We find it so easy to use words as the ‘names’ of things that we don’t recognize when these ‘names’ over-extend their ‘nameness’ or naming function into generalities that cannot possibly be considered as actual entities.
It seems to make sense, and it is even commonplace, to refer to that tall woody thing that dumps leaves on my lawn every autumn a ‘tree.’ further extending that to other entities like it, collectively, as ‘trees’ is simply grammatical pluralization, again making sense according to the rules of both classical logic and modern biology. But – what is a thing called ‘forest’? where is such an entity? Is it just more ‘trees’? A spot on a map? Something that isn’t a desert? What’s a desert?
Most people are not aware that the Antarctic is considered a desert by scientists. ( http://www.answers.com/Q/Is_Antarctica_a_desert ) I think most of us believe that ‘desert’ signifies a geographical space that is hot and sandy. And because most of us use the word in this way and refer to images, and experiences, and narratives including these qualities, we would be right. The Antarctic is something else. But only in so far as we imagine it, and experience it (if we are fortunate enough). Otherwise – well, scientists have agreed to call it a desert. Fine; who would argue with science? But it’s no ‘desert’ as most of us who use the term would imagine it to be.
The fact is, language is not about naming objects; it is not a mirror of nature, it does not validate ‘justified true beliefs’.
I see no difficulty in saying that forests don’t exist in nature.
We walk among these tall, rough-shelled things with irregular poles sticking out of them, all covered with thin green things. We’ve come to call these things ‘trees,’ with their ‘branches’ growing ‘leaves.’ To the extent we can differentiate a large number of these ‘trees’ from areas without much of them, or any of them, we have come to call the area with the ‘trees’ a ‘forest,’ so we have a location in space to which to refer for the sake of directions.
There are a number of ways we’ve developed to address these phenomena, including careful dissection and analyses of activities and events that permit the objects under study continued existence. But do ‘forests’ exist? Do even ‘trees’ exist except within the discourse of humans needing to refer to ‘those things there’? I confess I doubt this.
What we call tomatoes are fruit, and watermelons are vegetables – until we get to the table; then it is neither wrong nor nonsense to toss the tomato into the vegetable salad, and afterwards, enjoy the fruity flavor of the watermelon.
Individuals cannot define words arbitrarily. But the meaning of words is found in their usage, not in the existence of objects to which they are used to refer. That gives us some collective power over how we can or should use words. So distinctions between words and their references are very important.
Do forests exist ‘in reality?’ I’m not sure I recognize that as a legitimate question.