Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Letter to my cousin, whose name may be program

Karhun Ukko
Dear Christian, 

you asked, how Ukko could be certain "what reality is about"?

A debate "what reality is about" means to go philosophical. Setting of, one would like to recall that our memory does not provide for a clear distinction between a remembered vision, imagination, delusion or remembered events or experiences. Everyone can experience this, and that experience is important to gain insight "what could be reality”. 

Our fuzzy inner world of thoughts, feelings and memories is "blurred" and memories of experienced reality and fantasy is getting mixed up, all time. In passing; that “blurring” is at the root of our freedom of choice, but that's another debate.

Our fuzzy, inner world of thoughts, feelings and memories is a powerful "virtual world" in which we link concepts, thoughts, feelings and memories and so on. Our body - nervous system, brain... - that plays this "virtual world" is related to processing concepts, thoughts, feelings and memories just as a computer (software and hardware) is related to playing the game, running the controller, or processing the image. The notion "reality" does not comprise these inner "virtual world” but comprises our body and the processes occurring in it. That I call a first aspect of reality: it is an external world, which stands in opposition to our inner “virtual world”.

Prehistorical skydisk - Nebra (Germany) 
This opposition, or segregation of virtual “inner world” and real “outer world” comprises however that I, as person, can modify the "outer world" by means of actions undertaken by my body. I undertake these actions because of concepts, thoughts, feelings and memories stemming from my "inner world", a strong and vigorous driver. That I call a second aspect of reality: I can modify it to represent something that I draw from my "inner world".

The "inner world" of ideas is very diverse, a diversity which is probably unlimited. We name "fantasy" or “dreams” these concepts or ideas that can not be represented in the "outer world". The processes in our body that happen to represent a concept are closely connected with the concept itself. The processes are part of the reality, the idea is not. According to Descartes, "Cogito ergo sum", I think therefore I am, and not: "the idea is".

From Terry Gilliam's 1988 movie
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen;  John Neville & Eric Idle
build a hot air balloon made from women's lingerie
How can I now recognize this outer, changeable world, which also includes my body and thus to some extent is happening “in me"? I would like to mention three other aspects that help to distinguish between something that is "part of reality" from something that is "not part of reality".

Initially it may seem paradoxical;, even though “reality” is a part of our individual experience, it can only be determined in segregation from these individual experience. However this paradox is commonplace, as an example shows. Only the degree differs to which we accept it depending on our respective culture. In our western, rational culture nowadays most exclude from reality the experiences made in a dream when they sleep; some other cultures see this very different. A dream may be  remembered after waking up. However, the matters experienced in the dream is - in our culture - not part of the things, which are existing. In our culture a dream is not considered being part of reality, the process of dreaming however. Reality is the part of individual experiences, but having a content that is independent of the respective person and that can be understood by everyone, because to acquire (this experience) you are not bound by your individual beliefs, culture and lifestyle. That I call a third aspect of reality: it is independent from the individual and its respective culture. 

Understanding of reality is determined by activities that can be named as "to observe" or "to examine" and that are confirmed by "practising". Understanding of reality can only be won if methods of observation and methods of investigation are used that are accessible to all people - or worded stricter: to all intelligent life forms. Identifying reality requires that people of any belief, culture, lifestyle - as far opposed they may be - will be lead to similar insights, when they use the same observation / analysis methods. That I call a fourth aspect of reality: knowledge of reality is acquired by using methods that are independent of beliefs, cultures and lifestyles.

Understanding of reality is tested by applying the insights gained previously through observation and examination, thus to practice it. Things are modified, influenced or their behaviour is predicted, etc.; the practice being the same depending on the insight but not depending on the individual applying it. That I call a fifth aspect of reality: the applicability of the insight in reality is independent of the user.

In summary, Christian, I see five important aspects that help to determine what is "reality" and what it is not, namely:

Reality is an outer world in opposition to our inner, imagined or virtual world of thoughts, memories or feelings. It is a world mutable through us, it is world in which we can reproduce ideas that we draw from our inner worlds. It is independent of us as individuals and our cultures. It is acquired by methods that are independent of beliefs, cultures and lifestyles. And the applicability of the understanding of reality is independent of us as a user.

Magellanic Clouds,Milky Way above the Patagonian Andes
This is enough for me to have certainty, "this is reality." A thought  of caution arises when considering that we have witnessed only a limited set of  beliefs, cultures and lifestyles or of methods of observation and methods of investigation. So we may have some kept some spurious insights, but then Occam's razor [1] and test of insight through practice: "does it function", "can we built it", "can we forecast it" provides for sufficient firm ground, thus reality.

Using these considerations regarding "what is reality" and making a few additional considerations it can be shown that the notion "God" belongs to our own virtual "inner world" only, and God is not part of reality. Further-on, the current notions of God can be be shown to have a common internal contradiction, namely that it can be refuted by "reductio ad absurdum." This is not a negative proof of God, but practising the philosophical thinking of Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein [2]. For everyday use, this is sufficient to be an atheist, as a divine intervention can be ruled out in reality and as reality.

To use a mental concept of God in a (my) virtual inner world, is unaffected by the above. It just taking advantage of the freedom of our inner virtual world; being certain about the utility of the concept is possible too, and firmly convinced of its / His being likewise. Why should I do so; may be because I like this as motivation or it calms  feelings or fears? It too remains a residual risk for the atheist to face as part of reality that a person that agitates or attacks you, motivated by its notion of God and the related excitement. Let it be; take it just as Goethe's "Prometheus" [3]:

Bedecke deinen Himmel, Zeus, ...
Mußt mir meine Erde / Doch lassen steh'n,
Und meine Hütte, / Die du nicht gebaut,
Und meinen Herd, / Um dessen Glut
Du mich beneidest...

...Wähntest du etwa, / Ich sollte das Leben hassen,
In Wüsten fliehn, / Weil nicht alle Knabenmorgen-Blütenträume reiften?
Hier sitz' ich, forme Menschen / Nach meinem Bilde,
Ein Geschlecht, das mir gleich sei, / Zu leiden, weinen,
Genießen und zu freuen sich, / Und dein nicht zu achten,
Wie ich!

with Ukko's best wishes,
your Cousin

[1] from Wikipedia:  The principle is often summarized as "other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one. Bertrand Russell offers a particular version of Occam's Razor: "Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities." Occam's razor is attributed to the 14th-century English logician, theologian and Franciscan friar Father William of Ockham (d'Okham), although the principle was known earlier. Ptolemy stated "We consider it a good principle to explain the phenomena by the simplest hypothesis possible". To quote Isaac Newton, "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Therefore, to the same natural effects we must, so far as possible, assign the same causes."

[2]  born 26 April 1889 in Vienna, † 29 April 1951 in Cambridge; see: "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" (1921)

[3]   Goethe's "Prometheus":   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAFmidV0hUk&feature=related

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