I. Preliminary notes and definition of terms.
Human beings function by means of symbolic abstraction of the physical universe. This is inherent in the biological structure of human beings. We do not experience reality directly, but mediately, through the mechanism of our senses.
For convenience we act as if the sensorium we inhabit is reality. We must. Once one begins to question one’s own senses as an a priori adjunct of the act of observation, one ceases to be able to function. Requiring an extra-sensory conformation of the existence of objects presented to us by our sensorium makes interacting with the real world impossible because such extra-sensory conformation is, if possible, at very least atypical. If you see food and smell it and touch it, go ahead and eat it. Waiting for an absolute proof prior to putting it in your mouth will lead to starvation.
The process of cognitive abstraction, however, does not end with the sensory. Human beings assign symbols to sensory data. All symbols are abstractions of sense data, or are built from other symbols that are abstracted from sensory data. Even concepts that seem far removed from the directly sensual such as “logarithmic” or “Dantesque” can, upon reflection, be expressed as a chain of specific sense impressions.
“Pure thought”, that is to say, symbolic ideation that has no referent to the mediated sensorium, is simply impossible. Try it, sometime. Sit back, close your eyes, and try to follow any particular line of reasoning without the visualizing what you are thinking about. Our brains use symbols that are built from sense impressions. That which we see, smell, touch, hear, and taste is what we use to think with.
I am reviewing these concepts because the human ability to abstract symbols that are themselves abstractions leads to the illusion of quantifiable levels of thought. One speaks of mathematics or philosophy as if they were categories of thought which have definite boundaries. No such boundaries exist within the human mind. It is perfectly possible to parse a statement such as “Three grapes times nine gorillas equals twenty-eight juicy purple apes” and even to correct the mathematical error without disputing the inherent cosmological absurdity of the conclusion.
As the origin of all thought is the mediate sensorium, so also the final cause of all thought is the mediate actorium.
I use the phrase “mediate actorium” because our own actions are known to us only through the sensorium and are subject to the same process of abstraction as are our sense impressions. This is a fact that is often overlooked in philosophical matters and one that deserves some exploration.
When we reach to grasp an object our act of “grasping” is as mediated through our biological machinery as our experience of perceiving the object.
What we perceive is not the real world, it is our sensorium. What we affect is not the real world, it is our actorium. In order to function we must act as if both were, in fact, the objective universe as opposed to our own mediated perception of the objective universe. For most purposes–getting up in the morning, fixing breakfast, going to work, slaying dragons–the mediate nature of what we see and what we do is irrelevant.
However, when one discusses semiotics it is necessary to affirm the mediacy in order to avoid some rather significant errors in logic.
More on this in my next essay.