Experience: Separation of Ontology and Impressions through Articulation

While I was working out some flaws in my initial description of ontology I tried to produce a definition of what impressions are. But after reading this section again it is obvious to me that I didn’t manage that task properly. I mixed up the experience of impressions with their representation as objects within ontology and through that missed to draw a clear line between those two spheres.

There is an experience of intelligence and of recognition that I can best describe as objects of the mind. Looking at that distinct unit of blackness, with its hard edges, and cold touch, it makes itself known to me as my phone. A single unit of understanding. I also experience the transition to other objects. I can think about the phone calls I still have to do or the messages from other people I just 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 to and say: See, that is ontology. But it is a good enough concept to describe my experience of understanding and thinking.

But in my previous articles, it was here that I didn’t make the definition as precise as possible. I defined impressions as objects of the mind I cannot go beyond, or as the light giving life to my experience. But what is that supposed to mean exactly? And why does this concept live in two places - inside and outside ontology - at the same time? I think at this point I have to revisit impressions again and see if I can find some new angle I can derive a definition from.

Okay, what then is an impression? Answering that question directly I believe is impossible because it eludes itself from any articulation. 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. That is in stark contrast to the things that live as objects in my mind. I can articulate them fully and through that make them intelligible to others even if they never had contact with that object before. In other words, I can transfer my objects and externalize them (A1).

And through the act of articulation, I found a new and more useful way of defining impressions: It’s 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. But at the same time impressions carry the hope of a shared world. I experience green or pain and I believe you do so too. And I go a step beyond 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.

But there is also some spark of understanding there because I can name them and associate them with other ideas in my mind. That means impressions are in some sense part of ontology too, as my initial description assumed, but to me, it feels more like a lattice constructed around an unmovable, dense core. I can describe and share the former but the latter stays within me and I stay attached to it. Put this way, understanding in general has the feeling of something constructed and shallow to it. Imperfectly capturing the core of impressions. To me, it also seems that I exist in this latticework. I don’t have an experience of “me” outside of understanding. I can remove impressions by closing my eyes or covering my ears and my experience of “me” doesn’t get less or vanishes at all. The core gets small but not my understanding nor me. I still can think. But there is a limit. When all impressions are gone so am I. When I fall into a deep, dreamless sleep I stop to exist. Between falling asleep and waking up no time elapsed. I go from one to the other as if nothing happened in between. So, for “me” to live I have to experience impressions otherwise the lattice will fall apart without its core, its foundation. Maybe I am even that lattice I also call ontology. I don’t know.

To bring this article to an end, I want to shine some light on one last aspect of articulation: It is the active side of an otherwise passive ontology. Through it, I can act out my understanding and change my world of impressions. But it seems I am capable of an even bigger feat: I can 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.

To summarize, there are two types of experience: impressions and understanding. The latter is born out of the former but they are still separate spheres. And with that, the mystery of experience also became a bit more detailed.


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.

You found a typo or some other mistake I made in this text? All articles can be changed here. If you want to exchange ideas then simply drop me a message at contact@paulheymann.de.