What is Real? Discussions with Ranga.

Wed, May 23, 2007 at 4:47 AM

Hi Manoj:

My phenomenal world seems to be different from yours 🙂 All the better for the theory of multiple perceptual realities. Bertrand Russell wrote once:

“The objects of perception which I take to be “external” to me, such as colored surfaces that I see, are only “external” in my private space . . . When on a common-sense basis, people talk of the gulf between mind and matter, what they really have in mind is the gulf between a tactual percept, and a “thought”? e.g. a memory, a pleasure, or a volition. But this, as we have seen, is a division within the mental world; the percept is as mental as the “thought.”

This assertion about light has no special place in our PR doesn’t seem to follow from the sentences before. My argument goes like this: Space is a cognitive representation of the light falling in our eyes, much like sound is a representation of the air pressure waves falling in our ears. So in our space, light has a special place. More specifically, its speed has a special place in the way we sense motion in our space.

All sensory processes have different quality and extent of spatial representation in humans — cognitive representation of space is not restricted to sight alone. All these senses also contribute in building the cognitive representation of time too. These faculties differ among various organisms greatly, and even among humans to quite an extent. Congenitally blind people have a representation of space around them through touch and sound in the absence of sight. (I have attached a study on dreams of the congenitally blind — useful for discussing the point you made about dreams). Interestingly, congenitally blind people sometimes use the language of vision to describe space around them even though they have never seen before. The important point is that although vision is perhaps the most important faculty for humans, it is not the only one and has no inherent specialty about it. Different people may find different senses special for different reasons. A physicist like you finds light special because of the special relation it holds with mass and energy. I understand this “special-ness” from your point of view well enough — there is I think no great difficulty in relating to this conceptual flavor. My personal favorite is also sight, with its important presence in physics. Francis Crick chose to study vision as the critical organ to explain consciousness, not because it had any inherent superiority, but because it provided the right platform with all its perceptual idiosyncrasies. This is what I meant by a good strategy for research. On the other hand, if I were a chemist I would also argue for the special-ness of chemical reactions in sensing smell or taste. I may even say atomic or subatomic interactions are the core of anything happening in the universe.

While I assert its unspecialness you assert its specialness, showing that we are not seeing each other’s point or there is no point after all from both.

Also, R has to be defined more clearly as applicable to all beings, or only to humans, or only to you. This itself is a conceptual maze- if you have thought about it.

PR doesn’t have to be the same for different sensory modalities, much like space and sound don’t have to be the same. Let me illustrate this with an example. Assume that you are asked to compute how to hit a moving target with a projectile. Say, an object is moving away from you and you measure the speed to be half the speed of sound, you have a gun that will shoot a shell at a constant horizontal speed of 0.75 Mach. What is the angle of the gun muzzle? You can use classical mechanics and solve it fairly easily. Let’s say that the angle is A. Now suppose you pose the same problem to a hypothetical, intelligent bat (that is blind). It can be shown that using echolocation, the bat will measure a different speed for both the object and the shell. In fact, he would be using something remarkably similar to relativistic mechanics (with the speed of light replaced by the speed of sound) because his echolocated “space” will obey that mechanics. But the final answer for the angle he comes up with will still be A. Now, just because you and the bat come up with the same angle doesn’t mean that the space as you both see (the PR) is the same. Space can be very different in different sense modalities. The bat’s space obeys relativity while yours obeys classical mechanics.

Two points about the above: 1) You misunderstood my question 2) you used an example that is quite an overkill to describe “phenomenal reality” which is already well taken. It is well understood that perceptions of things around us differ between senses and different species, simply because the instruments and mechanisms of measurement are different. Two scales of different lengths give different measurements of the same distance. Some perceptions could produce at the end similar results while others produce indeed different results. So, the space I represent and the space a bat represents may indeed be different, although we may bump into each sometime. However, I don’t know what bat’s space is as I’m not a bat and the bat is not me and we cannot compare.

My question was: assuming that perceptual realities between organisms differ, which perceptual reality are you talking about here? You cannot obviously generalize, as you are not even privy to others’ perceptual realities. You can only at best speak of your own PR, and stretch a little bit to assume you are not very different from me and others, so what you decide for yourself may also apply to me. My question was about this: what is the perceptual reality that you are trying to explain with light as being the most important entity? Are you explaining it for yourself (a), for all human race (b), or for all beings in the universe (c)? This is important to be clarified upfront.

I’m afraid I don’t agree with you here either. The GRB explanation is based on the assumption that AR obeys classical mechanics (CM) not special relativity (SR), while PR obeys SR. In my block diagram goes like this: AR (CM) ->Perception/Cognition->Perceived Reality (SR) ->Measurements->Science

Now now, we have to go at this carefully. First, I’m no longer sure what you hold AR for although you also say it is not accessible. I thought it was the Absolute Reality akin to Brahman or Noumenon that we will never know of. The more important point is even if we guessed it right we will never be able to test it. If it is so, one can assume it as obeying whatever one wants, even as a pot of boiling water. Mind you, I understand the elegance of taking AR as CM so that you arrive at PR as SR. This is an attractive proposition that has not missed me. But it is a proposition that shoots itself in the foot, albeit boldly!

Not quite. The critical point is that it is the PR that obeys SR. We don’t know anything about the mechanics obeyed by AR. But we can certainly work out what kind of PR we would get if AR obeyed CM. It turns out that we would get something similar to SR (indicating that CM is a good candidate for the mechanics of AR). Thus, the light barrier exists only in PR, not in AR.

As I have said, I can understand the temptation of this proposition. It is too attractive to pass; even Schopenhauer fell for it (read Brian Magee’s Confessions of a Philosopher). I understood your tilt already from your paper. But, how can you test that the light barrier exists only in the PR? You will have to show that the light barrier does not exist in the AR. Or do I miss something? I hope that in arriving at a complicated solution we have not forgotten the simple premises we started with — that AR is not reachable and testable.

My notion (I don’t know if it is profound enough to be called a theory) is merely that AR doesn’t have to obey SR. It doesn’t have to obey CM either, but if it did, we would get a PR much like the space we perceive with the strange properties in sensing motion. It looks so obvious to me, but I’m having such a hard time communicating it, much less convincing anybody.

It is an interesting metaphysical concept as metaphysical concepts go (same as Noumenon/Phenomenon) that can never be tested. I see clearly the point that if AR obeys CM, then we would get SR in PR etc. It gives me the feeling of a very tasty morsel suddenly falling from my mouth into a deep hole. The difficulty, for me, is not in understanding the concept, especially as I have been into this Noumenon thing for I don’t know how long, but in agreeing with it because of its slippery nature — the inability to test it from because of its very premise.

In my book, I state it repeatedly that AR is beyond our grasp, comprehension; it is unknowable etc. Even when I state that CM is a possible candidate for AR, I take some trouble to explain that it is only ONE possible candidate, there may be others. PR to AR mapping is one-to-many (very many, in fact).

Well, that is the crux of the matter — that PR to AR mapping could be very many. However much you warn people against it, they would go away with a feeling quite to the contrary, worse still they would also know that you are putting forth something you cannot test.

I agree with you here, there is no a priori reason for causality to be respected in the Brahman-Maya context. I wonder if you ditch causality, will you end up in solipsism?

Again, we don’t have to be one or none. We need not ditch or embrace causality before even understanding it. If there is no causality, so be it, ending up with solipsism or nihilism for what one cares.

Can one be without the other? Can sound be without air pressure waves? That is where it is questioned whether Maya can exist without Brahman or vice versa.

Sure you can have sound without air pressure waves. In your dreams, for instance 🙂 That was a bit of tongue-in-cheek, but I have a point >there.

You have here brought-in an important point that may help us understand the relation between what-is and what is actually perceived. For this I dug up an article (Hurovitz et al., 1999) that I had read sometime ago. A few pertinent points from an older study, replicated by this study are:

  1. There are no visual images in the dreams of those born without any ability to experience visual imagery in waking life.
  2. Individuals who become blind before the age of five seldom experience visual imagery in their dreams, although Deutsch (1928) reports some visual imagery in six schoolchildren who lost their sight before age five.
  3. Those who become sightless between the ages of five and seven may or may not retain some visual imagery.
  4. Most people who lost their vision after age seven continue to experience at least some visual imagery, although its frequency and clarity often fade with time.

Although, this study is not about sound (notice that here also sight is more interesting than hearing!), it relates to the question with no less importance. Dreams are indeed neurological phenomenon experienced without outside sensory input. This is very well understood now (also attached see a more recent review on neuroimaging in dreams). However, dreams of visual imagery are completely intact in only those who have only seen before. If you had no prior experience of a percept you may not even dream about it, because the neural connections cannot form without the percept, and hence cannot be repeat without it.

Although, you made this point tongue-in-cheek (quite inline with your routine behavior:-), you opened up yourself to the profound question ? is there anything to be observed without the observer?, or vice versa. This is a question that occupied much of the lifetime of Advaita and Dvaita philosophers, and requires persistent reflection. One may assert that there is Brahman beyond Maya, and another might say there is not. You take the pick – but you have to reflect on this more, I think.

There is probably no Maya without Brahman. But Brahman can certainly exist in the absence of a conscious being, and therefore in the absence of Maya. At least, that is my understanding of Brahman and Maya. My causality-bound mind can only express it as, “Brahman creates Maya.”

Sure, I think we all perceive and understand as is our wont and our experiences and such blah blah. But a certain exercise made me a little unsettled sometime ago. The thought experiment was to imagine how Brahman could be in the absence of a conscious being. Of course, you will never know, but the process of reflection will give you some insight into this Brahman-Maya quandary. Try it for yourself. I will be interested to know what you imagined and what you felt.



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