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The world behind the world inside our heads or something


Had a nasty allergy attck last night of the flattening kleenex-clutched-to-nose-for-hours variety, got no work done in the evening. Settled for playing a half-hearted game of Civ III (the Germans are always declaring war on me, those jerks) and reading Richard Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker." Brilliant book. Makes me want to go beat creationists around the head and shoulders screaming "Away with your tired old canards! Come back when you actually understand how mutation works and god help you if you try to abuse the Second Law of Thermodynamics in my presence!" This is, however, a fairly normal state for me, and hardly anybody ever comes up to me on the street ranting creationist rhetoric about mutation rates at me any more, so it doesn't have too significant an impact on my daily life. But anyway, good book, built on "The Selfish Gene" and had a great section on positive feedback loops in sexual selection that was really interesting.

The thing that I keep coming back to, though, was near the beginning in an section on bat echolocation, and is the sort of thing that we all know, but rarely give that much thought to--the notion that our world is inside our heads. I look at the computer in front of me, and I believe that what I'm seeing is what the world looks like. But it's not--it's a set of interprations of light wavelengths being mapped inside my skull by a lot of elegant (and evolution being what it is, wonderfully jury-rigged) wiring. The computer, and the stuffed wombats and mole rat and plastic okapi on top of it, are almost certainly there, but I'm not seeing them. I can't see them. Nobody ever sees any object. What I'm seeing is a lovely sorting of light wavelengths entering through my photocells (which are on backwards, which is dreadfully inefficient and proves that if God made man, any modern engineer could teach Him a thing or two), but that's evolution for you--you can only work with what you've got, hence the human blind spot. Octopi don't have one, because their eyes evolved seperately, the right way around) and being interpreted in my brain into an elegant, apparently 3-D map of the world, a sort of virtual reality.

And this is the key bit--the world isn't like what I see in my head. How could it? If a bat bounces an echo off a kumquat and catches it on those magnificent ears, it may get a pretty good idea of the density, size, and location of the kumquat, but a kumquat isn't an echo, any more than a kumquat is a bunch of reflected photons or a blip on a radar (and if you don't think that we're scanning the skies preparing for an invasion of kamikaze kumquats, the Illuminati have obviously gotten to you.) That's just what we use to detect the kumquat. It's not the thing itself.

Things like this make me wonder what the world really looks like, as it is, not on the map of lightwave data generated inside my skull. And of course, there's no way to tell--to observe, you must have an observer, and for me, I'm pretty much it. So it's mostly useless to speculate, particularly if there's something practical that needs doing, but it's interesting if you're an artist having an allergy attack and not getting any sleep anyway. You can't visualize a world behind what you do visualize, any more than you can bench press a whale, but you can sure get a workout trying. The only thing that my brain was kicking up, for no apparent reason, was a world where everything was made out of textured stone, sort of like a De Es painting, with odd fiery light sources, or a dark shadowy grey-rust world where we all wandered around quite confidently in the dark, secure in our mental maps, like tightrope walkers with virtual reality helmets on.

Then I had a rough allergy night, slept poorly, woke up again. James said "How do you feel?" "Like hammered shit." "I'm sorry you feel that way, but wow, good description." So after breakfast, and more work on this logo, I went back to sleep for a few hours. I never do that, but today I needed it. And now I feel better.

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*helpless laughter* Some friends and I had a similar discussion about the lack of reality around us recently, but it didn't end with the vivid hammered shit descriptor, which has reduced me to wheezy giggles. (I've got allergies, too.) :)

I'll give you something to chew on. The world percepted by the density of the matter it is made of.

(nods) sleep=good, allergy=bad
I share your affliction and empathize/sympathize completely.

As to echolocation and lightwaves: Scientifically it is true what you say, but I believe we can prove what our eyes are (mostly) telling us since we can use our other senses to provide further proof, especially with our sense of touch.

You can see the lightwaves bouncing off your naked mole rat, but if you need proof that it's there, you simply reach out and touch it.

Just my 3 cents...

*grin* Ah, I have no doubt that it's there--but what does it really look like? The existence of reality doesn't bother me, it's the nature of it that keeps me up at night.

It's not a matter of proving that things are really there--the bat's echo is perfectly clear on what's really there. It's got no doubt that the kumquat exists. But does it know that the thing's orange? And I, who also have no doubt that the kumquat exists (although it's a hypothetical kumquat, so it doens't really, but let's not make this too confusing) and that I could reach out and grab it as well as the bat could (postulating a big enough bat) am, like the bat, reading a set of bounced waves off the inside of my skull, not the actual kumquat itself. The bat's missing the fact that it's orange. What am I missing?

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My sig. line for many years was: Reality is that which we trip over in the dark. EVERYTHING else is point-of-view.

5 people will call that color "blue" but what happens when the 6th calls it "cobalt"?

That's exactly what I was going to say! I've long had an issue with the "is my blue the same as your blue"...

Which leads me to wonder: perhaps there is an excuse for cases of terrible tacky ...maybe their blues *are* different!

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(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand
Perception is filtering; what we see is real, but it's an abstraction of reality and inevitably partial. You (as an artist) have wider filters than most :)

There are cultural norms of perception too that vary by time and place; David Abram has a lot to say about this in The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World: recommended reading.

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t wish that on her! Then whe would starve. Or have to invent looney theories for the press just to get noticed, and not in a good way.


Have you ever come across Thomas Nagel's What is it like to be a bat?. Quite an enlightening article that seems to be something of a cornerstone in the philosophy of mind and perception.

I would also recommend the Science of Discworld 2 - the Globe. There is a section on context. Scientific laws are only approximations which work in certain contexts, so apply thermodynamics to evolution is simply a mismatching of contexts even if someone does understand the 2nd Law. More ammunition against the creationists. We don't have very many of them over this side of the Atlantic - it seems to be a US thing.

I'm seeing is a lovely sorting of light wavelengths entering through my photocells (which are on backwards, which is dreadfully inefficient

What do you mean by that? Is is that they should be on different sides of our head? I agree about the human body flaws but I don't know this one.

The light-receptive rods and cone cells in land-creature eyes are basically plugged in backwards, with the nerves and blood vessels on the "inside" getting in the way of incoming light information. That's why you can sometimes see blood vessel patterns when the light catches the corner of your eye just right? And the "blind spot" is the hole where those conduits exit the back of the eye.

A sensible Creator would clearly have arranged things better. Of course, this still allows for the possibility of a cruel, insane, or incompetent Creator.

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One way of looking at it is that a kumquat is a physical object one can hold in the hand and so describe it as such, even with differences in vocabulary and perception.
War, however will be a different experience to each different person, even if they share the same beliefs.
Something like that?

Have you read Alfred Korzybski? One of his most famous arguements is that 'the map is not the territory.' A.E. van Vogt wrote something along the lines of (I paraphrase because a quick Google didn't turn it up and I'm tired right now) 'We perceive the world through our five senses, and we draw a picture within our minds of what those senses tell us. The picture is all we have to guide our actions and our thoughts, but the picture is not the universe.'

Sounds like it might have come from The Voyage of the Space Beagle when they were dealing with the telepathic group mind of the avianoids, I forget the name... Wait, they were in Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, where did I put that... Aha, the Riim.

Prior experience is also an important facet of our perception of the world. I don't really see the kumquat, I experience a combination of the effect of light waves on my photoreceptors and my memories of prior experiences of kumquats. So when I see a kumquat, I TASTE kumquat. I can smell kumquat, even though the thing may be shrinkwrapped. I may filter the image through concepts such as "pleasant", "unpleasant", "pretty" or "a bugger to grow" based on my life experience. Because of this, my "blue" can never be the same as your "blue".
It also leads to an interesting trick - that kumquat could be plastic for all I know, but the effect is the same - I'm not experiencing THAT kumquat, I'm experiencing every kumquat I've ever known.

Damn, there are a lot of kumquats in that paragraph.

Damn! Another book I've just got to get!

"proves that if God made man, any modern engineer could teach Him a thing or two"
Wow, theater class was good for something. This was a main point of Rossum's Universal Robots by Karel Capek. The eventual conclusion was that while the engineer could create a perfectly designed being, it Really screwed things up later on down the line.

sorry if im intruding.

the world doesnt look like anything unless you go through the processes of sight. you are seeing your monitor as it is. without sight all you can do is mathematically measure various properties or the magnitude of those light wavelengths. mathematical values dont look like anything.

there was something else... oh what was it..

eh i cant remember

C'est ne pas un pibe

My favorite creationist argument is, "An animal with no eyes makes sense, and an animal with eyes makes sense, but there are no animals with half an eye! An animal can't suddenly mutate an eye - clearly, someone GAVE us all eyes."

Oh crap, another aneurism. Excuse me, I have to go bleed from the eyes and... brain. And possibly teeth.

In the meantime, I'm sure you'll be fascinated to know that there's a jungle tribe in South America where the men all have blue penises, because the women think they look good.

Also, I've mused on the subject of subjective reality, as it were. I can certainly see the quantum point of view, ironically... but I think our design cleverly takes advantage of what IS there to define reality for us; if we weren't somehow sensing reality, our senses would be worthless.

After all, eyes can determine content (I saw a feature on Animal Planet about how apes developed color vision - there was a leaf that was poisonous when young and useless when old, but good food in between, and the only way to tell was its shade; also, you can generally tell by the look of something how manky it is), texture, distance, size, shape... and that's just the one sense. Why would our body fool us when it would be simpler to react to what's actually there?

This is all just Occam's Razor musing, really. Carry on. Nothing to see here - it's illusion! AAAhahahahhahaha! *POOF*

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