Falling Off a Cliff Is Not Terrifying, QED

This is easy to prove, at least by some people's standards:

1) Declare that Newton's law of gravity "captures" what falling is really all about.
2) Study Newton's law of gravity.
3) Not that "terror" is not a term appearing anywhere in the law.
4) Since that law "captures" what falling is really about, and terror is not part of that law...

QED: Falling off a cliff is not terrifying.

There are various distractions from the real problem here: talk about supervenience, dualism, and so on. The real problem is that the above argument mistakes an abstraction for reality: Newton's Law is something abstracted from various concrete experiences. It leaves out vast portions of experiences like falling off a cliff: it contains no colors whizzing by, no sounds of screaming, no feeling of vertigo, and so on. It is precisely leaving all these things out that makes it useful. Database records about a company's customers are useful in the same way: they record only certain abstract information about each customer. But the fact that customers in my database have neither livers, dandruff, nor favorite foods certainly does not mean the real customers don't!


  1. I get it, Gene. If I say, "I'm going to follow the algorithm for making a cup of tea," and do so, at the end I'll (hopefully) have a cup of tea. I will also have had the experience of making a cup of tea, which involves sights, sounds, smells, tactile sensations, perhaps reminiscences... none of which are described by the algorithm.

    1. Exactly, Andy. The algorithm is abstracted from the concrete experience.

  2. According to Dan Dennett (per this recent interview http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/17812) if I studied all conceivably available scientific material on falling off a cliff (presumably including pyschological studies of the brain's reaction), then I would know exactly what it's like to fall off a cliff. If I then fell off of one, I would find nothing novel about the experience.

    I think this conclusion is muddled at best; at worst, I think it represents a dangerous arrogance that crosses the line into self-parody.

    1. Like many a young lad, when I was at school I read everything I could get my hands on about sex. Yet somehow I must have missed something in my researches --not for lack of trying -- as the actual experience was rather different.

      Ah well, we have the Internet now; perhaps my grand children will be able to forego any actual performance, if they apply themselves diligently to the available research materials.