The Path Towards Deciphering Objective Realitygreenspun.com : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread
[Definitions of key concepts referred to in this essay, provided as a service to readers, are located at the bottom of this post.]
The Path Towards Deciphering Objective Reality
An epiphenomenon is an artifact of our abilities to recognize patterns, which may or may not have any underlying objective reality. Consider a photograph. It's a piece of paper coated with molecules of varying reflectivity. The "picture" itself is NOT inherent in the photograph, but rather the result of our recognition of, and attachment of meaning to, the pattern of reflections. Consciousness itself is an epiphenomenon, an artifact of a pattern of firing neurons. It is no more "real" than the faces we see in clouds.
What's interesting is that the epiphenomenon, the artifact of underlying patterns, bears *no relation* to the medium of those patterns. Because people are wired to recognize faces, we can "see" faces in almost anything, from the face of the man in the moon to shadows on Mars to line drawing caricatures in cartoons to reflective variations in photographic emulsions, and so on ad infinitum. The medium doesn't matter, except insofar as we recognize that there are no physical faces in any of these things.
Reification means considering and treating epiphenomena as objective "things". It is a fundamental conceptual error. And while most people can correctly handle simple epiphenomena (for example, they know there's no actual face somehow "hidden inside" a piece of photographic paper), they often can't grasp more subtle cases. So some people believe that such epiphenomena as "intelligence" or "lifeforce" are actual things with an objective existence of their own. We can laugh at the cat attacking that "strange cat" in the mirror, yet not recognize that such things as intelligence or lifeforce are no more "real" than the cat's reflection is a real cat. They are merely labels we attach to often arbitrary constellations of inferred patterns embedded in some unrelated underlying medium.
My notion of a "whacko" (I have no idea what yours is) is someone who has drawn a seriously inaccurate conceptual map of reality, and then confused the map with reality itself. So they've created a name to attach to a pattern they sense in their observations, and then believe that the name applies to something real and objective. And this process instantly causes a semantic gap almost impossible to breach. The debate as to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin presupposes an incredible wealth of arbitrary intellectual baggage simply to define what the word "angel" might refer to (if anything).
Finding meanings in patterns is a very powerful ability, and extremely useful. It's something we're geared to do by nature; we can't help it and can't live without it. Unfortunately, this ability leads us all too easily to seeing patterns that really aren't there (like faces in clouds) and then concocting meanings to fit these patterns that derive from sheer imagination. Finally, once we think we've found a meaning, we are extremely reluctant to abandon it when it subsequently turns out that the underlying pattern was itself imaginary or coincidental. Once we dream up and name a nonexistent "thing", it tends to take on a life of its own, all independent of the complete lack of a basis in reality.
So we need to learn to govern this conceptual strength, much as we must learn not to bang our heads on things as we grow taller. We need to keep questioning whether we've discovered something real or assigned a reality that doesn't exist. And this takes effort, knowledge, and awareness.
Epiphenomenalism: a doctrine that mental processes are epiphenomena of brain processes.
Epiphenomenon: a secondary phenomenon accompanying another and caused by it.
Reification: the process or result of regarding something abstract as a material or concrete thing.
-- Pin Dancer (Peering@Looking.Glass), June 15, 2000
This piece is a fine example of thinking & communicating one's thoughts cogently. Impressive.
Matthew Alper, author of God Part of the Brain, would certainly agree with you, PD. He is an Agnostic & makes no bones about the fact that those who believe in something Higher, a Source of all things & all natural laws if you will, are kidding themselves. These people create fantasy worlds in which to live because of their, so says Alper, innate fear of death. Wheres the objective proof? is his mantra (pun intended).
You certainly present a strong case for demanding evidence without subsequent unnecessary & extreme extrapolation. My question is - How do we classify subjective phenomena which doesnt fit neatly into a box? Do we shelve these experiences, placidly awaiting white-coated lab scientists to reveal the true nature of lifeforce energy, telepathy, astrology, yogic powers, Jesus, samadhi, etc.?
-- Bingo1 (email@example.com), June 15, 2000.
THE ILLUSION OF OBJECTIVITY
Science is not science; objectivity is an illusion.
Two thousand years ago, a Cretan sage named Menedis devised a statement that has since become synonymous with the word paradox in the West. That statement was:
"All Cretans are liars."
If the statement was true, it made Menedis - who was Cretan - a liar, which made his statement false - Cretans were not liars - which meant that his statement was true again, which made him again a liar.
That paradox leaves us in the difficult position of having to entertain a statement as both true and not true at the same time.
The essence of life is paradox. When we try to pin it down we get into trouble. Western science attempts to deny the paradox of life and to make it manageable and controllable by allowing as truth only what it understands as "objective" evidence. The practice was developed with the best of intentions, but the essential paradox remains and humankind's continuing efforts to deny the mystery of existence is causing more and more problems.
-- Debra (...@....), June 15, 2000.
Now if you just had the ability to make people understand that, the world would be a better place.
-- (Time@to.live), June 15, 2000.
Hello Pin Dancer,
Of course consciousness is real, as is a photograph.
A photograph is something real whose essential purpose is to depict someone or something. A cloud in the shape of a face is still a cloud, because the concept of "cloud" encompasses essential qualities that give it its "cloudness," thereby distinguishing it from rocks, tables, and other things. That it may happen to be in the shape of a face as well, is irrelevant to its "cloudness."
You seem to be arguing that consciousness isn't real because you can't "see" it (perceive it by extrospection), it has no shape, color or smell, and can't be handled, weighed or put in a test tube.
You might as well argue that the eyeball is unreal because it can't be perceived by introspection, doesn't have the qualities of a process of awareness, can't theorize about itself, suffer neurotic problems, or fall in love.
These two arguments are interchangeable. It doesn't make any more sense to arbitrarily limit the features of matter to the standard of things that exist, and then deny consciousness, than to do the reverse. The facts are that matter exists (is real), and so does consciousness, the faculty of perceiving it.
And where did your post, with its arguments come from? Wasn't it a product of your consciousness? Do you now see that you have to accept consciousness as real in any attempt to deny it?
-- eve (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 16, 2000.
eve's post wonderfully illustrates the "semantic gap almost impossible to breach".
IMO, her distinction between the photograph and the cloud fails in essence. To create this distinction, she rings in "purpose", as though if the depiction of a face is intentional, it's more "facey" than if the cause is unknown or coincidental. The essence, however, is that in both cases we see a face in something that isn't a face. The relevance lies in our interpretation of a pattern, NOT in the medium containing the pattern.
The point isn't that patterns and processes don't exist, it's that these are a different order of reality than physical objects. The meaning of patterns and processes lies in our appreciation and nterpretation of them, whereas the meaning of physical objects is inherent in the objects. The essay attempted to distinguish between these two orders of reality, and warn against the conceptual dangers of equating them.
Both the photograph and the cloud are "real" in an objective sense, but the face we see in either one only comes into existence through this process of interpretation. For example, a bat could not "see" the face in the photograph, but the bat could "see" a face in a form humans are not equipped to recognize. If some people "saw" with reflected sound and others with reflected light, their photographs would be mutually incomprehensible.
Consider that with the advent of optical media, we have very likely for the first time stored software that will outlast our ability to read and execute it. Its meaning will be lost, yet the software won't have changed a bit (pun intended). The "reality" of the object will outlive the "reality" of the process of interpreting it. So these are different orders of reality.
It's so natural to us to find meaning in patterns or processes, and so natural to be predisposed to "find" meanings we prefer, that we tend to filter our perceptions to tune out what doesn't fit. For example, the Las Vegas casinos publicize only the winners and tune out the losers to create a false perception of the pattern of wins and losses. This succeeds in large part because it's what their clients want so urgently to hear.
Bingo 1 is kind enough to provide a list of names we've given to patterns derived from the process of such selective filtration. Our powerful ability to interpret patterns implies an equally powerful ability to misinterpret patterns, or create them when they don't exist. Not all patterns have a meaningful underlying cause (random and near random phenomena can occasionally produce surprising results).
-- Pin Dancer (Peering@ Looking.Glass), June 16, 2000.
If you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, then you don't need advice.
-- (+@-.^), June 17, 2000.
I'm sorry...apparently I misread what you were trying to get across. So, I assume we agree that consciousness and its attributes and actions are just as real as matter.
Your post was interesting, though. Thanks.
-- eve (email@example.com), June 17, 2000.