That Sweet Smell

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more thoughts on reality

memescience asks me “You can see it from a quantum physics point of view. Did you considered this?”

Yes, I have thought about it and read quite widely in the field for some years though sadly as a maths dunce I cannot engage as fully as I would like.  I had for some time argued with OC about how quantum physics is quite different from other forms of material science and he pooh poohed me and then eventually read a book, Kaku, I think, and came in telling ME all about how amazing it was and how it was very different to other science he’d encountered.  He then paused and said ‘I know, please don’t say I told you so’.  Of course, I did.

It’s true that quantum physics points to a very different kind of reality from the one that humans’ sense perceptions are evolved to engage with without the assistance of highly technical equipment.  However, I don’t know that there is ‘evidence’ from quantum physics that consciousness is at the the heart of everything.  I certainty think there is something mysterious going on and I am excited by it.  Nonetheless, ‘consciousness’ is a verbal construct, aimed at describing a human experience.  To extrapolate that across all of spacetime seems a little arrogant and not a touch anthropocentric.  Language is of course imperfect, but I have never felt the need to real/ise something I don’t understand as I believe that is symptomatic of our practice of materialising.  Like we say ‘chair’ and chair is brought into being.  Then we can recognise it, sit on it etc.  But there is no such ‘thing’ as ‘chair’ per se.  I personally think that ‘God’ and ‘divinity’ and ‘soul’ have been created in the same way.  It’s not that they’re pointing at anything discrete and particular.  But they’re pointing at something.  They seem like useful constructs to humans.  And in that sense having been constructed, named. they have come into being and are ‘real’.

So to return to my question whether reality is a good thing?  Well as a concept it seems to be the fuel of the battle between science and religion.  Without it what would they be fighting about?  Essentially it seems to me that the primary critique of religion by scientists is that God/Gods/whateverfloatsyourboat don’t exist – they are not ‘real’.  And this leads to the need to defend the reality of God and His Creation (with uppercase letters for Some Unknown Reason because that confers Reverence and Awe? – wow, talk about creating reality right there!).  Science claims that their ‘discoveries’ are ‘true’ but actually most scientists do not go so far as to claim that they are ‘real’.

It’s a matter of perspective.

A chair is real in one sense and not in another.

God is real in one sense and not in another.

However, if a scientist tells me the chair has been tested and it is safe to sit on I am likely to risk sitting on it because it is material in the realm of human sense perceptions and scientists have excellent methods for operating in this realm.  But if I need firewood the chair will rapidly become unreal as a chair when I take it apart or the fire consumes it.  Impermanence ain’t the basis of Buddhism for nothing you know.

If a minister tells me that God exists and is looking after me and will answer my prayers, I am very unlikely to believe him and start praying.  But I do believe God is real as objectified by religious people and that he/she/it exerts a power on the world through having been created by humans for a reason.  Chairs were created for a reason too and exert a power on the world.  When I say ‘power’ I’m not talking energy here, I simply mean that by the fact of their existence – they have become ‘realised’ when encountered by human consciousness – something happens in that interchange and when anything happens then other things occur as a consequence.  Spontaneous arising from interconnection.  In that sense they are ‘real’.  The influence of God in the world is as real as the wind which we cannot see but nonetheless name.  Maybe the idea ‘God’ does have an energy – I’m open to that notion too.  But I simply don’t believe it (God) exists outside of the minds of humans.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not ‘real’.  No one is going to mistake ‘God’ for ‘kettle’.  It’s kind of obvious that if I pointed at a kettle and said ‘that kettle is God’ I’d probably be taken for a psychiatric assessment.  But if I said ‘God is a kettle’ people would probably frown and think I was acting a bit stupidly.  The point here is that if God were not real, then it could be kettle.  But no one, atheist or Christian, would accept that.  You cannot place kettle over God and somehow disappear the latter.  There is a form of reality, even if it is not a material reality, to God.  But that doesn’t mean that God has some other kind of surreal, supernatural or spiritual reality either.

People think a kettle is ‘real’ because you can pick it up and fill it up and boil water in it.  Not at all – like the chair, it is a mental construction and the materiality of the kettle is varied according to perspective, not fixed and permanent.

But they are both objects.  Because to be an object does not rely on materiality.  It simply depends on language.  Anti-creationists, wishing to highlight the ridiculousness of worshipping a God whose existence could not be proven, invented the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  I thought this was very clever, though I doubt it stopped any Christians believing in their God (who is of course the one and only real God), because it clearly showed how an object can be brought into being by language.  The FSM (as his noodly holiness is affectionately known) is now a real object in the world.  Recognisable by name and anecdote.

We create things and then they take on a life of their own and, this is the amazing bit, they become things we can study because although we create them (materially or linguistically) we can never fully know them.  I think this has something to do with the fact that nothing we do is entirely without relationship with everything else, but I haven’t thought about that enough yet.

Tim Morton, the ecological philosopher (philosopher ecologist?) and writer on Object Oriented Ontology (OOO), wrote:

An object withdraws from access. This means that its very own parts can’t access it. Since an object’s parts can’t fully express the object, the object is not reducible to its parts. OOO is anti-reductionist. But OOO is also anti-holist. An object can’t be reduced to its “whole” either, “reduced upwards” as it were. The whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. So we have a strange irreductionist situation in which an object is reducible neither to its parts nor to its whole. A coral reef is made of coral, fish, seaweed, plankton and so on. But one of these things on its own doesn’t embody part of a reef. Yet the reef just is an assemblage of these particular parts. You can’t find a coral reef in a parking lot. In this way, the vibrant realness of a reef is kept safe both from its parts and from its whole. Moreover, the reef is safe from being mistaken for a parking lot. Objects can’t be reduced to tiny Lego bricks such as atoms that can be reused in other things. Nor can be reduced upwards into instantiations of a global process. A coral reef is an expression of the biosphere or of evolution, yes; but so is this sentence, and we ought to be able to distinguish between coral reefs and sentences in English.

So it is this sense that I think it is nonsensical to argue about reality.  The concept of ‘reality’ may well be redundant in my view.

What would happen if we simply dropped it as a concept?  How would the world change?  How would we talk about things instead?

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4 comments on “more thoughts on reality

  1. memescience
    August 2, 2012

    Hi there! It’s a very interesting article. I have to think about it a little and will comment on it later.

    • memescience
      August 18, 2012

      There are different interpretations in quantum physics about reality. The most common interpretation is that a measurement of a state creates the properties of the state. The question however is, if you need something like consciousness to do a measurement. Or can already an atom/molecule or maybe a bacteria make a measurement? If you are more interested in this topic you might want to read some popular science article on “Schrödingers cat”. (there are a lot). You can also read about the famous EPR-paper (Einstein, Podolski, Rosen), that is more than 70 years old but still covers questions of recent research.
      There are also other (less popular) interpretations of reality like the “many worlds interpretation”. If you don’t know it, you should have a look on it!

      PS: Sorry for the late reply.

      • rayya
        September 3, 2012

        Hi memescience and thank you for your suggestion. I have read many books on the topics you mention. What I am trying to express is something a little different. It is not an interpretation of reality I am concerned with per se. It is whether reality as a concept is helpful at all.

  2. Pingback: Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God? « Follow Me Here…

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This entry was posted on August 1, 2012 by in consciousness, reality, science and tagged , , .

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