Distinctions with and without Differences

September 24, 2016

sq_distinction2It is often asked, why is there something rather than nothing?

Instead why not ask, why is there a rich diversity of things, rather than a dull sameness? And even though the closer and the further one looks the diversity is almost without limit, one also sees the world divided into natural kinds that partition it into a differentiated but interrelated mixture.

Several ancient philosophers thought that the entire world was an indivisible whole, a solid “being”. Others thought that you can’t even step into the same river twice, thus a fluid “becoming”. The real world seems to be somewhere in-between these two poles, moving continuously back and forth to now generate difference and newness, and then returning to sameness and oldness, and next continuing on to newness again.

Why drives these generative processes? One could say evolution, but evolution merely means “change over time”. And it would need to be an evolution at all levels of the cosmos, from the physical constituents of matter to the psychological constructs of culture. What do these disparate systems have in common?

Perhaps the commonality lies in the relations between small and large ensembles of chunks of space and time. In theories of statistical thermodynamics, the associations between micro states and macro states as well as micro events and macros events may drive entropy.

Here I present a schema that divides the continuum between one and many into four: Sameness, Similarity, Distinction, and Difference.
A member of the “being” camp might say these aren’t really different, whereas one from the “becoming” camp could say there really isn’t any sameness to begin with. Here I’ve chosen neither camp but struggled to bridge the gap between them.





Also see:

Statistical Thermodynamics

One and Many



Statistical Thermodynamics

September 22, 2016

sq_statisticalWhat drives the arrow of time? How does macroscopic irreversibility arise from microscopic reversibility? What makes entropy increase for closed systems, but decrease in certain open systems?

From the viewpoint of statistical thermodynamics, one can model the evolution of any discrete system by its possible macro states and micro states.

Those macro states having more possible micro states will be more likely to occur, and the macro states having less micro states will be less likely.

Similarly, those macro events caused by more possible micro events will be more likely to obtain, and the macro events caused by less micro events will be less likely.

Therefore, the probabilities of how the past effects the future are determined by the arrangements of the parts making up the micro states and macro states, and similarly the chains of causes constituting the relations between the micro events and macro events.

Apparently time is a progression of events unfolding from the more ordered to the less ordered. However, we know that local order can increase while global order decreases, even if we are unclear as to why. Information and organization can grow; nature and biological evolution are proof of it.

So there is an arrow of time, yet one might think that time is more like a river. (Heraclitus said you could not step into the same river twice.) There is a main flow of the current that carries most everything downstream to disorganization and increasing entropy, but there are eddies here and there that actually increase information and organization.

What enables this to happen? Some say thermodynamic gradients. Some say quantum entanglement. Some say gravity. Some say by the expansion of the universe. Some say dark matter or dark energy. Some say sorting processes.

Can we think of time as being “reversed” in these eddies where information and organization increase locally? No, but it’s an interesting (unscientific) thought.

References and Further Reading:












Italo Scardovi / Time and Chance: a statistical hendiadys


Time’s Arrow Traced to Quantum Source, Quanta Magazine

Time’s Arrow Traced to Quantum Source

[*7.136, *8.43]


Laws of Form

September 19, 2016

sq_laws_of_formGeorge Spencer-Brown, author of Laws of Form, recently passed away.

I’ve tried to appreciate this work in the past, but couldn’t really get started. I recently ran across the following four terms associated with the work,

  • Compensation
    -> (())
  • Cancellation
    (()) ->
  • Condensation
    ()() -> ()
  • Confirmation
    () -> ()()

Compensation and Cancellation are both considered Order, and Condensation and Confirmation are both considered Number. Number and Order are distinguished by Distinction, and the pairs of the two distinctions are distinguished by Direction.

I understand Laws of Form starts with “Draw a distinction.” Perhaps I would say “Draw a distinction, then draw a distinction of that distinction.”






For my further reading:





T. S. Eliot: Four Quartets

August 12, 2016

sq_four_quartets5Time is a child playing dice.








The Four New Elements

August 8, 2016

sq_new_elementsFour new elements have been named! They are Nihonium (Nh 113), Moscovium (Mc 115), Tennessine (Ts 117), and Oganesson (Og 118).



Also see:




Timothy Williamson’s Tetralogue

August 5, 2016

sq_tetralogueA recent book of introductory philosophy is Timothy Williamson’s Tetralogue: I’m Right, You’re Wrong. Instead of using a dialogue with two viewpoints used by some classical philosophers, Williamson structures his book into a tetralogue, or a conversation with four viewpoints.

The viewpoints are portrayed by four individuals as they enjoy a lengthy train ride: Zac (Relativism), Sarah (Naturalism, Empiricism, Skepticism, Fallibilism, Materialism, Scientism), Bob (Culturalism, Traditionalism, Conservatism, Ancestralism), and Roxana (Rationalism, Logicalism).

Who’s right and who’s wrong? I haven’t read it yet but it looks interesting!

Several reviews:



A Twitter account to follow (I didn’t know it would do that):

Also see:



[*8.149, *9.146]


On Things, Thoughts, Words, and Actions

August 2, 2016

sq_ordering_autonomy_modeling_translationH. L. Ulman / Things, Thoughts, Words, and Actions: the problem of language in late Eighteenth-Century British rhetorical theory

Review at:


Consequently, he closes by proposing “four principles for analyzing the relations among systems of things, thoughts, words, and actions.” As defined by Ulman, these principles are translation (the ordering of one set of relations such that it models selected aspects of other sets of relations); modeling (the creation of new relations by systematic translation); ordering (the response of one system of relations to changes in others); and autonomy (the capacity of one system of relations to resist ordering by others).

Also see:


[*5.197, *6.106, *6.140, *7.162, *8.120, *8.121]


The Semiotic Square

July 29, 2016

sq_greimasFrom Wikipedia:

The semiotic square, also known as the Greimas square, is a tool used in structural analysis of the relationships between semiotic signs through the opposition of concepts, such as feminine-masculine or beautiful-ugly, and of extending the relevant ontology.


In an earlier post I combined an unusual representation of the semiotic square with that of the Tetralemma. Instead of using that one, please use this one instead.





The Fourfold Body

July 3, 2016

sq_tomb_templeAs an addendum to my previous post, I remembered the nice article below.

Anthony Synnott / Tomb, Temple, Machine and Self: The Social Construction of the Body, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 79-110


The body is socially constructed; and in this paper we explore the various and ever-changing constructions of the body, and thus of the embodied self, from the Greeks to the present. The one word, body, may therefore signify very different realities and perceptions of reality; and we consider briefly how and why these meanings changed.

Plato believed the body was a ‘tomb’, Paul said it was the ‘temple’ of the Holy Spirit, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus taught that it was a ‘corpse’. Christians believed, and believe, that the body is not only physical, but also spiritual and mystical,  and many believed it was an allegory of church, state and family. Some said it was cosmic: one with the planets and the constellations. Descartes wrote that the body is a ‘machine’, and this definition has underpinned bio-medicine to this day; but Sartre said that the body is the self.

In sum, the body has no intrinsic meaning. Populations create their own meanings, and thus their own bodies; but how they create, and then change them, and why, reflects the social body.

Also a book!

Anthony Synnott / The Body Social: symbolism, self, and society (1993)

[*6.142, *9.139]


The Fourfold Self

May 28, 2016

sq_fourfold_selfA recent post by Sandeep Gautam synthesizes several distinctions of the human being as self to come up with a nice fourfold model. These are the Materialistic (or perhaps Substantive), the Experiential or Experienced, the Remembered (or perhaps Visualized), and the Prospective or Anticipatory (or perhaps Envisioned). These can also be neatly labeled as “having”, “doing”, “being”, and “becoming”.

I have talked about Gautam before in my post The Fundamental Four of Sandeep Gautam. The fourfold discussed then was developed from evolutionary problems and drives but reminds me somewhat of this new fourfold, where Food/Foes -> Materialistic Self, Family/Friends -> Experiential Self, Focus/Frame -> Remembered Self, and Flourishing/Fun -> Anticipatory Self.

There are several other fourfold models of the self that are readily found. There is the ancient “Modes of Consciousness” from the Upanishads: Physical, Emotional, Intuitional, and Absolute. There is the anthroposophical model of Rudolf Steiner: Physical, Life/Etheric, Astral/Feeling, and Ego/“I”. There is the one by Friedrich Nietzsche: Deepest, Ego/“I”, Ideal/Higher, and True. And there is the religious or new age model: Body, Mind, Soul, and Spirit.

The problem with most of these older models of the self is the lack of consensus on the meaning and existence of the terms used in their construction, much less a way to know if the set is complete or not. Thus the fourfolds seem to be rather diverse and vague. I favor a more pragmatic and psychological approach in choice of models, plus those that can be easily mapped into Aristotle’s Four Causes, both attributes of which I see in Gautam’s models.

The comparison and contrast of these models to come up with a synthesis might still be a worthwhile future effort. There are also several fourfold models of the brain itself that could be entered in to the mix.

References and Links:

To Have or to Do? To Be or to Become?






[*9.130, *9.132]