Separating Ontology and Impressions through Articulation

So far I failed to properly define impressions. I mixed up the experience of impressions with their representation as an object of the mind and missed drawing a clear line between those two spheres.

On my table exists a black object, hard-edged and cold in touch. This graph of properties makes itself aware to me as my phone. It creates the experience of recognition and understanding of a thing; an object. I am also able to experience the transition to other such objects. I remember the calls I still have to take or the messages I read. I can travel between objects with more or less ease and sometimes it isn’t even me who is doing the active traveling. I just get pulled along by some force yet unknown to me. All this is to say: Relations between those objects exist and from that observation, I constructed the idea of an ontology. It doesn’t exist in a real sense as something I can point towards but it is a good enough concept to describe that experience.

Ontology also has another property. I am able to articulate it. I can transfer ideas to other people, and make them understand, even if they never experienced that object before. In other words, I am able to externalize my understanding (A1).

Articulation is also the active side of an otherwise passive ontology. Through it, I can act out my understanding and change my world of impressions. I can even enact ontology itself. Not only some small part of it but the overall structure itself. This series of articles is proof of that. I can create objects of the mind about the experience of intelligence through which I am enabled to articulate them here in words. Ontology, or the mysterious process underlying this abstract idea, is even able to capture its own workings to some degree. It is able to point the light of understanding at itself.

Compare that to impressions. No matter how hard I try I cannot act out my experience of the color Green in writing, speech, or any other form of human expression that would allow me to make it intelligible to another person. The only thing that remains is to point at something green and name it, to evoke the experience in another person and then attach understanding to it. Impressions, therefore, are all those experiences that elude themselves from full understanding, from any way of articulation and sharing with the outside world. They are forever locked into my consciousness.

At the same time, impressions carry the hope of a shared world. I experience green or pain and I believe you do so too. I even go a step further and believe your experience is the same as mine (A2). I cannot share my impressions but I can believe that it is shared already between all of us.

Impressions also carry the spark of understanding. I can name them and associate them with other ideas in my mind. That means they are part of ontology too but the object Green feels more like a lattice constructed around that actual thing. Understanding has that feeling of something constructed and shallow to it. Imperfectly capturing the core of impressions.

Coming to an end, there are two types of experience: impressions and understanding. The latter is born out of the former but they are still separate spheres. And now I leave myself with the following question: Is the experience of “me” an impression or object of the mind?


A1 - A thought experiment

I hold in my hand a thing of blackness. Shaped like a small box it has a bright surface on one side through which I can determine with whom I want to speak. I touch the name of the person of my interest and immediately this small box will tell this person of my need for a conversation. No matter where they might be in this world. I can hear their voice and they can hear mine. It magically creates a connection between the two of us.

Giving this explanation to someone who never saw a phone before it would still create a basic idea of what a phone is. They could absorb the object. But they would need to fill in all the ideas that are in the end impressions. I cannot describe blackness so I have to hope they already know.

A2 - Pain of others

When my son is hurting himself I can understand where his pain is coming from and why. I can associate it with a pain I might have felt in the past that is similar to his and feel compassion. But I can never know what his experience of pain is. I substitute his experience with mine.

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