## Is there any physical basis for what constitutes a 'thing' or 'object'?

• 1.5k
This came from another topic, and I didn't want to side track it further.
The quote considers is a length of pipe that is considered in two lengthwise halves ('gutters') without actually separating them.

... if I paint half the pipe blue and half red, the halves do not become objects in their own right, but remain halves of the same pipe, even though they are of different colours.
— Ludwig V
I said that the two painted halves do not become objects in their own right, meaning separate, distinct objects. You may argue that this is not dividing the pipe, or that each half becomes a distinct object. I don't mind what you choose.

So this got me thinking, and I could only conclude that what constitutes an 'object' is entirely a matter of language/convention. There's no physical basis for it. I can talk about the blue gutter and that, by convention, identifies an object distinct from the red gutter despite them both being parts of a greater (not separated) pipe.

This is apparently not entirely intuitive, as commonly illustrated by science fiction shows that presume that it is a physical thing.

Some examples from fiction:

Star Trek: You set phaser to 'kill' and shoot the red shirt guy. It makes him vanish, clothes and all, but no more than that. Apparently the convention is that whatever you are carrying is part of you, and vanishes with you. But how does the phaser beam know this convention? What if the guy is standing one foot each on a pair of blocks? The blocks are not part of him. But what if there's a strap? Now it's a flip flop, and it vanishes with him. Light apparently knows the convention.
What if the phaser hits a bug on the guy's shirt? Does just the bug disappear or does the guy (the intended target) go as well?

Similarly, in Dr Who, somebody has a wrist teleporter which, at the push of a button, zaps the wearer to somewhere else. So what if I strap it to an annoying wart as a funny way to remove it? How does it know where the person stops? What if I strap it to a railing at the roof of a building? Does it take the railing, a piece of it, or the building, or what? The convention isn't clear in this case since the boundaries of a non-living thing require more detail than just 'take this'.

Any show with a time machine: Back to the future, H G Wells, etc. The machine needs to take itself, whatever it encloses, but not more. That convention is better defined.

Terminator does it better. It says: Here's a volume. Only what's in it goes, so if you hang your wart outside the (about 1.3 m diameter) sphere, yay, you got rid of it.

Non-fictional examples:

Galileo utilized what I'm discussing to prove that different mass things should in principle fall at the same rate. He did this by considering two small masses, and then the same small pair of masses connected by some physical means of connection, rendering them one object of twice the mass. Either the connection has a significant effect (even if only by spider web), or the rate of falling is mass independent. Had it been otherwise, there would by a physical test for where the boundaries of an object lie.

Does a truck weigh more when loaded? Without alternate explanation of the convention, most would say yes. But if the discussion draws a distinction between the truck and its cargo, then no, the truck weight is unchanged, but the cargo has weight of its own. So the weight of the truck is language dependent.
Similarly, when I eat food, when does my body suddenly mass more? My daughter says the convention is 'when you swallow', a fair answer. Until then, the food is cargo, not part of you. But if I swallow a marble, that's arguably never really part of me, so do I weigh more because I did so, or is it this time designated as 'cargo' for its duration inside of me.

To Ludwig's gutters: The gutters are two separate objects if considered by a convention that identifies them as such. Them being physically attached to each other or not is irrelevant. Physics is utterly silent on the topic. There is no device that can be pointed to a 'thing' that will tell you the boundary of that thing, despite all the fictional devices that do exactly that.
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Depends on what you mean by thing/object, so you should clarify that first (and before that I would suggest clarifying the need for such a definition in the first place).

If you mean something like "moderate-sized specimens of dry goods," we could probably come up with a (messy, fuzzy and ambiguous) set of criteria from psycho-physical considerations, but before diving into that unwieldy project, I would want to better understand the motivation.
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what constitutes an 'object' is entirely a matter of language/convention. There's no physical basis for it.

We all can’t start or have a conversation without making distinctions and understanding what these distinctions refer to. Saying “pipe” in the first place so that two people who say and hear “pipe” meaningfully requires some basis outside of the two people (where each can point and say “pipe” for instance.

Whether they are both hallucinating or having some sort of deluded experience, or pointing to a physical thing may be another question, but some sort of distinction exists and basis for that distinction exists or else we wouldn’t get past the word “pipe”.

Only assuming we all know what a pipe is can we then imagine cutting it in half longwise and ask about some new thing we might call “half-pipe” (which has a basis in the whole pipe, or call it “gutter” which refers to another context.

So it’s true that words are conventions in themselves, but the fact that they function to communicate things between people is because they make distinctions in a context as a basis for those distinctions. I am fine assuming the basis for the naming convention “pipe” or “gutter” has a basis in a physical reality we might call “the physical world”, but regardless, we can’t speak without standing on some basis that grounds the function of those words.
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To Ludwig's gutters: The gutters are two separate objects if considered by a convention that identifies them as such. Them being physically attached to each other or not is irrelevant. Physics is utterly silent on the topic. There is no device that can be pointed to a 'thing' that will tell you the boundary of that thing, despite all the fictional devices that do exactly that.
I agree with you about this. But I have a pedantic desire to clarify the matter of the gutters. I mentioned them when I suggested that one could decide to cut a pipe into two halves either by cutting across its length, so you get two shorter pipes, or by cutting along its length, so you get two objects of the same length, but not complete circles so not pipes - I decided to call them gutters because they could be used as gutters. When I posited painting the pipe, I did not consider painting the gutters.
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There is no device that can be pointed to a 'thing' that will tell you the boundary of that thing, despite all the fictional devices that do exactly that.

Yes there is. A word is a device that can carve out a boundary. We can call them fictional but you are still reading some of them right now and using them to make points that others are agreeing with. So “fictional” seems dramatic. How about words themselves having no clear boundaries.

Without any boundaries either in physics or carved in words, or both, how can anyone speak?
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Thank you all for your replies. My topic was mostly an observation. If you can think of exceptions to my 'it isn't physics' assertion, such counterarguments would be especiallywelcome.
one could decide to cut a pipe into two halves either by cutting across its length, so you get two shorter pipes
What if it isn't at the center? A what point does it cease to be two pipes rather than one pipe and a scrap resulting from me getting the length of it just right. Probably the line is somewhere around where the scrap is no longer useful as a short pipe elsewhere. The distinction comes from language and purpose, and is not physical, which is the point of me posting all this.

or by cutting along its length
Or in a double spiral, resulting in a pair of very difficult to disentangle Slinkys.

When I posited painting the pipe, I did not consider painting the gutters.
The painting helps get the mental concept across. It in no way helps the phaser gun which you intended to only disintegrate the blue gutter.

Depends on what you mean by thing/object
My point exactly. Nobody has explained to the phaser gun what was meant. It just magically seems to know the intent of the wielder, as is also the case with all the other fictional examples.

If you mean something like "moderate-sized specimens of dry goods,"
What if I mean 'that tornado over there'? It's a physical thing of sorts, or rather a vaguely localaized effect that emerges from non-tornado matter, which is mostly air, something hard to point to. Where are the boundaries of a tornado? The ground is a reasonably decent lower bound, at least the part of the ground that remains stationary. The rest? All a matter of convention, and the convention doesn't care in that case.

We all can’t start or have a conversation without making distinctions and understanding what these distinctions refer to.
Agree, but the point is that I cannot have a conversation with my physical device (such as the examples in the OP), so I can't convey meaning to it. All I can convey to it is 'this' (in the case of the teleport wristband), or 'that' (in the case of anything that can be pointed).

I said Terminator franchise solved the problem, but it didn't. In T2, the liquid terminator can imitate anything it touches, which means there is some kind of physical definition of 'what it touches'. So what if it touches the red gutter? Can it now imitate a gutter, or can it imitate the pipe, or perhaps the entire plumbing system of a city? Somehow meaning is conveyed through mere contact, and it can be driven to contradiction.

we can’t speak without standing on some basis that grounds the function of those words.
I'm asking if something that to which meaning cannot be conveyed still perform as designed. How does the gun know the boundaries of what it is to disintegrate? You say words can do this, but I can't tell it. Sure, I can build an AI device that can parse verbal language so as to convey intent, but that just puts the device into conceptual territory. It ceases to be physical anymore if it's done that way.
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I'm asking if something that to which meaning cannot be conveyed still perform as designed.

Like face recognition. A device that sets boundaries.

The boundary might cut off an ear, but it is a device that makes distinctions to carve out a separate (separated) thing.
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So this got me thinking, and I could only conclude that what constitutes an 'object' is entirely a matter of language/convention

Well, suppose you were helping someone fix their plumbing and they asked you to "please bring over that set of pipes."

But then you only see one pipe there, and report this to them. Then they reply: "what? No, that is the set. I consider each 3 inch interval its own discrete pipe."

Well, obviously this would be pretty weird. Likewise, if you look up the rules for the famous "grue and bleen" it's impossible to imagine them ever coming into wide use.

The reason seems obvious enough to me. Language and convention are not themselves "language and convention all the way down." We don't create our distinctions arbitrarily. They do not spring forth from our minds uncaused. As much as human languages differ in categorization, they are more similar than different. For instance, disparate isolated cultures did not come to recognize totally different animal and plant species, with say, large pigs being a different type than small ones. The Sioux long venerated the rare white bison, but they considered this a "bison" despite the variance in color because they categorize animals in largely the same way all peoples do. There is, of course, some variance in edge cases, but on the whole convention seems to correspond to the observable properties of things across different cultures. For instance, I know of no culture that fails to distinguish between plants and animals, opting instead for some other categorization. The same applies for living/non-living.

Certainly, we can imagine that our distinctions and formulations of species and genus could be entirely different. But this is to prioritize potency in our analysis over act. In actuality, they hew towards commonality, and this is presumably not coincidence.

Anyhow, you might be interested in the Problem of the Many, which is closely related: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/problem-of-many/

It deals with the problem of demarcating discrete objects. Some philosophers have tried to get around this by proclaiming that only "fundemental particles" are true wholes, and everything else is just "particles arranged cat-wise, rock-wise, etc." The problem here is that fundemental particles increasingly don't seem so fundemental, having beginnings and ends, as well as only being definable in terms of completely universal fields (i.e., the whole). Physicists and philosophers of physics increasingly want to label them as "abstractions" to stand in for empirical results. I've even seen them called the "shadows on the wall of Plato's cave," in that they lack independent reality and only emerge from a more fundemental reality, and are an abstraction of interactions with that reality.

But, then, giving up on particles and taking this to an extreme, it would seem that we can't really say true things about anything. Ultimately, if all we have is a field of fields, a single unity, everything interacting with everything else, with no truly discrete boundaries, then it seems like nothing can be said because all distinctions would be arbitrary. This is the problem of the One and the Many.

I think the solution is to recognize that:

A. Plurality is obvious and given in plurality of discrete phenomenological horizons (minds) in the world.

B. Our terms and distinctions aren't arbitrary, even if they could conceivably be different.
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I would add that these problems become particularly acute, I would say insoluble, if one starts from the position that what we know/experience are "mental representations" or "ideas" rather than these being that through which we know. It's a fundemental difference. The latter view sees the sign in the semiotic triad as joining the object known and the interpretant in a single, irreducible gestalt. The former sees the sign as a barrier between the object and the interpretant. In representationalism, there seems to be no way to overcome the epistemic challenge of explaining how "ideas" relate to things, since all we ever deal in are ideas. Thus, showing how our signs are not arbitrary becomes impossible.
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The distinction comes from language and purpose, and is not physical, which is the point of me posting all this.
Yes. I'm not disagreeing with you, for a change.

Or in a double spiral, resulting in a pair of very difficult to disentangle Slinkys.
:grin:

There is, of course, some variance in edge cases, but on the whole convention seems to correspond to the observable properties of things across different cultures.
Yes. Given that we are all human beings and therefore similar in many important ways (as well as different in other important ways, that is not surprising. That's why Wittgenstein grounds everything in human life and practices.

I would add that these problems become particularly acute, I would say insoluble, if one starts from the position that what we know/experience are "mental representations" or "ideas" rather than these being that through which we know.
Yes. I think we should think of them as lenses, rather than obstacles.
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Is there any physical basis for what constitutes a 'thing' or 'object'?

Here is Wittgenstein rejecting the notion of a "simple" he had developed in his first work, the Tractatus. A "simple" is perhaps not too far from what you call "a 'thing' or 'object'". Wittgenstein had supposed a form of logical atomism, the notion that there were elementary facts - simples - from which a complete description of the world might be constructed. Here he is questioning whether there is any such absolute basis for claiming something is a simple or a composite object.

47. But what are the simple constituent parts of which reality is composed?—What are the simple constituent parts of a chair?—The bits of wood of which it is made? Or the molecules, or the atoms?— "Simple" means: not composite. And here the point is: in what sense 'composite'? It makes no sense at all to speak absolutely of the 'simple parts of a chair'.

Again: Does my visual image of this tree, of this chair, consist of parts? And what are its simple component parts? Multi-colouredness is one kind of complexity; another is, for example, that of a broken outline composed of straight bits. And a curve can be said to be composed of an ascending and a descending segment.

If I tell someone without any further explanation: "What I see before me now is composite", he will have the right to ask: "What do you mean by 'composite'? For there are all sorts of things that that can meant"—The question "Is what you see composite?" makes good sense if it is already established what kind of complexity—that is, which particular use of the word—is in question. If it had been laid down that the visual image of a tree was to be called "composite" if one saw not just a single trunk, but also branches, then the question "Is the visual image of this tree simple or composite?", and the question "What are its simple component parts?", would have a clear sense—a clear use. And of course the answer to the second question is not "The branches" (that would be an answer to the grammatical question: "What are here called 'simple component parts'?") but rather a description of the individual branches.

But isn't a chessboard, for instance, obviously, and absolutely, composite?—You are probably thinking of the composition out of thirty-two white and thirty-two black squares. But could we not also say, for instance, that it was composed of the colours black and white and the schema of squares? And if there are quite different ways of looking at it, do you still want to say that the chessboard is absolutely 'composite'?—Asking "Is this object composite?" outside a particular language-game is like what a boy once did, who had to say whether the verbs in certain sentences were in the active or passive voice, and who racked his brains over the question whether the verb "to sleep" meant something active or passive.

We use the word "composite" (and therefore the word "simple") in an enormous number of different and differently related ways. (Is the colour of a square on a chessboard simple, or does it consist of pure white and pure yellow? And is white simple, or does it consist of the colours of the rainbow?—Is this length of 2 cm. simple, or does it consist of two parts, each 1 cm. long? But why not of one bit 3 cm. long, and one bit 1 cm. long measured in the opposite direction?)

To the philosophical question: "Is the visual image of this tree composite, and what are its component parts?" the correct answer is: "That depends on what you understand by 'composite'." This is of course not an answer but a rejection of the question.)
— Philosophical Investigations

Immediately following, in §48, he describes coloured squares on a grid, as:

Here the sentence is a complex of names, to which corresponds a complex of elements. The primary elements are the coloured squares. "But are these simple?"—I do not know what else you would have me call "the simples", what would be more natural in this language-game. But under other circumstances I should call a monochrome square "composite", consisting perhaps of two rectangles, or of the elements colour and shape. But the concept of complexity might also be so extended that a smaller area was said to be 'composed' of a greater area and another one subtracted from it. Compare the 'composition of forces', the 'division' of a line by a point outside it; these expressions shew that we are sometimes even inclined to conceive the smaller as the result of a composition of greater parts, and the greater as the result of a division of the smaller.

But I do not know whether to say that the figure described by our sentence consists of four or of nine elements! Well, does the sentence consist of four letters or of nine?—And which are its elements, the types of letter, or the letters? Does it matter which we say, so long as we avoid misunderstandings in any particular case?
— Philosophical Investigations, §48

I hope you can see how this sort of analysis can be applied to object. Wittgenstein himself does so a bit later:
60. When I say: "My broom is in the corner",—is this really a statement about the broomstick and the brush? Well, it could at any rate be replaced by a statement giving the position of the stick and the position of the brush. And this statement is surely a further analysed form of the first one.—But why do I call it "further analysed"?— Well, if the broom is there, that surely means that the stick and brush must be there, and in a particular relation to one another; and this was as it were hidden in the sense of the first sentence, and is expressed in the analysed sentence. Then does someone who says that the broom is in the corner really mean: the broomstick is there, and so is the brush, and the broomstick is fixed in the brush?—If we were to ask anyone if he meant this he would probably say that he had not thought specially of the broomstick or specially of the brush at all. And that would be the right answer, for he meant to speak neither of the stick nor of the brush in particular. Suppose that, instead of saying "Bring me the broom", you said "Bring me the broomstick and the brush which is fitted on to it."!—Isn't the answer: "Do you want the broom? Why do you put it so oddly?"——Is he going to understand the further analysed sentence better?—This sentence, one might say, achieves the same as the ordinary one, but in a more roundabout way.—imagine a language-game in which someone is ordered to bring certain objects which are composed of several parts, to move them about, or something else of the kind. And two ways of playing it: in one (a) the composite objects (brooms, chairs, tables, etc.) have names, as in (15); in the other (b) only the parts are given names and the wholes are described by means of them.—In what sense is an order in the second game an analysed form of an order in the first? Does the former lie concealed in the latter, and is it now brought out by analysis?— True, the broom is taken to pieces when one separates broomstick and brush; but does it follow that the order to bring the broom also consists of corresponding parts? — Philosophical Investigations

What constitutes an object is not to be found in physics or in the physical structures around us, but in what we are doing with our language and what we are doing with the objects involved in those activities. We give consideration to the broom if we are sweeping, but perhaps only to the broomstick if we are using it to move something that is out of our reach, or to the brush if we are looking for hair for a scarecrow...
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could only conclude that what constitutes an 'object' is entirely a matter of language/convention. There's no physical basis for it. I can talk about

Yes, what constitutes an object for us in a world structured by language, is a matter of language. But that doesn't mean there's no physical basis for it; we just can't know the physical basis--there's no physical basis for "us" (who "see" now, only through languge).

Apparently
Apparently the convention is that whatever you are carrying is part of you, and vanishes with you. But how does the phaser beam know this convention?

Because the phaser beam is designed by an advanced civilization with, say, quantum computing powers, even the phaser beam has been uploaded with enough that it knows what a reasonable person of reasonable intelligence knows.

Does it take the railing, a piece of it, or the building, or what? The convention isn't clear in this case since the boundaries of a non-living thing require more detail than just 'take this'.

Again, what would be reasonable in the circumstance? It will do. If one out of a thousand are grey, so be it; same for a reasonable person of reasonable intelligence. Convention is convention, programmed by an evolutionary process over time, constructed and uploaded into all humans, and soon enough, their technology too.

Non-fictional examples:

All just examples of where convention stands today. Your point is brilliant I think, and was said immediately. Objects[as we see them]are just constructions and projections settled upon and transmitted from mind to mind. If you push enough, maybe in 200 years, when asked, what does a truck weigh? The conventional answer is, depends on what's in it. The fact will remain, we do not Really/Truly define Truck now; and we won't be then. A truck (itself a construction any way, so...) ...a rock is only whatever is being or is-ing, it is not a solid form of sand or minerals.

Same goes for that object "me". And that's the real point. "I" am a convention. What the body really is is accessed only in its is-ing.

To Ludwig's gutters

They are what your locus in mind has settled at; that's usually triggered by convention, but like any evolutionary process, it's ultimately whatever is the "fittest".
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I decided to call them gutters because they could be used as gutters.

That is a helpful distinction because it further illustrates point. Do one thing to an object, say, paint it: still one object. Cut it in half, maybe still one object cut in half. Give the two halves a new Signifier; suddenly the ontology has changed! No. We make everything and believe it; a dynamic process, while Reality remains present. We, becoming, accessible to our so called knowledge. Reality, Being, only accessible to "doing the being" to is-ing. But the latter does not mean that there is no physical basis to it; that's just the former--we--talking. It's the contrary. For physical objects, from air to my body, there is only a physical basis. The rest, we make and believe.
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A word is a device that can carve out a boundary.

More than that. It's a device that constructs so called boundaries [that aren't really there]
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Thank you all for your replies. My topic was mostly an observation. If you can think of exceptions to my 'it isn't physics' assertion, such counterarguments would be especiallywelcome

Sorry! Just got to this part.
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What constitutes an object is not to be found in physics or in the physical structures around us, but in what we are doing with our language

Is that as far as W went?

Are you saying that , loosely Kant-like, he didn't want to get into the "reality" of the object and so, took the position, that what we can know of an object is in our language?

Or did W say the only reality of an object is in the language and there is no physical?
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...we just can't know the physical basis

An odd thing to say. There is a physical basis for dividing the pipe in to blue and red, after all, and for dividing the tree into trunk and branches.

Is that as far as W went?
Certainly not. (insider joke)

There's a poor mans version of "language game" that thinks all there are to language games are words. But from the get go language games involve things around us - slabs and blocks and apples and trees.
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What if the phaser hits a bug on the guy's shirt?

You know what happens if a fly gets into the teleportation chamber!
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I would argue that there are no real objects in the world. It is just a matter of how our brains carve things up, some of this determined by our evolutionary history, some by cultural practices. The boundaries we draw around things are not themselves part of the world itself.

I once read about Gilbert Ryle asking whether it makes sense to say that there are three things in the field, two cows and a pair of cows. This illustrates one aspect of the problem of objects.

I used to do a lot of rock climbing. I find it interesting how climbers will come to see certain features on a rock face as distinct objects. Climbers can "read" a wall. Certain kinds of holds sort of stand out as affordances, usually with names attached, such as hueco, crimp, undercling, jug, etc. Non-climbers might just see an expanse of stone. Are non-climbers failing to see real things that are really there, even apart from the practice of climbing? Similarly, we might see a "passage" in a forest. These affordances relate to our bodies and we might act on the world. They are projections of possibilities for future action.

What if you had no body? Would there be a "path" in a forest? Think about how an opening, an empty space, shows up to us as a region in which we can move freely, whereas solid material shows up as an obstacle. But what if you had no body? Would the world be like this at all? Constraint and freedom? Would anything show up as something to stand on, something to grab, something to throw, something to eat?

Notice that we even recognize things in the world such as a smile or a nod. Are these real objects?

What we see as objects are really just meanings for us that we have developed that facilitate our operation in the world. Different kinds of creatures might well carve up the world differently and see different objects in the same space.

I think it's fascinating how when you are in a more human-created space, there are many more clear objects. Consider walking into a Walmart. There are many products on shelves, with packaging and contents, with lids, with labels, with brand logos, with lists of ingredients. There are cash registers and screens and icons on the screens. There are people with articles of clothing. There are doors and carts, and so on. But in a natural environment free of human modification, things seem less distinct. Sure, if you prime yourself to see them, you will pick out individual rocks or branches or twigs or leaves or patches of moss or hills or waves. But these boundaries are less insistent. It is easier to relax into seeing it as one continuous whole. (But even then, the way you read it is very much related to how it is to be a human in such an environment. Water is refreshing. Air is clear and nice to breathe. The ground is for standing on.) If you are a geologist or a botanist or something, it might be harder to see it simply as a single landscape. But in a Walmart, it is very hard to see it this way. The objectness of the various products is very insistent. It seems that this is because it is much more related to human uses. But how would the inside of a Walmart appear to a tree?

Even in the forest, those modifications that humans make tend to stand out more starkly as objects, things like fire pits, cleared paths, bridges, and so on.

Clearly, things as they are in themselves, if that makes sense at all, are not as they are to us. If there is no relating the world to a body or a mind or something like that, what is it like? If we want to be "objective", we try to bracket ourselves out. But what would remain? I am not at all sure. It seems to me that maybe things only show up as such if you are something that stands in some relation to them and have purposes and possibilities of action. Otherwise, why carve up the world at all?

Without a need for carbohydrates, sugar isn't sweet. Sugar surely isn't, in itself, sweet, absent any tasting animal.
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Like face recognition. A device that sets boundaries.
Meaning definitely needs to be conveyed (via programming, huge database, etc) to perform such a task. I'm looking for an example where one need not communicate with the device for it to work.

The boundaries of such a device are loosely 'face'. Hair possibly inhibits its function. Don't know if a new hairstyle would fool it.

Anyhow, you might be interested in the Problem of the Many, which is closely related:
The top half of your post concerned the foundations of language, which seems not particularly relevant since I am trying to find object in the absence of language. The problem of the many is very relevant, and I have not yet read all of the article, but it seems to hit on many of my points.

The linked article lists 8 'mutually inconsistent' claims about what a cloud is, but I don't find the list necessarily mutually consistent without additional premises, if one starts out by accepting that there is but the one cloud and all subsets of it are not a cloud at all, but a mere portion. Maybe I didn't read it carefully enough. The cloud thing is very much like the tornado, except that from a distance the tornado's boundary is still kind of vague, especially where it's upper bound is.

You post has caused much of the delay in making this reply. Too much reading to do, a good thing.

The problem here is that fundemental particles increasingly don't seem so fundemental, having beginnings and ends, as well as only being definable in terms of completely universal fields (i.e., the whole)
Yes, I was going to bring something like that up. Quantization of field excitements has an awful lot of objectness to it, but even it fails to have identity and clear boundaries.

Wittgenstein had supposed a form of logical atomism, the notion that there were elementary facts - simples - from which a complete description of the world might be constructed.
Does this help? I'm trying to get a classical device like the fictional phaser to apply its function to a classical object without using language to convey intent. A person getting shot might be a collection of simples, but the physical device needs to select which simples to disintegrate, and which to leave be. What does it do if the shooter's aim is off, or he pans it around?

I shoot at a chessboard. Does it take out a piece, a square and whatever's on it? The whole game? Table too? How to design the gun to do the right thing? Can't be done of course.
Anything indicated is likely composite, and the physical is required to glean which simples are members of the composite without any conveying of intended composite. When put that way, the problem is simple and unsolvable, requiring information that is nonexistent, or at least unavailable.

What constitutes an object is not to be found in physics or in the physical structures around us, but in what we are doing with our language and what we are doing with the objects involved in those activities. We give consideration to the broom if we are sweeping, but perhaps only to the broomstick if we are using it to move something that is out of our reach, or to the brush if we are looking for hair for a scarecrow...
Agree to all of this. I am trying to figure out how something that isn't a person (or a device with intent) can do the same thing.

One can see that I am sort of flailing around here. I'm getting likes to all sorts of stuff I've not read before (for which I am grateful), and having that already under my belt would have helped, if only to let me reply more promptly.

But how does the phaser beam know this convention?
— noAxioms

Because the phaser beam is designed by an advanced civilization with, say, quantum computing powers, even the phaser beam has been uploaded with enough that it knows what a reasonable person of reasonable intelligence knows.
OK, the reasonable premise is that it is a smart device. You set it to kill (disintegrate), so it's going to work on a biological being as previously defined by its makers. So what if I shoot a teapot? What if I want to kill the scary spider on Kirk's chest without killing Kirk? How does the device handle that without needing to explain it at length first, something nobody has time for in combat?

I should post this on a trekkie site. Star Trek cannot be wrong, so they are obligated to pony up an answer, just like the star wars guys needed a plausible explanation for the "Kessel Run in Less Than 12 Parsecs" fiasco.

Same goes for that object "me". And that's the real point. "I" am a convention. What the body really is is accessed only in its is-ing.
Yes, it seems clear, even to animals that not only have concepts of critter, stick, whatever, but also of ownership of the object in question, such as 'my eggs', as opposed to 'no, my (food) eggs now, sorry'. But in the end, it is only convention, with apparently no physical basis.

Give the two halves a new Signifier; suddenly the ontology has changed!
Yes again. Suddenly a broken pipe is two unbroken gutters.
It's metaphysical since it's about what it is. Is it ontology?

You know what happens if a fly gets into the teleportation chamber!
Any chamber, like a DeLorean time machine, is a demarked volume, so what is affected is fairly unambiguous.

Are non-climbers failing to see real things that are really there, even apart from the practice of climbing?
They're failing to see what is relevant. Names are given to relevant things. A novice hasn't the sight, so hasn't the names.

Again, thanks to all for your responses.
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So what if I shoot a teapot? What if I want to kill the scary spider on Kirk's chest without killing Kirk? How does the device handle that without needing to explain it at length first, something nobody has time for in combat?

If it has been uploaded at astronomical speed and volume, with all the information that a reasonable person of reasonable intelligence is from infancy to middle age; and since it's smart, you point it, speak (perhaps think, but nah) "spider only" and it takes care of the rest, even if it's your job to aim. For sure. Look where we are now, that you're probably not even laughing. By late 23rd C, phasers are smart.

Is it ontology?

I, 1, might not know where the latter properly fits, 2, wanted it as hyperbole.
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Any chamber, like a DeLorean time machine, is a demarked volume, so what is affected is fairly unambiguous.

Good point.
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, phasers function using a rare element called plotonium. It allows them to eliminate whatever, and only whatever, the writer desires.
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I am trying to find object in the absence of language

The biggest hurdle to this this task is fundamentally you are trying to find object in the absence of language, but you have to use language as an instrument to do it.
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I would say there is no physical basis. As someone remarked in a philosophical essay I once read, ‘there’s no such thing as a thing.’ Things or objects are designated as such by a subject for a purpose. But there is no ultimately-existing, discrete, and completely definable thing. No such thing.
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since I am trying to find object in the absence of language.

Dinosaurs.
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Arche-fossils, you mean?
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What constitutes an object is not to be found in physics or in the physical structures around us, but in what we are doing with our language and what we are doing with the objects involved in those activities.

It's more the latter though, right? A human being "raised by wolves" without language would still experience objects, no? Even the sheep recognizes the whole "wolf." Animals by in large react to composite wholes. They often ignore simulacra that only have some elements of the form of the whole they are interested in, which would seem to suggest that action isn't just in relation to undifferentiated streams of "sense data."

The biggest hurdle to this this task is fundamentally you are trying to find object in the absence of language, but you have to use language as an instrument to do it.

It's only a hurdle if you insist on a certain sort of precision or definition. I'd say to that finding objects in the absence of language is incredibly easy, just look around. Spend any time with young children and you'll realize that they have no problem recognizing most wholes even if they have no clue what they are or what they are called. Even at the level of just pointing and asking "what this?" they already differentiate between asking about what the name of some object is and the name of some part of the object. E.g., pointing at an animal figurine to as its name versus pointing just to the horns or tail to ask "no, what is just this (part)." Notably, they can often learn colors before age 2, but good luck getting them to understand grue and bleen. There is a sense in which some distinctions are given.

Another way to think of it is that, were the relationship between our demarcation of objects and the properties of objects themselves completely arbitrary, different cultures should recognize different objects, and learning to demarcate objects according to one's own culture should be a fairly abstract and difficult process.
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Philosophical Investigations, §48

I think this is an area where information theory gives us a very good set of tools for understanding this sort of thing. You can think of a description in terms of maximum lossless compressibility given you want to capture all of the "difference that makes a difference," or the shortest string that can produce that output (Kolmogorov Complexity). When you get to the "real amount of ontological difference out in the physical world," that seems like a question for physics and the philosophy of physics (which is closely related to the question of if the universe is computable). There is an argument to be made that even in the physical science the "differences that make a difference," are context dependent.

The mystery shows up because in abstraction we can posit limitless amounts of difference that makes a difference even in completely uniform media. E.g., you can think of a black square as one black pixel or as 10×100¹⁰⁰ black pixels (Wittgenstein's point about area), but the latter can, in important ways, be shown to be essentially the same thing.
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A number of people seem to have conceded my point that the demarcation of an object is strictly an ideal, a mental convention.

By late 23rd C, phasers are smart.
Phaser work because they're at least as smart as humans. The object is demarked by knowing the intent of the shot.
It allows them to eliminate whatever, and only whatever, the writer desires.
This also reduces the issue to an ideal, that of the writer instead of the smart gun. This applies to all the fictional examples.

The biggest hurdle to this this task is fundamentally you are trying to find object in the absence of language, but you have to use language as an instrument to do it.
Using language to do it is no problem. The physical device is what cannot use language to do it.

As someone remarked in a philosophical essay I once read, ‘there’s no such thing as a thing.’ Things or objects are designated as such by a subject for a purpose
I guess I'm reproducing that effort with this post. I totally agree, but I've not seen the paper in question, which is no doubt worded better.
I didn't see the relevance of Arche-fossils. Had to look it up.

Dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs have intent. Predator and prey both need to recognize each other as distinct objects/threats/kin etc. Their convention is sufficiently pragmatic for their needs.

A human being "raised by wolves" without language would still experience objects, no?
At least as well as the dinosaurs, yes. The fictional wrist teleporter on the other hand doesn't experience objects since there's no physical definition of it, and we're presuming that it isn't an AI device which attempts to glean the intent of whatever is using the device. The device isn't in any way 'interested in' any specific interpretation of what it's being required to do.
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So this got me thinking, and I could only conclude that what constitutes an 'object' is entirely a matter of language/convention. There's no physical basis for it. I can talk about the blue gutter and that, by convention, identifies an object distinct from the red gutter despite them both being parts of a greater (not separated) pipe.

The physical basis is in application to reality, and seeing whether there is a contradiction. If I call a ball an object, and all the points that define an object are confirmed without contradiction, then it is an object. Language and convention or hypotheses about reality. Application without contradiction is the affirmation of those hypotheses.

If you enjoy epistemology, you may enjoy my paper here. https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/14044/knowledge-and-induction-within-your-self-context/p1

There is a summary after my initial posts that does a great job if you wish to check that before reading it.
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