Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Tuesday, October 19, 2004day link 

 Making Realities
picture Since a long time, one of the subjects I'd like to delve more into and write about is the subject of making realities. That could be addressed from many angles. Personal Reality. Shared Reality. Virtual Reality.

Now, that's starting off with an assumption that each of us have a hand in what reality we're experiencing. Some people don't believe that. Even some of those people who're best at constructing realities that they get others to live in. Many people will insist that reality just is some kind of objective finite thing which one can establish and prove and that's it. Ironically, some of those people probably live more in a reality inside their skull than outside it. But that wasn't my point.

The way I use reality here is as that which we can perceive ourselves to be living in, and which we actually can live in. There can be several or many of those. One might live in one without being conscious of it, or one might willingly step in or out of different realities at different times.

You can think about a movie, for example. If it is well-made and you enjoy it and you're watching it in a movie theatre, you can live yourself into it and believe it while it is playing. Oh, you're still aware that you're watching a movie, but if it is made well enough, you'll forget it to a considerable degree and it will be real, and you have some kind of relation or response to the characters and situations in it. Even if what you're watching is really photos of a plastic model and actors pretending to be other people than they are, you might go along with the whole thing.

Good film makers and good actors know a bunch of things about making convincing realities. For example, a method actor would work hard at developing a lot of invisible things that are part of the character they're asked to portray. Like, what is their past history? What are their feelings and actions rooted in? What is really motivating them? What do they feel? What happened to them before? Where are they going afterwards? Even though you see none of those things directly, if the actor has chosen for himself what they are, his character will appear more real to him and to you.

A very simple example: If a character is supposed to say a sentence that gets interrupted in the middle, like "But why do ...", and then something happens. If the actor only practices saying "But why do .." and then stopping, it will look and sound kind of fake. It will work much better if he worked out for himself what the whole sentence should be and why he's saing it, even if he never gets to do so. The fabric of the reality he's presenting is more coherent and complete. And you notice that, even if you only get to see a corner of it.

Realistic realities have a number of perceptions to them, and they have depth. It is not just that the right words are said. They sound right, they look right, they smell right, they feel right. The periphery seems right.

If you say the word toothbrush, it doesn't count for much. But if you can hold it in your hand, and put toothpaste on it, and put it in your mouth, and clean your teeth with it, and your mouth feels nice and fresh, then it is a convincing reality. It doesn't matter if somebody else thinks it is a hairy-nosed wombat. If you can brush your teeth with it every day, and have a minimum of cavities, you're fine.

No, it doesn't quite mean that it is just as good to live in a delusion as to live in a reality. A delusion would be when you exist in a certain reality and you deny it, and maintain the abstract idea that it is different than it is. A functional reality is made of perceptions, not just of a concept. Perceptions are abstractions too, in relation to what the universe REALLY is, but they're much more solid than recooked abstract concepts that are based on denying perceptions. Important difference. If you sit by a table and you tell yourself you're flying a spaceship, you probably won't be doing anything very sensible. If you can actually operate the controls and land on another planet and pick fruits off the trees, then you might actually have something. If you're only thinking: "This is not a table, it is a spaceship", and you convince yourself, then you're probably just a human who'll have difficulties functioning.

Affirmations are a common newagey way of getting something you want to happen. Nothing wrong with that. Prayers are in the same category. It can be quite useful to affirm or ask for that which you want. You might get it. Better than not to ask for it, or to ask for that which you don't want. But it is also very flimsy as far as realities are concerned. Just a concept and some words. To really get something different, you need to feel it, see it, hear it, taste it. You gotta be able to get into it and drive away. If you only have a movie prop facade, like from Universal Studios, you can't live in it. Workable realities have a whole range of dimensions to it. You can't eat a picture of a cheese. It needs to have a certain consistency, it needs to taste right, and it needs to be nutritious. There's a whole bunch of perceptions and details that need to be there. Realities have a lot of detail, and detail that is not just on the surface, but which sticks quite deep.

However, if we don't need to eat it or live in it, we can be persuaded to accept realities that really are rather flimsy, and which aren't much more than props. But they're detailed enough that we'll accept tham as real without actually inspecting them. You'll probably accept the news and the state of politics in that manner. You don't really go and double-check the news for yourself, to see if it is real. You might check some other sources, but you'll probably stop when you feel you have a picture that is sufficiently self-consistent. It is still just a concept, and has the real substance missing. It is pictures and words and opinions. But it is impractical to get the real thing, so you've become used to accepting a prop. And you're just looking for a certain coherence of the picture, rather than whether it really is edible. And most likely you vote for political candidates the same way. You haven't met any of them. You've just seen them on TV.

So, the people who design mass realities for us have a much easier time than what would be required to design livable realities. You don't have time to receive much more than a cardboard cutout, so their job is simply to provide a cardboard cutout that seems to suit you, and which will survive its journey through the news media, and which will fool you sufficiently. It doesn't have to be the truth and it doesn't have to add up.

But the same rules still apply. You just need less of them. For example, if a certain political character is presented as taking a certain stand, you'll want to hear the history that let up to that. I.e. you want to hear about a background that is consistent with what they're presenting. And you want them to sincerely look like they're playing that part. And you want other people to confirm it. Whether it is the truth doesn't matter. It is obvious that you can't add up everything, so you'll settle for accepting things as more real if you've heard them enough time from people who look like they know what they're talking about. And their story makes sense to you.

You'd want to know about how realities are made in order to protect yourself from mass manipulation.

And for your own sanity you'd want to know how to make your reality that which you prefer. Personal realities are on one hand harder to make than mass realities, because they require more detail and self-consistency. On the other hand they're easier, because there's mainly one person involved, and because the things that make the most difference in your life are rather subjective, and don't really need to be validated by anybody else.

Some people accomplish great things and breeze by even the most impossible obstacles. That's not just because they're gifted in that way from the beginning. More importantly it is because they implicitly believe that things work that way. They don't just believe that as a loose and shakey idea. They feel it, see it, hear it, taste it. They have experiences to back it up. They're both coming from somewhere and going to somewhere that is well-defined, self-consistent and in accordance with that which they're accomplishing. And, no, not just because that's what REALLY happened. Mainly because THEIR reality is structured that way.

The reality you're seeing and touching might appear very real, but it is in no way THE reality. It is probably more real than many of the delusions one can have ABOUT the reality. But as far as the universe goes, there's no scarcity of options. The table you're sitting by is probably just one of zillions of possible tables. The sub-atomic particles it is made of could be in any of an unfathomable amount of states, and they probably are, at the same time, depending on who's looking. You could call that parallel dimensions, or the quantum soup, or Reality with a capital R, or whatever. Regardless, any insistence on that table, or your political views, being some kind of only and ultimate reality is laughable on the scale of infinity. Time and space are but somewhat illusory properties of the way you happen to perceive things. The same pieces appear in so many other guises, at the same time, the appearance of which has a whole hell of a lot to do with how you perceive them and interact with them.

Maybe it is a little pretentious to call it "making" or "creating" realities. It is maybe more like choosing. Every possible different perception you might have about anything at any time forms a possible branching point. Nobody forces you to take any one of them. There might be some inertia going on, but you're always free to start branching off in a different direction at any time.

But it helps to know what realities are made of. Detailed perceptions. A coherent and consistent history. Depth. Multiple levels that all work. Systemic synergy. Things fit together. And for us humans: a meta-story, a set of beliefs about how and why it works. And realities have a certain continuity. They don't flicker on and off all the time. They're there even if you look away and look back again.

You could call it a worldview, but, no, I mean it more tangibly and mechanically than that. As well as bigger. Like the structure of the interface between consciousness and an infinite universe. If you don't believe consciousness really exists, half of what I'm saying is probably making no sense. In that case, think of being able to download yourself into a virtual reality. The power will remain plugged in, and you can populate the reality with what you choose, and you can adjust the parameters of the program. I'd bet you'd want as many perceptions as possible, a certain multi-layered systemic coherence, and you want a certain history and consistency, and some good people to hang out with, and a suitable level of surprise and adventure, and the chance to do really well. Just like in real life.
[ | 2004-10-19 22:48 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Limits of Perception
picture An old piece from Deepak Chopra on What is the True Nature of Reality?
One of the interesting things that science has found, this should have been obvious all along, is that what we call perception, what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, is really the least reliable test of what reality really is. We cannot trust our senses at all!

After all, the senses tell us that the earth is flat and we don't believe that anymore. The senses tell us that the ground that we stand on is stationary and we know it's spinning at dizzying speeds and hurtling through outer space at thousands of miles an hour. The senses tell us things have a certain taste, smell, size, texture. Maybe that's not the way they really are.

There was an experiment done at Harvard Medical School about 20 years ago. A group of scientists took some kittens and brought them up in a room that had only horizontal stripes. All the visual stimuli in the room were horizontal. Another group of kittens was brought up in a room that had only vertical stripes. And when these kittens grew up to be wise old cats, it turns out that one group of cats could see only a horizontal world. The other group of cats could see only a vertical world. And this had nothing to do with the belief system of these cats.

It's a phenomenon that psychologists call Premature Cognitive Commitment. Premature, because we make it at a very early stage of our development. Cognitive, because that's how they cognize or see the world. And commitment, because it fixes us to a particular reality, it imprisons us in a fixed mode of perception.

There are many variations of these experiments. In India, when they train elephants, they take the baby elephant and tie it with an iron chain to a huge tree. Then they start cutting the size of the chain and the tree. Ultimately you can tie the elephant which a big animal now, with a flimsy rope to a green plant but the elephant is unable to escape. It's made a commitment in its body-mind that it's in a prison!

Or you can do another simple experiment. Take some flies and put them in a jar. After a while remove the lid from the jar and you'll find that most of the flies, except for a couple of pioneers, will not be able to escape. They make a commitment in their body-mind that they're in a prison.

People will tell you who work in aquariums that you can separate fish from each other. They're in big glass tanks and the separations are transparent glass partitions. You can remove the glass partition after a while. The fish will swim to the edge of where the partition was and return . They made a commitment that that's as far as they can go.

All these experiments, and there are many variations of these, are pointing to a very crucial fact as far as the mechanics of perception is concerned. And that is that our initial sensory experiences and how we interpret them or how they are interpreted for us actually structure the very anatomy and physiology of our nervous system in such a way that ultimately the nervous system serves only one function: to keep reinforcing the initial interpretation. Anything that doesn't reinforce the initial interpretation doesn't even get into the nervous system. So if you don't have a concept or a notion or an idea that something exists, then your nervous system won't even take it in.

That's a very peculiar fact because it tells us that with bits of sensory experience, we'll never be able to comprehend the whole. We never will be! After all the human eye can see only between 380 and 500 billionths of a meter. There's nothing sacred between 360 and 370. It doesn't exist for us.

And so too for the other senses. This is true not only of the human species but of all species. A honeybee, for example, doesn't have the apparatus to see the usual wavelengths that you and I perceive. It senses ultra-violet. When a honeybee looks at a flower at a distance it doesn't see a flower. It sees honey from a distance but it misses the flower altogether. A snake would experience the same thing as infrared radiation which means nothing to you and me. A bat would experience that as the echo of ultra-sound which also means nothing to you and me. And a chameleon's eyeballs swivel on two different axis. You can't even remotely imagine what this would look like to a chameleon.

So what's the real nature of the world? What's it really like? We can't trust the senses. They give us a very distorted view. They break up that wholeness into a small fragment and we call it reality. We happen to agree about it. We even call it "objective reality" and we have a whole methodology that we call "science" to explore that . If you really understand what science is, then science at least until now has not been a method for exploring the truth. Science has been a method for exploring our current map of what we think the truth is. And the map is not the territory. The territory that we explore is really an extension of the map we have. If we don't have the complete map then we will not explore the territory that is not within the framework of that map.
Maddening, eh? Not really. Limited maps are what drives us crazy, when we forget they're maps and they maybe no longer apply. The same as far as perceptions go. They all just access a little slice of a spectrum, and from then can even get stuck in a groove, leading us to adopt an even more limiting interpretation of what that is. The real real stuff is beyond the maps, obviously. Not that perceptions and maps aren't useful, of course. But its not the real thing.
[ | 2004-10-19 23:59 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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