Re: virus:Other Reality

Reed Konsler (
Thu, 9 May 1996 15:51:36 -0400

David McFadzean Said (Wed, May8, 7:44pm):
...So what is the best way to look at C? An approximation of "true" reality? A
social convention? A useful fantasy? An illusion? ...

...I think I agree with Bill Godby in that many important things are not
observed. But maybe you are saying that they don't really "exist", then. Do
the rules of logic exist?

Some things are inferred, not from direct observation, but from their indirect
effects. Mendel wrote about genes 50 years before anyone tied them to DNA
sequences. Perhaps the same is true for memes. We spend a lot of time talking
about them as if they exist, but no-one knows what they "really" are on a
physical level. Do memes exist?...

I would call the concept we currently hold of "light" including all it's
infered and deduced characteristics: a model. It is a meme (or set of memes)
which we as "Popperian" or "Gregorian" learners (I'm using Dennet's definitions
of these words from "Darwin's Dangerous Idea") hold within us. It is the
result of a scientific process of artificial selection in which alternate
models were either incorporated or disproven. The concept of the "light"
however, including all the charactersitics we ascribe to this phenomena, is
subjective. We decide, as a community, that it is a useful meme becuase TO THE
LIMIT OF OUR PERCEPTION it is an accurate representation of the objective
reality we deduce must exist.

Models are very important. One could argue that the primary advantage of a
human mind is it's ability to incorportate generalized models of the
environment and to mentally manipulate parts of these models; to "imagine".
Within our own minds we can imagine that a worlds may exist where light moved
twice as fast and ask "how would the world be different?"

It is important, though, to diffferentiate between those models we have tested
and found useful (like the concept of light) and those models intended
primarily as speculation ("What would the world be like if the speed of light
was twice as fast?"). Both are useful, both a required in a complete
understanding of the mind. But to confuse them will lead us to erroneous

At the base, the qusetion we are trying to answer is:
What patterns, if any, exist in the universe?

And the reson this question, and all it's derivatives like "What if the meaning
of life" are important is that the more accurate our answers are the more
successful we are within our environment.

I am not in any way attempting to argue that we should exclude models which
have not been tested, or are not designed to be. We must, however, have a
system of designation which differentiates those models which are better tested
from those which are not. Models like the speed of light, natuaral selection,
the atomic structure of the universe, conservation of mass, etc. are
privelidged among models becuase they are well tested (some better than others)
and (again, to the limits of our perception) found to be accurate.

Before scientists began to observe patterns and phenomena not predicted by
Newtonian mechanics there was no reason to propose a more complicated model of
physics. Sure, QED and QM are more accurate, but they likely are also "false"
in the sense that the way in which we currently understand "Physics" is, by
definition, only a simplified approximation of the objective reality it is
intended to describe.

If you want to create a useful model that approximates reality that model must
be the simplest one that explains the current observations. Such provisional
models, of which every branch of science is composed, are (by definition) never
going to be "Absolutley True". Scientific understanding is a host of models
which together are the simplest, most accurate generalized models of the
infered objective reality. But parts of this model will be overthrown tomorrow
as new observation invalidate old proposals. Every single day in the
laboratory I validate or invalidate a hypothesis (well, I try :))

I agree with David that the objective reality of the greeks was the same
objective reality we experience today. But as a rational thinker Socrates
would have been entirely right to be skeptical about "Quantum Mechanics" or
"The Germ Theory of Disease" or "Natural Selection". There are, in fact, very
few components of current science that you could rationally defend in classical
Greece. What evidence would you offer in supprt of your complicated, fantastic
models? How would you differentiate the "truth" about objective reality you
know from the infamous Aristotelean yarns that had to be overturned in the
process of research?

To a individal in classical Greece a rational model of the universe would be
infinitely more simplistic, due to complete lack of information, than our own.
That's the incredible advantage of culture, language, and eduacation. That is
the power of the meme, something I'm sure is obvious to this group.

Why did scientists eventually decide Aristotle wasn't right about everything?
Because the evidence didn't support his claims. But there was little evidence
one way or the other in classical Greece. It was a time of memetic explosion
when any old idea held as much weight as another. Indeed, the great clasical
thinkers are still revered because at least their ideas were more internally
consistent than the alternatives...internal consistency being one of the only
ways to measure, without any evidence, the value of an idea.

And a continious process of artifical selection exists. It is currently no
longer good enough to tell a self consistent story and call it "truth". The
stakes are raised; now there must be evidence.

What differentiates scientific hypothesis from dogma and wild speculation (like
most conspiracy theories) is that hypothesis can (or ought to be) tested and
modified until the model conforms to reality. In truth, the complete
invalidation of a hypothesis is really just a very very radical change in it's
structure to accomodate new observations.