In one of his recent essays (https://writings.stephenwolfram.com/2021/04/why-does-the-universe-exist-some-perspectives-from-our-physics-project/) the scientist Stephen Wolfram says (at the end of it, in the "How should we feel about all this?" section) that, since he adopts something similar to a platonic view, proposing that the universe ultimately emerges from an abstract formal object, the universe would not be real or "actual" but instead "virtual" or "formal".

But, I don't understand this: Even if we actually lived in an abstract formal structure, since that formal system would be the ultimate bedrock of reality, wouldn't that make it automatically "real" or "actual"?

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    Indeed formal seems not a felicitous term here any longer to get a deeper feeling in this kind of abstraction and platonism assuming they make sense since formal still contains a form in it which is symbolically grounded and picks out its referent in this physical world. Semiosis in terms of its implicit regress and progress from Peirce's semiotics language seems more apt here to become reality instead of a mere form or shadow thrown projecting the said reality... – Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 5:54
  • @DoubleKnot but wouldn't semiosis still be talking about symbols instead of an actual thing?
    – vengaq
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 1:27
  • You're not wrong that semiosis is about symbols aka sign process of any metasystem, not mere signs defaulted in a formal system expressible only via a verbal language. Semiotics takes a first person perspective first and then views the external world as emergent thus treating the world as its own best model and own representation, a diamond tip observing and reflecting itself, a yin-yang symmetry and duality, perceived persistent regularities as a maximum thrown projected possibility, ready-to-hand meaning begins already as if our contingent percept signal sequence interprets its semiosis... Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 7:02
  • A superb question. Only a human being could ask this question. Bravo!
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 8:26

1 Answer 1


Yes, in fact what you ask is precisely called platonic realism. The only real entities would be the Forms, and what we see empirically (that is, as experienced by our senses) is a deception, a distorted reflection of the truth. Recall the allegory of the cave where this is explained as a myth.

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