on the flavors of reality Sep 6, 2020
this is a human perspective.
there are two main kinds of reality, external and internal.
the border between them is the edge of the mind, that is, the body.
the body forms the interface between the external and internal worlds.
I. external reality
the universe only acts at the smallest level.
it has no direct concept of larger structures.
larger structures occur only through emergence.
conway's game of life demonstrates this principle.
each step is computed by considering each cell's neighborhood individually.
nothing about the rules indicates that still lifes or gliders might emerge.
but because of the interactions of individual cells, they do.
relativity and the speed of light are strong indications of the truth of this principle in reality.
they show that any part of the universe only ever interacts with adjacent parts.
there is no known way to transfer information faster than the speed of light.
the game of life has an analogous speed of light: one cell per tick.
in the everyday world, the motion of ordinary objects demonstrates this principle.
an object won't move unless something pushes it.
light, gravity, and magnetism violate this
because they operate at a lower level than ordinary objects.
the gravity of a loaf of bread is negligible,
but the earth's is so great that it keeps us from floating away.
though light may seem ordinary,
it is more difficult to hold than even water.
humans cannot directly perceive external reality.
we receive information about the external world through our senses.
humans cannot directly affect external reality.
our mental activity does not affect the world, unless it leads to physical action.
of course, these two points are from a human perspective.
from the external world's perspective, the brain is just another part of the world.
the mind is an emergent structure with no inherent separation from the rest of the world.
the world does not draw the line between the internal and external realities; we do.
the external world is real in the sense that
the physical world is literally everything that exists.
however, there is a sense in which this is not a complete view of reality.
just as in the game of life, there are larger patterns,
truths about the structure and behavior of the world
that are not accessible from the base rules alone.
in the same way that a complete theory of atoms does not describe
the crystalline structure of metal.
or how knowing all about the substances of metal and wood individually
does not explain how they work together in the sound of a guitar.
there is a magic that happens when things work together.
internal reality completes this picture, by capturing higher level structure.
II. internal reality
through perception, we transform information about the external world into an internal model.
over time, we build abstractions that allow us to reason about the objects in that model.
this allows us to predict and to understand.
an abstraction fits external reality well or otherwise:
- it may be correct in some contexts and not others, or have dependencies which are not part of the abstraction
- it may be based on biased or incorrect information
- it may be self-consistent but not realistic
the world is messy, and we live pretty far up the hierarchy of structure.
it is probably impossible to find a perfect abstraction in the world.
this is one of the appeals of mathematics.
internal reality is the spirit world.
it is where our ideas live about how things work,
the internal language we use to understand the world.
it is our attempt to catch the fish which cause the water to ripple.
the mind loop
the unconscious mind is a repository of abstractions: sensory, emotional, logical.
this includes faces, memories, preferences, morals, facts, etc.
everything that is you and your experience of the world.
conscious thought is generated from sensory data and the unconscious repository.
we experience thoughts and emotions at specific moments.
they come and go. the abstractions remain.
conscious thought feeds back into our sensory channels,
almost as if we were actually perceiving the things we are imagining,
but it's farther down the neural pathways than the sense organs.
this generates more thoughts, as above.
based on our thoughts, we generate muscular action:
speaking, walking, typing, etc.
the internal world is real in the sense that
all of our mental state exists as physical state in neurons, hormones, etc.
the physical brain implements mental action.
it is real in the sense that
our ideas determine our actions.
an idea which causes someone to act differently
has made a mark on the world.
it is real in the sense that our abstractions may model the world.
ideas that are useful for interacting with the world have a reality to them.
it is also real in the sense that abstractions may be self-consistent.
within 'idea space', abstractions are the 'game pieces',
and they can interact very strongly.
this is the same mental mechanism that occurs when playing a board game.
you have rules for how the pieces can move and interact,
and you implement them by moving the pieces on the board.
nothing about the physical board prevents you from making illegal moves.
but in idea space, the board is mental instead of physical,
and 'moves' correspond to changes to ideas and their relationships:
connecting and disconnecting ideas, flavoring the connections between ideas,
splitting and combining ideas, forming new ideas, forgetting old ideas.
the validity of any of these moves is based on other ideas.
the internal world is not-real in the sense that
abstractions and thoughts do not have a direct effect on the external world,
only their transformation into action.
internal reality is information,
like the contents of a book, or a hard disk drive.
there is one ultimate reality: the base ruleset and state of the universe.
this reality is not directly accessible to us.
all other reality is grounded in abstraction.
these abstractions are based on the world and other ideas.
we can be very accurate within a given context,
and we can also have thoroughly unreal ideas
which may still be useful.
reality is a dance between rules and structure
in a loose hierarchy, from the tiny to the immense,
along dimensions of the physical, emergent, and mental.
everything is patterns and communication.
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