If cetaceans have culture, can the Star Wars universe be said to exist in reality?

Bizzare rhetorical questions make such fun titles, don't you think? Anyway--

As discussed last year, there is good cumulative evidence that whales and dolphins have culture, where culture is defined as non-genetic information passed from animal to animal. Is culture something that exists objectively? Certainly dolphin behavior as it is influenced by dolphin culture is objectively observable. So, dolphin culture, to the biologist who accepts such evidence, is an objectively detectable thing, even if it is not a material object. A neutral monist might say it was a non-material existent component of the dolphins who carry that culture, composed of complexly structured non-material relationships accompanying the material stuff of the dolphin pod and its environment, and perhaps a non-monist like Popper would say it is a part of his "World 3".

What does it mean for culture to exist? If culture exists, can it do so independently of the material artifacts it produces and that in turn produce it? Or is it a supervenient property of such objects? Culture certainly seems more than just a property of brain tissue.

As Brandon of the Siris blog commented recently, fictional characters like those of the Sherlock Holmes or, more popular recently, the Star Wars fictional worlds exist as cultural artifacts that affect our speech and other behavior just as other cultural artifacts such as political laws and boundaries do. The boundary of a state is in one sense a material location, and in another it is a regulation or law as it applies to that location. The boundary can be seen as a nonmaterial thing with a physical location, like the culture of the dolphin pod, which is located with the pod but is not really made of the material stuff of the pod. So, a political boundary is a cultural, non-material property of culture, not a real fence, made by government, and is not a material thing itself, any more than the planet Tatooine in Star Wars becomes a material thing if we locate it "in a galaxy far, far away."

One difference between fictional entities and legal entities is in the link to specific locations in the material world and the causality on our behavior we attribute to a political boundary. Political boundaries, with their institutional and military implications, seem much more powerfully causal than than the locations and characters of fictional stories.

There seems to be a sense in which fictional characters, governmental laws, and other parts of our cultural stories truly exist, but as non-material existences, like the abstract structure of mathematics. Meinong's golden mountain is part of our intellectual culture, and, like dead fish-play dolphin fads and Star wars light swords, such shared imaginings are are a nonphysical part of the cultures on our earth. If such bits of culture exist merely as behavioral aspects of the organisms making up a society, they are far from epiphenomenal ones. Is a hurricane just a property of air and water?

Governmental structures merely seem more firmly linked to the material aspects of our world and as such are more powerfully causal than most fiction. Yes, this seems to be a form of Platonism, unless we claim instead that all culture reduces to information encoded in material objects. Such "encoding" cannot be said to fully exist without its meaning, however, and meaning itself seems to be a paradigm of the non-material existent.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Happy Thanksgiving!

Let's even be grateful that we can be grateful.