Friday, March 20, 2009

On the ontological argument

One of the most subtle arguments to prove God's existence is the ontological, first articulated by Saint Anselm of Canterbury during the eleventh century. The arguments goes more or less like this:

God is “that than which nothing greater can be thought”; in other words, he is a being so great, so full of metaphysical oomph, that one cannot so much as conceive of a being who would be greater than God. The Psalmist, however, tells us that “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Is it possible to convince the fool that he is wrong? It is. All we need is the characterization of God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought.” The fool does at least understand that definition. But whatever is understood exists in the understanding, just as the plan of a painting he has yet to execute already exists in the understanding of the painter. So that than which nothing greater can be thought exists in the understanding. But if it exists in the understanding, it must also exist in reality. For it is greater to exist in reality than to exist merely in the understanding. Therefore, if that than which nothing greater can be thought existed only in the understanding, it would be possible to think of something greater than it (namely, that same being existing in reality as well). It follows, then, that if that than which nothing greater can be thought existed only in the understanding, it would not be that than which nothing greater can be thought; and that, obviously, is a contradiction. So that than which nothing greater can be thought must exist in reality, not merely in the understanding.

To me, the ontological argument does not prove the existence of God, but rather, the existence in the human brain of the need of a God's idea; the need of constrain the infinite in space and time in a finite framework in space and time. In other words, why we produce concepts that we cannot constrain, why we have the skills to think on unthinkable problems?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On semantics

I am not very surprised with the fact that semantics is not just about language or linguistics; it is also about politics, marketing and finally... money!

To give you some key examples in the groceries field (although this is very general), those products that are made with "natural and artificial flavors"... it is quite clear to me what is an artificial flavor; I haven't been able to evaluate what exactly means a natural flavor. You see, you could argue that they are natural because they are made with natural products, but then the raw material to make an artificial product was taken from the "natural word"! so it seems that artificial means that the actual flavor is quite far away from the original raw material while "natural" is closer to the raw material, few processing going on.... so the semantics? in my dictionary a natural flavor comes from natural flavors, no process ought to be involved!!! thus the definition is twitched quite a bit to label the cans of products that you would buy in a supermarket; i.e. from a hard semantic point of view there is not such a thing as a natural product.
Another interesting example is found in some products that are sold in California, in which there are some chemical or something that probably is (very!) harmful for human beings. You will notice that those products would have a label that begins with a sentence more or less like this: "It is know by the state of California that this product can produce cancer" ... what does it means this? that the people in NY don't know or the people in NY pretend that does not know? here is a beautiful example of how politics change the meaning of words; in California the product is not acceptable because could produce cancer, but in some other state, this is perhaps known but not legally addressed... it wouln't be ok accept something that is not accepted in a different state unless, of course, the subject is not known! so California knows something that some other states don't know! better to be dumb and blind than an inmoral seller!

Finally, my favorite one, a "Guacamole style" sauce that does not contains avocado, the meaning of the word "style" would be "fake" but at least with "style"!