Laws of Form: Distinctions Exist in Mind and Nature

by G. Spencer Brown

This shard and over 100 more are in The Origin of Ideas: Empirical Studies in Cognitive Complexity which you can preorder here


Distinctions exist in our minds and in nature.They are both real and conceptual and sometimes the real are in alignment with the conceptual (e.g., we see things as they are). Distinction-making is a universal cognitive structure, as we cannot think a thought, without also making a distinction. G Spencer Brown opens his book, Laws Of Form (1969) with: 

“The theme of this book is that a universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart. The skin of a living organism cuts off an outside from an inside. So does the circumference of a circle in a plane. By tracing the way we represent such a severance, we can begin to reconstruct, with an accuracy and coverage that appear almost uncanny, the basic forms underlying linguistic, mathematical, physical, and biological science, and can begin to see how the familiar laws of our own experience follow inexorably from the original act of severance. The act is itself already remembered, even if unconsciously, as our first attempt to distinguish different things in a world where, in the first place, the boundaries can be drawn anywhere we please.”

Understanding that objects have boundaries and that we create borders to understand the way the world works is a powerful idea that deepens our understanding of reality. Because distinctions exist in the real world and in the mind, we often strive for coherence between reality and the mind to align our thinking with the reality of how things exist in the world.

Spencer-Brown, G. (1969). Laws Of Form. Allen & Unwin.