Boundaries, objects, and connections

Blueberry jam in jar: how many objects?

Monism is the idea that “All is One”; dualism, that the world consists of clearly separate objects. To start, we need an understanding of what it means to be one thing, or a separate thing, in general. Then we can look at what it would mean for the entire universe to be one thing, or many separate things, and what might follow from that.

There is a jar of blueberry jam on my breakfast table. I could pick it up and toss it in the air and catch it. The lid is screwed on tight, so it will hold together. The jar won’t stick to the table or to my hand.

So, intuitively, an object is a bunch of bits that are connected together, and aren’t connected to other things. The boundary of the object is where the connections stop.

These definitions are often useful in practice. However, they also often don’t work.

Unity and diversity

Monism is the idea that “All is One.” Dualism is the idea that the world consists of clearly separate objects. These ideas may seem abstract, and irrelevant to your life. However, they are central to many religious, political, and philosophical systems. Therefore, it’s important to understand why both are wrong, how they are harmful, why they are attractive, and a better alternative.

Monism and dualism are, at root, ideas about boundaries, objects, and connections. Are all things One, without boundaries? Or many separated objects? Is everything totally connected? Or is every object a clearly distinct individual?

I will begin by answering “no!” to all those questions. Realizing that the everyday world doesn’t work in either a monist or a dualist way undercuts the intuitions that make these ideas seem reasonable.

Then I will look at first monism, and then dualism, in detail. Finally, I’ll describe participation, the complete stance I recommend as a third alternative. The rest of this page summarizes these three stances.


General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book. Start with an appetizer, or the table of contents. Its “metablog” includes additional essays, not part the book.

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