Re: A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.

Bill Benzon (
Sat, 3 Apr 1999 10:47:13 -0400

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sat, 3 Apr 1999 10:47:13 -0400
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.

>Okay - so lets say the gene is located in the nucleus - whatever this gene
>turns out to be when you explain it to me. Does having a location make it
>any less of an abstraction? For a cultural analogy - since we have to make
>"abstractions" work both in biology and culture - I can incorporate a
>business here in Texas, and it is definitely located in Texas, but as a
>corporation it still remains an abstraction.
>Because it is an abstraction, however, the location of the corporation is not
>essential to its existence and what it is. For example multi-national and
>international corporations have made this principle obvious.

If I may interpose a comment from a cognitive-psychology POV...

It seems to me that the notion of a gene is an abstract notion, but that is
not incompatible with the fact that genes have determinate physical

Consider the case of salt and sodium chloride. From a cognitive POV salt
is a concrete concept while sodium chloride is abstract. "Salt" is defined
in terms of taste, color, and granularity/texture, but mostly taste. If it
tastes like that, then it is salt. "Sodium chloride" is defined in terms
of atoms and nuclei and electrons, things like that. Those are all pretty
abstract notions, though they are abstract notions of physical things,
unlike the abstract notion of a corporation, which is not a physical thing,
but a system of social relationships.

Or consider such innocent terms as plant and animal. All plants are
physical things, as are all animals. But research in ethnobiology reveals
that preliterate peoples don't have words corresponding to "plant" and
"animal." They treat plants and animals differently, even in sentences
they're treated differently, but they have no words for them. It seems
that classification systems start and the oak, pine, dog, cat, level and
then develop superclasses and subclasses from there. Terms for beast and
fish and tree and bush are common, but not animal and plant. There's
something abstract about the notions of plant and animal that makes it
difficult to create explicit categories for them.

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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