Checking the pH of the fish tank
March 23, 2014 § 72 Comments
I’ve talked about the intellectual error I call positivism quite a bit over the years. It is a difficult thing for moderns like us to discuss, precisely because it is like trying to describe water to a fish. Ironically this difficulty is exacerbated specifically by the fact that positivism is false.
Consider what happens when we read a text. Reading formal arrangements of symbols on a page or screen is the activity; somehow this activity results in an apprehension of meaning inside our minds.
In order to understand a specific text the meanings that it triggers must already be in us, and must have gotten into us from somewhere else. A text can bring us new information and new concepts through novel arrangements of what we already know; but almost all of the meaning of a text must come from something other than that specific text.
Almost all of the meaning of a text is already in our minds before we read it. If it were not we could not possibly understand the text: it would just be a meaningless jumble of forms.
Understanding that when we read a specific text almost all of the meaning was already in us, before we even started to read it, will not give us a solid grasp of what positivism is and why it is an error — an error so pervasive that for modern people it is like water to fish. We can’t understand those things concretely until sufficient meaning related to positivism and the problems with it has made it into our minds.
But it is the beginning of an understanding.