So-called ‘Trees’

I’m reading Francis Wheen’s book How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World at the moment. In fact I was reading it on the train to work today.

Then I came across this ‘cogitation’ from David Edwards of Medialens fame:

In fact, of course, ‘the England team’ is merely a mental label that we apply to a collection of individual players, but this collection does not actually exist as an object or entity; it is just a product of the mind.

The public, then, is upset or delighted because a non-existent entity, a mental label, ‘England’ – a label that they themselves have applied to a group of individuals – has ‘lost’ or ‘won’. In reality, of course, a non-existent entity can neither win nor lose – a label is just a label, a mental construct.

It is not just the England team that goes missing on closer inspection. When we search for a forest we only ever find trees. The trees are considered part of a forest, but actually they are part of nothing inherently existent – the forest is just a label in our minds. Similarly, leaves, twigs, branches and trunks are deemed to be parts of things called ‘trees’ – but a leaf is not a tree, nor is a twig, nor is a branch, nor is a trunk, nor is bark, nor is a root. What on earth, then, is ‘a tree’? In fact a ‘tree’ is just a label applied to a collection of parts – it is nowhere actually to be found, just like ‘a forest’ and just like an ‘England team’.

There’s loads more here. Even Harry Redknapp gets a mention and, sorry I’m going to spoil it for you, here is the profound conclusion:

Portsmouth football team appears to be inherently real. But when we remove the composite factors that give rise to the illusion – the players in the team – the illusion of a real team disappears and we are left with a mere label. There is no inherently existing entity called Portsmouth Football Club. And, again, this is true of all objects made up of parts (with these parts also made up of smaller parts) – that is, everything.

But this is bizarre, isn’t it? Does nothing exist? Clearly +something+ is there – we can see ‘things’: trees, cars, moons and football players. But our firm belief in concrete, inherently existent phenomena sitting ‘out there’ in space – the very foundation of materialism – is in fact unfounded. The world is not at all as it seems.

Update: Rather belatedly it has struck me that the post-modern/Buddhist David Edwards runs a site called Medialens and spends his freetime firing off emails to the BBC complaining of their pro-Bush propaganda.

But what, using Edward’s own analysis, is the media? Does it exist? Well in fact it is made up of different elements – radio stations, television channels and newspapers. There is no media. It is just a mental construct.

Take a part of the media – let’s say newspapers themselves. What is a newspaper? Does it actually exist? In fact it is a series of pieces of paper with print on it. The concept of a ‘newspaper’ is actually a mental construct. And what is paper? Well it is pulped from wood. And does wood exist? Well it comes from a tree and as Edwards has just ‘proved’ so-called trees don’t exist.

Therefore there is no such thing as media. So what is Medialens complaining about?