BB #66: Aspects vs Properties

This post, and several that follow, veer into fairly trivial territory. Which, I suppose, is relative. To some, all my posts may be trivial, whereas to me none of them are. At least not totally, although some are less con carne than others. As it turns out, this week I’m serving salads.

More accurately, cleaning out my closet or, even more accurately, collection of — not even half, but — lightly baked post ideas. I’m one who jots down thoughts in case they grow into something interesting. Some do, but others never grow much beyond the seed.

Case in point: the difference, if any, between aspects and properties.

Which, given how easy it is to just look in a dictionary, seems trivial indeed, but I wanted an understanding rich enough to use one of them in a sentence I was writing.

Was I talking about the properties, or the aspects, of a thing? What was I really saying?

At this point, I have no idea what I was writing about, but my mind went on a little journey that intrigued me just enough to jot it down.

Where it sat.

Doing nothing much.

Just interesting enough to not toss, but more of a dear diary entry. A little trip I took that I’d like to remember.

So, forewarned and forearmed, for what it’s worth…

§ §

What might make this slightly less trivial is that the Wiktionary definition for aspect has 14 definitions. The one for property has 9.

Of aspect, the crucial definitions are:

  1. Any specific feature, part, or element of something.
  2. The way something appears when viewed from a certain direction or perspective.
  3. The way something appears when viewed from a certain direction or perspective.

Of property, the crucial definitions are:

  1. Something that is owned.
  2. An attribute or abstract quality associated with an individual, object or concept.
  3. An attribute or abstract quality which is characteristic of a class of objects.

There does seem a bit of intersection in “specific feature, part, or element of something” and “attribute or abstract quality” of an object or class.

In particular, both seem to belong to, and to characterize, something.


Where they differ is that aspects are appearances, whereas properties are not.

In fact, aspect is an old-fashioned term for face or facial expression. It comes from the Latin aspectus (“look, sight; appearance”). It’s what we see about something.

Property, in the real estate or legal sense, is a physical object one owns. In the abstract, it’s a real value or characteristic something possesses. (The theatrical term “prop” comes from property, which is their formal name.)

Put another way, aspects are epistemic, properties are ontological.


Which makes them pretty different.

Properties are things like size, mass, color, surface texture, velocity, distance, chemical composition, smell, viscosity, brittleness, heat sensitivity, etc.

Aspects are things like Yin-Yang or IPO (Input-Process-Output) — general models that apply to many things. That is, many things can look that way.

[One of the surprises of science is how often certain aspects occur with wildly different properties. Yin-Yang is an obvious one. A less obvious one is the notion of x-squared — the common parabola. It’s found in myriad physical phenomenon.]

§ §

So, a short mental journey sorted out my views on aspects and properties.

But then I wondered: Is the wave-function an aspect or a property?

Under MWI, it’s not just a property, it’s the only property.

Under other quantum interpretations, it’s just an aspect of whatever is really going on.

One of my key objections to MWI is that I don’t think the wave-function is reality. That seems Tegmarkian — to assume we’re nothing more than mathematics.

Because the wave-function is at least a mathematical formula. Is it possible it’s also ontological reality?

My uninformed inclination is to see the wave-function as an aspect — as epistemic. It’s (at the least) a story about what we see happening.


Short and sweet. Or at least short. (And, as promised, trivial. 😄)

Stay lightly baked, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

9 responses to “BB #66: Aspects vs Properties

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Ah, one less note to look at. More triviality to follow! 😉

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Have to admit I’ve never thought about this distinction, which means I’ve almost certainly made a hash of it in the past. Thinking about it, I think I’ve intuitively viewed aspects as relational more than epistemic, that is, something that could be ontological, but only in a relative sense, not absolute.

    Language. Can’t live without it, but ugh.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Interesting question: Are relationships epistemic or ontological?

      It’s like the opposite side of the emergence coin. In a reductionist view, all emergence is epistemic, so it’s appropriate to consider, as it were, “epistemic-epistemic” and “epistemic-ontological” emergence that admits to “new” things emerging.

      In this case, at root, all aspects (and properties) would of course be ontological. As such, we can bracket that and look at things within that context.

      A facial expression, a person’s aspect, is certainly a real thing.

      The distinction may lie in that another observer could validly disagree about the appearance of something, but not so much about its properties. (That gets a little hairy in the context of SR, but even so there do exist invariants.)

      “Language. Can’t live without it, but ugh.”

      But endlessly fascinating! 😀

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        This also reminds me of the issues that Philip Goff has been making lately about qualities (as opposed to quantities). Merriam sees quality as synonymous with property (at least with one of the meanings of each). Goff’s beef is that Galileo banned qualities from science, or at least a bunch of them. It seems like we can discuss purely quantitative properties, but are there quantitative qualities? (It seems strange to ask that.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I must be missing something. Aren’t temperature, pressure, hardness, smoothness, etc. qualities? Is he saying they’re quantitative because we use numbers to specify specific instances? (If so, I couldn’t disagree more, but Goff and I clearly don’t see the world the same way, shall we say.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’m basing this on what I remember from interviews he’s done. I get the impression he believes there are non-quantitative qualities. But I’m with you. I’m hard pressed to identify a quality that isn’t also a quantity of some type. Of course, he’s looking at it from the perspective of phenomenal experience which can’t be subjectively reduced to quantity, seeing it as ontological rather than epistemic.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Does he give any examples of qualities that Galileo banned?

        I was suggesting that, although qualities such as those I listed are quantified for us to study them, I wouldn’t classify them as quantities, but as magnitudes. (I would say quantities are associated with the natural numbers, magnitudes (qualities) are associated with the real numbers. We count quantities and measure qualities.)

        It does seem brains have a crude innate counting facility. We can instantly tell the difference between three apples and four apples without counting them. That gets impossible with even slightly larger numbers (say 10 vs 11) and utterly impossible (except for savants) with numbers in the hundreds. But we can recognize five things instantly.

        So maybe there is a “fiveness” qualia.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “Does he give any examples of qualities that Galileo banned?”

        He probably does. I’m sure it included things like color, pain, etc. It’s actually been a while since I listened or read Goff. He kept saying the same thing over and over, so I tuned him out some time ago. But I do remember him making a big deal about the quality vs quantity distinction.

        It’s interesting how you can add “ness” to just about anything and turn it into a property. But then, what about the properties? I asked that question during the platonism discussion. Can we have a rednessness? Or a rednessnessness?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ha! Infinite regression?

        Given we’ve both tuned Goff out, not much point in trying to figure out what he meant. It’s probably something we’d disagree with anyway. 🙂

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