Understanding Reality

Think about cockroaches.  How much do they know about reality?  They have compound eyes that see the world poorly.  They can sense vibration, and they have a sense of touch.  Do they smell and taste the world around them?  I don’t know.  Cockroaches are little biological machines that eat and replicate.  They survive.  Between roaches and humans is an array of animal life with ever improving senses that understand more of reality.  To get some idea how an animal thinks watch “My Life as a Turkey.”  Humans do not have an exclusive hold on consciousness, but our consciousness lets us explore reality far deeper than any other creature we know.

I tend to doubt animals understand their environment in a conscious way.  They react to it, and even develop rudimentary calls that can be language-like that can relate to others of their kind about locations, events or things in their environment.  But I don’t think they ever ask:  who, what, where, when, how and why?  Maybe some higher forms of animals might pine for who, what and where, but I doubt they cognitively ask.

I believe we have a number of cognitive tools that help us analyze, map and understand reality.

Language

Words let us break down reality into parts.  Grammar lets us describe actions with nouns and verbs.  The origin of language let us work with who, what, where and when.

Theology

Theology introduces abstractions that attempt to answer how.  Theology was our first tool that lets us ask why are we here.  Unfortunately, theology is all based on imaginary concepts.  Theology distorts reality.  Theology lets us think we see things that aren’t there.  Theology has imprisoned humans for tens of thousands of years in a pseudo-reality.

Philosophy

Philosophy introduced rhetoric and logic and attempts to understand reality through deduction.  Sadly, philosophy was tainted by religion and sought to reconcile reality with ideal forms of the mind.  It took philosophy centuries to throw off trying to make reality shoehorn into a preconceived concept.

Mathematics

We started counting with language and commerce, but mathematics came into its own with philosophy.  At first mathematics was used in philosophical interpretations of abstractions and ideal forms, but eventually we applied it to analyzing reality.  It became our first tool where consensus and validation was important.

Science

Science is a system for testing reality.  Answers only count if they are consistent, reproducible and universal.  Mathematics became the cognitive tool of science.

Technology

Technology allowed us to expand our senses.  Telescopes and microscopes see further than our eyes.  Other technology allowed us to look into the reality where our senses can’t perceive.

The first three cognitive tools we developed, language, theology and philosophy often distort reality, or create illusions and fantasies.  Most humans never get beyond those three tools and even though they perceive reality far greater than a cockroach because of their superior senses, language, theology and philosophy often just confuses their minds.  Our brains are so powerful that they let us see what we want to see.  Our minds can override our senses and alter reality.  Theology has always been more powerful than any drug, especially combined with the power of our imagination.

The Limits of the Mind

Math, science and technology have expanded our awareness of reality out to infinity in all directions, including time.  How much of this reality humans can comprehend is yet to be determine.  Most humans on planet Earth cannot get beyond theology which blinds them from seeing true reality.  Most religions have incorporated bits of philosophy to make their religion logical and understandable by rhetoric, but its foundation is based on illusion and quicksand.  In recent years theology has even attempted to incorporate science but its been a pathetic failure.  Those people whose only cognitive tool for understanding reality is theology cannot comprehend how science works, if they did, it would destroy their theology.

There are many other tools for understanding reality, such as art, literature, history, journalism, poetry, drama, etc.  They are all subjective, but they have their pros and cons.

JWH – 3/6/12

One Response

  1. I would also add culture to your list. You could say it is a cross pollination of language and theology. It helps to keep people locked into existing thought processes. The reason we’ve not made much progress, most people in the world struggle just to survive. Mathematics, beyond counting is unknown by the vast majority. Science is beyond most people because their use of it contributes little to if at all to their lives. Including people with smart phones, by use I mean their using the scientific method to solve some problem they have.

    I use linux and can build computers from parts. I can do some pretty impressive things with them, but except bash scripting and some simple html I cannot really program a computer. I couldn’t write a device driver without dedicating months, perhaps years to the project. In my job I have occasionally done some programming, but it happens so rarely I usually end up forgetting most of what I learned long before the next programming issue comes up. Programming just doesn’t matter to me even though I constantly use the programming of others. My career could not exist without computers and their programs.

    There are people who depend on the global satellite GPS system in their car, but believe the earth is flat. They enjoy the benefits of science, but they don’t do actual science. they’re locked in by the inertia of thousands of years of culture.

    This is why I want humans to figure out how to live in space. It is my sincere hope that faster than light travel is impossible. Which would mean any single human culture would have a maximum size; limited by the vastness of space and the mobility of self-sufficient space settlements. Imagine an old-west where there is no government back east intent on “civilizing” and taxing us. I imagine a future where city-sized space stations exist moving between icy rocks in the kuiper belt to our oort cloud then to the oort clouds of neighboring solar systems. With such an ecology of settlements, these cities independent of each other, would potentially lead to massive internal culture change in some of them. Whenever some local “utopia” manages to create itself on earth, there is always some larger tyranny or cultural force to lead a jihad against it.

    with an ever expanding number of independent cities, human culture could drop the cultural baggage of the past. The chief excuse the bastions of traditional culture use to fight against change is that without the certainties of the past we might create a culture that cannot sustain itself. The self-righteous justify their oppression of others with the idea that they are saving society from being “corrupt” and failing (see Rick Santorum) But in space individual city cultures can rise and fall without endangering the survival of humanity as a whole. The number of free-thinkers needed to create change falls. Thousands, eventually millions of cultures advancing their individual culture as they see fit, without the massive inertia of the entire species on their back. Once again evolution will act on humans, perhaps not directly on individuals but certainly on the level of a city-sized culture. Currently progress is continually opposed and reversed by ignorant champions of the culture of people long dead.

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