The other day, I was examining my WordPress Stats (as you do), and I noticed that I’d had viewers from a blog called Blog, Blogger, Bloggest. I clicked over to see what it was, and found myself at a post that had nothing to do with me, except that someone in the comments mentioned my post Of Physical Laws and Fictional Characters.
Normally I would be embarrassed to admit that I’d engaged in this level of navel-gazing, but in this case, it’s led me to some wonderful posts by Steve Morris that I just had to share.
The first is the post “What are Ideas?“, and the second is a follow up called “Afterthought“. I’d love to delve into a substantive response, but I’m still in the phase of pondering Morris’ insights. For now, I’ll leave you a few samples and advise you head over Blog, Blogger, Bloggest as soon as possible.
In the original post, Morris does a brilliant job framing the issue of the reality of ideas in a concrete way – they’re made up, but they seem real, and act real, and still… aren’t:
When we create the idea of 1 + 1, we are putting together other ideas that we already had, like the number one and the idea of adding, and we are saying that they work like this. By imposing rules and constraints, other rules and constraints then follow. Otherwise, anything would be possible and meaning would disappear in a puff of smoke.
Except that maths seems to be real. I can count real objects. Or am I just assigning my internal forms to real things? No, that can’t be right, because I can see the things – there’s one, there’s the second one, etc.
In his Afterthought, he adds:
Let me illustrate what I’m talking about. In maths, we have created the idea of an infinite set of numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. We have created rules that let us write down numbers, compare numbers, and perform operations on them, like addition and multiplication. But that doesn’t mean that an infinite number of numbers actually exists. Until somebody writes them down, they merely have the potential to exist, according to the rules we devised.
And my absolute favorite moment in the pair of posts:
But how about this? Think of ideas as more like living things. We forge them out of our own imaginations. We breathe life into them through the act of creativity. They exist in our world as fragile, brightly-coloured creatures that must be nurtured and cared for. We can set them free by sharing them with others so that they spread and grow, or if unloved, they will be extinguished and die.
I just love ideas. Don’t you?
I do, Mr. Morris, I really, really do.