1. Objective physics “misled” us—“reality is relational,” so says Carlo Rovelli in Reality Is Not What It Seems. We must loop back to a 2,300-year-old idea (perhaps humanity’s “greatest”) to stop cutting against the grain of the universe.
4. Ancient atomists saw writing as a “visible model” of invisible cosmos-organizing processes: Text made language visible, illuminated its workings (parts + combination rules), and provided new thinking tools.
5. Greeks had the “first true alphabet”: a “universal” writing system that used a few letters to encode the infinite variety of all possible utterances. Similarly, all matter is written in a “language… of atoms.”
7. But other syntaxes dominate science, per Plato’s belief that mathematics is the best world-grasping language. Math brings its own grammatical forms/rules. (Plato’s predecessor Pythagoras believed “numbers were literally gods“— expressing immortal patterns.)
8. Science’s Platonic-math lust has produced powerful results, but also “pathological situations” of unclear, even absurd, meanings. For instance…
10. Mysterious “meanings” still surround 100-year-old quantum mechanics equations (e.g., between interactions particles exist only as a “cloud of probability”).
13. Therefore you can’t compress things ad infinitum. Approaching the space-grain size a “quantum pressure” resists. That suggests aging black holes might explode in possibly detectable ways, and the Big Bang might = a Big Bounce.
14. Philosophy might be “footnotes to Plato,” but physics hasn’t finished footnoting Democritus. (He lived before Plato’s formative math-morphism.)
15. Lost in our lust for math-structured thinking are useful subtleties of Democritus’s atoms-as-letters vision. Beyond the grammars of geometry and algebra lies a domain of not math-like but text-like compositions and meanings (of semantics beyond mathematics).
16. Here the ancient fallacy of composition has math-specific applications: Some traits combine and aggregate in math-friendly ways, some don’t. You can’t grasp the meaning or function of text or DNA by counting letters or measuring lengths or quantity of ink. Their meaning/function/grammar is relational and sequential and word-like. The information encoded in matching sequential text-like compositions matters (DNA—>RNA, letters—>“social cartesian” lexicon).
17. Word and world both have grammars that don’t fit our available mathematical rules.
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions