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.

https://i0.wp.com/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?

Articles of faith

Posted in atheism, narrative by backoffscience on November 10, 2009

The New Atheists or scientists, as I like to call them, don’t just have a problem with organised religion. They have a problem with the very concept of faith.

In science’s language, the definition of faith is this – living your life as though human-created stories are real things in the world.

Making concepts real is what faith does, and all concepts, by definition, are human-created. Faith is simply a belief that a belief is real.

I, for example, have faith in the existence of love. I know it cannot be explained as the causal link between two brains or organisms. I know love only exists because I believe it’s existence is real. But I also know that my faith in love, along with everyone elses, is all that keeps love in existence. I could inspect as many brains as I like, and I will not find love, only the brain parts which make the concept possible.

So how can I have faith in something’s being real, at the same time as knowing that it only exists as a concept? Doesn’t this make it an illusion?

https://i2.wp.com/3.bp.blogspot.com/_QwksVGcxMqk/Sfy6Mu5Wm1I/AAAAAAAAAuA/bW6xSmnKOwI/S660/tinkerbell-free-coloring-pages-printable-1.gifThis all depends how you want to define reality. There is no absolute rule stating that you have to restrict the concept of reality to exclude concepts. You may choose to believe that there is such a rule, and you can make your arguments around assuming that rule is true, just as many atheists do. That just isn’t a good way to argue (to assume your answer).

Personally, I wouldn’t want my concept of reality itself not be real – for me that would be confusing. If you think it works, let me know how.

So if you allow conceptual as well as material reality in, what then?

Well you have to accept that things like love, happiness, joy, freedom, responsibility and community are real, but only in so much as we believe in them.

Actually, the relationship is much more complex than that, we’re not talking about twinkerbell here. Faith, defined as a belief that a belief is real, is a necessary condition for the existence of our conceptual reality. But the articles of faith still have to acted upon to make them real. It’s no good believing love is real when no-one is actually in love.

Now here’s the crunch. Communal conceptual realities (or you could call them faith communities I guess, or folks that share the same story) that do not include the discoveries of science don’t personally suit me. I’m an atheist, and always have been.

And there is no doubt that literalist religious conceptual systems can cause harm in some cases – the intelligent design lab biologist for example, or the Al Qu’aida bomber. However, most people who believe in concepts that massively contradict material reality – that the world is young, the people go to a special place after death and so on – lead pretty normal lives, considering.

The point is that there is so much more besides, which fits in just perfectly with the material reality, but which still make use of our ability to live our lives within complex and beautiful narratives. Here are just a few examples:

Awe and wonder. Richard Dawkins prefered conceptual reality, built on our emotional (concept) reaction to beautiful(concept) natural (concept) scenes.

Golden Rule. Love thy neighbour. Perfect consequentialist rule of thumb.

Humanism. Ain’t life great. Couldn’t it be great for everyone.

Humanitarianism. Ain’t life shit. Couldn’t it be great for everyone?

Progress. I believe there will be a situation in the future, which could be better or worse depending what I do now.

History. What I am now is because of great-great-great-great-great grandpa’s awesomeness.

Evolution. How brilliant is it that complex life, or life itself, even exists. How great that the ancestors survived and changed.

Freedom. I can do anything.

Community. We can do anything.

Creativity. I can improve the world by making interesting and beautiful things.

and last of all Depth. There are such things as shallow and deep experiences, and the deeper ones are often better.

There are tons more, let me know your favourite.

Battles with rationalists

Posted in 1 by backoffscience on September 17, 2009

Reading around on the Dawkins forums, its clear that the attitude I’m trying to pry of the rock is both widespread and very hard to dispute. What evidence do you use to persuade someone that there are real things for which there is no evidence?

As I hope you can see, I’m still trying to find out exactly how this idea works. But I think I got closer in the last line of a forum post –

There are things that are not grounded in any way that science can investigate, but at the same time are not magical or illusory.

As odd as it seems to me, that does appear to be the mindset of the rationalist, that there is just one kind of answer – one about the stuff you know from scienceĀ  – and everything else people talk about is some kind of illusion or fallacy or magic or delusion.

So numerically, it is only a very small step the rationalist needs to make – from one kind of answer to two.

Because there really are just two abstract groups of concepts – matter and language.

These are neatly represented in the incredibly dry and dull discussion over philosophical epistemology. Some knowledge, knowledge of matter, is foundational. It hits bottom on provable facts. Other knowledge is contextual – facts are supported by other facts on huge web of self-supporting connections. The rock bottom is action. That is how language works.

(It gets especially confusing when there are aspects of both kinds of knowledge – ie. the neuroscience of belief.)

But to say there is only one kind of answer means you completely remove the possibility of there being value, meaning, quality, emotion, responsibility and so on. As these things obviously do exist, there has to be a different kind of answer.

And after that appalling pastiche I think I’d better go.