Folk Ontology

5 notes link to this note.

Our Folk Ontology is our everyday picture of what the world consists of: Which (types of) entities it is made up of and what the relationships between them are. It is a product of our Adaptation to our original Cognitive Niche:

Human intelligence, and the collective representational technologies (especially public languages) that constitute the basis for what is most biologically special about that intelligence, evolved mainly to enable us to navigate complex social coordination games. People are probably also relatively reliable barometers of the behavioural patterns of animals they get to spend time observing, at making navigational inferences in certain sorts of environments (but not in others), and at anticipating aspects of the trajectories of medium-sized objects moving at medium speeds.Ladyman & Ross (2007), 2

Our folk ontology thus consists of “objects like tables and baseballs”ibid., 5

, which we use in our everyday Models of the world. It is not well-adapted to correctly or usefully understand parts of the world outside of our original niche:

Proficiency in inferring the large-scale and small-scale structure of our immediate environment, or any features of parts of the universe distant from our ancestral stomping grounds, was of no relevance to our ancestors’ reproductive fitness. Hence, there is no reason to imagine that our habitual intuitions and inferential responses are well designed for science or for metaphysics.ibid., 2

Our folk ontology is based on a Conceptual Metaphor of “containment”Lakoff & Johnson (1980), 29 ff.

that leads to a picture of ever smaller objects interacting causally and making up everything else:

It seeks to account for the world as ‘made of’ myriad ‘little things’ in roughly the way that (some) walls are made of bricks. Unlike bricks in walls, however, the little things are often in motion. Their causal powers are usually understood as manifest in the effects they have on each other when they collide. Thus the Causal Structure of the world is decomposed by domesticating metaphysics into reverberating networks of … ‘microbangings’ – the types of ultimate causal relations that prevail amongst the basic types of little things, whatever exactly those turn out to be.Ladyman & Ross (2007), 4

When applied to the results of the best current science, it becomes a “metaphysics of domestication” that does as much damage to the scientific models and theories it is applied to as to our original intuitions.ibid., 4 f.

Therefore our folk ontology hinders our understanding of Complex Systems and needs to be replaced or supplemented, e.g. by a scientific ontology that is based on the ideas that The world is a hierarchy of systems and Systems live in state spaces.

References