Archives for posts with tag: Reality

Farfetched?

Somebody was asking the other day on Facebook “how can you prove that a table doesn’t exist?”
The answer, ‘walk through the place where that table is supposed to stand’ is so obvious that it hurts.

So, was that table real or not?

You see, a table may exist in two kind of places. In a store/room/backyard and in the imagination/memory of the guys who designed/made/owned it. It can remain ‘in storage’ long after it was forgotten by everybody and/or can be remembered long after it was destroyed.
A tree, on the other hand, can exist – and die, without anybody ever noticing it. Or could have been lovingly planted and taken care of by somebody. Who might die even before the tree ever reaching maturity…

But how can any of us determine whether a table, or a tree, is real or not?

By attempting to walk through it, and hurting ourselves, we only determine that there’s something there. Not at all that we’d hurt ourselves by hitting a tree or a table…

OK, there’s yet another possibility.

reality figment

Dr. Pierce – who, by the way, was produced by the imagination of a screen-writer, reminds us that neurologically there’s no way of telling apart a dream/nightmare/vision from a ‘legitimate’ perception.

So.
Then it would be possible for whatever each of us perceives on a daily bases to be nothing but some-kind of an elaborate multidimensional movie. Or prank. Played on each of us by some extremely bored ‘arcade operator’. Or by a lab-technician performing some kind of an experiment… In this scenario all other people each of us has ever met would be nothing but characters imagined by the guy who had written the script/devised the experiment…
A slightly different scenario would be that our planet (the whole world?) is a theater, we are the spectators and most of what we perceive is the movie which is played on (for?) us. In this variation we are free to speak amongst us (discuss the movie?) and this would be the explanation for why our perceptions are coordinated so well. After all, all English speakers use the same word for table/tree and most of us are able to differentiate between a table and a chair. Or between a tree and a weed…

Or we could take a completely different road!
There’s a guy, Humberto Maturana, who has reached the conclusion that most humans are not simply aware but also aware of their own awareness. And that this is what really makes us human.
In fact, his ideas make a lot of sense. A dog is aware. If house trained, it will not pee inside and most of them are able to differentiate between their owners and some strangers. But it takes a fully functional human being to step outside of themselves and examine their actions/status.

Without this very self awareness, none of us would be considering ‘reality’. We’d simply walk around the table/tree or directly through the clear space and never waste a second considering whether the table/tree is real.

Or what reality really is.

In this scenario, reality is more like a table than like a tree.
It resembles a tree in the sense that it existed long before any of us ever thought about it and it is like a table in the sense that in order to consider it we need to imagine it first.

Reality exists.
In both scenarios and along both roads. It doesn’t matter whether in the first one we are fed fake sensations and led to believe whatever the screen writer wants us to believe. In order to do that, the screen writer has to exist in the first place. We also have to exist, otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone to watch the movie!
OK, maybe what we perceive has nothing to do (very little?) to the real reality. But that doesn’t mean that a certain reality doesn’t exist at all. Even in the first scenario.

Coming back to the second road, we cannot pretend that OUR reality exists outside us.
Yes, there is a reality – THE reality, which lurks somewhere outside our reach.
What we’re able learn from it, and all we’ll ever be able to learn, is what we’ll be able to imagine first.

Think of it. What do we do when we come across something new?
First we try to classify it among our memories. In fact we try to remember whether we already have a word for it. One imagined by one of our ancestors.
If not, we imagine one ourselves.
And only then we can proclaim that the new thing has been discovered. That it has become ‘real’.

 

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ouroboros

Ever since people have become aware of their own awareness philosophers have entertained opposing views as to what is more important: matter or soul.

The materialists point out that everything, including us, is made of matter and, hence, nothing would be possible without it while the idealists maintain that everything that exists is nothing but a projection of our own thoughts.

As an engineer who had designed (material) objects before actually building them I find it strangely rewarding that both these fiercely opposing sides are, simultaneously, right.

Just as we are simultaneously made of flesh and animated by souls.

If you disagree, just pinch yourself.
Now tell me, ‘did it hurt?’.
Who felt it? Your flesh or your soul?
And who’s able to meditate about the whole experience? How come are we not only able to feel things but also to think about them? Then to communicate, efficiently, among ourselves about our relatively different experiences?
Surely, there must be something shared amongst us, something that constitutes not only a medium for our communication but also a common base for our experiences.

I’m going to use ‘reality’ to designate that commonality, irrespective of the fact that reality is a two tiered thing.

A material reality, something that exists per se – according to its own, natural, set of laws, and a social reality, something that we, the people, have agreed upon – either willingly or by omission to protest, efficiently, against it.

These two tiers of reality are no longer independent.

In fact they have never been. The social reality has grown, as a bud, ‘on top’ of the material reality. And this has happened according to an opportunity enshrined in the natural laws that govern the very existence of the material reality.

Now, after its birth, social reality has started to alter the material one.
In two ways.
By developing an ever more sophisticated understanding of the inner workings we gradually discover inside the material realm and, subsequently, by using various aspects of that (inherently limited) understanding in order to effect voluntary change.

I’m going to make a brief pause here.
Social reality is a human construct, one that came to life fueled by our own volition and shaped by the sum of the choices we’ve made during our entire history.
The mere fact that we are also ‘animals’ – and have changed the world around us by our mere, and long time unwitting, existence, is something else. Related to our social existence but nevertheless different from it.

What I’m trying to say is that by coming of age – by becoming aware of our own awareness, we are currently adding a third dimension to that Ouroboros thing.
The ‘serpent’ has been ‘eating its tail’ from the very beginning of the world. New stars have been born from the dust left after the older ones have exploded and decaying organic matter is what used to feed our crops until a few short years ago – and still does for the organic farmers.
But now, that we’ve become aware of the entire process – and of our contribution to it, we are in a position to influence its direction.

We can turn it into a vicious or a virtuous circle.

Which will it be?

who needs what

And please, please, don’t make this confusion.
People do, as for now at least, need ‘nature’ in order to lead what we call/feel to be a normal life.
But nature also somehow needs us. Otherwise it wouldn’t have allowed us to become what we are today.

Until now, during our development, we haven’t broken, not significantly at least, any natural laws. Otherwise we wouldn’t have reached this stage – according to Ernst Mayr’s interpretation of  Darwin’s teachings, anyway.
Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.
We’re not dead yet, are we?

Let’s keep it that way, lest we’re gonna be replaced.

Fast.

 

Information is like bricks while knowledge is like buildings.
One can make his own bricks from the available mud and then proceed to build his own hut.
Inevitable all bricks made by man will have something in common – after all they are made from the same material, for the same purpose, by individuals belonging to the same species, but will also vary considerably – depending, among others, on the skills of the makers and on the quality of the available mud.
Inevitably the houses will also have something in common – again, they are made for the same broad purpose by individuals belonging to the same species – but they will vary more widely than the bricks do because they have to fulfill a wider selection of purposes in a variety of climates. (All bricks are made to be used as building blocks but buildings are used for many more purposes than simply sleeping in them.)
In conclusion information is something that was gleaned by an individual from his environment while knowledge is a patchwork put together by the same individual using the pieces of information he has acquired previously.
Also please note that while all information is gleaned using one’s senses this process can be a direct one – the senses probe the reality in a direct mode, the observer watches birds in his back yard, or it can be mediated by an information source – the passionate reads, using the ‘same’ eyes as the observer, a book about the same birds.
And any consideration about the difference between information and knowledge would be incomplete if we forget to mention ‘sensations’.
Which are nothing but the raw material – the mud, if you like – from where our brain extracts what we call ‘information’ – which, in its turn, will end up being attached, by the same brain, to the patchwork commonly known as knowledge.

There are a lot of definitions available for these concepts. I’ve found out that Google offers the blandest ones so I’ll use those. You’ll understand why.

a. “An experience involving the apparent perception of something not present
b. “An extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.”
c. “An optical illusion caused by atmospheric conditions, especially the appearance of a sheet of water in a desert or on a hot road caused by the refraction of light from the sky by heated air.

If we follow the ‘dispassionate’ line used by Google we’ll notice that the ‘real’ problem is us, not a. b. or c.

We are the ones who are not able to figure out the source of the perception in a, the explanation for what happens in b and to reconcile what we know with what we see in c.

More than 35 years ago, while in college, I had to study ‘Marxism’. It was considered a science by the communists and all students had to take that class.
Marxism is a reaction against the idealist thesis that reality consists entirely of minds or spirits and of their experiences or ideas. The materialist conception of history, Marx and Engels contend, postulates the existence of an objective, concrete reality that is independent of human consciousness and is also its determinant“.

For a future engineer, and one that wasn’t particularly concerned with religion, the concept seemed appealing.
Something was nagging me though. In time I understood that Marx was making a huge mistake when conflating ‘objective’ with ‘real’ and individual consciousness with the collective one.
Also what he termed ‘reality’ is not that independent from consciousness as he would liked it to be.

I’ll start with the second idea.

We coined the term/concept of reality.
How’s that for ‘real’ independence?

Is there anything outside my individual knowledge/consciousness?
A lot.
Do I care?
Sometimes yes but most of it is both absolutely inconsequential for me and way out of my grasp. So my accepting its very existence depends decisively on ‘hearsay’ and faith…

Is there anything outside our collective knowledge/consciousness?
Probably yes. Hard to believe that we already know everything, right? Particularly since we discover something new each moment…
‘We discover’?!?
So it’s us who are ‘conquering’ more and more ‘reality’?!?
Wasn’t it supposed to be independent from us?

OK, you probably got it, I won’t bother you anymore with this.

Let me go back to ‘objective’ versus ‘real’.

Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions.
Actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.”

If we gather five children who haven’t yet seen a tarmac road scorched by the July Sun and take them to Arizona they’ll tell us, excitedly but objectively, that the road is boiling out there near the horizon.
We, the grown ups, know that’s a mirage. For them, it’s a miracle.
For a single child – one that knows the concept, of course – it might seem a hallucination, specially if he doesn’t have another person to speak to about what he sees.

Some independence… But wait, there’s more.

You are reading this on a computer. (If you call it a smartphone you are deluding yourself. It’s a computer that you can also use as a phone). Is it ‘really’ real?
According to Marx, I mean.
If your consciousness hasn’t yet digested effectively its ‘user manual’ that computer is little more than an useless  piece of junk… Not to mention the fact that its processor would still be a little pile of sand if not for an entire string of consciousnesses – from INTEL’s CEO to the driver who delivered it to the assembly plant and they are only a few of those involved in the process.

The fact is that we change the reality around us. We build cities, roads to connect them and power plants so we can cool our homes in summer.

And then we pretend reality is independent from us.
Who’s delusional now?

An animal.
An animal with a conscience.
God’s most precious creation.
Nothing but another member of the society.

All of the above and then some.

Judging by the wealth of possible answers we might conclude that the question that started all this is an open one, right?
One that prompts ‘the student’ to think before formulating an opinion. One that elicits an elaborate answer. Or one that doesn’t lead to/doesn’t contain in itself a certain answer.

The problem is that there is no such thing as a really open question. OK, some questions allow the respondent to come up with his version of reality while others elicit a very precise answer. Only every answer, no matter how personal, has to have a very strong connection to the question. Otherwise it would not be an answer any more.
If somebody asks me ‘what time is it?’ and my answer would be ‘green’ it would be just as stupid as responding ‘hate’ if asked ‘what would like to have for dinner’.

Lets go back to my initial question, and the plethora of possible answers from which each of us are supposed to choose one as ‘his personal’.
Clue: ‘choose’!

Really now, what are we, human people – God’s creations or not, it doesn’t matter – but warm blooded animals who have developed a conscience and, because of that, are able to choose?

And here comes the unpleasant part. The very fact that our main job is to choose from the many opportunities we are presented with makes us responsible for all the decisions we make. Sooner or later the consequences of our choosing will inevitably catch up with us.

Some of you will say that yes, it is real because ‘look around you, He made all this’ while others will wonder ‘what happened, I knew you were a cool-headed guy?’.

Well, first of all, I didn’t ask ‘Who created the world?’!
Just to set things straight, I don’t need a god to be at ease with how we came into existence.
On the other hand, I don’t know everything so I cannot rule out the possibility that somewhere, somehow, somebody started the whole process that had set the things in motion nor can I be absolutely certain that there is no ‘higher force/authority’ that operates the ‘control room’.  I do not see a plausible role for such a ‘higher instance’ but I cannot rule out its very existence.
(The main reason for why I don’t think it exists is that the moment I accept its existence a question pops up: “how did this ‘higher instance’ came into existence, what made it possible?” and this would bring me back to square one. But I repeat myself, I cannot rule out such a possibility, especially so if I consider the ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum: ‘What if the creator god and its very creation evolved simultaneously and symbiotically?’)

Enough with this metaphysical speculation and back to our more mundane question: ‘is God, as we know it, real or not?’

We kid ourselves for being rational beings. What would a rational person do when confronted with a problem? Try to ‘measure’ itself out of the whole situation, right? What else being rational means if not trying to discover the relations between things?
This way it would be relatively simple to determine if a particular thing exists or not: ‘Does it have any consequences?’.
If the answer is ‘yes’, then it is certain that that particular thing exists. If ‘not’ then we cannot give a definitive answer. (Please don’t fall for ‘if it doesn’t have any consequence it doesn’t exist’. This is a trap. Us not being aware of something doesn’t mean that that something doesn’t exist. ‘The absence of proof is not proof of absence!’)

So does God have any consequences?

‘This guy is nuts! First he tells us that he doesn’t believe God created us all and now he asks if God has any consequences. His discourse doesn’t have the least shred of consistency!’

Well… not so fast!

Why did the Ancient Egyptians build the pyramids?
Because the were convinced that that was the only way of preserving their pharaohs for the afterlife?
Why did the Ancient Greeks build and used their magnificent temples? Because they believed that was the proper thing to do?

Now can you tell me if AmonRa and Zeus existed or not? Only in the Ancient Egyptians’ and Ancient Greeks’ imaginations, respectively? Are you sure? The Pyramids and the Parthenon seem pretty real to me, even if I haven’t seen any of them ‘face to face’! So AmonRa and Zeus were, and in fact still are, real. At least in the sense that they both had, and still have, palpable consequences.

Same thing with ‘God’! Any of them. Monotheistic, polytheistic … it doesn’t matter. If somebody believes in any of them strongly enough to act upon that belief then each of those Gods suddenly springs into life. And sometimes there is belief even in absence of a God. What God do Buddhists believe in? Yet they are at least as steadfast in their beliefs as the rest of the religious people.

It seems that ‘belief’ is the actual connection between ‘God’ and reality. Human belief that is.

So please take care what you believe in and how you transpose your beliefs into the real world. The one in which we are going to spend the rest of our natural lives and the only one our children are going to inherit.

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