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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Nothing Is Certain Except Death And Taxes–Living In A World Where Reality Only May Be

In quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle (also known as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle) is any of a variety of mathematical inequalities asserting a fundamental limit to the accuracy with which the values for certain pairs of physical quantities of a particle, such as position, x, and momentum, p, can be predicted from initial conditions.

Uncertainty principle - New World Encyclopedia

In other words you can know where a particle is but you can never know its speed; or conversely, if you know how fast the particle is moving you can never determine its exact position.

'The fundamental nature of reality could be radically different from our familiar world of objects moving around in space and interacting with each other,” physicist Sean Carroll suggested recently, explaining quantum theory. “We shouldn’t fool ourselves into mistaking the world as we experience it for the world as it really is.” In a technical paper Carroll notes that quantum theory consists of equations that describe mathematical entities roaming through an abstract realm of possible natural events. 

It’s plausible, Carroll argues, that this quantum realm of mathematical possibilities represents the true, fundamental nature of reality. If so, all the physical phenomena we perceive are just a “higher-level emergent description” of what’s really going on. In fact, a fair reading of history suggests that quantum theory is the most dramatic shift in science’s conception of reality since the ancient Greeks deposed mythological explanations of natural phenomena in favor of logic and reason.

Yet as the ancient Greeks realized, the world of the senses does offer clues about the reality we can’t see. “Phenomena are a sight of the unseen,” Anaxagoras said. As physicist Carroll puts it, in modern terms, “the world as we experience it” is certainly related to “the world as it really is.”

It has taken two millennia for the Greek revolution in explaining nature to mature into Newtonian science’s mechanistic understanding of reality. Three centuries later quantum physics revolutionized science’s grasp of reality to a comparable extent.

Metaphysics – the study of what is and what isn’t – has been a pillar of philosophy since Aristotle. It is the branch of philosophical inquiry that studies the fundamental nature of reality: the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, cause and effect, necessity and possibility.  It includes questions about the nature of consciousness and the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality. Metaphysics studies questions related to what it is for something to exist and what types of existence are there. Metaphysics seeks to answer, in an abstract and fully general manner, the questions of: What is it that exists; and What it is like.

Aristotle | Biography, Works, Quotes, Philosophy, Ethics, & Facts |  Britannica

Quantum mechanics,the work of Heisenberg, Feynman, Bohr, and others was revolutionary not only within the narrow confines of the scientific world but in philosophy as well. When Heisenberg first postulated this central theorem of quantum mechanics in 1927, it interested only a small cadre of theoretical physicists, and its more general implications took decades to be understood by the general public.  

Reality has its limits, said Heisenberg, and human perception can at best offer a subject, relative view of what is.  The fact that Heisenberg and his colleagues proved through observation that there is no such thing as one, permanent, absolute reality and that human perception is part of the ‘distortion’, ordinary people woke up to an irreversibly stochastic world – a world of probability. 

Heisenberg concluded at give the speed of a particle there was a probability of it being in a certain place and vice-versa.  Life at its most fundamental, sub-molecular level was probabilistic at best.  If that is so, than why should any higher-order phenomena be any different?

Einstein muddled the picture even more.  Time, he said, was only relative.  if you went fast enough, i.e. approaching the speed of light, time slowed down.  On board a spaceship hurtling toward the outer reaches of the universe, a traveler would age only in years while those on the earth he left would have died millennia before.

Reality is a tricky business.  Phenomenologists like Bishop Berkeley even suggested that reality is created by perception – i.e.  only if a tree falls in the forest someone is there to hear it fall does the sound of its falling exist.

Plato has Socrates describe a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them, and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners' reality.

One of Kierkegaard's recurrent themes is the importance of subjectivity, which has to do with the way people relate themselves to (objective) truths. In Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, he argues that "subjectivity is truth" and "truth is subjectivity." What he means by this is that most essentially, truth is not just a matter of discovering objective facts. 

While objective facts are important, there is a second and more crucial element of truth, which involves how one relates oneself to those matters of fact. Since how one acts is, from the ethical perspective, more important than any matter of fact, truth is to be found in subjectivity rather than objectivity.

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Browning, Kurosawa, and Durrell wrote novels and screenplays which tell the same story from different perspectives.  The architecture of the story – place, time, season – may be agreed upon, but little else.  Memory itself is only fill-in, fractions of what actually might have happened, and larger segments added by others; so not only might four people have different impressions of what happened on a given day, but their own impressions might be little more than quilted memories.

People they remember may or may not have been there, said what they were supposed to have said, or acted according to what was remembered.  By listening to the accounts of all four, one may have an impression of what might have happened, but no certainty that it did.

The genius of Faulkner – part Hindu, part Descartes – was that he was never troubled by what was or what is; but only interested in what may have been or what could be.  Thomas Sutpen did what he did, fathered whom he fathered, and came to an unhappy end because of his ambition; but those whose lives were affected by him could only remember what he seemed to be.  A story of misjudgments, misapprehensions, and ignorant ambition can also be read as one of inevitable admixture of truth and untruth, fiction and non-fiction. While logic may enable one to appreciate the steps to eliminating logical thought, it can lead to nowhere on its own.

Image result for images faulkner

Social psychologists after decades of research have concluded what we instinctively understand – that eye-witness accounts are no more than validation of personal perceptions.  We see what we want to see and nothing more. In experiment after experiment, different observers of the same event perceive it differently.  A big family Christmas dinner is the best example.  The exploits of Uncle Harry are told and retold, but never the same way twice.  Each relative remembers the incidents differently, and after the telling of many versions, Uncle Harry’s adventures are far from what he ever even imagined doing.

Scholarly research into the nature of memory has shown that the process of reconstructing past events is dependent on many different parts and functions of the brain; and by the time the memory is assembled, it may have little to do with reality.

Memory is never a literal recount of past experiences, rather it is dependent on the constructive processes present at the time of Encoding that are subject to potential errors and distortions. Essentially, the constructive memory process functions by encoding the patterns of physical characteristics that are perceived by the individual, as well as the interpretive conceptual and semantic functions that act in response to the incoming information.

During the recall of episodic memory, the information that a person remembers is usually limited in scope, ultimately giving an incomplete recollection of an event. By employing reconstructive processes, individuals supplement other aspects of available personal knowledge into the gaps found in episodic memory in order to provide a fuller and more coherent version, albeit one that is often distorted.

When politics are added to this metaphysical mix, the result is a three-ring circus.    There are no such things as facts to begin with – only presentations of subjective reality – but self-serving politicians sell their perceptions as fact to voters who want to believe them.  The collusion, the complicity between the fake news purveyor and the fake news consumer is complete.

If this were not enough to whirl objectivity on a merry-go-round of fantasy and illogical hopefulness, enter the media.  Although the New York Times, the old newspaper of record, champion of objectivity and factual reporting, still holds on to this fantasy, its editors are committed to a political agenda.  So are the editors of Fox News, and both preach to the choir.

The Left hates Fox News and the Right hates the New York Times because of what they see as fake news, distortion, and revenue-driven political hysteria.   They are both right, of course.  There is no more factual truth on the networks than anywhere else on the planet; so why the fuss?

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