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Why ‘3’ means three

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In a recent blog post, I discussed the ancient Greek philosopher Plato and his theory about the existence of a ‘realm of forms’. Plato argued that the reason why we can identify objects as being of a certain kind (or category) is because they exist in their perfect form in a kind of non-material ‘realm’.

Plato’s arguments got me thinking about the reason why we identify objects as being of a certain kind; why we recognise every cat as a cat and every number 3 as a number 3. I have come to believe that we recognise objects as being of a certain kind not because they exist in a Platonic ideal realm, but because God gives us thoughts related to particular objects with consistency and regularity.

As an interesting hypothetical experiment, one could write the word ‘coffee’ on a piece of A4 paper and stick it to a tree in a mountainous area. Then one could walk away from the tree (with eyes firmly fixed on the word ‘coffee’) until the writing gets smaller and smaller, and eventually there will come a point when our perception of the word will change; it will appear so small as to be illegible. The change that we have experienced was in our perception rather than being the result of any material change related to the object in question.

An interesting philosophical question one might ask is; when the sign becomes illegible or ‘out of focus’, in what sense does its meaning still exist? Thinking about this problem led me to the conclusion that words are only words in the embodied experience of being perceived as such. The sign in our experiment does not say ‘coffee’ in some kind of ideal realm; it says coffee because God brings a certain impression — a thought — to its viewer’s mind at a particular point in time and in a particular way.

The scientist-sceptic will try to argue that things have meaning due to neurophysiological processes that go on in our brains when we look at objects and symbols. Many people in our day believe that human beings are rather like ‘brain machines’; everything related to our mental cognition is the result of brain activity and nothing more. But is the experience of understanding and recognising things a purely biological process?

It is my philosophical contention that brains are not machines in the way many neuroscientists suppose. In my understanding, human beings (and all creatures) are puppets in a grand puppet show which is orchestrated and directed by God. A living and omnipresent God is the reason why our hearts beat, our blood circulates, our food is digested, our hair and nails grow — and is also the reason why thoughts related to the perceiving of objects appear in our minds.

In a book I released in 2019 entitled God’s Grand Game: Divine Sovereignty and the Cosmic Playground I discuss the idea of God’s sovereign control over the unfolding of all events in a lot more detail, so if the arguments I’m presenting here are interesting to you, please do check out the book or, to get a free sample, check out the video series which accompanies the book, on YouTube.