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Thread: Philosophical musings of science, reality, blind men and elephants

  1. #61
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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    Badtrip, I agree. Our senses act as a filter. We are perceiving a subset of reality. Maybe what we perceive is the tip of the iceberg, and what is below the water remains beyond our capacity to understand.
    And I'm saying that language is incoherent. You say we perceive a subset of reality, presumably the subset we are capable of perceiving. I then ask, what can you possibly mean by 'reality' if you cannot give it a definition that connects with what we are capable of perceiving? Any such definition has gone outside what we can give meaning to, because it is only our shared perceptions that could ever have meaning to us, ergo it has no meaning to us. That which has no meaning to us has no meaning at all, because that's what we mean by meaning, so we are then speaking gibberish that sounds like it means something, but falls apart under closer scrutiny.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    Badtrip, I agree. Our senses act as a filter. We are perceiving a subset of reality. Maybe what we perceive is the tip of the iceberg, and what is below the water remains beyond our capacity to understand. But at least, a part of the tip corresponds to a reality subset.

    It’s no good constructing a halfway house that places the senses in one corner as a passive but modifying observer studying the phenomena of the rock as an independent object – a miss is as good as a mile, our senses are phenomena along with everything else including space and time and it makes no sense to construct a convenient and dualist model that gives a more comfortable feeling of us passively looking within space and time at the real world “out there” in an absolute sense, filtering the sensory information supplied by the object existing as an intrinsic and independent feature. It implies that if we can understand the filtering then that will give us access to that which lay behind the construct of the phenomena. The only thing that can define phenomena is the entity that created it in the first place i.e. mind and consciousness and unless you are able to scientifically understand and mitigate for mind and consciousness from a perspective that doesn't involve mind and consiousness then you are never going to be able to scientifically understand what phenomena actually consists of.

    Our senses do act as a filter in terms of phenomena interacting with phenomena, but that all takes place within the phenomena of our reality as a construct involving mind and consciousness – the dualism of a separated mind and object is phenomena in itself and cannot be assumed to be an absolute framework existing in that manner outside of phenomena. Within that phenomena of dualism, the absolute status of the rock and the observer is unknowable, it is only within the reality of phenomena that we can say a separation exists.

    Within our reality, in terms of phenomena, “explanations” are readily available and will continue to be available in the future in terms of predictive mathematical models involving phenomena. That definition of “explanation” falls short of what many wish for, but it seems pretty good to me – it has served physics well. If we could model mind and consciousness from the “outside”, then we perhaps could start to understand the inner workings of phenomena, but we can’t and we never will be able to. So it’s not about being beyond our capacity to understand – that implies a super evolved brain may be able to understand. Rather it’s beyond the discipline of physics as a discipline to understand no matter what capacity of brain is involved because physics relies on empirical verification. In principle, if we cannot escape from phenomena, mind and consciousness then we cannot scientifically understand what makes up phenomena - ever.
    Last edited by Len Moran; 2013-Dec-12 at 01:05 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    And I'm saying that language is incoherent. You say we perceive a subset of reality, presumably the subset we are capable of perceiving. I then ask, what can you possibly mean by 'reality' if you cannot give it a definition that connects with what we are capable of perceiving? Any such definition has gone outside what we can give meaning to, because it is only our shared perceptions that could ever have meaning to us, ergo it has no meaning to us. That which has no meaning to us has no meaning at all, because that's what we mean by meaning, so we are then speaking gibberish that sounds like it means something, but falls apart under closer scrutiny.
    Why must a definition be solely verbal? Through the ages homo sapiens has not only extended the reach of his senses, but also refined his speech/vocabulary accordingly. We verbalize that which we feel and experience, but the actual object or event goes well beyond what we define. You can look at a sunset and say, "the sun is going down", but that does not capture the beauty of the event, which, however we sense and can not adequately verbalize. Language is inadequate, and our senses capture much more than we can verbalize. Akin to the sunset, I feel is "reality".

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    Len, correct me if I am wrong. Are you also saying that the perception of reality is brain-type dependent? For example, an ant, dog, chimpazee and homo sapiens all have different perceptions of reality. A more highly evolved brain than ours well have again a different perception of it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    If searching for reality is a philosophical question, it is very frustrating to realize that, like the blind men, we are restricted in what we can really probe, and consequently are doomed never to know...
    I don't really have any argument against what you are trying to say, but why is it frustrating? The fact that we will always have further realms to explore seems liberating rather than frustrating. Would you really want a world where you know that one day, everything will be perfectly elucidated? No more mysteries to explore?
    As above, so below

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I don't really have any argument against what you are trying to say, but why is it frustrating? The fact that we will always have further realms to explore seems liberating rather than frustrating. Would you really want a world where you know that one day, everything will be perfectly elucidated? No more mysteries to explore?
    Well, maybe not really everything, but just the fundamental questions concerning the basic constituents of the universe. Do such exist? We are really stretching out our abstract mathematical models, leading even to the concepts of multiverses, higher dimensions, etc. just to try to explain the microworld. Inflation theory gives us bubble universes; string theory describes braneworlds. Have the feeling we are moving into Alice in Wonderland territory. The search is not frustrating per se, frustrating is that we will never really know what matter consists of.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    Well, maybe not really everything, but just the fundamental questions concerning the basic constituents of the universe. Do such exist? We are really stretching out our abstract mathematical models, leading even to the concepts of multiverses, higher dimensions, etc. just to try to explain the microworld. Inflation theory gives us bubble universes; string theory describes braneworlds. Have the feeling we are moving into Alice in Wonderland territory. The search is not frustrating per se, frustrating is that we will never really know what matter consists of.
    But what will the stuff matter is made of be made of? And the stuff that the stuff that matter is made of? And... The search for fundamentals is almost always subject to getting caught up in recursive loops.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shaula View Post
    But what will the stuff matter is made of be made of? And the stuff that the stuff that matter is made of? And... The search for fundamentals is almost always subject to getting caught up in recursive loops.
    Yes, the question is does it stop somewhere? The Greeks thought these were "atoms" (Greek for indivisible).

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu
    Len, correct me if I am wrong. Are you also saying that the perception of reality is brain-type dependent? For example, an ant, dog, chimpazee and homo sapiens all have different perceptions of reality. A more highly evolved brain than ours well have again a different perception of it?
    The point I am really trying to make is that all of reality is phenomena and a function of mind and consciousness. If a more highly evolved brain evolved within humans, those humans are still prisoners inside phenomena. Physics will always be physics, able only to be practiced in terms of empirical verification which ultimately deals with phenomena.

    The point is that the picture of the rock in one corner and the human in the other corner separated by space and operating within time, is all phenomena. The separation of subject and object seems to be as real and absolute as it gets, but that’s an assumption we make because we have no means in which to observe mind and consciousness outside of mind and consciousness. Within this phenomenon of dualism, the mechanisms at work between phenomena may show differently, for example if a more highly evolved brain were able to sense higher or lower wavelengths then that would change the perception. But this still all operates within the structure of phenomena which is our reality. The mechanisms existing between phenomena are there to be perceived in whatever way is possible, directly or indirectly (via instrumentation) and evolving brains may make more or less use of those mechanisms in terms of sensory input. But no matter how the brain evolves, it will never be able to scientifically examine mind and consciousness outside of mind and consciousness and thus mitigate for it in terms of our scientific models. (By scientifically examining, I mean being able to verify the model as being correct - we can obviously only verify a model of mind and consciousness by using mind and consciousness, so we are stuck in an endless loop)

    Physics probes phenomena, produces models of phenomena, verifies those models with respect to phenomena and predicts future phenomena from them. It’s all phenomena – no matter what kind of highly evolved brain does the physics, its still describing the mechanisms of phenomena rather than what lay outside of mind and consciousness and hence phenomena. If we remove the criteria of empirical verification from physics then no such constraints apply, but as soon as we do that physics no longer becomes physics, it becomes divorced from the physical world of phenomena and becomes speculation. So whether we like it or not, the discipline of physics, defined ultimately in terms of empirical verification, is only applicable to phenomena and thus constrains the scope of physics to investigating nature as it exists only with reference to mind and consciousness.
    Last edited by Len Moran; 2013-Dec-12 at 12:11 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    Yes, the question is does it stop somewhere? The Greeks thought these were "atoms" (Greek for indivisible).
    And the point that has been made on here is: How would you know? All theories and models are abstractions of some observed set of behaviours and relationships. They don't deal with completeness and even if you could prove that as a model they were complete and accurate that does not imply that they capture everything out there. They always have limited scope and domain - and of course then there is the problem that there are usually equivalent representations of the theory.

    Hypothetically I could give you a theory that said all matter is made out of wiblons, fundamental particles that make up everything there is. I could also reformulate that as a theory in which wiblons are actually quantisations of the wibble field. The two descriptions could be made to lead to identical predictions, to give the same answers for all tests. Is matter then something built of wiblons or a configuration of the wibble field? And how about if I build another theory where wiblons are made of adderons? With no way to test it. In fact these adderons interact with balderons to make the wibble in the first place ... it can just go on forever. Almost every scientific theory (every one I can think of in fact) is just the most parsimonious example of a family of degenerate (in the sense that their outputs are identical in every way) class of theories. You can add in all sorts of stuff so long as it has no effect on the predictions - and we have no way of knowing whether the universe 'really' opts for the simplest version.

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    I agree Shaula, I have been saying some similar, so that is why we will never know. As long as we have to extrapolate existing mathematical models, which are accurate in predicting behavior up to a certain point, we won't know how accurate they are. These models are a bit like a black box. We have an input which delivers an expected output, and create a formula for the transformation, but do not know what is in the black box.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    Why must a definition be solely verbal?
    Because that's what a definition is. But communication writ large doesn't need to be verbal, I agree, yet what it does need to be is something that connects with our shared experiences and thoughts, which are our perceptions and our innate attributes as humans. Without that, it has no meaning, it is not communication at all, nor can we even understand our own intent.
    You can look at a sunset and say, "the sun is going down", but that does not capture the beauty of the event, which, however we sense and can not adequately verbalize.
    Look at what I said again, that is exactly my point! When we say "the sun is going down", the words mean nothing, and the definitions of those words mean more nothing, unless there is a shared body of thoughts and experiences that we can trigger in each other when we conjure those images. What we are conjuring there is all about our perceptions, every iota of it.
    Akin to the sunset, I feel is "reality".
    Indeed, that is what I have been saying.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    These models are a bit like a black box. We have an input which delivers an expected output, and create a formula for the transformation, but do not know what is in the black box.
    Einstein's metaphor was of a watch that we could not open up and look at the mechanism, but we could study how it operates and try to infer that mechanism, never really knowing. I think we all agree on what we cannot know, what I'm saying is that there is no separation between the function of the watch that we can study, and the mechanism that we cannot study. The very image of a "mechanism" is already a concept we form from experience and thought, so it is already the part of the watch that we can indeed see and study. There is nothing else there with meaning, there is only what we can in principle understand with enough time and inspiration and growth of technology, nothing more, because there is nothing more that we could ever give meaning to. What does not have meaning cannot be said to exist, it cannot be said at all.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    I agree Shaula, I have been saying some similar, so that is why we will never know. As long as we have to extrapolate existing mathematical models, which are accurate in predicting behavior up to a certain point, we won't know how accurate they are. These models are a bit like a black box. We have an input which delivers an expected output, and create a formula for the transformation, but do not know what is in the black box.

    I think this distorts the real issue. To me the model is all we have in terms of physics and gives us an excellent descriptive “understanding” of interacting phenomena. When ever someone invokes a black box in this manner, there is an assumption that perhaps one day physics will be able to look inside it due to this or that not yet thought of. The issue is much more fundamental than that because any “insides” of the black box that one day we could examine are still going to be phenomena. This means that no matter how sophisticated or small our probes (or indirect probes) are we are not going to be able to distinguish scientifically between mind independent reality and consciousness, we just get to probe the mix of mind, consciousness and mind independent reality that is our "home".

    For me, the real black box resides within mind independent reality and cannot be accessed scientifically, even in principle - it falls to philosophy to speculate on what it may consist of. (Assuming of course that we consider there to be a mind independent reality - idealists wouldn't, for them there is no external reality outside of phenomena).
    Last edited by Len Moran; 2013-Dec-12 at 05:45 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    For me, the real black box resides within mind independent reality and cannot be accessed scientifically, even in principle - it falls to philosophy to speculate on what it may consist of. (Assuming of course that we consider there to be a mind independent reality - idealists wouldn't, for them there is no external reality outside of phenomena).
    I find a different stance than idealism, though I don't think we can talk about mind-independent reality, even in philosophy. There is just no way to use language meaningfully unless we are connecting with our experiences and perceptions, including perceptions of our own thoughts, so that is what we are trying to understand-- we are trying to understand how we perceive, experience, and think about reality, our reality, mind dependent reality. Philosophy invented science to do just that, and then science reports back to philosophy for the final conclusions about what has been learned and understood. But it's all mind dependent reality that this applies to, even for philosophy. That doesn't mean I am an idealist, because I do not assert there is nothing else, I merely assert that the "something else" was never meant for us to talk about or think about or understand, expressly because it is "something else" from what we can talk about or think about or understand. But we should not bemoan that state of affairs, we should never mind that we cannot understand that something else, and not because it is too hard to understand, but because there is nothing there to understand-- it's just not what we mean by "understand." In other words, we first have to recognize what understanding is, what it is for, and only then can we start doing it.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2013-Dec-12 at 06:11 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G;2176218 But we should not bemoan that state of affairs, we should never mind that we cannot understand that something else, and not because it is too hard to understand, but because there is nothing there to understand-- it's just not what we [I
    mean[/I] by "understand." In other words, we first have to recognize what understanding is, what it is for, and only then can we start doing it.
    This is a point where I disagree, i.e. "there is nothing to understand". Maybe it is a question of semantics: what is meant "understand" in this context. I can see the effects of the duality of the electron, do not understand it, but accept it for what it is. So maybe instead of "understand", it would be "know what exactly is going on" (even without understanding why it goes on as it does.)

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    We agree that we cannot know exactly what is going on. The issue is, can we understand everything that there is to understand, where "understand" is a word that we give meaning to (not someone or some thing else)? I am arguing that yes, in principle, we might come to understand everything that there is to understand. But even when we do, we still won't know exactly what is going on, we will merely understand everything there is for us to understand. But there's nothing to be sad about that understanding everything doesn't mean knowing exactly what is going on, because that's just not what "understanding" means.

    I could sum up thusly: "That which we cannot understand" is gibberish.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2013-Dec-12 at 07:03 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Then you follow me just fine! You mean what your senses detect, exactly. And for your senses to "detect" anything, you need a brain to interpret those senses, correct? And so everything you detect is a kind of mental construct
    I came to this conclusion last year, i asked about it in a thread. We have no way of observing whatever reality "really" is. All we can observe is what we perceive through our human minds. Whatever is "out there" gets translated into what we perceive by our minds. Is this what you are getting at Ken ?
    Far away is close at hand in images of elsewhere...

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    Karl Popper dealt with this "How do I know I am not just dreaming or part of another's dream?" issue of consciousness. We can't test that but we can make a working assumption that we are experiencing "reality" and just get on with it. It pays to keep that assumption in mind. However, there is no point in worrying about reality if we cannot test our own consciousness, just get what on with what seems to be real.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    I find a different stance than idealism, though I don't think we can talk about mind-independent reality, even in philosophy. There is just no way to use language meaningfully unless we are connecting with our experiences and perceptions, including perceptions of our own thoughts, so that is what we are trying to understand-- we are trying to understand how we perceive, experience, and think about reality, our reality, mind dependent reality.
    (my bold)


    I’m not sure about this; the way I look at realism is that it is essentially concerns the relationship of thought within phenomena to that same thought outside of phenomena. That is the basic philosophical question that physics grapples with in terms of realism. We can’t know one way or the other what the relationship is between mind dependent reality and mind independent reality – it could be the same, completely different or there may not even be a mind independent reality. So the models developed and tested by physics within phenomena can have a legitimate philosophical relationship with mind independent reality – different flavours of realism adopt differing takes on this but the principle is the same. That relationship, in whatever form it manifests itself is a philosophical one and thus can’t be proven or disproven, so it seems to me that it is legitimate to talk about such a relationship. After all, although I think naive realism is, well, naive, I can’t prove the hypothesis that the “rock as an object in its self is the same as the perception an observer has of it” is wrong – they can say that they are using their experience of the rock in terms of phenomena as a basis for what it would be like within mind independent reality because they make an assumption that there is close or even one to one relationship. All I can say to that person is that they are entitled to talk about mind independent reality in that manner, but they must realise that it is a philosophical extrapolation of the rock as phenomena to the same rock within mind independent reality. I would say the same regarding any other flavour of realism (mathematical realism, objectivist realism, structural realism etc.) though they wouldn’t take on such a naive representational element between mind dependent reality and mind independent reality.

    I just don't think we can be dogmatic about independent reality in terms of what it may or may not be if we can't in the first instance prove or disprove the hypotheses that says we can say "something" about mind independent reality that is based on our experience within mind dependent reality. What we can do however is to insist that such a "something" can only be philosophical in nature, it cannot borrow any scientific truth from our reality of phenomena, in any manner. The scientific truth of a model within our reality of phenomena is applicable only to that realm and no other.

    I very much agree with you though concerning my perspective on mind independent reality. I don’t think it can be conceptualized at all, but I still think the notion is important because for me existence has to come before knowledge whereas idealism says that knowledge comes before existence. I also think that idealism can point to solipsism, a notion that just doesn't seem right to me.The notion of a mind independent reality provides an existence from which consciousness and phenomena “emerges” (this is not meant to convey any familiar notions of emergence) to satisfy that requirement of existence before knowledge. But that said, it is very close to idealism.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kevin1981 View Post
    All we can observe is what we perceive through our human minds. Whatever is "out there" gets translated into what we perceive by our minds. Is this what you are getting at Ken ?
    Right, so I'm closing the loop. Usually people say we are trying to understand A, but all we really get from our senses and thoughts is B, so we are using B to understand A imperfectly. I'm saying "understanding" has nothing to do with A, it's not even clear that A is anything but gibberish. What we get is B, so what we mean by understanding is understanding B. There is no using B to understand A, there is only understanding B, or not understanding B.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    We can’t know one way or the other what the relationship is between mind dependent reality and mind independent reality – it could be the same, completely different or there may not even be a mind independent reality.
    But if it is the same, then mind-independent reality is the same as mind-dependent reality, so we don't need the concept of mind-independent reality, we only need mind dependent reality. If they are not the same, then we have minds, so mind-dependent reality is the only one we get-- the mind-independent flavor would then be different in ways we could never give meaning to, using our minds. Hence, either way, there is no real value in the concept of mind-independent reality at all. It's not idealism, I'm not saying mind-dependent reality is all there is, I'm saying that it's all there is that has any meaning to us. It's all we can talk about, even in philosophy-- especially in philosophy.
    So the models developed and tested by physics within phenomena can have a legitimate philosophical relationship with mind independent reality – different flavours of realism adopt differing takes on this but the principle is the same.
    I would say the models of physics have a relationship with mind-dependent reality. After all, they model what we perceive, do they not? So how is there any relationship with mind-independent reality, that sounds like a very concrete relationship with mind-dependent reality. That's my point, all of physics is based around understanding mind-dependent reality, none of it has anything to do with mind-independent reality, and indeed I regard that latter phrase as essentially an oxymoron.
    That relationship, in whatever form it manifests itself is a philosophical one and thus can’t be proven or disproven, so it seems to me that it is legitimate to talk about such a relationship.
    Philosophical inquiry can go beyond an ability to deal with what cannot be proven, but it cannot go beyond what has meaning. It cannot be incoherent, manipulating terms that superficially sound like they mean something, but which fall apart under closer scrutiny.
    After all, although I think naive realism is, well, naive, I can’t prove the hypothesis that the “rock as an object in its self is the same as the perception an observer has of it” is wrong – they can say that they are using their experience of the rock in terms of phenomena as a basis for what it would be like within mind independent reality because they make an assumption that there is close or even one to one relationship.
    Yet I would argue that it is indeed wrong, because I would ask anyone who talks about a rock in those terms to tell me what a rock is, when they use the word in that sentence. As they tell me what that words means in that sentence, I will point out the inconsistencies in trying to embed that meaning into the rest of that sentence. To tell me what a rock is, they must connect with our perceptions of a rock, or the word means nothing. In doing so, they trap themselves into talking about mind-dependent rocks, which is natural, as that is the only kind of "rocks" there ever were.
    All I can say to that person is that they are entitled to talk about mind independent reality in that manner, but they must realise that it is a philosophical extrapolation of the rock as phenomena to the same rock within mind independent reality.
    Yet when a "philosophical extrapolation" has lost all meaning, it is not saying anything at all-- it becomes a philosophical over-extrapolation, which is very much one of the things that philosophy is built to expose.
    I very much agree with you though concerning my perspective on mind independent reality. I don’t think it can be conceptualized at all, but I still think the notion is important because for me existence has to come before knowledge whereas idealism says that knowledge comes before existence.
    And I would say there is a very big problem with trying to connect something that "cannot be conceptualized at all" and something that is an "important notion." I just don't see that anything could fit in both of those boxes at the same time, they are mutually exclusive. So why do we perceive a potential overlap? I say it is because we are in a sense lying to ourselves-- we are imaging that we can conceptualize that which cannot be conceptualized, that we can name that which cannot be named. But we can't do that-- what we are really doing is taking a tiny piece of mind-dependent reality, perhaps what is in the very farthest corner of scrutability, and labeling it mind-independent, but the designation falls apart when we look closer. To the extent that we have a concrete picture of mind-independent reality, it is actually just a part of mind-dependent reality wearing a mask, and to the extent that we have no such concrete picture, we have fallen into gibberish by invoking the term.
    I also think that idealism can point to solipsism, a notion that just doesn't seem right to me.
    What I'm saying is not solipsism, it's actually kind of the opposite. Solipsism says we can know nothing because reality is all mind independent. I'm saying we can know everything, because reality is all mind dependent, because that's what we mean by the term.
    The notion of a mind independent reality provides an existence from which consciousness and phenomena “emerges” (this is not meant to convey any familiar notions of emergence) to satisfy that requirement of existence before knowledge. But that said, it is very close to idealism.
    Why not just have it emerge from mind-dependent reality? Then it doesn't have to cross any inscrutable borders, it just is what it is, all one thing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Right, so I'm closing the loop. Usually people say we are trying to understand A, but all we really get from our senses and thoughts is B, so we are using B to understand A imperfectly. I'm saying "understanding" has nothing to do with A, it's not even clear that A is anything but gibberish. What we get is B, so what we mean by understanding is understanding B. There is no using B to understand A, there is only understanding B, or not understanding B.
    But why must A and B be necessarily different one from the other? That is to say, why aren't our senses (including the extensions to them we have constructed) sufficient to perceive B? The problem could be developing the correct thoughts... I don't think we can prove either one of the other....

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    But why must A and B be necessarily different one from the other?
    If you want to say they are the same, then you are agreeing with me: you are asserting that all there is to understand is mind dependent reality, because they are the same thing. That's actually the strong version of my point! That's my argument: if A and B are the same, then all there is is mind-depedent reality. If they are different, then all we can address, think about, explore, and use language on, is mind-dependent reality. Either way, physics is the study of mind dependent reality, no more and no less. Len probably agrees with that, but he wants to reserve the possibility that philosophy can go where physics cannot and address mind-independent reality, but my logic above is not restricted to physics, it applies to any mind-accessible form of inquiry, that is, all inquiry.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2013-Dec-13 at 02:49 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    And I would say there is a very big problem with trying to connect something that "cannot be conceptualized at all" and something that is an "important notion." I just don't see that anything could fit in both of those boxes at the same time, they are mutually exclusive. So why do we perceive a potential overlap? I say it is because we are in a sense lying to ourselves-- we are imaging that we can conceptualize that which cannot be conceptualized, that we can name that which cannot be named. But we can't do that-- what we are really doing is taking a tiny piece of mind-dependent reality, perhaps what is in the very farthest corner of scrutability, and labeling it mind-independent, but the designation falls apart when we look closer. To the extent that we have a concrete picture of mind-independent reality, it is actually just a part of mind-dependent reality wearing a mask, and to the extent that we have no such concrete picture, we have fallen into gibberish by invoking the term.
    I think there are two approaches in which I can address this issue of using mind dependent reality to say “something” about mind independent reality. The first I would say is more disciplined than the second and only refers to needing a notion of mind independent reality. The second is far more flimsy, but I thought to include it anyway since it involves the possibilities of assigning structure to mind independent reality. First of all, just in case there is any confusion, I certainly do not see physics operating as physics within any arena other than mind dependent reality and that is the only area within which the models have a scientific truth. Secondly I take on board entirely your assertion that if we pretend to be able to place a hypothetical brain, with all of its tools of the trade (so to speak) outside of phenomena in order to say “something” about that which may exist outside of phenomena, then by default that arena becomes mind dependent reality and we haven’t achieved anything.

    The first approach is my understanding of Bernard d’Espagnat’s writings within his book “Veiled Reality, p313” that deals with this very debate between idealism and realism. But it is my interpretation, so I don’t claim that what I write does proper justice to his arguments, but I think it to be close. This approach concerns a premise that we can develop arguments from within mind dependent reality which lead to a notion of mind independent reality as being required in order to satisfy the nature of those arguments. This premise removes the problem of “infecting” mind independent reality with the brain and its tool box because we don’t address it directly, it is addressed indirectly.

    So do we need an external reality? I would say yes based on the following arguments from the vantage point of the brain and its tool box as it exists within mind dependent reality.

    1. We sometimes build up quite beautifully rational theories that experimentally falsify. Something says no. This something cannot just be “us”. There must therefore be something else than just “us”.
    2. Idealism openly makes the concepts of knowledge logically prior to the concept of existence. However it seems impossible to impart any meaning to the word “knowledge” without postulating the “existence” of somebody or something, or whatever. In other words the logical ordering postulated by the approach of idealism does not seem to be compatible with normal requirements concerning meaningfulness.
    3. Intersubjective agreement seems hardly explainable with out some reference to something existing outside of us.
    4. If physics is to be thought of as predicting what we observe then we have to ask if the laws depend on us. Laws are discovered, not invented – there is something that tempers the imaginative impulses of our creativity. In electromagnetism, equations would be simpler if the electric field were a scaler instead of being a vector, but objectively this is not the case. Making such a suggestion “by fiat” would ruin the agreement between theory and experiment. In other words the physical laws do not totally depend on us which means they also depend on something else.

    You may disagree with some or all of these points, but I don’t think that to be the issue - it’s your choice to agree or disagree, but can you discard them as being meaningless? If not then I think they provide a philosophical framework developed within and applicable to mind dependent reality that leads to a proper philosophical requirement for having a notion of mind independent reality (for those who agree with the statements).

    As far as using the premise to attempt to say “something” about the structure of this notion of mind independent reality, you have given me pause for thought. So I will leave that to the much more flimsy argument set out below.

    In terms of attempting to assign some kind of “structure” to mind independent reality, am I perhaps misusing the term “to philosophise”? I am not religious, but when I talk to people who are and they talk of Heaven and what that may be like, what status do we give such talk? Whatever that status is, could I perhaps apply it to the rock that isn't being observed by a real or hypothetical brain? In other words, I may choose to believe in an after life and Heaven in the same way I may chose to believe that the rock exists as I perceive the rock to exist. Now as it happens, I don’t believe that for one minute, but I see it as a choice I make over what to believe or not believe.

    Perhaps I need to ask myself the question as to what form a discussion should take place when talking of such notions as Heaven or the absolute reality of the rock. Some people think that we exist in Heaven as we see ourselves, some people (I should say perhaps most) think that the rock is the same rock as we perceive as phenomena. Is this philosophising, believing, hoping, having faith or nothing in particular and really not worth arguing for or against because it can’t be used as any kind of substance within (in this case) a serious discussion over idealism and realism?

    Keeping on this track, if a physicist acknowledges that the predictive mathematical model is only applicable to mind dependent reality in terms of a scientific truth but wishes to speculate on the relationship that model may have outside of the phenomena in which it was created and verified, then how should he or she proceed and what status should be applied to that eventual speculative thought? Previously I would have said that the physicist in question would adopt a particular variant of realism and state their speculation in terms of that philosophical variant. For example, (d’Espagnat “On Physics and Philosophy” p. 27) within Einsteinian realism (Alias Pythagorism) “the four-dimensional space-time and the curved space of special and general relativity, are respectively, as a rule, considered to be real” . So what is the status of this assertion – is it a belief, faith, philosophical reasoning or is it meaningless? For reference, this variant of realism states that "the notion of a reality independent of us is indeed meaningful, that this reality is knowable, but that it cannot be reached by using familiar notions and that other ones borrowed from mathematics, are to be used for this purpose". Einstein, in his later years said of relativity “There is something like the “real state” of a physical system, which objectively exists independently of any observation or measurement” (Einstein 1953a). Again I wonder, what is the status of this remark?

    So the basis of this second (flimsy) approach concerns the validity of statements made from within mind dependent reality that relate to mind independent reality in terms of belief, faith, philosophising, or whatever else one can think of . What status should we give to these extrapolations – should we listen to them, ignore them, talk about them in a light hearted way or just dismiss them?

    Again, just to reiterate, I don’t want anyone mistaking what I say here to be viewed as pertaining in any manner to scientific truths and statements that can only be applicable to mind dependent reality. I only refer to the desire of anybody, but usually physicists, who wish to extrapolate models to an arena outside of mind dependent reality but in doing so appreciates that the scientific truth of that model becomes redundant and instead accept that the model has to take on a different status. I have always thought this status to be a proper philosophical one, now I am wondering if it really counts for anything, at least in terms of serious discussions concerning the possible (but unknowable through science) structure of mind independent reality.

    To reiterate my position regarding what I consider is a genuine philosophical stance of “Open Realism” (as per d’Espagnat “Veiled Reality”). Mind independent reality exists as a notion based upon the arguments presented above as points one to four, but that I go no further in attempting to assign some kind of speculative structure to it. I think that consciousness and phenomena “emerge” from mind independent reality because that satisfies the postulate that existence comes before knowledge (as well as the other listed points).

    This stance is one that I choose to take and is one of many variants of realism – I have always considered it to be no more or less valid than any other philosophical stance of realism, but now I am not so sure. If the extrapolations into variants of realism just reduce to beliefs that have little philosophical justification then perhaps those who choose those particular variants are on no more stronger ground than those who wonder what the structure of Heaven may be.
    Last edited by Len Moran; 2013-Dec-13 at 10:15 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Len Moran View Post
    The first I would say is more disciplined than the second and only refers to needing a notion of mind independent reality. The second is far more flimsy, but I thought to include it anyway since it involves the possibilities of assigning structure to mind independent reality.
    Yet I would point to the fight that the words "notion" and "mind independent" are having in that very sentence. Is not a notion a product of the mind? So how can we have a notion about what is not a product of the mind? The very act of forming that notion, whatever it may be, is to bring whatever you are talking about into the realm of the mind dependent. Which is fine-- it is the job of the mind to bring everything into the realm of the mind dependent, we should stop making excuses for that process and just give in to it. But I see that you already take that on board, and you are looking at something else. Can that something else really be coherent?
    So do we need an external reality? I would say yes based on the following arguments from the vantage point of the brain and its tool box as it exists within mind dependent reality.

    1. We sometimes build up quite beautifully rational theories that experimentally falsify. Something says no. This something cannot just be “us”. There must therefore be something else than just “us”.
    This is tricky territory. If something says "no", is it not true that both "something" and "no" are mind-dependent constructs? So it is not something, and it is not saying "no", those are both coming from us. Whatever it is, and whatever it is saying, we can say nothing about. We can hang a name on it, one sacrificial word in a language of meaning, a word relegated to have no meaning. But although that name can be "garglesmurtz", it cannot be 'mind-independent reality", because those are all words that do have meaning, meanings that when combined, leave nothing at all. So what is the harm in calling it "mind-independent reality" rather than "garglesmurtz?" The former suggest various things, based on the inappropriate meanings of those words, that lead to, for example, the lament in this thread-- that if what "reality" really is is something mind-independent, and we are stuck with some poor little brother mind-dependent version of reality, it strips the entire exercise of its true purpose and importance. If we instead recognize that everything we mean in the term "reality" is mind dependent, then we have no such lament, instead we see very clearly the purpose of our mission.
    2. Idealism openly makes the concepts of knowledge logically prior to the concept of existence. However it seems impossible to impart any meaning to the word “knowledge” without postulating the “existence” of somebody or something, or whatever. In other words the logical ordering postulated by the approach of idealism does not seem to be compatible with normal requirements concerning meaningfulness.
    Then the solution is simply to say that neither does existence appear because we can know about it, nor can we know about it because it exists. Instead, meaning, knowledge, and existence all come together, part and parcel of the same process of inquiry, that being inquiry into mind-dependent reality.
    3. Intersubjective agreement seems hardly explainable with out some reference to something existing outside of us.
    On the contrary, intersubjective agreement only appears when there are similarities in the subjects. What is the intersubjective agreement between us and an ant? It is only in the similarities we have with ants, in whatever overlap there is in the mind-dependent realities we both inhabit. It is perfectly natural that to the extent that we are the same, we will have intersubjective agreement, and the extent to which we are not, we won't.
    4. If physics is to be thought of as predicting what we observe then we have to ask if the laws depend on us. Laws are discovered, not invented – there is something that tempers the imaginative impulses of our creativity.
    Yet does the distinction between "discover" and "invent" cross any boundaries between what is mind dependent and what is not? I would say no-- both discovery and invention are things that minds do, so they both deal in mind dependent reality. We discover what our minds can do, that's all we can ever discover.
    In electromagnetism, equations would be simpler if the electric field were a scaler instead of being a vector, but objectively this is not the case.
    That just means that mind dependent reality has constraints. No one said we can make it be anything we want, we can only make it be what works. This may mean there needs to be something outside of the mind, so we can reject pure idealism, but the real question is, should we label that "reality"? I say no, "reality" is a word that means something to us, it comes with a host of connotations that are all inseparable from mind-dependent reality. That is my objection to the phrase "mind-independent reality", it mixes the meanings and connotations of all those words in unfortunate ways, fostering misconceptions about what knowledge is supposed to be about-- thus leading to the lament in the OP.
    In terms of attempting to assign some kind of “structure” to mind independent reality, am I perhaps misusing the term “to philosophise”?
    Yes, that is a concern, because we can agree that "to philosophize" does not mean what some take it to mean ("to express idle opinions which have no basis and no real meaning"), rather it means to juxtapose our beliefs and prejudices within a kind of logically self-consistent matrix, to check for inconsistency and incoherency. In short, we are not allowed to just state our beliefs, we are called on to assemble a package that is internally logical, and avoids the kinds of self-delusion that our minds fall into so easily when not checked by the tools of philosophy. I would say that the job of philosophy is just as much to cull our ideas as to generate them, all based on the two rules "I shall not hold to an internally inconsistent position" and "I shall not pretend my words contain meanings that fall apart on closer scrutiny."
    In other words, I may choose to believe in an after life and Heaven in the same way I may chose to believe that the rock exists as I perceive the rock to exist. Now as it happens, I don’t believe that for one minute, but I see it as a choice I make over what to believe or not believe.
    That is why religion is not philosophy-- religion allows us to believe whatever makes sense to us, or has any kind of reason we judge sufficient, without either of those two limitations. That doesn't make it wrong, indeed some prefer that freer range of motion, it just makes it something different.
    Is this philosophising, believing, hoping, having faith or nothing in particular and really not worth arguing for or against because it can’t be used as any kind of substance within (in this case) a serious discussion over idealism and realism?
    The only way to tell is to notice the rules that it follows, not the conclusions it reaches. To philosophize, we must be able to argue for the value of a particular construct, to demonstrate its meaning and consistency, or we should be suspicious that it might have neither. Our brains don't do that very well automatically, it requires a careful process of inspection and introspection. That's when philistines bring out the phrase "navel-gazing," but of course they are missing the entire point of the exercise.
    Keeping on this track, if a physicist acknowledges that the predictive mathematical model is only applicable to mind dependent reality in terms of a scientific truth but wishes to speculate on the relationship that model may have outside of the phenomena in which it was created and verified, then how should he or she proceed and what status should be applied to that eventual speculative thought?
    Here's the rub-- the instant that process bears fruit, the instant the physicist finds some value in conceptualizing mind-independent reality in that way, it has already become part of mind-dependent reality. If the principle generalizes to new phenomena, then those new phenomena must be provided within mind dependence.

    Perhaps an analogy is with the concept of "something that hasn't happened yet." We can say such a thing is hypothetical, but does that mean it should be viewed as something somehow independent of what has happened? I say no-- everything we mean by "something that hasn't happened yet" is couched in the exact same types of phenomena as things that have happened. What it means to be hypothetical is that we can imagine it happening, even though it hasn't, but we can only do that by connecting, combining, or in some way drawing similarities to what has happened. If we are born blind, we must conceptualize sight as some combination of the senses we already have. And if we acquire sight at some point in our lives, we don't say "ah yes, just the combination of hearing and touching that I was expecting", we say "yow, that's something totally new I had to experience to even be able to conceptualize." So "that which we have not yet seen" has really no meaning to anyone that has not yet acquired sight. So is it with mind-independent reality-- it is just mind-dependent reality in disguise, a hypothetical version of what we already know.
    For reference, this variant of realism states that "the notion of a reality independent of us is indeed meaningful, that this reality is knowable, but that it cannot be reached by using familiar notions and that other ones borrowed from mathematics, are to be used for this purpose".
    Mathematics is demonstrably something our minds do. If we are knowing mind-independent reality using mathematics, then it is still mind-dependent reality, or just "reality" for short.
    Einstein, in his later years said of relativity “There is something like the “real state” of a physical system, which objectively exists independently of any observation or measurement” (Einstein 1953a).
    But independent of mind as well? Would that not simply be gibberish?
    So the basis of this second (flimsy) approach concerns the validity of statements made from within mind dependent reality that relate to mind independent reality in terms of belief, faith, philosophising, or whatever else one can think of . What status should we give to these extrapolations – should we listen to them, ignore them, talk about them in a light hearted way or just dismiss them?
    I think we should be suspicious they are not philosophy, because they fail the "I shall not fool myself" dictum.
    Last edited by Ken G; 2013-Dec-14 at 05:36 AM.

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    I seem to have opened a Pandora's Box in this thread. My head is spinning around.

    While the discussion has turned very erudite, complex and philosophical, I cling to my simplistic view: (Am not saying I am right, of course...)

    As far as I am concerned, we are part of the universe. We are products of the universe. We are equipped to interact/survive in this environment thanks to the input from our sense and our brain capable of interpreting this and drawing conclusions. Thanks to our communication capabilities, human rationalization, is capable, over time and generations, of evolving concepts shared with and developed further by persons or groups. By the pure mass of evolving humanity, aberrant concepts in respect to science by any particular individual is eliminated from mainstream thinking. A sole human being could never come up with the models of the universe or the quantum world which we see today. It is the collective mind of the human race which evolving in intelligence, and as a consequence of its perception of the universe, as time goes by.

    The universe is real, physical and evolving. It is out there, exists without our brains perceiving it and we are a part of it. So we are observing not only the universe, but ourselves as well.

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    If you preface your statement with "This is my starting premise" in other words you are accepting reality is what is appears to be, then in my view your view is mainstream. It just seems to me to be important to remember that that starting premise, if you accept it, is untestable or part of the unknowable.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    Agree profloater.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gzhpcu View Post
    The universe is real, physical and evolving.
    All of which is perfectly consistent with the meaning of "mind-dependent reality."
    It is out there, exists without our brains perceiving it and we are a part of it.
    That is pure speculation, you offer no evidence in support of that view. Indeed, it is impossible to offer any such evidence, because the words don't even mean anything. What "exists without being perceived?" What do we call that kind of thinking when it comes from outside of science or philosophy? So what makes it consistent with science?
    So we are observing not only the universe, but ourselves as well.
    Yes, that is the part that we can tell must be true.

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