Thought experiment and the blur between fantasy and reality
Right – so I don’t really know exactly why I come up with topics like these. It’s probably about ‘stuff’ that I’ve come across and have been thinking about for some time. Then something happens and I get some sort of inspiration to write. So, with the recent warm patch of weather I was having a shower and a few thoughts ran through my mind. Showers are brilliant cuz it’s a total experience of all five senses. I stood there with water falling on me, the smell of soap, the lights above giving me sight of sparkling water and my bits of course; the sound of water falling on me and around me. I could feel the water droplets all over me – and occasionally I’d taste a splash of soap. This was ‘my reality’ – all of my experiences, fed to me by my senses. I could not deny it. Pausing for a bit to say, if you have a dog to feed, bathe or take to the vet – move on. Do not return.
So – I began to wonder what if I took away – one by one – each of the senses, what would be left? Would the world around me still exist? There would be a big problem in taking this very far, because I wouldn’t be able to feel my body – which I inhabit. I wouldn’t be able to hear my own thoughts etc etc. Some people are born deaf, blind and without a sense of smell i.e. missing three senses. Imagining what their world would feel like is a cut down of this thought experiment. The sense of touch would inform them of their own existence, in an odourless, colourless, and soundless world. Their thinking could not be in words as we would know them. For the latter disabled person, they would experience none of that in the their thoughts. In fact what would their ‘thoughts’ be like, without internal representations of the senses played back? Difficult to imagine. Ideas would probably be sequenced in sensations of Braille, or some other language system built on touch.
When we think, we hear our thoughts or experience images in our mind. When I imagine things, I consciously propel my internal representation of the senses, to create a mock-up in my mind. The dreams we remember or are fleetingly aware of, depend on our senses. Dreams obviously happen inside us. If I dream of eating apple crumble, there is no crumble available to anybody else. The dream does not create a reality that continues when I stop dreaming – or one that others can experience after the dream is over.
Would the world exist if all sense data were completely removed from experiences? I’d have to say ‘yes’ because I know there is something causing sense organs in my body to react, to feed me information. Taking away the senses, doesn’t simply stop the ‘thing’ that caused the sense organs to react. Similarly, when a person is anaesthetised (put completely into a medically induced coma) what happens there? Or when in the deepest parts of non-REM sleep, does the world stop? No. When we go to bed and sleep at night, we pick up with the same world out there in the morning. Whatever is out there continues to stimulate our organs of sense when we re-awaken. This means that the world out there has continuity or is continuous. If in the odd chance I was to pass away in my sleep, that world out there would remain. I can infer that from the re-continuation of my experiences with sleep-wake cycles.
That reality outside of my head, has no description at all. How? Because description itself is a result of the senses interpreting sense data, and a language dependent on organisation of patterns of experiences. What about a sense for the passage of time? This too is created by some inner measure of the passage of sense data. So – the world out there, beyond my mind is truly shapeless, colourless, without odour, and totally timeless. It knows none of the mathematical interpretations the human mind makes of it.
For the next part of this post – as always, I try to define a bit what I’m talking about. It’s not easy doing this because every definition relies on other words that also need some ‘definition’.
In this post I see fantasy as imaginings, thoughts, or ideas – that that may arise from facts, hopes, dreams and misinterpretations – largely but not exclusively driven by emotions. I’ve chosen my words carefully.
But it’s not ‘so simple’. The mind can deny anything as much as it can conceive anything. (For morons, ‘conceive’ does not mean to become pregnant!). There are only two places in the world! Huh? Inside the head and outside the head. The mind is always inside the head unless you believe in astral travel. The mind can be proved to be in inside the head quite easily. How? Poke a stick into the brain and see what happens to the mind! Chrysst – it’s so simple! The mind being inside the head, can deny everything outside the head.
I see reality as that which cannot be denied, and exists separately to any set of known facts. But the latter is a weak and imperfect definition. Some think that reality is the truth which relies on facts. Reality is hard to define for most people – truth as well. That must take me into facts – which are concepts we accept as true – but they need not be ‘the truth’. What is ‘true‘ is often what people agree with. That the sun rises in the west, is seen as a fact and a truth. People believe it is ‘true‘. But there is a problem – the universe doesn’t know ‘north’, ‘south’, ‘east’ or ‘west’. The universe knows nothing, cuz it is not a thing that knows. This could easily take me into what ‘know‘ means. Leaving that for a bit, ‘we’ (humans) define the corners of the compass, not the universe. So if ‘everybody’ agrees that the sun rises in the west, that is simply a consensus which has nothing to do with the directionless universe. This means that a consensus of minds creates a fact, which then creates ‘truth’ as a shared belief.
Facts can be presented in different ways to lead people to different truths. So, presentation is an important matter, in arriving at some position one holds as ‘true’. But presentation is subject to interpretation by individuals. In essence, all this is a tangled mess. If anyone reading this is ‘confused’ – kindly leave.
I’m not going to define hopes, dreams and misinterpretations. These things are powerful and can shape perception and the application of logic in reasoning. A fact may be misperceived, if there is enough fantasy in the head.
Reliability in the sense of reality, is bolstered when large numbers of people agree on the same thing e.g. the sun rising in the east, or that oranges are normally spherical in shape (not perfectly of course). This usually works well. But there may be situations where large numbers of minds make he same mistake in evaluating that which they accept as ‘fact’ or ‘reality’.
The bottom line (not referring to anybody’s bottom), is that both facts and reality are perceptions in the mind. It’s this simple: the mind can only perceive or conceive what its processes inform it, about what is out there. Those processes are subject to manipulations (internally or externally), biases and errors of thinking.
By way of example, a cube of ice or wood is always outside of the head. The mind perceives it by sight (most times) as ‘a cube’. But if something goes wrong with the mind, the cube can be perceived as a sphere (or anything else). In that strange scenario, the resident of the mind so affected will believe 100% that what they’re looking at is a sphere! What is reality to the affected individual? It’s the same thing as to an unaffected individual i.e. reality becomes what the mind perceives. Hence the resident of the mind is no longer interested in whether the object is some other shape. How? Residents of the mind trust their senses. So perception – the only thing the mind can know – is trusted 100% by most people. Well, they may say different but I also know different about most people.
In the above ‘strange’ case, what happens if an object is perceived by sight as a sphere, but by touch it appears to have edges and corners? Obviously, there will be confusion for the resident. What’s going on there, is that another ‘sense’ is applied to perceiving the object. Normally of course, sight and touch are in sync.
This is not to allege that anybody is twisted. Research into the psychology of functioning of human minds shows, that emotions and internal experiences shape or twists what is perceived by the senses. Hence hopes, dreams and wishes can twist what the mind perceives. But not all of hopes, dreams and wishes are perceived at a conscious level. Even if those are at a conscious level, it does not mean that the ‘resident’ of the mind will be aware to what extent attitudes and beliefs are being misshaped. This means that the mind can easily become twisted in accepting a reality that does not match the world outside (the head). This same propensity affects the sane as well as the so-called ‘insane’ – it’s just a matter of degree.
Loadsah people like to think of themselves as ‘realists’. To them this means they embrace reality – and by extension they know they are not unhinged or off with the fairies. Such ideas bring them comfort. Almost nobody (I know) likes to be considered a fantasist, cuz those types are definitely off with the fairies.
So – realists think they are better. They don’t like being proved wrong because that would make them feel that they misperceived something. It damages their narcissism.
Alternatively, ‘reality-seekers’ are not interested in being right or better than anybody. They want to be proved wrong, so they can learn where they went wrong – and then attempt to get closer to a reality beyond the ‘skull’.
And.. that’s it. The end.