Lagos: 2060

October 1st 2010 will be the 50th anniversary of Nigerian independence from the British empire. Senator Adamu Aliero, has reportedly announced that the Nigerian Government is planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence in a grand style. A new literary project, however, is set to mark the 50th anniversary in a different way – by imagining Lagos in the year 2060, 100 years from independence.

Lagos is a megacity with a population of around 13.5 million residents, making it the 5th most populous city in the world. One of these residents is Fred Nwonwu. “Writing fiction of any kind in Nigeria,” says Fred, “is more of a passion than an economic pursuit. Most writers here do it more for the love of the craft than the financial gain. Perhaps that is why there seem to be a multitude of gifted writers here.” Fred is a participant in Lagos: 2060, chosen based on a sample of his writing. For the project, Nigerian fiction writers imagine what the city of Lagos could be like 100 years from independence in the year 2060 and turn their ideas into an anthology of short science fiction stories, complete with illustrations. Fred says, “Lagos 2060, aside from granting some of us the opportunity to get published and recognition, also gives us the opportunity to explore the corners of our creativity.” The Lagos: 2060 project engages the participant writers in a series of three workshops. The aim of the workshops is “to stimulate creative minds to exceed themselves in fiction writing.” They are not to tell the writers what to write and how, but to provide an environment and creative stimulus to help them develop their own ideas and to turn them into compelling fictional stories on the theme of Lagos in the year 2060.

Below is an Al Jazeera report from February 2009 on positive changes and hopes for the future of the city of Lagos under the leadership of Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola:

The question ‘what do you think the future will look like?’ has been asked by millions of people around the world, says Fred, adding that “sci-fi is basically attempts by writers to answer that question.” The project is run by Dream Arts and Design Agency (DADA), in collaboration with the Nigerian Center for Excellence in Film and Media Studies, and Studio 1.5. DADA is a creative consultancy with interests in architecture, design, film and publishing. DADA Books, their publishing imprint, will be releasing an anthology of short science fiction stories resulting from the project, complete with illustrations. “Nothing beats telling your own story,” says Arigbabu, “if you don't, others will tell it as they see it. For all those who bellyached over the way Nigerians were portrayed in the (South African) science fiction movie - District 9, Salvation has come!” At the time of writing, DADA is in talks with international distributors for the anthology. The partnership of organizations are providing guidance for the writers through the project. “At the first workshop, we got to discuss Lagos and our visions for the future,” tells Fred, “The participants were mainly writers and architects who all share an interest in futuristic fiction. The conveners hoped to draw from the skills of the creative writers and the architects in creating a scenario of what Lagos will look like in 50 years, seen from different minds and ideas.”

The way Ayodele Arigbabu tells it, the writers will be starting from a relative tabula rasa, meaning they can take whatever liberties they like because they are not bogged down by any existing models, and could very well create their own models for science fiction writing. “Lagos lends itself to experimentation and improvisation,” says Arigbabu, “we will draw from the chaotic freedom the city offers to the best of our abilities.” Although Nigeria is an oil-rich country, successive governments have been unable to establish basic infrastructure and services such as drinking water, roads, electricity and security to meet the needs of the growing population. Urban growth in Lagos has been examined in a recent Harvard study led by architect and designer, Rem Koolhaas. The runaway urban growth of Lagos, Koolhaas says, is developing at a rate exceeding attempts of urban planners to adequately describe it let alone plan for its future. This growth and the ways people have adapted to it was also the topic of recent BBC series Welcome to Lagos (reviewed here on Due to the ways the people of Lagos are adapting to the rapid growth of the city, Koolhaas has dubbed Lagos the city of the future. According to Myne Whitman, the edge science fiction has over most other genres is that at the core of most of the stories is an idea. “I think it is very important,” says Whitman, “that as we mark a half centenary, we also look ahead to the future and more than that, incubate ideas to move the country forward.” Fred is excited about the ideas coming out of Lagos: 2060 so far. “I don’t know, perhaps it had something to do with the recent upsurge in development here,” he says, “or the fact that everyone there is a youth, but most of the ideas participants mooted were more about a positive future.”

In the video below, Rem Koolhaas talks about Lagos with supporting visuals:

The question ‘what do you think the future will look like?’ has been asked by millions of people the world, says Fred, adding that “sci-fi is basically attempts by writers to answer that question.” The project is run by Dream Arts and Design Agency (DADA), in collaboration with the Nigerian Center for Excellence in Film and Media Studies, and Studio 1.5. DADA is a creative consultancy with interests in architecture, design, film and publishing. DADA Books, their publishing imprint, will be releasing an anthology of short science fiction stories resulting from the project, complete with illustrations. At the time of writing, DADA is in talks with international distribution partners for the anthology. The partnership of organizations are providing guidance for the writers through the project. “At the first workshop, we got to discuss Lagos and our visions for the future,” tells Fred, “The participants were mainly writers and architects who all share an interest in futuristic fiction. The conveners hoped to draw from the skills of the creative writers and the architects in creating a scenario of what Lagos will look like in 50 years, seen from different minds and ideas.”

“Though, we got to talk about tsunamis, nuclear storms and other effects of a post apocalyptic earth,” says Fred, “most ideas focussed on an attainment of good governance and the development of an ultra modern city with futuristic technology and folding bridges.” To many people around the world, futuristic technology and ultra modern cities is probably not what comes to mind when they think of Nigeria. While there are big problems of poverty in Nigeria, and in the city of Lagos, there are also skyscrapers and huge infrastructure projects. One very ambitious urban renewal project is Eko Atlantic City, designed with the aim of creating a thriving twenty-first century city in West Africa, starting with the reclamation of around nine square kilometers of development land from the sea adjacent to Lagos. According to the Eko Atlantic website, “Eko Atlantic will draw wide-scale residential, commercial, financial and tourist development to ease the burden on exhausted infrastructure and overpopulation in adjacent Victoria Island, now the commercial centre of Lagos.” Construction is already underway on an ocean wall which has been dubbed the Great Wall of Lagos and is growing at 7-8 meters a day. This seawall is being built by dumping large quantities of granite into the sea. Large quantities of sand are being dredged and pumped into the bay formed between the seawall and the shoreline of Lagos’s Victoria Island. The amount of sand needed to fill in this area is comparable to the amount used for Dubai’s Palm Island super-development. The construction of the seawall features in the video below:

The following video provides an overview of the Eko Atlantic project:

Below is a detailed CNN report on Eko Atlantic:

Ayodele Arigbabu wants to inject life into the relatively stagnant field of science fiction in Nigeria with Lagos: 2060. This is a goal that Myne Whitman is also enthusiastic about. “It is important to hear several stories about a people and a place,” says Whitman, “Chimamanda Adichie spoke about the danger of a single story and it's many ramifications. Different stories enable us to have a fuller view of a subject, a more rounded and realistic perspective that not only benefits others but ourselves too as we become more aware of our society. In Africa especially, I believe that writing in diverse genres is very necessary for this very reason.” DADA's Ayedole Arigbabu also advocates the benefits science fiction can provide. “Science Fiction,” says Arigbabu, “unhinges the creative mind and allows the writer to imagine ordinarily 'unthinkable' scenarios. In the socio-political context, our development as a people has been stifled by a lack of imagination, we remain bogged down in the present, enslaved to our past, we do not project into the future.” According to DADA, “Lagos needs development. It can’t cope with the number of people it has now and it’s going to increase with about 21 people an hour for the next 9 years so we are talking about 25/ 26 million people in 9 years. That’s an extra 9 million people that we are trying to cater for.” DADAs architectural and design interests are about trying to bridge the current situation in Nigeria with what it could possibly be in the future. The Lagos: 2060 project is also about imagining hypothetical future scenarios and the impacts they could have on people’s lives. “I think Lagos 2060 is unique,” says Fred “not just because it is a first of its kind for the genre, but it is an opportunity for young writers to project their creativity into the future and create landscapes that portray the future they see.”

Ayodele Arigbabu says that he is very excited about the prospect of short films coming out of Lagos: 2060. Nigeria is reportedly the third largest film production market in the world, after the US and India. Film and literature critic Sukhev Sandhu, in the UK’s Telegraph, recently listed Lagos as among the several most important flashpoints worldwide for filmmaking. Following the worldwide success of District 9, African science fiction storytelling may be in for an upsurge. According to Nigerian filmmaker Tchidi Chikere, who has written, produced and directed over 50 films, “Science fiction films from the West are failures here. Even Star Wars! Africans are bothered about food, roads, electricity, water wars, famine, etc, not spacecrafts and spaceships. Only stories that explore these everyday realities are considered relevant to us for now.” Award-winning Nigerian science fiction/fantasy writer, Nnedi Okorafor, on the other hand believes that Africans are ready for science fiction and that it can be relevant to them. In a guest post for the Nebula Awards blog, Nnedi Okorafor, wrote “there IS a handful of African science fiction out there. There are novels, short stories, and a film or two. This handful is tiny but it exists.” Fred is confident that African writers can write relevant science fiction and that this is not mutually exclusive with contemporary concerns or traditional beliefs. According to Fred, “genres like Sci-Fi and fantasy, they come easier to us (Africans) than most people think. Though most of us live in cities, we still maintain strong links with our tradition which provides us with unending materials for our work. For me, it is usually very easy to recall tales my grandfather told me about the exploits of some of my ancestors or incorporate the common cultural beliefs that most animals are affiliated to individuals into my stories.”

Some major African literary awards specifically exclude science fiction writing from consideration. The Penguin Prize for African Writing rules state: “Submissions in the children’s literature, science fiction or fantasy genres will not be considered.” Other prizes have been established to promote ‘less reputable’ types of writing in Africa, like the Baobab Prize aimed at target audiences of 8-11 year olds and 12-15 year olds. According to a statement on the Baobab Prize’s Facebook profile, “The Baobab Prize believes that ten years from now bookstores all over the world will be stocking African children’s books.” “In writing,” says Fred, “I try to preserve some aspects of my fast disappearing culture and create heroes that Africans can readily identify with. I use names that people can relate to and even though the stories are set in a fictional place, I try as much as possible to make the experience as real as possible.”

“The future is already here,” says Ayodele Arigbabu, “Nigerian authors have already taken over the globe and Lagos is one of the most exciting cities in the world of fiction right now.” Nigerian writers have been making their mark around the world in literary circles and amongst readers, and Nigerian filmmakers have been making their mark across Africa. Chimamanda Adichie was the top-selling author at the 2009 Sydney Writer’s Festival. So far this year, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka was not only a hit at the Jaipur Literary Festival in India, but has also negotiated in talks between the Nigerian Government and rebels operating in the Niger Delta region, and led a march on Nigeria’s capital Abuja. In Myne Whitman’s words, “Nigeria is a fast developing country and as is said, the only constant is change.” Nigerian writers are right in the midst of this constant change and have the capacity to make significant impacts with their stories. Arigbabu says that Lagos is one of the most exciting cities in the world and that “given the rapid rate of urbanization in Africa, the shift in the economic center from the west and the reality that globalization has is too early to say what people outside Lagos can learn from Lagos: 2060, however, I do know that they should be paying some serious attention!”


The Lagos: 2060 anthology is set to be published later in the year. Specific details of when and how you can get it will be inserted here when they become available.

For short fiction from Nigeria, you can visit

On Knowledge and Free Will: Neither Entirely Complete Nor Entirely Absent

I will discuss the questions of whether causal laws determine all action, including human behaviour (determinism), and whether a person can choose how they act (free will).

Some claim that there cannot be knowledge or free will because a person doesn't have ABSOLUTE knowledge or freedom. That is, there are limits and circumstances that prevent a person from knowing or doing some things that they could imagine wanting to know or do, meaning they don't have freedom to know or do some things completely. However, a lack of absolute knowledge or freedom doesn't mean that a person has NO freedom.

No freedom of choice at all implies no ability to understand or think, as all of a person's behaviour would be an automatic mechanical process. If you have no freedom of choice, and therefore no ability to consider what you are reading now nor to choose which ideas seem more plausible and which seem less plausible, there would be no point in reading anything like this article as your response would be predetermined.

Some people proceed from an assumption that nothing physically exists (or, at least, that no reliable observation can be made of anything that physically exists). Often people advancing this proposition will rely on the authority of someone like Descartes and use an “I think, therefore I am” line of reasoning to claim or imply that knowledge, identity and even physical existence are dependent on the way someone thinks about it. Many popular variations of this kind of reasoning involve a proposition that all knowledge, identity and even physical existence are constructed by processes of interactions between people.

If the universe is entirely deterministic, the functional workings of that deterministic process are unknowable in absolute terms. Therefore there can be no absolute knowledge of social organisation or even of a single mind (despite academically popular notions of social organisation, cultural ideology, psychosocial interaction etc) and I would recommend anyone to be cautious about thinking they know 'the structure' or 'the poststructural dynamics' of something. If the universe is deterministic, each of us can only plan (or automatically respond) based on a partial understanding (or automatic interaction, processing only part of the information in the universe), which approximates a finite range of variables from an infinite possible range.

I propose that, while no absolute observation or description can be made of something, approximate observations can be made to within certain degrees of accuracy. The level of accuracy of particular observations allows those observations to be useful for certain types of use.

For example, the eyes (and attached brain and body) of a person tracking a red ball through the air can detect light phenomena consistent with having a wave length of about 650 nanometers reaching photoreceptors in the eyes. This degree of accuracy in the visual field, combined with the speed of nerve-transmission and other factors, is useful enough to track a ball casually thrown to the person from a distance with the accuracy required to allow the person to catch the ball. If you reach the outer limits of any of these factors useful range of accuracy (via increased speed of the ball, decreased visual acuity (ie eyes that can't focus as well), reduced speed of nerve transmission etc) they can fall outside the range useful for tracking a ball so that the person can catch it. The fact that the person cannot accurately identify the position of the ball with a precision of 1 or 2 nanometers doesn’t take away from the person’s ability to make approximate its position with a degree of accuracy sufficient for tracking the movement of the ball and catching it.

The person in the above example has no ABSOLUTE knowledge of the ball's location at any time, but can still make observations with degrees of accuracy useful for specific purposes.

Also, if your measure of accuracy is how accurately someone can 'reproduce' an experience through verbal description or visual image, it will always be incomplete and never have absolute stand-alone accuracy in which the verbal expression or image is able to entirely substitute for the experience.

I propose that knowledge is not identical with conversion of experience to a verbal description. (In the term experience I include that which exists and precedes any given instance sensation, perception and conception as well as the actual sensation, perception and conception. This means that experience is not merely a surface extrapolation of sensory data).

I propose that the abilities to have degrees of observation, understanding and choice allow each of us some degree of knowledge and freedom - but not absolute knowledge and freedom nor no knowledge and freedom.

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Nigerian Cinema and Fiction

I will discuss Nigerian cinema with a focus on respected director Tunde Kelani, the low budget videos that make up the vast majority of movies in Nigeria, and aspects of Nigerian cinema at a national level.
I will discuss Nigerian fiction with a focus on novelist Myne Whitman, renowned literature, and contemporary writing.
This is a discussion of a range of aspects of cinema and fiction in Nigeria and is not intended as a comprehensive overview characterising the whole of Nigerian cinema and fiction.
I will finish with some thoughts on the future of cinema and fiction in Nigeria and Africa.

A special thanks to Tunde Kelani, Myne Whitman, Deji Komolafe, Adegboyega Kehinde, and Ajao Moti-deade Adewunmi for your assistance in preparing this article.


Tunde Kelani

Tunde Kelani is widely respected in Nigeria and looked up to by many young Nigerian filmmakers for the quality of his movies. He has shot movies on both 35mm film and on digital video, whereas Nigerian movies are almost all shot on video. Kelani is at the upper end of Nigerian cinema in terms of finances and production ability. Many consider him to be the best Nigerian director (and cinematographer). Details of his movies – including a several paragraph synopsis of each - are available on the website of his company, Mainframe Productions, at

I was recently in contact with Tunde Kelani and he told me: “The biggest opportunities of making films in Nigeria is primarily a big population of about 150 million people, a potential huge market, a rich culture, vast literary resources and landscapes from Sahara desert, savannah, forest areas and terminating at the Atlantic ocean. The biggest challenges at the moment are lack of necessary infrastructure like electricity, running water, lack of good roads, railway service, petrol shortage and security.”

Access to digital video-cameras has allowed a huge increase in the quantity of films being made in Nigeria in recent decades, particularly since the early 90s. “It is very easy for people to make films in Nigeria” said Kelani “because at the moment, there is no regulation and everybody seems to be just doing it. Anyone with access to a camcorder and a laptop is a potential film company.”

I asked Kelani what he thinks makes a film good, and he said that “a good film should find its audience. Entertainment aside, it should serve a useful purpose in stimulating the audience towards positive development in their society.”

A Nigerian university student doing a final year project on Kelani has highlighted to me four areas in which he believes Kelani excels:
1) The genuineness of his works and how he has celebrated Africa rather than trying to imitate “Western” ways
2) His use of language; the ways he has used words and idioms of the Yoruba people
3) His cinematography
4) Character interpretation in his movies; the collaboration between Kelani and his actors in creating detailed characters and performances.

Low Budget Videos

The vast majority of Nigeria’s movies are videoed on a low budget and distributed on DVD or VCD through shops and markets. The following videos provide a detailed insight into many aspects of filmmaking in Nigeria: 11:24 minutes 27:23 minutes 13:59 minutes 10:00 minutes (partly in Dutch – subtitled in English - and partly in English)

The videos above give some indication of how a large number of Nigerian filmmakers have managed to make movies inventively on low budgets, despite the difficulties faced making movies in Nigeria, and have competed successfully alongside international movies.


Nigerian cinema is often now discussed using the collective term Nollywood; like the term Bollywood (for Indian cinema) or Ozzywood/Aussiewood (for Australian cinema), is derivative of the term Hollywood. I’m personally not a fan of these terms being used to stereotype the cinema of whole countries, including in the case of the United States. I’m also not a fan of people making a default comparison of cinema made in various places around the world with (often a stereotype of) Hollywood/American cinema. I have no issue with these terms being used referentially without any attached judgment. As has been pointed out by director Teco Benson in a article, whether a comparison between Nollywood and Hollywood is useful or accurate depends on the context of the comparison. In the article, Benson pointed out that “if you begin to compare Nollywood and Hollywood, I will tell you it’s not a fair comparison because Hollywood started in 1896 and the same thing that is happening today in Nollywood happened in America. They went through this stage that we are in. […] If I go to the US and make a film, you will see the difference because all the manpower and all the things are there for me.” I think that Benson has a good point that while there is still a strong demand to be filled for cheap Nigerian movies filmmakers can benefit from supplying these cheap movies and building up resources and skilled people as they go. This will enable them to step up to more sophisticated filmmaking as their capabilities grow and audience tastes become more refined. An additional benefit is that, a very large number of people are willing to watch films that can be made with equipment that is affordable to many Nigerians, which makes it easier than in some other countries for new filmmakers to enter the industry and be competitive. The Nigerians I spoke to during my research for this article were all passionate about putting quality over quantity. What the American studios did when faced with a similar problem may be a viable solution, where Nigerian production companies make a large number of low budget movies with low but dependable financial returns as well as fewer higher budget more sophisticated movies with the potential to generate much larger financial returns (but are riskier if they don’t work out well). However, Nigerian filmmakers also face a major problem with movie piracy – a problem that American filmmakers did not face when establishing a film industry in the United States because it was not technologically feasible for people to make their own copies and sell or distribute them for free in competition with the filmmakers.

My advice to people outside of Nigeria who would like to find out more about Nigerian filmmaking is to seek primary sources, rather than rely on secondary ones such as news stories or reports and books drawing on ‘statistical findings or trends.’ An example of the pitfalls of trusting the authority of commentators and analysts is that of an UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) report on their International Survey of Feature Film Statistics. In the report, it was discussed that 872 feature videos had been produced in Nigeria in 2005 (according to a questionnaire filled out by ‘the Nigerian government’) while 485 feature films shot on 35mm film and distributed in cinemas had been produced in the United States in 2005 (according to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)). Based on this report, the UN News Centre put a story titled “Nigeria surpasses Hollywood as world’s second largest film producer – the UN” on their website. Based on the figures used in the UIS survey, there is no reason to claim that this is the case and it is almost certainly not the case at all. According to the UIS report, the figure for the United States only includes 35mm films with a cinema release; that is, it does not include direct-to-DVD releases, direct-to-TV releases, movies shot on digital video, potentially animations that are made with computers rather than 35mm film (by 2005, this was almost all of them) – though if they are transferred to 35mm film for their cinema screenings they probably count, films shot on non-35mm film stock such as 70mm (IMAX films) and 16mm, and possibly 35mm films shown in cinemas that have not been recorded by the MPAA. Despite this, it has now been widely reported, as in this CNN report, that Nigeria has the second largest film industry in the world. Some journalists mention a distinction between video and film and some don’t. The UIS report can be found on this UNESCO blog (the report itself is an analysis of survey results that are not provided in full, but a range of limitations arising from the methods used are explained).


Myne Whitman

In the past month I also spoke with author Myne Whitman, who grew up in Nigeria and now lives in Seattle. You can check out her website at and read her blog at

She told me of her early interest in writing while growing up in Nigeria: “I loved reading and was the bookworm of the house. It wasn’t long before the left over notebooks in the house began serving as jotters for my notes and short stories. […] The earliest novel I recall writing was of children’s adventure while I was in secondary school. It was a mixture of the sort of stories I read from Enid Blyton and my own experiences travelling to my hometown for the Christmas breaks with my family. I had a very active imagination but I was not a big talker and so it went into my writing. I wrote of the sort of scrapes and adventures I got into and I felt my siblings and friends would enjoy reading about.”

Whereas Tunde Kelani’s filmmaking is very much focused on Yoruba people and in Yoruba language (with subtitles available), Myne Whitman’s writing is in English and could be described as being very accessible to a broad international audience.

“I write to cheer myself and others” Whitman told me. “I write to join in the conversation on various topics going on around me. I chose the romance vehicle because it makes me happy, I know many people read romance novels and there is also a dearth of such writings in Nigeria currently.”

Renowned Literature

There are also Nigerian novels that are considered classics and are extremely popular in Nigeria, in Africa, and around the world. The most prominent is probably Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, which is often praised for Achebe’s treatment of the people and land of Nigeria as well as his exploration of intellectual and religious understanding and misunderstanding. One aspect that stands out to me is Achebe’s treatment of characters that each hold different intellectual and religious ideas and his ability to use these characters to explore the shared aspects between these ideas and how these characters can come to understand one another or fail to understand one another.

Other prominent figures in Nigerian literature include novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (a detailed website about her is at and playwright Wole Soyinka (a study guide to several of Soyinka’s plays by Paul Brians of Washington State University is available at

Contemporary Writing

While it can be quite easy for people to characterise writing from a particular place as consistent with a few established renowned writers, I think it’s important to have a wider understanding. In the case of Nigeria, this could be through reading the work of newly established novelists such as Myne Whitman as well as the longer-established and well known writers, and writing (and interviews etc.) on sites such as which features writing from across Africa, with a lot from Nigeria.

The Future of Nigerian and African Cinema and Fiction

I will conclude with Myne Whitman and Tunde Kelani’s hopes for the future for Nigerian and African cinema and fiction.

Myne Whitman: I would like to see more writers and more books, and in more diverse genres. Right now, most of the authors are of mainstream fiction but I want to see fantasy, romance, mystery, sci-fi and so on.

Tunde Kelani: I would like to see the revival of a cinema culture and a chain of about 4,000 cinemas throughout Africa. I envisage that the cinemas will programme mostly African films and not Hollywood films like 2012. When I was young, I did not discover the make believe element in cinema. I thought the actors were truly killed and dead after a shootout in the Westerns. Imagine suggesting that the world will come to an end in 2012, then why bother to start a process of development? It’d hardly be worthwhile. African cinema needs to be more purposeful, more thoughtful but very entertaining.


Here is an interesting dissertation on aesthetics in Nigerian cinema.

Tunde Kelani has made several of his films available on his YouTube channel.

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Clarifying Concepts of Reference and Representation

A major source of misunderstanding in human thought among many people is confusion between reference and representation. I will make some clarifying comments below.


By reference I mean an indication of something independently of the manner used to indicate it.

For example: if two people were in a room and one points to a red rubber ball and says “Look at that”, the person would be referring to the piece of rubber inflated with air and has a red appearance to a human with a specific kind of visual functioning (or however else a person may care to phrase it, regardless of what is emphasised or omitted in referring to it).

A reference can only be made to the actual physically existing universe.

For example: if one person writes a story about a fictional character, Rachel, whose son has a toy car, another person reading that story can talk about “Rachel’s son’s car” and be referring not to a particular physically existing car but to an understanding, that both people are familiar with, relating to a fictional scenario written as if referring to a toy car. This understanding physically exists in the arrangement of both of their brains etc. in the context of also being within the physically existing universe.

Despite the simplified ‘complex formulas and structures’ used by many in attempts to explain such things, the result of any expression about something will always be, at best, an approximation and not an identical substitute for the thing referred to.


By representation I mean a concept that something can be observed (or at least encountered in some way) and converted to a form corresponding to it, and that this form can substitute for the original thing observed.

For example, if a person takes a photo of a section of a beach while on holiday and shows it to another person upon returning home, that the photo is a substitute for that section of beach.

This is where the simplified ‘complex formulas and structures’ come in. Many try to pass off an approximate expression about something as a re-presentation of what the expression is used to refer to, as if reading the expression were identical to having what the expression refers to present in front of a person.

A verbally expressed description of that section of beach, or a photo of it, does not offer a complete substitute for actually being there. There are many things that can be discovered by a person actually at that beach that can’t be discovered just by reading a verbal description or looking at a photo of it.

Reductive Linguistic Notions of Representation

In order to hold onto the use of representation, many people claim that any expression refers to a verbal description of its meaning rather than to the actual thing physically existing in the universe.

An alternative but equivalent notion is claiming that physically existing objects can only be experienced by a person as a representation made by ‘the language of perception’.

Another alternative but equivalent notion is the adopting of Aristotle’s grammar in The Categories and treating it as representational rather than referential, resulting in a range of claims such as that objects are grammatically expressed words or word-based ideas rather than things which physically exist within the universe; that a person’s identity is equivalent to a specific grammatically expressed description of them; and a myriad of other strategies to reduce the physically existing universe to verbal language.

Terms for Clarifying Reference

I propose the following terms, to be understood referentially, for use in clarifying what someone is referring to:

Ontic: pertaining to what is, in the physically existing universe
- NOT what appears to be, NOR what is known or knowable about what is.

Phenomenal: pertaining to what appears to be, under specific circumstances within the physically existing universe.
- NOT what hypothetically should appear to be, according to a theory.
From the phenomenal an understanding of the ontic from which phenomena arise may be approximated and refined to degrees of accuracy useful for specific uses.

Epestemic: pertaining to how a person knows something within the physically existing universe
- NOT how a person thinks they know something, NOR how a person imagines something.

Metaphysical: pertaining to what a person knows within the physically existing universe.
- NOT what a person thinks they know, NOR what a person imagines.

Reasoning: inferring ideas and possibilities based on observations within the physically existing universe.
- Reasoning based on reference rather than representation is about what is, not about what a person claims to be so.
A verbal expression of reasoning can be modified in any number of ways, such as swapping interchangeable terms, as long as they are still being used to refer to the same thing.

For example, using again a photo of a section of beach, a person who has the ontic-phenomenal experience of actually being present at the beach can make some observations about the beach that someone who has an ontic-phenomenal experience of the photo - a partial recording of the phenomena generated from the ontic environment that is the beach - cannot. While human perception can be considered to be a partial phenomenal recording of the ontic environment that a person is present in, perception can gain much more sophisticated approximations of that ontic environment than recordings like photos. There is a distinct difference between the two (the photo and observation via perceptual experience) in the kinds and degrees of approximations of the ontic environment. Determining what can be inferred from each and why is an epistemic concern, while inferring specific facts to within a certain degree of accuracy is a metaphysical-reasoning concern.

An understanding of what kinds and degrees of reference someone is using enables a person to clearly understand not only what is being referred to but also enables an understanding of the possibilities and limitations of what is being expressed, including the extent to which it does or can refer to something of concern.

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