Sunday, May 31, 2015

Speculations on the Nature of Reality

 Viewpoints: Speculations on the Nature of Reality


“It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see.” (Thoreau)

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” (Einstein)


2/20/04                  re the principles of viewpoint theory
First Principle: We see (perceive) by means of heredity and learning;

Second Principle: Perception is complete: there is only inference beyond it;

Third Principle: You cannot see where or what you are: you were 'there' and were 'that' (in the immediate 'past') or will be (in the immediate 'future')---that is, in memory or anticipation. Nor can you perceive what 'was' or 'will be', except in memory or anticipation. That is, you are forever operating in the immediate past or future, 'seeing' only 'what was' or 'what will be', and therefore 'driving from the rearview mirror' or seeing ahead in anticipation from the immediate memories of 'what-was';

Fourth Principle: recursivity governs (describes) succession. No matter how little change there is from moment to moment, there is some, and this change permits 'time' to 'pass'. Subjective 'time' is thus 'succession' and is therefore a creature-event, a perceptual event, a viewpoint (or aspect of a viewpoint).  (see Mind Time, by Benjamin Libet, 2004);

Fifth Principle: ‘Knowledge’ is what is perceived and believed. 'Belief' is stable ideation over 'time'—i.e., successive ideas that appear similar and which 'make sense' (i.e., fit with major prior beliefs);

Sixth Principle: 'Language' and 'imagination' transcend (release us from) perception, creating 'time' (past and future) and allowing/requiring generalization (e.g.,categories and hierarchies);

Seventh Principle: With language and the ability to represent, generalize, and classify comes 'error', since any deviation from an expected event introduces 'error'---i.e., deviation from the 'desired', from 'the reference signal' (see W.F. Powers, Behavior: the Control of Perception, 1973). We know 'in particular'---in direct sensory experience---and when we represent, generalize, and classify (through language) we simplify and categorize, and by collecting such simplifications/generalizations together we lose much of the special qualities of the particular. 'Metaphor' becomes our way of representing meaning and understanding, and the particular experience disappears within the generalization or the classification or the metaphor. 'Art' is born;'art' and 'error' offer much to each other, for they are the same thing seen from different viewpoints. Any deviation from a desired state---any 'error signal'---can itself become a desired state: an 'error' can be a new 'appreciation'. (e.g., 'play' and 'fantasy'.) The introduction of 'representation' (through language) leads to generalization and then to classification. (cf. Vaihinger, 1925; Hayek, 1952)
     Soon after we have '1' we have '2', and by the perceptual operation of comparison we create categories of similar 'things'. So from '1' and '2' we get 'numbers', and from 'I' (or 'me') we get 'we' (or 'us'). The door is opened for endless iterations of individual qualities and experiences, and with language ('representation') we can create new 'things', each a category of other individual things.  'Names' (conceptual categories) now represent 'things', and become 'things' themselves. 'Error' is introduced at each iteration of categorization, and becomes an art form in itself, a 'thing' to be played with and manipulated by 'imagination'. We no longer 'know' what is 'good'; we only 'know what we prefer', a grounding in our particular valuations which returns us, recursively but definitely, to our individual experience;

Eighth Principle: 'Relationship' is the only reality we can 'know', for we only 'know' something in its relationships to and comparisons with other things.


                            Outline of Viewpoint Theory:

(1) We create our own reality. If conscious awareness is a product of the CNS, the reality we experience is a product of that product. When we 'die'---cease to function as creatures---that created reality ceases to 'be'.

(2) Given our particular circumstances, we are each doing the 'best' we can at all times. This follows from (1), for 'the best we can' is the product of that CNS---i.e., they are the only reactions and actions we can produce at that moment. If we could do other than what we see, think, and do we would 'be' another creature. 'Best' means 'only', for what we deem to be 'choices' are only our understanding of and strategies for achieving our goals, and all of them--understandings, strategies, and goals---are products of 'who we are'---i.e., of what we have inherited and learned ('become') over our lifetime.

(3) (1) + (2) imply that what we see, think, and do result from our viewpoint, our moment-by-moment awareness of the world created by our CNS, an awareness shaped by what our biological structure and history of experiences have evolved to produce.  “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree”.

(4) (1) + (2) + (3) imply that we learn to see and react as we do, mediated by how our particular CNS has developed on a biological level over our lifetime as a living creature.

(5) A major consequence of (1) + (2) + (3) + (4) is that we, as biological creatures, react only to ourselves, 'others' necessarily being conceptions devised by our particular biological structure and experiential history, and seen and understood by means of the awareness created by our own CNS.
   Thus, solipsism (“the world is a creation of the mind”) is the philosophical theory best fitted to account for these ideas. If sensations and conceptions are all that a viable CNS can produce, 'myself' and 'others' and 'the world' can only be products of those capacities. Whether such products as 'others' and 'an external world' exist, as our science assumes, depends on how you define 'existence', definitions being no more than conceptions and, consequently, ideas and beliefs created by that same CNS.
    The easiest way to misunderstand Viewpoint Theory is to conflate 'bodies' with 'persons'---i.e., to forget that body cells and Central Nervous Systems are not 'people'---for this confuses description (science) with prescription (values, morals, beliefs, and preferences).
   We consciously live in a political world of values and preferences, of 'goods' and 'bads' and 'rights' and 'wrongs', not in an empirical world of 'things' and 'forces'. It is our human ability to plot and plan and carry out our moment-by-moment stratagems of survival which makes our species special and our innocence lethal. While each of us is "doing the best he (or she) can" we create the endless familiar problems of civilization and the dramas of everyday life. 'Creatures' populate our awareness all the while the CNS is busy creating those creatures and a world for them to live in.


Monday, March 9, 2009


  My son Steve prodded me to do this and helped me get started, but the initial provocation for these Notes began some 25 years ago when, as a 60-year-old with a life in shambles, I realized I was still trying to be the Good Boy my mother tried and failed to make me. It occurred to me then that I had nothing to lose by doing whatever I wanted whenever I pleased, and I began keeping notes on the consequences of my efforts to follow my own whims and impulses. A sort-of manuscript ("Puttering as a Way of Life") took shape as a fresh set of ideas and, though never formalized, they became the basis for these Notes I call Viewpoints, the subtitle being "speculations on the nature of reality"---for that is what they became. 
   The only unique and possibly revolutionary idea in these Notes is the conclusion that a central nervous system (CNS) can only react to itself---i.e., to its own sensory reactions to its environment and to its own conceptual products---that, in short, it is a (relatively) closed system. It follows, then, that the world you inhabit is a private world manufactured by your own CNS, so that the problem now becomes a matter of explaining how a social world of 'you' and 'me' arises---i.e., how the public 'we' develops from the private 'me' created by our CNS. That the 'ego' is created by the CNS is no great leap, but how, then, does 'society' arise from a more-or-less closed neural system? 
   A dualistic psychology based on an 'inner' world and an 'outer' world can neither resist nor deny the idea of a single solipsistic system enclosing this dualistic schema. This is what Bishop Berkeley proposed in the 18th century when he argued that 'being' depended totally on individual perception ("esse est percipi"), but that he had to propose that whatever awareness was not a result of perception resided "in the mind of God" demonstrates that he, like the rest of us, was confined to a linear linguistic system of verbal communication in discussing an infinitely-perceptible universe. He had no relativity theory or quantum theory available to expand his concept into a single system: ergo, 'the mind of God' as a then-acceptable receptacle for anything that 'perception' could not account for. Besides, 'God' is as good a name as we yet have for the endlessly-sought explanations of the mysteries of existence, since an 'explanation' is merely a linguistic device for handling the conceptual appreciation of 'experiencing'---our name for the conscious products of the twitching protoplasm of the CNS. This presents us with the opportunity to explore further into the constantly-changing 'knowledge' of existence. 


   I would like to begin my description of reality by saying “In the beginning...” but therein lies the strangeness: there is no beginning. If you have read any of David Bohm‘s books you would see that in an enfolded reality there is no beginning or end. There is only endlessly-perceived change, and a mysterious ‘conscious awareness’ that gives us a window on it.    

   That, essentially, is the topic of this book. The title, Viewpoints, refers to where I choose to begin---i.e., with the Central Nervous System, wherein the world is created and viewed and known. By taking this as my starting point I intend a theory about reality which can explain it own existence...a characteristic which seems to me essential to any theory of human knowledge. (If Freud’s theories of psychodynamics were put to this test, for example, we would have to psychoanalyze Sigmund Freud in order to understand how those theories arose, for they did not spring from nowhere.) In an enfolded reality such events would ‘make sense’, for then causes and effects, which are acknowledged to be endless and infinite, would account for each other. But then, of course, the world would be an endless set of circumstances and events, which is the very idea I wish to explore, since this makes better sense to me than all the centuries of linear explanations.

   Here lies the problem: language, like everything else, seems to proceed from one place to another, and always in one direction, forward. (Memory supposedly works ‘backward’, but only in a forward fashion, like driving ahead while looking in the rearview mirror.) Language and thought are not only forward but linear: sentences (subject to predicate), time and its measurement (now to then), space and its measurement (here to there), knowledge (question to answer), behavior (stimulus to response, action to reaction). And while motion itself seems pan-directional it is registered in one direction only---here to there, now to then---and perceived (like everything else) only by contrast and comparison. We live in and have formalized, ritualized, and habituated ourselves to a linear world. 

   This, however, is because of perception: we register the world in ways congenial to the design of our CNS. It behooves us, therefore, to examine its design and its manner of operation if we wish to understand the world we know and inhabit---a conceptual and imaginal world. There is no other, except for whatever we can infer and deduce about matters we cannot experience...doing so only through the agency of that same experience. It is important to realize that we are confined to the world of our sensations and thought, that whatever might lie ‘outside’ that world is literally inconceivable. The reach of thought may be great, but I imagine its limits to be unknown and quite probably unknowable. In any case, it seems prudent to imagine it thus, though the realm of that imagination might seem potentially endless. In everyday matters, the limits of thought and imagination encompass the whole human endeavor, including most especially our ordinary habits and beliefs, so let’s start there...

11/28/08: re bias  

   Awoke from a dream in which I realized I was listening more to one person in a group than to the others (or would be accused of same), and realized that this is what I normally do when I 'pay attention'---especially when my attention shifts from one person or topic to another: in short, 'bias' means 'whenever I change my focus-of-attention', that I could not focus attention anywhere without toning down and more or less ignoring all the competing sounds and sights and sensations and ideas which compete for that attention at every moment.
   If I tell you that William James is my hero you will understand that I tie my thinking to an empirical cart---to 'experience' as my ground---and that I believe that since everything is in motion (and therefore that "this, too, shall pass"), 'being' is becoming, and that the fixedness of apparent non-movement which allows us to imagine things and places and events as 'stable' is an emergent creation of the CNS, creating thereby the virtuality of the so-called 'real' world. Since the reality of 'motion' is as chimerical as that of 'fixity' (as 'virtual' as anything produced by the CNS in conscious awareness), you might rightfully question those things called 'viewpoints', but here it behooves me to introduce that quirk of awareness which inserts 'fixity' into every conscious moment: it is the arbitrary starting-point for any story or description or train-of-thought about any topic or comparison at all. 'Motion' goes from 'place' to 'place', each such place being created in imagination, and the movement-between is the shift in our attention, a shift only recognized by recursive recollections in a mental 'world' of accumulated 'meanings'. To pause to look at any particular point or thing or event is to invent---that is, to create---an awareness of 'experiencing'. Such a statement condenses all of my essay on 'viewpoint' into a single, progressive set of ideas which that essay attempts to address and explain...

    Viewpoint theory is the extrapolation---the 'unfolding'---of two assumptions or beliefs: (a) that my 'reality' is a creation of the CNS, and (b) that what is created---what I see and know and understand---is a consequence of 'where-I-stand' in that seeing, of my relative position within all the possible positions 'I' could occupy. It is the entirety of 'who-I-am' and 'what-I-have-become' at any given moment of awareness in my life. This implies that the meaning of what is seen and understood is a function of the 'frame' or context produced by my CNS from the experiential history of my private growth and development as a unique organism. 

   If I am only one of billions of my particular species and my world is a private creation of my own CNS, the puzzle is not so much how 'I' came to 'be who-I-am' but how to account for our joint social existence, our 'we-ness', our so-apparent 'togetherness'. Viewpoint theory is an expansion of David Bohm's idea of 'meaning' as enfolded---i.e., as an endless continuity of potential perspectives, each of which is necessary to 'explain' or 'account for' every other. This idea (or viewpoint) implies that, as Nietsche proposed, all meaning is 'perspectival', since what is seen and understood depends only on where you 'stand' relative to whatever you can conceive, given the perspectives of your current 'knowledge' and 'position'. How this awareness develops and unfolds is the story of your 'life', and what you see or think at any given moment is shaped by the accumulated consequences and development of all your prior 'seeings'---or, more particularly, in their residues as represented by your evolved 'self'.   
   Such a view frames 'life' as an infinitely complex process of self-reproduction in which events produce events in a recursive* sequence, but only as framed in 'time' as 'a sequence' ('time' being, itself, no more than a name for 'a recursive sequence'). 

[*'recursion'---the process whereby later forms are largely shaped by earlier forms---is most persuasively seen in evolution, where earlier life-forms are modified and changed into later life-forms, but the process of recursion is itself only the name for any changes occurring in a perceived sequence of such changes, and a medium is assumed to join earlier with later forms. For example, 'memory' is the medium joining earlier with later thoughts, and rocks and soil are the medium for encapsulating earlier with later geological and paleological forms.]