Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Open letter to jlsperanza of

I'd like to thank JL for our exchange on the meaning of the verb 'exist' and ints noun form 'existence'. To sum up, JL had argued that Borges' Anglo-American Cyclopaedia in a sense can't have existed, since it couldn't be verified, despite numerous attempts. I replied something to the effect that, if the Cyclopaedia existed to Borges, it did indeed exist, possible with the qualification 'to Borges'.

I've been thinking further about this problematic: a conceptual approach to 'existence' qua noun. Existence as a scientific value to statements, objects and other discursive moments is indeed, in some dominant sectors of the scientific world contingent on a pre- established practice of falsification. Existence (does gravity exist? is this a true statement? does this object-in-discourse exist?) must pass the test of falsification. Falsification is an astonishingly simple practice. First, articulate the object as in some specific relationship to some 'pre-discursive' world (nature, the real world, reality, aka. existence). Second, produce the articulation in such a way that it is testable in the same pre-discursive world as it is articulated through a pre-established set of parameters. (Say, a machine produces the color green iff the color produced is green. The method through which statements of the second order is articulated is arrived upon, is considered given, or natural. "Everybody knows what color green is, if they have eyes to see with." The color green is self-evident, transparent in a conceptual sense.) Finally, test the articulated object against an articulation of the pre-determined reality. If the two articulations don't correspond, scrap the theory and keep the already-established reality.

The practice of falsification rests on the assumption that knowledge is an [ac]cumulative process, that the amount of knowledge in a subject, or the social body in toto, is in a process of growth, it moves forward and upward -- nothing grows downward, now, does it? Except maybe onions, but they don't have anything to do with the Existence of Man, now, does it?

There's just a couple of problems with this assumption. For one, it can be falsified (!), that is, beaten on its own home ground. After a brain damage of some sort, or as a result of some disease, a person may loose knowledge in a commonly accepted sense of the word -- memorized 'facts' (set statements) about the 'objective world'. You may answer that knowledge in our sense doesn't reside in a singular mind, but in some abstracted social body. If one person should forget the year of the American Declaration of Independence, lots of people still remember. It remains societally remembered. Besides, it is written down, and hence accessible as long as a written document of its memorial exists (and can be interpreted). Sure, I'd say, but if some moment of discourse doesn't exist to any member of a group, does it then exist to the group? Isn't existence precisely contingent upon at least some member acknowledging it? And this is where we come to the more serious problem with 'falsification theory' as a theory of knowledge. Existence can't, in a linguistic sense, be reduced to (a certain conception of) scientific existence.

To backtrack: In (hard) science, it would be meaningless to say that Newtonian gravity exists but is wrong. The Newtonian notion of gravity has been falsified. And yet it exists! I've just referred to it a number of times, scientists spend years of their lives proving and convincing others that it doesn't exist, and so on.

Anyway, must dash.