Back Off Science

The conceptual pop

Posted in reality by backoffscience on November 19, 2009

We are so close. We have an almost complete picture of reality. There is just one more step to go.485px-Descartes_mind_and_body.jpg image by orestesmantra

We know that the world we experience, that we share with everyone else, is a world made inside our head. We know that the world exists, we know that our senses perceive it, and we know our brain’s recreate that same world – adding in loads of really complicated stuff as it goes.

Our problem is that this argument still looks like one for some form of solipsism. Our entire argument is deformed by the fact that we do not have the values right in the picture.

For our enquiry started out trying to explain this world in which we all live. It ended up saying this world was not the real one.

The discovery that consciousness took place in the brain and the subsequent feeling that this changed the inquiry, is not the same as doing an operation for a broken bone and finding cancer. It is like the doctor becoming disinterested in surgery because of something he found while operating and turning his hand to carpentry.

The leap we must make is to flip our value system, our judgement system, our entire conceptual structure, to reflect the fact that the stuff that happens in all of our heads is the only thing of value to us, and that it is also a shared phenomena.

The conceptual pop happens when you see that consciousness might be a sometimes inaccurate virtual reality of our shared world. But it is all we have. We have to call it reality, we just have to, its all we’ve got. But it helps to think of it like virtual reality, so I’ll call it (v)R.

The difficulty is that the rules of the investigation change massively when you pop. No longer is it a clear-cut matter as to what is real. Ambiguity and shifting cultural sands lie all around. No longer is there a reductive system of investigation by which reality is pinned down. The conceptual system that explains our (in brain) reality is utterly expansive and interconnected.

Reality now conforms, not to the rules of causation, but to the rules of narrative, the rules of grammar.

http://www.geekologie.com/2008/05/22/VR-mask.jpgThe fall out from the pop is to accept that the human sciences – human evolution, psychology and sociology, are in a different bracket of investigations to those whose subject matter is outside the reality. Of course they do talk about material facts – the glands of emotion, the genes of gangs.

But they also have to try and generalize the narratives of living humans. How to you generalize stories? Clearly in a different way to averaging data.

I find it hard not to get waylaid in these thoughts. So many confusions come from our inability to clear our ears at this altitude. If you make the pop and start calling THIS reality, you’ll start to see the oddness of putting all the truth into natural science.

When you pop out into the organized, conceptual, interconnected and narrative brain-created human-reality that we all call home, you’ll see that everything that has meaning and value is completely different in kind to the facts of matter. The truths are based on certainty and action, the concepts are based on stories, and everywhere we tread disconnects and reconnects the connections in new and different ways.

We must stop wishing that science could understand this massively complex shared (v)R world from the outside, and get on with figuring it out from where we are.

It is such a simple picture. The world – my head – our world. Such a simple picture – shared virtual reality. Why isn’t it obvious?

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4 Responses

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  1. Alan Slipp said, on November 20, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    “We know that the world we experience, that we share with everyone else, is a world made inside our head.”

    No. Just… no. I will say, rather emphatically, that there is a world outside of our heads and it is affected not one whit by what we think about it. Our brains may do an imperfect job of letting us know what it is, but it IS there, and will continue to be long after the human race is long gone. It’s a world made of atoms, not firing synapses.

    “the stuff that happens in all of our heads is the only thing of value to us”

    If that were truly the case I wouldn’t bother getting out of bed in the morning. I could just spend the day thinking. Value itself is only in our heads, but the people in our lives and our material possessions are not (unless we suffer some sort of mental illness) figments of our imagination.

    “Reality now conforms, not to the rules of causation, but to the rules of narrative, the rules of grammar.”

    If I stand on the railway tracks and remain motionless as a train speeds towards me, something tells me all those classes I took in creative writing won’t be of much help.

    “I find it hard not to get waylaid in these thoughts.”

    No kidding.

    • backoffscience said, on November 23, 2009 at 4:58 pm

      Is that really what I was saying? Of course not. Obviously, I’m no idealist, or stupid solipsist. There is of course a world outside our heads (and our heads as well for that matter), which is made of atoms and which is a big causal system. And part of that causal system (in our heads) enables human beings to live in a world which is like the material world but which is organized and interconnected with concepts. This life we all lead does obviously take place in the world described by physics, but that doesn’t provide the whole picture.

      “Value itself is only in our heads, but the people in our lives and our material possessions are not”

      Value is in our heads? So the conceptually defined things in the world – friends, loved ones, prized posessions, books, films, companys and organizations, music, what of them? The value of these things is not in them – in the friend’s friendship, the loved one’s love etc, but in your head? I thought I was proposing “figments of the imagination?” I thought I said we could just stay in bed.

      You are saying that all value is projected onto or interpreted into matter. I’m saying we are talking after the projection, after the interpretation. That the world in which we have to decide on what to do with physics, is one in which these brain-created concepts exist out there in the world. And as I said before, the rules governing the concepts are the rules of grammar, and the rules are made up by us, humanity. Not me, us. Not in my head, in our heads. We share these concepts – of friend, love, beauty. The same concepts (words) for all of us. If they were not, we would not be able to communicate.

      “If I stand on the railway tracks and remain motionless as a train speeds towards me, something tells me all those classes I took in creative writing won’t be of much help.”

      Yeah, and if you’re trying to work out how to make your life better, those physics classes are going to be massive help?

      You were trying to point out my bad argument, but you only pointed out other people’s. I’m not proposing that life is virtual reality. I’m saying that comparing our lives to virtual reality helps us understand what life and our world is actually like. It is like virtual reality except it takes place not in a simulated but a real material world, that our device for interacting with the world is not a joystick but our body, that the processor is not a computer but our brains and that we, humanity, programme the software ourselves from inside the programme.

      It is just not as simple as SUBJECT – OBJECT, whether you want it to be or not. You can’t just divide through by consciousness and hope it will disapear. It is not just maths, it’s our lives.

      • Alan Slipp said, on November 24, 2009 at 5:56 pm

        All right. Sorry for the snark, you’re right that this sort of thing is tough to get your head around. You’re no solipsist, that much is clear now, and I shouldn’t be mischaracterizing your actual position to score points with an imaginary audience. Mea culpa.

        Since you say you are no idealist, I hope I am not wrong in saying you do not think the conceptual world is not equivalent to the material world, insofar as it would not continue existing without conscious minds. However, and I feel I agree with you strongly on this point, this conceptual world is no less real (to us) for its contingent existence. When we say something has value, even though that value is not intrinsic to that thing, we do genuinely value it and are not telling ourselves lies.

        Am I anywhere near close?

  2. backoffscience said, on November 24, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Getting warmer definitely. And calling the audience imaginary is just mean (although accurate). you’re right to say that the conceptual world is no less real than the material world, although conforming to different rules of truth and reality, and it is true in a sense that the world will continue to exist when your dead, but true in another sense that it ceases to exist.

    So while your picture of world and minds is ok, I’d say that if you take it to it’s logical conclusion, you have to amalgamate them somehow, the mindworld say, so that if a word like intrinsic has a meaning, then it applies to the values out there in the world. But knowing that they are in our minds and so brains makes this whole thing very tricky. There is a level of ambiguity that the subjective/objective or contingent/intrinsic splits don’t do justice to.

    What I am saying is that the world in which we all live is real, that our lives are real. That seems so obvious to be meaningless, but even a cursory desciption of the world includes concepts, so the idea that physics accounts for all reality is obviously wrong.


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