Explanations come in discrete units, logically minimum quanta. It is logically impossible for the situation to be otherwise. We can reason about continua of various different kinds (the “continuum” of the Real numbers being a prominent example, although it is to be noted that within that branch of formal logic known as “model theory,” there are examples of continua that are “more continuous” than even the Real numbers.) But we cannot reason “in” a continuum. Our ideas may have vague boundaries, but they are still unitary quanta, or at least collections of such quanta. Our concepts are even more sharply defined. We assemble these units into larger structures that become arguments (in the good, philosophical sense) and, ideally, explanations. But a continuum gives us nothing to work with. Like trying to nail mercury to the wall, every time we attempt to grasp it, it slips around and away in out grasp, so that either we (1) end up speaking about the continuum itself as a whole, at which point the continuum qua whole has become our quantum, (2) we isolate individual points on the continuum, and these become our quanta as we extrapolate connections amongst them, (3) or, alternatively, we end up spouting nothing but nonsense.
I’ve touched on this subject before. But rather than making coy suggestions in the final paragraph as a rhetorical flourish, I think it time I spoke to the subject more directly. As is often the case, I’ll barely be able to gloss the topic in this post. But, of course, the whole purpose of a blog post is to provide a small quantum of ideas that might lead interested readers off in interesting directions. Continue reading