What is there?
How do we discern or distinguish something from something else? We define an object as anything that we discern. A dictionary definition is that an object is anything that is relatively stable in form or a thing, person, or matter to which thought or action is directed. Slightly more generally here we think of an object as anything that, by being to some degree stable or coherent, may be apprehended, perceived, understood or conceived through thought or action.
An object is therefore our basic notion – it is any cognition, observable or tangible particular thing, person, matter, idea, notion, concept, attribute, message, relationship, value or abstract thought or feeling including an emotion.
Why do we discern an object? In his book “Conjectures and Refutations” Karl Popper wrote “Observation is always selective. It needs a chosen object, a definite task, an interest, a point of view, a problem. And its description presupposes a descriptive language, with property words; it presupposes similarity and classification, which in their turn presuppose interests, points of view, and problems.”
When we discern an object it is because we have a reason or set of reasons. We never perceive our environment without a reason – no matter how enigmatic. That reason lies in a human need or desire. For example the reason might be sheer curiosity or to find food or shelter. Reasons are the basis of our point in looking. They are also the basis of Axiom 1 of impelling purpose.
Axiom 1 is pragmatic. It is based on the idea that we humans are evolutionary problem solvers. Like existentionalism Axiom 1 implies that humans define their own meaning in life but it does not imply that we think the universe is irrational – we make no statement about the nature of reality other than it is knowable only through human cognition. Axiom 1 is also not nihilisitic (the idea that values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated) rather that we human create our own values through our own collective efforts. Corollary 1 on the nature of reality is a consequence of Axiom 1 and is the reason we assert that all knowledge is a set of models of reality.
When we perceive objects they maybe wholes and they may be parts. For example a tree is a whole but is also a set of parts such as a trunk, branches, roots, leaf and blossom. We define holons as objects that are at the same time both a part (of a whole) and a whole (containing parts). All objects are holons and through them we see the world in layers of definition. This is the basis of Axiom 2 of layers.
It is clear that objects change. Change is the becoming of difference. For example, we perceive the daily and seasonal cycles. Some objects change very regularly like the daily cycle, some very quickly like the movement of a fish through water and some appear not to change at all because the rate of change is very slow – for example geological rock formations. Change is the basis of Axiom 4 of the ubiquity of change.
Objects are connected to other objects. Some connections are readily apparent – others are hidden and difficult to discern. Change happens because objects interact. Objects are therefore interdependent -and this is the basis of Axiom 3 of complex interdependency.
A connection is the linking of two objects by a channel of communication to permit an interaction. A connection may be between objects in immediate proximity or direct physical contact but also between objects physically apart and not apparently in direct physical contact.
We think of interaction as an exchange of messages but these messages are also objects – sent and received. Change happens in a time interval between receiving and sending. The time interval may be between milliseconds or millennia.
Messages are the flow of, for example, energy, physical force or information such as electromagnetic signals, spoken and written words, thoughts, books, articles, documents and emails etc between neighbours, friends, relatives or acquaintances.
A process is a series of changes. Consequently changing objects are interacting processes. Human perception is a process. Thinking is a process of reasoning, imagining, reflecting and learning.
Objects have form, structure. A form is a particular state of an object as a shape or arrangement of its parts. A structure is the way parts connect to make a whole.
A relation is a significant mode, form or kind of connection. A role is a sequence of proper, anticipated, obligated or expected changes as patterns of performance or behaviour.
An event is a happening and the state of a process. A state is a condition or particular mode of being of an object.
A natural object exists in the physical world ‘out there’ in reality. We will say it is part of Nature. Living objects are natural objects that through metabolism, grow, reproduce and adapt to their environment and hence may become diverse.
A thinking object has a state due its own existence and self-awareness. At present the only known thinking objects are living objects. A human body is a living object but a human brain is also a thinking object with intentionality.
Intentionality is the capacity to refer to an existent or nonexistent object beyond itself or having consciousness.
A human object has a role in any given process, as a proper or customary function, for example as a partner or in employment. Such a role may or may not be recognised, understood or made explicit and may be the subject of disputes or debates, for example the role of humans in causing climate change or in ascribing a meaning to our very existence.
An animal body and an animal brain are living objects. Some higher level animal brains (e.g. apes) may be thinking objects. A living object may or may not have a purpose ascribed to it by a thinking object, for example a mountain or lake may be used as a tourist attraction, or may be considered to have a role in influencing the weather.
An artificial object is one produced by human skills. The role of an artificial object is a function. However artificial objects also have other attributes such as cost, sustainability and aesthetic value that must be considered in the process of making them. A function is a specified action or operation. The hardware and the software of computers are artificial objects – they are presently not thinking objects but have the potential to become thinking objects in the future.
Objects are subjective, inter-subjective or objective. Subjective objects are those belonging only to a thinking object. They cannot easily be communicated; for example the pain in my stomach or an emotion. Inter-subjective objects are those belonging to a thinking object but which, by partial or full agreement, may also be shared with other thinking objects; for example the idea of a perfect circle or a colour such as green. Objective objects exist outside of any single thinking object and are independent of objects apprehended by a particular thinking object. Examples are the contents of libraries and the internet.
Reality consists of objective objects but apprehended as inter-subjective objects, for example we all agree that we see the same moon. Some inter-subjective objects are not natural objects in the sense they are not, nor ever have been, actual, for example Sherlock Holmes and unicorns are fictional though they exist as properties of objective objects such as books, pictures and films.
One way in which the apprehending of objects is shared is by expressing them in a language. A language is a tool, an object through which another object interprets and expresses and sends messages to other objects to ascribe meaning.
Meaning is the reason for, purpose or significance of an object – it is an interpretation of what an object is intended to be or actually is. Languages as subjective objects are one way of conscious thinking. Languages as inter-subjective objects may be expressed as objective objects when captured in some physical form such as talking, music (sound, recording), writing (books), drawing, painting and sculpture (art) or patterns of electronic charge (bits in a computer, electromagnetic waves). To a particular single thinking object (mind) other thinking objects (brains, minds) are objective. Many (but not all) of the changes in objective objects in the physical world ‘out there’ in reality are part of Nature.
A model is an interpretive description or representation of an object and is itself an object apprehended by a thinking object. A model is not what it represents but captures one or more aspects of an object just as a toy model car captures the form of a real car. It follows that models are inherently uncertain. A model may deliberately disregard certain aspects of the reality of an object (i.e. may be variously abstract in order to simplify or to demonstrate similarities), or there may be aspects missing from the model that are unknown. A model is therefore a necessarily simpler, partial and incomplete version of the object it represents and may rely on idealisations, simplifications and analogies.
A system is a set of interacting object processes. A system model is a model of a system. A closed system is one that is self-contained system with nothing transferred in or out. An open system is one that admits transfers across its boundaries. Thus for example the Earth, the world we live in, is an open system for energy but (more or less) a closed system for matter.