world. The first step is to note that we have words or symbols that represent physical world objects. 

 Physical World
 Abstract World





We experience the physical world largely through our our 5 principal senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. And we name what we experience. We have created words and symbols to represent what we experience. 

So we see objects: apple, table, chair, woman

But the physical world has more features than just objects. For example objects have properties. When you touch them they may be rough, smooth, hot or cold etc. This gives us a set of words that describe properties of objects.

The objects have relationships to each other. One object can be on another object. The apple was on the table. This gives us a set of words for relationships (on, under, next to, behind, in front, son, daughter etc).
The physical world is not static: there are actions. The apple can fall off the table. The woman can eat the apple. etc. One event follows another. Therefore there must be time. The abstract world has a set of words that reflect this. Words for actions: fall, eat etc and words to capture when the action or change occurred. eg the apple fell yesterday, the apple is falling now, the apple will fall.

Building on words for objects, properties, relationships and actions you have another group for logical conditions:

  • If   Then
  • And
  • Or
  • Not
  • Neither ...

If the apple falls on the floor the woman should not eat it.

All of the examples given so far are based on our direct sensory experience of physical world properties. There are physical world properties we cannot directly sense. For example infrared used in many TV remote controls. Our eyes cannot see it but we have devised ways of measuring it and as with physical world properties we can can sense directly we have given them names.

All which give us sets of abstract world words or symbols that map directly to physical world and allow us to communicate about the physical world.

How objects are related in space.
Family relationships
Logical conditions
sentence constructions to describe more complex physical world situations
properties of objects
Time and Cause and Effect


Physical World & the Structure of Language

So far we have focused on words directly mapping to physical world abjects, properties etc but this can be extended to the structure of sentences. The physical world has: 

Cause and effect (actions)
Time (past, present and future tense)
Agent doing an action and subject being affected by the action.

Space (distance, on, under ...)
Sex  (gender)
Logic conditions (and, or, neither...)

Sentence structure reflect these physical world properties. So for example the woman eats the apple. In this sentence the woman and the apple are the two objects and eats is the action. Object 1 performs an action on object 2.

The English language allows the same action to be placed in in time (i.e. the past, present or future) by changing the construction of the action.

  • The woman ate the apple
  • The woman is eating the apple
  • The woman will eat the apple

This construction also reflects the cause and effect structure of many actions: The woman caused the apple to be eaten.

Communicating About the Physical World

The idea that the structure of language reflects the physical world is not altogether surprising. The human ability to speak and create a language evolved. The ability to communicate about the physical world gives a reproductive advantage:
  • Warnings about danger
  • Agreeing how to work together
  • Giving children knowledge
  • etc
Evolution increased the human vocal range. This made it possible for humans to communicate more precisely and ultimately create a range of sounds that would support language. However, it is not enough to have a voice capable of creating the sounds used in words. A brain capable of driving verbal language is needed. Evolution has also driven changes to the human brain. The combination of evolution producing vocal range changes and brain changes resulted in humans being able to create a complex language. 

For language to be an evolutionary advantage it must enable accurate communication about the physical world. Given that all human languages were subject to the same basic process we would therefore expect there to be basic similarities. All languages should have the same basic elements that reflect the physical world they are trying to communicate about. So they should have:
  • Objects
  • Properties
  • Relationships
  • Actions
  • Logical conditions

Therefore, by relating words from one language to the physical world reference points you should be able to translate to another language. This also indicated that if you are trying to translate a word that have no physical world reference then you are going to find it much more difficult. 

 If you are trying to translate a language that very little is known about then the ideas outlined indicate that there should be physical world reference points.

Language is Tested

Not only are humans evolving but also language itself. As language is used to communicate about the physical world it is tested. New words are created and old words die. If a new word helps people communicate about the physical world more effectively then it is favored and its use should expand. Or put another way more effective modifications to the language are favored.

Languages that are more effective for communication about the physical world should replace less effective languages or drive modifications to less effective languages.

Physical World Truth (Truth 1)    

Language is a very effective mechanism for communicating about the physical world. It has been used to document events, give instructions, communicate information, etc. These types of statement can be tested to see if they are true. Because they are about the physical world they can be checked against the physical world. A statement like the apple is on the table can be tested by going to the table and looking. 

You can check that an instruction was completed by checking the outcome.

Example: I asked for my car to be cleaned. I can check that the car is clean.

Statements about events in the past can sometimes be checked by what they would cause directly or indirectly.

Example: Startlins policies cause 10 million people to die - work backwards from the current population and birthrate.

Language can also be used to lie about the physical world to gain an advantage and potentially an evolutionary advantage. 

Whether language is used to let the truth or not the evolutionary advantage depends on how effectively the language can describe the physical world.

Human Creativity

The abstract world of language is not limited by the physical world. People can use language to create stories. These stories can be set in the physical world but don't claim to be a true account of physical events. They are fiction. Fiction can serve several purposes:
  • story telling 
  • entertainment
  • passing on group history
  • education
  • creating shared behaviours 

Second Type of Words

We have already discussed words that map to the physical world:Table, apple, hot, falling etc. People can also create words that don't map to any object or property in the physical world:
  • Immortal soul
  • Justice
  • Perfection
  • ...

These words are defined in relationship to other words not directly with the physical world. There are two paths to look for with these definitions:
  1. Definitions that relate back to the physical world
  2. Definitions that make no attempt to relate to the physical world and instead rely on other words that don't map to the physical world. 

The idea of justice for example has a element of punishment: an eye for an eye. The punishment can be related to the physical world, it can be proportional to the crime. However the degree of punishment to achieve justice is ultimately a subjective judgment. If someone kills another person then precise proportionality would indicate that their life should be ended. However, there might be mitigating circumstances. The person who was killed might have been attempting a robbery. In this case it might not be just to end the life of the killer. These words can have definitions that relate to physical world but they will require judgment. 

There are also some difficult words in this group of words that in some definitions map to the physical world: nothing and the Universe
You can argue that nothing is a physical world property. It is the absence of anything. But in the physical world is it possible to have nothing?
There are problems with the word Universe. At one level it does map to the physical world. It maps to everything in the physical world. Because we are part of the physical world we only interact wit ha small part of the Universe. We can make observations but it is from the perspective of looking from within. Also by definition it is everything. Whether we can currently observe it or not.

The second type of definition relies on a word or words that have no mapping to the physical world either direct or indirect. In this case the sentence cannot be tested in the physical world and its usefulness measured. 

In summary: if a sentence contains either a word that don't map to the physical world or a word that is defined by other word or words that don't map to the physical world then the sentence cannot be tested in the physical world and its usefulness measured.

Truth 2 - Abstract World Truth

Sentences that contain words that don't map to the physical world cannot be tested for truth and usefulness in the physical world but they can still be tested for logical consistency in their own abstract world. For example in a work of fiction a sentence can be checked for logical consistency against those before and after it. 

There is a presure on an author to make the story logically consistent to maintain the stories credibility with the reader. As an author start to create a fictional world he or she sets that world in motion. As the individials in the story interaction acording to their characeristics and their environment the story line can go down a path the author was not expecting at the start.   

In Mathematics Euclid created an abstract world (geometry) when he wrote his 21 definitions (axioms). These 21 definitions were the mathematical equivalent of an author first describing the fictional environment his story is set in.   Once defined the environment can be explored and new ideas created that are logically consistent. The difference in mathematics is that for the new idea to be logically consistent it must rigorously deduced from appropriately chosen definitions (axioms). In short the truth of a mathematical idea can be decided by rigorously testing the decutions from the appropriate starting definitions (axioms). This gives us our second type of truth. In the abstract world a statement can be said to be true if  it is logically consistent (Truth 2 = abstract world logical consistancy). However, just because a statement is true in the abstract world does not mean it is true or useful in the physical world. 

The following is a brainteaser. It starts with the author describing what appears to be a perfectly reasonable story line about a barber. However, it is not logically consistant and so the author cannot in the world he created answer the question: Does the barber shave himself?
The Brainteaser: In a small town there is just one male barber, and every man in the town keeps himself clean-shaven. They either shave themselves or go to the barber. This all sounds perfectly reasonable. However, if the author wanted to be logically consistent then he has a problem because he has infact created an impossible situation. This can be seen if you ask the question: does the barber shave himself?
  • If the barber does not shave himself, he must abide by the rule and shave himself.
  • If he does shave himself, according to the rule he will not shave himself (i.e. be shaved by the barber).
In a fictional story rigorous logical consistency may not matter but in mathematics it does matter and it is used to test an idea for abstract world truth.


Information about the physical world can be handed on from generation to generation

Information can be shared will very large numbers of people

Accurate statements about the physical world can be made

False statements about the physical world can be made

Fictional worlds can be constructed

News ideas and new words can be created 

Abstract world:
  • time does not apply (ideas and words don't age)
  • no entropy - ideas don't wear out


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