Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What is objective reality?

Over on The Motley Fool atheist board, someone recently posted the question: "Could somebody please explain the term 'objective reality' to me?"

We don't view the world as it really is; we interpret it with our senses and filter it through existing patterns in our brains. For instance, when I think that I see a blue racquetball, I am not really perceiving the ball directly. White light is striking the surface of that ball, all the wavelengths are absorbed except for those that we recognize at the color blue, and then the light bounces back to the surface of our eyes. The cells in our eyes transmit the pattern of photons back to our brain, which then looks at the pattern of light and dark shading, interprets the slightly different information from each eye to estimate distance, and then creates sort of a computer simulated model of a ball. Your brain tells you "That's a blue ball!" and that's what you think you see.

But senses can be fooled or misled, and your brain's program can screw up and misinterpret what it's reading. Then you can get a false impression of what you are seeing in the world.

Furthermore, you interpret a lot of things based on your memories of things that have happened to you in the past. If you see or hear about something that conflicts with the world model that was already in your head, you might reject the new information or file it wrong in your memory, because your brain doesn't like to completely reorganize its existing patterns every time it sees something a bit odd.

So there's a "real world" out there, outside your brain; and then there's the "virtual world" that has been built inside your brain. The real and the virtual world never match up completely, but they can correspond to a greater or lesser degree. When you see a blue ball, you can be pretty confident that there really is a ball and it really has the property of being blue. The color blue is not really a "thing"; it is just a word that we use to label light at a certain wavelength. But there really is light, and it really has different wavelengths, and it really does bounce off of things like balls to show you the color blue.

When we talk about "objective reality", we are talking about the world that's really there, unfiltered, outside your mind. Our beliefs do not change the world, except to the extent that they lead to actions that alter reality. So I can, if I try hard enough, go around all day sincerely believing things like "That blue ball is actually an orange artichoke" or "There's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day" or "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." But if those things are not correct statements about the real world, then no amount of belief will change that.

23 comments:

  1. The concept of reality and perception has always intrigued me, but I hate it when I a believer start in with it. As soon as I say that my concept of reality is only as good as what my perceptions give me, one of two things happens. Either they will ask how we can be sure that science is valid since it is based on observations colored by our human perceptions, or they'll ask how can I be sure my perceptions aren't created or affected by the influence of God. There are very few people I find that I can have actual deep philosophical debate with on the issue.

    The Carlin link was also particularly relevant to me in a different way. I just had a debate with a believer friend on the meaning of the word tithe, spawned by a discussion on the extravagance of the mega/giga-churches, with my stand being that the original Hebrew is ambiguous on value, only later having the 10% inserted through revisionist translation. He, of course, was not willing to debate the point, merely falling back to the KJV translation and rigidly dogmatic thinking.

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  2. Either they will ask how we can be sure that science is valid since it is based on observations colored by our human perceptions, or they'll ask how can I be sure my perceptions aren't created or affected by the influence of God.

    To the first question I would point to the process of peer review as the best corrective. One person's perceptions of an event may be skewed, but that's why, in science, other scientists are encouraged to come along and either verify or refute you. You hallucinating is one thing; if 3000 other people confirm your observations, you're on much stronger footing to say that maybe your observations are valid. Then again, if 3000 people say you're full of shit and can produce results to back it up, then you may have to conclude you were wrong. A misunderstanding Christians have about science is that it's never been a process in which one person goes "Here's how reality works!" and everyone else goes "Duh, okay." Even the most brilliant scientists find themselves under the harsh white light of peer review.

    To the second question, I'd respond by saying I have no way of confirming my perceptions aren't created or affected by the influence of God any more than I can confirm my perceptions aren't created or affected by the influence of space aliens, elves, or Gus the Invisible Flying Cosmic Rabbit. What I look for is positive, direct evidence of those entities before I choose to believe they exist. You could literally speculate until the day you die about this or that mythical being influencing you. The question is, do you meander all through life in this kind of mental fog, or do you base your perceptions of life on actual phenomena you can confirm?

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  3. Anonymous11:55 AM

    The question is, do you meander all through life in this kind of mental fog, or do you base your perceptions of life on actual phenomena you can confirm?

    Would we be so arrogant to think that we can confirm everything in reality? We're limited beings with limited intelligence and mental capacity, even as a human race, we have limited sense perception and the ability to percieve reality. We aren't perfect either.

    With this reasoning you will naturally come to the point that sense perception and logic as a tool for gathering knowledge is insufficient. We require more information about the reality we cannot percieve. This is where scriptures like the Vedas comes in to provide clearer more detailed picture of reality that is outside the realm of sense perception and mental logic.

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    1. Good response. And, likewise, certainly in Buddhist philosophy awakening, or enlightenment is supposed to put us in that spot on the map where all things are perceived as "they are". Clearly, such an accomplishment must be truly remarkable, allowing us to experience the world in which we live in a very different way than the unawakened one.

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  4. Whether we know everything or not, on what basis would anyone believe that scripture has anything uniquely useful to teach, above all of the other man-made literature throughout history?

    If there is information about reality that we can't perceive, why make stuff up to fill in the gaps? Why not just admit that we don't know and proceed from there?

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    1. Again, the belief is that not all spiritual traditions are the same. Hinduism, Sufism and Buddhist views provide for an experience in which we really do experience the world/universe exactly as it is. Not only experience it, but move in the world in a very different way. But I agree that much of Judeo Christian Islamic religious beliefs do not offer that, resurrection, Heaven, etc, offer a joyous life when one dies, while other philosophies incorporate an idea that consciousness is eternal, everlasting, immutable. I agree that those traditions fill too many pages with words that are far less relevant than say, the writings of Kafka, Yourcenar, Navarre, Hamsun, etc., and on and on.

      The problem, in my opinion, is that instead of appreciating what are clearly man-made books, believers hold that those teachings themselves are sacred. Thus we can see incidents like the Inquisition, the recent attacks against American embassies, the carnage in the Middle East and Africa.

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  5. trevor batten11:42 AM

    Reading these statements about objective reality, I can't help wondering (and worrying) about what kind of world you guys actually live in -and how it might possibly relate to the world you (or I) do actually live in.


    Have any of you ever heard (and seriously thought about) thinkers such as Wittgenstein, Goedel, MaCluhen, Marx -or even theories of phenomenology, structuralism and such like (to say nothing of ideas from other cultures)?

    Why do you seem to reduce the complex problem of understanding the world (the relationship between ontology and epistemology) to a simple question of "belief" versus "scientific rationalism"? Do you not understand that "scientific rationalism" is itself a form of "belief" system?


    The definition of "objective reality" as being "that which our belief system cannot change" seems a pretty good one: I, personally would define "reality" as "that which is outside the model" -but both definitions seem pretty isomorphic. However, what do such simple statements actually "mean" (or imply) in terms of "understanding reality"?


    Under the definitions given above: What value can "peer review" have? Or indeed, how can we know that "god", our conditioning, our physical limitations -or even our own logic and belief systems -do not present us with "false" information that cause us to have an innacurate understanding of "reality"?


    Surely, the answer is that (on a practical level) the source of the "mistake' is irrelevant -the problems are similar whether "God" or the "Devil, or one's own mind, mother or teacher is the source of the misleading error: Almost nothing can provide the "proof" that we can indeed know the precise nature of "objective" reality (assuming that it even exists).

    In this context "peer review" only tells us what a number (perhaps even a majority) of our peers believe -but what "objective" value does this have?


    In the days of the Salem witch trials -many of our peers would probably have agreed to the burning of witches. Apparently the history of the currently widely accepted theory of geologically shifting techtonic plates was originally discredited in a "scientific" meeting of experts. I'm told that the famous German scientist Helmholtz laughed at Marconi when he proposed an attempted radio transmission from England to America -didn't Marconi know the earth was round and that radio waves travelled in straight lines and so could never reach America: If Marconi was right, then either the world was flat -or there was a giant mirror in the sky -and both alternatives were obviously equally absurd.... At one time, non-Euclidean geometry was considerd by virtually all mathematicians as being a meaningless exotic abberation with no practical application -which is somewhat weird because one form of non-Euclidean geometry relates to spherical objects such as the earth. Nevertheless one can suspect that in most (western) schools Euclidean geometry is still taught as if it was an "objective reality".

    Faced with such evidence, one can only wonder at the naievity and arrogance of a continued belief in (traditional) "logical" thinking as a tool for revealing "objective reality".



    So perhaps one might also ask "what use are such silly arguments and discussions -if we can never know the truth?"

    Perhaps the answer to that question lies in the quality of the arguments used within the debate..... Perhaps one cannot "prove" the nature of reality -but maybe some theories are less consistant with the (available) facts than others..... However, perhaps the "facts" will change as more evidence becomes available, or maybe under some conditions, even the most absurd theories might help to point in useful directions (i.e. towards more sustainable theories or concepts)) especially if we are currently being blinded by our own beliefs.....

    Perhaps (in some cases?) there is even no static "objective reality" -because this is created by the actions of the various players themselves as they act within their own different worlds of reality.


    What, for example, about the American "War on Terror"?

    Do those who oppose the US and those who defend the US truly live in the same "objective reality"? Do "terrorists" actually believe that they are evil people who attack democracy -or do American patriots actually believe that they are agents of imperialist domination determined to destroy all that opposes capitalism? I suppose not -but what is the "objective reality" -and how can we ever know it? In the American war of Independence, weren't the "American patriots" the "terrorists" as far as the imperialist British were concerned? So who was "right" then -and why do the positions now seem reversed today?


    Within the definition (that reality cannot be changed by contrary beliefs) as given above -it would seem, for an outsider, that the total failure of the war in Iraq is an "objective reality" that cannot be changed depending on one's belief system. Apparently, it was originally supported by most peer reviewers -while opponents were publically vilified at the time: The total destruction of a belief in democracy and international law through the continuing existence of Guantanamo Bay -would also appear to many people outside the US to be an incontrovertible "objective reality" too.

    So what about those inside the US -and how do their "realities" affect the "realities" of those outside? Surely the exploding of bombs on people as a result of one's belief system affects the "reality" of those involved -whatever their nationality or belief system.

    If 9/11 changed the world for those who lived inside the US -then how much did Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq change the world for those who live outside the US?

    Will the real "objective reality" please stand up now!



    As a result -one is forced to ask: How can American's with their apparent belief in objective reality, truth and democracy continue to live with these beliefs as citizens of a country that to many outsiders has completely discredited such notions by tearing up the rule book and invading foreign countries whenever it feels neccessary, while continuing to be absolutely opposed to any external interference or limitation of its own sovereignty by others (even on the basis of international legal treaties)?



    Perhaps, whatever one's belief system actually is, a simple minded belief in objective reality -and the superiority of one's own belief system above others -is more dangerous than one could ever imagine.

    Trevor Batten

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    1. Isnt the problem with phenemenology that it denies "the big picture", whether that is the invisible world, Heaven, the broader reality? I think it is. For those who will only believe in what they see, and in a way I am that person, because I don't believe in a God concept, even though thousands once believed in Apollo, they will miss out on all that life has to offer. Quite simply because not everything is measurable, quantifiable. I dont believe in a God but not because I never saw him, but because the concept/theory doesn't sit right with me. Though I am an atheist, I am also a Buddhist, which has no God concept, but allows for mystical interpretations of events.

      The Devil is very real, in my brother's mind. But that is because he is schizophrenic, and was raised in a god fearing, self-loathing, shame-based religion. He doesn't meet his demons on his way out, but met them when he was around 21, due to environmental pressures, genetics, etc.

      Not only is what we believe in important, but what we do with those beliefs.

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  6. This may be confusing to people reading the comments, since Trevor and I have spoken a bit via email before this point and we are now picking up a discussion in mid-subject. I am going to get around to replying to your last email, Trevor, but my work and school schedules are preventing me from giving it much attention right now. However, I will take some time to respond to these remarks.

    Reading these statements about objective reality, I can't help wondering (and worrying) about what kind of world you guys actually live in -and how it might possibly relate to the world you (or I) do actually live in.

    I am going to go out on a limb and guess that you live on planet earth, in the same universe that I live in. I am basing this partly on the fact that you told me you live in Europe, which is still on Earth last time I checked. You have somewhat different political and philosophical beliefs from me, but those beliefs do not magically transport you into a different world as far as I am aware.

    Why do you seem to reduce the complex problem of understanding the world (the relationship between ontology and epistemology) to a simple question of "belief" versus "scientific rationalism"? Do you not understand that "scientific rationalism" is itself a form of "belief" system?

    I'm not talking about the difference between believing something and not believing something, Trevor. I'm talking about believing things based on evidence and verification versus just believing stuff that pops into your head.

    The definition of "objective reality" as being "that which our belief system cannot change" seems a pretty good one: I, personally would define "reality" as "that which is outside the model" -but both definitions seem pretty isomorphic. However, what do such simple statements actually "mean" (or imply) in terms of "understanding reality"?

    I'm afraid I'm not following you, because you haven't made it clear where you stand thus far. Can you agree or disagree with each of these statements?

    1. "Objective reality", however you want to define it, actually exists and is independent of believe.
    2. Assuming that one had a perfect knowledge of reality (which nobody does, but do the thought experiment), it would be possible to consider somebody's personal beliefs about the "real world", and identify whether that belief is "true" or not.

    I haven't made any claims about the scientific method in this post, although I made some earlier remarks by email. All I've done here is to make a claim that objective reality exists and it correlates to a greater or lesser degree with people's beliefs. Do you agree with that or don't you? If you don't agree, then let's argue about that please, before we bother arguing about science. It would be pointless to discuss whether the scientific method or peer review are valuable way to approach the question of truth, since you would believe that there isn't any.

    If you do agree with the above statements about objective reality, I'd like to hear YOUR ideas about how one would go about ensuring that one's own beliefs are as accurate as possible.

    In the days of the Salem witch trials -many of our peers would probably have agreed to the burning of witches.

    The standards of evidence were extremely bad in the days of the Salem witch trials, and that is in itself one of my main beefs with religious thought over rigorous inquiry. The grounds on which people were condemned as witches were based on eyewitness testimony -- generally agreed by modern lawyers to be especially weak evidence -- and "spectral evidence", which is explicitly no longer admissible in any American court, nor (I imagine) in Europe either.

    What, for example, about the American "War on Terror"?

    Do those who oppose the US and those who defend the US truly live in the same "objective reality"?


    Excuse me for interrupting. In our email correspondence, I have already pointed out at least once, and possibly several times, that I am a US citizen and I do not support the so-called "war on terror." Here in the states, we have a belligerent political faction whose members repeatedly declare that if you are against the war then you are against the country. This political faction has enjoyed a steadily shrinking base of support which currently stands around 33% approval. Most people did support war with Iraq initially, but I was not among them.

    Please do not continue to conflate "defending the US" with "supporting Bush's war". The fact that I have already brought this up before indicates that you are either not listening or deliberately baiting me. It is bordering on rudeness, and I would like to kindly request that you stop doing that if you are interested in continuing this discussion. Thank you.

    Do "terrorists" actually believe that they are evil people who attack democracy -or do American patriots actually believe that they are agents of imperialist domination determined to destroy all that opposes capitalism? I suppose not -but what is the "objective reality" -and how can we ever know it? In the American war of Independence, weren't the "American patriots" the "terrorists" as far as the imperialist British were concerned? So who was "right" then -and why do the positions now seem reversed today?

    The difficulty with what you're saying is that "good" and "right" have meaning only to sentient beings, and are inherently subjective questions that lie apart from the "objective real world" that I was talking about. These are questions of value. They are very much worthy of discussion and hashing out, but they are a complete tangent from statements of fact, such as "This object reflects light at such-and-such wavelength."

    Within the definition (that reality cannot be changed by contrary beliefs) as given above -it would seem, for an outsider, that the total failure of the war in Iraq is an "objective reality" that cannot be changed depending on one's belief system.

    I agree with you that the war in Iraq is an abject failure. However, I agree with you based on my own subjective criteria of "success" and "failure" that include "killing a whole lot of people and fostering worldwide animosity for the United States is a BAD thing." As far Al Qaeda is concerned, it may well be a GOOD thing.

    When I talk about separating questions of fact from questions of value, I don't mean to say that I don't think some values are definitely BETTER than other values; but they are still matters of opinion that only relate to the billions of people who hold those opinions. A question of fact in the Iraq war would be "America has dropped X tons of bombs on Iraqi soil." It's either true or it isn't. But you are confusing that with values, and thus wandering far afield from the subject of my post.

    Perhaps, whatever one's belief system actually is, a simple minded belief in objective reality -and the superiority of one's own belief system above others -is more dangerous than one could ever imagine.

    Leaving your patronizing tone aside, I really don't think you've established in any sense that belief in objective reality IS simple-minded, only that there are areas of discussion that don't legitimately fall under that umbrella. And I'm willing to agree with you insofar as to say that an unyielding belief in the correctness of one's own beliefs is dangerous. Shutting oneself off to further evidence and alternative points of view has been the source of much, if not most of the conflict in history. However, I'm not going to agree with you that it is wrong to believe that there exists a reality, and that it is a good idea to strive to understand it as much as is genuinely possible.

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  7. Trevor Batten11:39 AM

    Let us, for a moment (to simplify discussion), just concentrate on this short fragment at the end of your text:

    "Leaving your patronizing tone aside, I really don't think you've established in any sense that belief in objective reality IS simple-minded, only that there are areas of discussion that don't legitimately fall under that umbrella. And I'm willing to agree with you insofar as to say that an unyielding belief in the correctness of one's own beliefs is dangerous. Shutting oneself off to further evidence and alternative points of view has been the source of much, if not most of the conflict in history. However, I'm not going to agree with you that it is wrong to believe that there exists a reality, and that it is a good idea to strive to understand it as much as is genuinely possible."

    OK -first you claim that I have failed to prove (or establish) something which I wasn't actually trying to PROVE -merely stating that simplification of complex subjects was dangerous. The second half of the sentence about not falling under THAT umbrella is highly ambiguous to me and requires further clarification. I certainly did not try to claim or suggest that "there are areas of discussion that don't legitimately fall" under the umbrella of legitimate argument if that is what you are trying to suggest. However, I do believe this is exactly your point of view -and it is a very crucial point:


    The reason that the exclusion of (presumably) illegitimate areas of discussion is so dangerous is because this usually happens unilaterally. One might even claim that this discussion is itself an example: You believe that there is an "objective reality" and I am not convinced. However, because you are convinced in the existence of something that I do not necessarily agree upon -any reference made by me to anything that is contrary to your belief in "objective reality" will apparently automatically be rejected by you as not falling under the umbrella of "legitimate argument". In short -you decide if my arguments are worth discussing or not. Once excluded, my arguments can never be explored further -so you are imposing upon the discussion your own intellectual "rules of engagement" -which, in effect, exclude everything that is not consistent with your (ultimate) intellectual position. At the same time, you claim to agree that the strategy which you yourself seem to be practicing "has been the source of much, if not most of the conflict in history." While (I believe) simultaneously denying that you do exclude parts of the discussion.....

    How can people have a reasonable discussion under these "rules of engagement"?



    What makes this discussion truly bizarre is your recent posting on John McCain. Although it is clear (but actually irrelevant) that McCain and Blitzer are (perhaps) physically in the same TV studio (as indeed you claim that you and I are in the same physical universe) -mentally McCain and Blitzer (and you and I) live in completely different universa. However, it seems that philosophically you (and all those who think likewise) insist on ignoring the obvious fact that the (mental and perhaps physical) world of McCain does not map at all into the world of Blitzer (and vice versa) by insisting that there is only one "objective" universe of "facts". In practice, this seems to map (preferably) into the physical universe so all non-physical aspects are (almost) automatically excluded.

    By insisting that one of the above people's worlds must be "true" and therefore by the rules of binary logic (which itself is an unproven and therefore dubious logic) the other person must be "false": So you continually seek to "prove" which world is true and which is false. As a result -you apparently miss the possibility of "that which is independent of our own subjective thinking" might be found by exploring the logics of both the worlds of McCain and Blitzer (and perhaps yours and mine) to see how they came to be and how they interact to create their own "realities".

    By focusing on the "truth value" of McCain's statement -one tends to ignore the perhaps more important questions of what lead him to make such statements: ignorance, dishonesty or honest differences in interpreting the "facts"? Simply dismissing his statements as "conterfactual" can deprive one of useful insights into the mechanisms that actually drive him -and the mental world within which he is operating.



    Presumably, it is because you are so fixated on "objective reality" that you manage to miss most of the points that I did make -while focussing on those I didn't make -and presumably not even being aware of missing the major points.

    You accuse me of conflating "defending the US" with "supporting Bush's war" -but I think that if you read my text more closely you will see that you may have done this -but I did not do so. In fact, I tried to present opposing belief systems -because I am interested (both on a practical and on a philosophical level) in the way the different and perhaps conflicting "realities" co-exist (sometimes in the mind of a single person). In other words, the end of a potentially fruitfull discussion was threatened by you -on the basis of a false accusation/assumption with regard to me. Once again, that which does not fit into your belief system is excluded from the discourse -although, as a liberal presumably you could never admit this as being a constant factor in the discussion.


    Perhaps the really important controversy lies not so much in the way you "personalize" my more abstractly intended remarks (by "you guys" I refer to all the replies -not just yours); Not even your dogmatism regarding the debate on the nature of "reality" -but perhaps the insistant division of the universe into a world of "objective provable facts" and a world of "disputable opinions" -without apparently being prepared to seriously try and understand how they might relate to each other -or to explore what the practical consequences (for others and yourself) might be. This division underlay all the comments from various people, I seem to remember.

    So even your "factual" assumptions seem incorrect -I believe my text should be perfectly clear without reference to private exchanges -However, I told you that I used to live in Holland but now live in Asia -so I do not live in Europe physically, although I may do so (somewhat) mentally and philosophically.


    If you insist on reducing "reality" to a series of "provable facts" (and how do you do this without recourse to the scientific method?) -then perhaps you might also perhaps concider the complexities of "determining" those facts: How unreliable such "facts" have often proven to be in the course of history as new "facts" are discovered which discredit the previous ones. Particularly, you might reflect on the contrasting geometries of flat surfaces and spherical objects, for example, -and ask yourself how difficult a person conditioned by one of these geometries might find it to talk to a person equally conditioned by the other geometry..... even though both geometries can be described in formal (and objective) terms and might even both be considered "factually" true..... The dividing line between "facts" and the conceptual geometries that underlie the interpretation of facts is not as clear cut as you might wish it to be. In practice, it seems to be the "belief system" that generally determines the interpretation and acceptance of the "facts" rather than the other way around: Both the McCain interview and this discussion seem to demonstrate this. The simple "fact" is that each of our answers are based on our own interpretation of what was "factually" written -and so the "factual" text is continually under dispute.

    In fact, until now, correcting the interpretation of the factual text (that which was actually written) seems to take up more space than any reflection on what was actually intended when written.


    For clarity:

    1. I do NOT believe that "Objective reality", however you want to define it, actually exists and is independent of belief.

    2. I do not see the point of: "Assuming that one had a perfect knowledge of reality (which nobody does, but do the thought experiment), it would be possible to consider somebody's personal beliefs about the "real world", and identify whether that belief is "true" or not".


    As far as I can see, the really sad thing is that people around the world, both Americans and non-Americans are killing each other (and to some extent themselves) -partly because Americans have an obsessive belief in "objective reality" which enables them to justify actions which are directly in opposition to all the principles they claim to support. This is the point that I was trying to make -which you dismiss because you think I cannot understand that some Americans oppose the war in Iraq.

    It is sad that you cannot understand how your own belief system conjures up the world that you feel so strongly needs to be fought against if your own world is to continue to survive against the opposition that it so naturally conjures up in others: To me, this statement seems equally valid for the arguments for the war in Iraq as the Salem witch trials and your own insistence on the immutability of "facts" and their separation from beliefs and opinions. In fact, I suspect that it WAS the Salem (and suchlike) witch trials that were largely responsible for the obsessive schizophrenia of western culture.


    In my view, the real problem is not whether you (and other similar thinkers) oppose or support the Invasion of Iraq for some reason or another: It is your apparent inability to understand that for some people (perhaps including McCain) their "belief systems" are not simply questions of value that are external to your hypothetical reality and yet somehow can be validated or dismissed by it....... I suspect that the "real" global conflict is a result of people simply trying to defend their own belief systems against an imperialistic mentality that denies the validity of all viewpoints except its own, while at the same time claiming to be fully open to discussion.

    How can the excluded people(s) legitimately defend themselves against such mental violence?


    So belief systems can have horrible consequences when implemented in practice -and your own belief system is not immune from this (although you seem determined to believe that it is immune).

    If others accept your viewpoint, then there is no room any more for their own belief system -while if they use physical violence in response to the mental (cultural and socio-economic) violence committed against them by imposition of a system of "universal objective truth", they are beaten into the ground by a superior military machine. In practice, any government or group which does not wish to engage in consumer capitalism -or operate under the rules established by the US in order to preserve its own hegemony -is vilified and turned into an international pariah. This has happened under a succession of US presidents. Look at the history of Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq and all the other US playgrounds of the world -and then tell me where is there any real tolerance or understanding for real alternative systems or governments that do not support US military and economic interests.... Yet all this imperialism is done in the name of freedom and democracy -by a society that believes in truth but not in paradox -so how is this (logically) possible?

    These are fundamental theoretical and practical questions, with philosophical, cultural, socio-political and economic implications which can not be easily separated from each other.

    Read "The Ugly American" and please tell me where the book is no longer valid. Sure, it was written by Americans -and of course it merely expresses a "debatable opinion" -but how many people will die in various parts of the world as a result of conditions similar to those described in the book while these "opinions" continue to be debated (and often dismissed) in comfortable US homes?



    Basically, I believe that your concept of "objective reality' is (as you yourself suggest) a hypothetical system which is of no value and is doing great harm globally. In private messages, you have claimed to be a fan of Hofstadter's book "Goedel Escher Bach" -a book within which I have found no claims that support a belief in an "objective reality" and yet it also does not wallow in silly subjectivism either. In my view, it might be better (philosophically, pragmatically and politically) to concider the consequences of various value systems by examining them in terms of arbitrary axiomatic systems (initially) independent of external truth systems -rather than automatically excluding some axiomatic systems on the spurious grounds that they oppose your own belief system.

    Perhaps the consistency of other thought systems will become clearer when people understand fully the inconsistencies of their own. Maybe only then will people be able to fully respect and appreciate each others viewpoints. Until then, I suppose people will continue to die (on both sides) -simply because the language for an alternative debate without guns does not seem to exist. The belief in "objective reality" may be killing thousands of people around the world by depriving other people of the realities they need in order to live healthy and worthwhile lives.....

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  8. Fatima1:21 AM

    On Evil Nature, the deluded nature of human beings, and breaking through the dark ignorance of dualistic thinking.

    According to Chih-i (Great Teacher of T'ien T'ai (538-597 CE)), the experience of delusion, of believing that one's world of ideas is itself reality, is more common to human beings than awakening to nondual awareness.

    For this reason, Chih-i focuses on what he calls the karmically evil side of human experience. This evil is the result of repeated effects of seeing and acting in the world based on one's preconceived notions of reality; thus, it is karmic evil, based on the effects of one own activities, thinking and acting.

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  9. The second half of the sentence about not falling under THAT umbrella is highly ambiguous to me and requires further clarification. I certainly did not try to claim or suggest that "there are areas of discussion that don't legitimately fall" under the umbrella of legitimate argument if that is what you are trying to suggest. However, I do believe this is exactly your point of view -and it is a very crucial point:

    The reason that the exclusion of (presumably) illegitimate areas of discussion is so dangerous is because this usually happens unilaterally.


    No, Trevor, it appears that you haven't understood my point at all. Statements about the physical world fall under the purview of reality, because they can be checked and verified independently by multiple people. A statement like "This rod is one meter long" is either true or not true, independent of the observer, as long as the definition of "meter" is agreed upon.

    To a lesser extent, claims about people's mental states and feelings are also either true or not true. A claim such as "Joanie loves Chachi" or "George Bush believes that the Iraqi government possesses significant quantities weapons of mass destruction" is a description of Joanie's or George's opinions, and they can be verified, but in a much weaker way. Even if there are not (objectively) significant quantities of weapons in Iraq, it can still be a true statement that George Bush BELIEVES that there are.

    On the other hand, consider a marketing claim like "Amway makes the BEST toothpaste in the world!" There is no way to agree on that because there cannot be a universal definition of "Best". This is absolutely a matter of opinion. It is not simply an issue of whether the beliefs are dogmatically held or not; the words "good" and "best" by nature are about the way someone feels. They are not intrinsic properties.

    One might even claim that this discussion is itself an example: You believe that there is an "objective reality" and I am not convinced.

    Frankly, if you don't believe that anything is real (and assuming that you are not just blowing philosophical smoke up my ass in order to enjoy the argument) then I don't see very much point in continuing this discussion for much longer. If you think there is "your reality" and "my reality" then the best I can hope to do is change "your reality" a bit. And to be totally honest, I'm not really all that interested in doing that for you.

    Besides which, your position seems highly contradictory since you keep complaining about the number of dead civilians in Iraq. Don't get me wrong, I have repeated over and over again that I think it's a terrible thing that both American soldiers and Iraqi citizens are dying over there. But how do you know that anyone has actually died at all? Perhaps the dead people are merely a figment of the reality in your head, and if you could just alter your perception, you could discover that no one died at all. Then you could make yourself believe that flowers spring up in the footsteps of American soldiers as they walk through the streets, and an abundance of food would magically spring into the Iraqis' larders. Then you, like George Bush, could believe that the war is a good thing as well.

    What makes this discussion truly bizarre is your recent posting on John McCain. Although it is clear (but actually irrelevant) that McCain and Blitzer are (perhaps) physically in the same TV studio (as indeed you claim that you and I are in the same physical universe) -mentally McCain and Blitzer (and you and I) live in completely different universa.

    Then you didn't understand the point of that commentary. That McCain BELIEVES one thing about the relative safety of Iraq, and Michael Ware BELIEVES something totally different -- both of these are true statements. However, at least one of those people is wrong. It can be verified whether it's really safe for an unarmed, unguarded American to walk the streets of Baghdad, and Michael Ware's version is based on direct evidence. Thus, they do not in fact live in different universes. McCain may have imagined that he inhabits a subjective universe, like you do, but when he encountered the Baghdad of THIS universe, he had to attend with a heavily armed escort in order to avoid being killed. That, my friend, is reality.

    By insisting that one of the above people's worlds must be "true" and therefore by the rules of binary logic (which itself is an unproven and therefore dubious logic)

    I don't insist on that, and I'll thank you to stop using straw man arguments against me. At least one of their beliefs is false, and they may both be. I tend to think that Michael Ware probably knows what he is talking about, but his beliefs could also be incorrect in any number of ways.

    You accuse me of conflating "defending the US" with "supporting Bush's war" -but I think that if you read my text more closely you will see that you may have done this -but I did not do so. In fact, I tried to present opposing belief systems -because I am interested (both on a practical and on a philosophical level) in the way the different and perhaps conflicting "realities" co-exist (sometimes in the mind of a single person).

    What I was complaining about was that you erroneously attribute this conflation to ME. And furthermore, you continue to do so. In the private email you sent me, you wrote:

    "(By the way, do you have any idea what the Americans are doing here? (link) Do you have any idea of the politics of the country and the kind of government being supported? This is not anti-anybody -it is a question concerning what your governemnt is doing and how it might impact on how others might view Americans -depending on the context within which US soldiers are operating)"

    I don't know how many times you want me to explain this. YES. I DO. I AM AGAINST IT. Do you understand what I am saying now, or must I say it a few more times? You are so intent on maintaining your stereotypes about what Americans believe, that you seem incapable of actually listening to me tell you what "subjective reality" I inhabit. Do you understand now why I am tempted to just cast this discussion with you aside?

    Perhaps the really important controversy lies not so much in the way you "personalize" my more abstractly intended remarks (by "you guys" I refer to all the replies -not just yours)

    Excuse me. I'm not the one who is personalizing things. You continuously write highly personal remarks -- you call me obtuse, you call my education into question, you accuse me of misunderstanding things (i.e. non-Euclidean geometry) which I in fact understand quite well, you describe me as dogmatic, and -- despite recent claims to the contrary -- you continue to refuse to accept that not all Americans are Republican warmongers. If you would like me to stop taking things personally, then stop being personal.

    I am not personally insulted by your sincere belief that there is no reality. I find it curious and a bit goofy; I disagree with it; I even find that part of the discussion somewhat interesting; but that is all. I am, however, personally insulted by personal insults.

    As far as I can see, the really sad thing is that people around the world, both Americans and non-Americans are killing each other (and to some extent themselves) -partly because Americans have an obsessive belief in "objective reality" which enables them to justify actions which are directly in opposition to all the principles they claim to support.

    And I believe the opposite. I think that the reason American neoconservatives feel free to invade other countries is because they, exactly like you, believe that reality is subjective and can be circumvented in order to suit their moods.

    Have you ever read this article before? It provides, in my opinion, the single best insight into the way Bush's policies are chosen.

    "The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

    When we act, we create our own reality. To my ears, that sounds exactly like what you believe. You may think you live in a different world from them, but I think that in fact your opinions are just another facet of their mode of thinking. And THAT, to me, is why people are dying in Iraq.

    And furthermore, in my ever-so-humble opinion, I think that they are wrong about the way the world works. Not just living elsewhere, but actually wrong.


    Okay, look. I realize that the tone of this reply has been somewhat aggressive, so I do want to soften it a little before I wrap it up. Text communication is a clumsy and impersonal medium, and I have no doubt that some amount of frustration can be attributed to lack of quick, direct verbal feedback.

    I expect that if we sat down over a beer together (or a root beer, take your pick) we could have some great discussions. I mean, look how much we have in common: we both write computer programs (for different purposes); we both have generally the same political perspective regarding America's actions abroad; and clearly we both love to launch philosophical arguments at total strangers. Even many of our ideas about epistemology may not be nearly as different as you think.

    I just want to say that it would be nice if, the next time you are tempted to sling claims like "You believe X", you would take a minute and verify that I have really indicated such a belief. If my opinions are not clear to you, then try asking. It's so much easier.

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  10. Trevor Batten11:16 PM

    OK -if you love "provable facts" so well, then please tell me which philosopher has "proven" the existence of a an "objective universe" such as the one you BELIEVE in.

    To my knowledge there is NO such philosopher -and several that have logically undermined the possibility of such a thing ever existing in any practical form.



    You continually discuss the subject as if a pure and arbitrary subjectivism was the only alternative to the loss of an objective reality (which you have already seem to have admitted is hypothetical -because we cannot have perfect knowledge).. In my view, this is a false dialectic -even though I admit it is the postmodernist position.

    In practice, consumer product testing can verify if a product is the "best" toothpaste (or whatever) available (provided some criteria are provided so as to define exactly which parameters "best" refers to). George Bush's belief system may or not be "objectively" provable -but this does not prevent it from having characteristics that make it (fairly) consistant and predictable -even if his system of thought is not based on provable "fact".

    I would agree that (quote) This rod is one meter long" is either true or not true, independent of the observer, as long as the definition of "meter" is agreed upon.(unquote): However, the problems regarding the observer and observation are far too great to ignore so lightly as you appear to do -and, what is even more important is the fact that the whole thing hinges around "DEFINITIONS" (and the logic that is applied to these definitions). As you know, in practice: The meter is one specific meter, in Paris, made of a specific metal at a specific temperature, probably at a specific height and with a specific velocity. The problem of accurately relating this standard meter to any other measurement is quite complex -so all measuremnts should be taken as being the best available approximations.... Or in other words -logically, there is no way to "PROVE" that the meter is a meter -unless everybody agrees on a (fairly arbitrary) standard meter and all mesurements are directly derived from whichever measuring stick is chosen by common agreement.....

    In fact, the MATHEMATICS of the meter and the foot are different: A meter cannot be divided by 3 (for example) and give a rational number (because it is constructed on base 10) -whereas a foot can because base 12 is used and 4/12ths is one third of a foot and is perfectly rational). The fundamental topologies of the meter and the foot do not map into a single coherent MATHEMATICAL space...... In other words, the length of the same piece of material might possibly be divided accurately into 3 (or some other number) or it might not be accurately divided by that number -dependant on the measuring system used.... This is why a foot ruler has different scales on it..... and if mathematics and measurement are not consistant and "objective" then what is?

    So if, instead of fixating on the dogmatic BELIEF in a hypothetical "objective reality" you bothered to seriously investigate the consequences of this -as I believe happens in "Escher Goedel Bach" -then (as I keep trying to suggest -but you keep ignoring) you might see that a formal system of definitions/logic does provide some form of "objective reality" AS LONG AS PEOPLE AGREE ON THE DEFINITIONS..... However, this is the problem -because once people agree to the basic axioms (such as "God is truth" or "universal objective reality exists") then these cannot be tested because they are already the basis on which the system is built.

    However, different sets of definitions create different topologies.... as indeed was discovered when non-Euclidean geometry was invented.... However, these topologies do not map easily into each other -although each are infinitely reproducible -and therefore "objective" within your definition -PROVIDED EVERYBODY USES THE SAME DEFINITIONS. IF they do not use the same definitions -then they are creating different (conceptual) axiomatic worlds which do not correlate with each other.


    Each conceptual system is built on a set of DEFINITIONS (axioms) that are completely arbitrary -ie. any set of axioms will create any system -but not all such systems will be useful for every specific interpretation (read Goedel Esher Bach).....



    If I seem to insult you personally -it is because I am horrified at your fanaticism and lack of logical argument: You also seem to be completely unaware and unable to understand why I concider this so frightening -despite my attempts to explain this philosophically; You claim to understand Non-Euclidean geometry so well -and yet continue to ignore all reference to it in the discussion? You refer to my private communication to prove a point -when in fact the section of the message you quote specifically disclaims the interpretation that you insist on giving it.

    In short, you continually miss-interpret things and then get angry with your own interpretation which you project upon me without understanding what was actually intended. As a result of your misdirected anger, you continually fail to see how and why it is EXACTLY this way of behaviour that forces people to resort to force against such logic -simply because all avenues of legitimate disccussion are closed off prematurely, due to the unilateral impossibility of discussing things from another viewpoint than that specified by a participant who is fixated on the irrational BELIEF in an "objective reality" -which is their reality but perhaps not that of the person they are debating with.

    If you understand Euclidean and non-Euclidean geomentry so well -then I suspect that you will know that there are apparently three main systems -all characterised by the number of lines parallel to another and passing through a specified point: These systems are therefore inconsistant with each other -so which one is objectively true and why? Are they all false or are they all true? How do you resolve these inconsitencies within a single objective truth? Is it not easier to concider Euclidean and non-Euclidean worlds as being co-existant? Does the existance of such different geometries in co-existant universa suddenly mean that all "geometrical" rules have been abandoned? Perhaps it does give one the freedom to invent one's own geometry -but does this mean that such a geometry, once defined, is free to behave in arbitrary ways?



    The reason I believe that America is becoming so unpopular and dangerous around the world (both to itself and others) -is not because of the subjective nature of Bush's policy making: ALL countries are presumably allowed to defend their own interests as best they see fit, including America. In my view, the problem lies in the fact that Americans (of all shades) apparently have great difficulty in understanding that others think, believe and act differently to themselves (because their experience of the world is completely different) -and that these other systems of thought may be equally logical and rational as the American viewpoint. In other words, for all practical purposes, it seems that different people live in different (cultural) worlds with different conceptual topologies: Such that the differences between their belief systems cannot be reduced to a simple "true/false" dialectic -but are characteristics of the differences in the underlying topologies of the respective conceptual space.

    If that sounds gobbledygook to you -or is unacceptable because it undermines your fundamentalist dogma -then I am sorry -but it is the point that I have been trying to make all along.

    According to your own belief system: Truth is independant of your belief.... and yet you seem unable to understand anything that you do not believe. I concider that to be hightly irrational and illogical..... and a serious indictment of your culture and education system because such attitudes are not merely a personal deviation on your part -but part of the (increasingly) common (collective) behaviour of many of your (and indeed my) compatriots (whatever their political or religious beliefs actually are).


    Indeed, it is probably so that there are many paradoxes in the world, that attitudes and beliefs that appear to be opposed can spring from similar, if not identical, belief systems..... Which is exactly why one needs to look at the "internal" structure of the logic -before dismissing it because it does not correlate with what one believes to be an external reality. Of course I do not agree with neo-con policies -but they are frighteningly honest: They do create realities (the Israelis call it "facts on the ground") -so one has to understand how these realities are created and manipulated if one is to deal with them effectively. One of the problems in the last Presidential election was that Democrats had no real grounds to oppose the war that they themselves had also supported earlier. So the question is not "for or against the war" -but more concerned with why, in a supposedly democratic and civilised country did so many fall for the propaganda in the first place (in Britain as well as America) and why is the war so difficult to stop if so many are against it? .... and I don't see how such questions involving multiple realities can be dealt with effectively within a traditional belief system. Today, the war maybe unpopular -but I do not see that as a sign that the underlying conditions that allowed it to happen have fundamentally changed.


    It is sad when pigheadedness forces people into unneccessary conflict when there are so many other more interesting and worthwhile things to do...... In my experience secular, cultural and/or political fundamentalism is just as bad as religious fundamentalism. It is especially frightening when "educated" people, who collectively use the majority of the world's recources and have the most powerful army on the planet exhibit such irrational behaviour. If that is insulting, then I'm sorry. If you cannot understand my cause for concern -then that is truly terrifying and there is little hope left for the survival of humanity on this planet.

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  11. It is sad when pigheadedness forces people into unneccessary conflict

    I couldn't agree more. It's been so delightful getting to know the universe you live in. Feel free to go back to it now.

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    1. the exchange between kazim and trevor was insightful and useful to me - and no doubt many others - from both ends, and i find it tragic that the avenue to further exchange in this forum between the two of you is so suddenly deemed unfruitful. the passion you both have for the subject matter is itself enlightening; though the conceptual positions explicated are enlightening, the real education comes from the manner in which the discussion ends.

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  12. Perception is reality because existence depends on perception.

    Objective reality is a result of language, such as math to allow the self aware minds of the universe to form a matrix of existence we call "reality".

    Each individual is in their own subjective reality, and can only escape through language. The cosmic consciousness of the universe is the universe. Everything else is white noise, junk information, and doesn't really exist anymore than the void of space exists.

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  13. God, or at least my concept of it, is the universe itself. God is the universe. The universe is entirely subjective, it's existence depends entirely on perception. Only when the universe perceives itself, does it exist. The universe is made up of mind/thought, because existence is merely self awareness.

    The universe is aware of itself through living objects such as ourselves, but this awareness may exist at far more fundamental levels as we do not know the limits of perceptions and the level of awareness. Do atoms and electrons have awareness of self on a fundamental level?

    I'm willing to go on record and say that quantum particles have some level of awareness. I don't consider quatum particles to be alive, I just believe that consciousness and self awareness comes from quantum mechanical sources that we do not fully understand. When we speak of quantum consciousness we open up the door to the fact that material reality may not actually exist.

    There are theories such as string theory and unified field theory which claim that consciousness could exist on the level of the unified field which is a more fundamental level of existence than the "physical" universe as we know it. Mass itself may come from the higgs particle and if this is the case then mass is more objectively real than a thought, and I admit it's a shared and very popular thought, even a necessary thought, but we'd be able to prove using science and math that mass itself comes from a quantum source.

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  14. "Reality is a self-induced hallucination." oh21

    "Effective reason is not possible for dogma affected/addicted." oh21

    Public reality is massive hope/fear based.
    Objective reality is constancy based.
    Subjective reality is coincident based.
    Dogma reality is pejorative based.
    God reality is not human (or Higgs) based.

    Live with honor, protect others, help self, and know the destiny of one is the destiny of all. IOW: Heaven/Paradise or Hell/Extinction is species assured, external impact is proportional to a species ability to survive and thrive in all ever-changing environments.

    !HAVEFUN!

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  15. YOU JUST F---ing BLEW MY MIND!!!!!!!!!!!

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  16. Anonymous8:43 PM

    Objective Reality is the Law of Cause & Effect.

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  17. Have just been reading the Kazim/Trevor Batten discussion:

    It seems that I would fall into the Kazim camp... Namely a believer in an Objective Reality, a reality that actually exists irrespective of the views of anyone, or indeed everyone.

    It is a little odd that Trevor, and presumably others, would discount the Objective Reality of the Physical World and Platonic World, but not revert wholly to 'I think therefore I am'. This is perhaps the only world view completely free arbitrary axioms (if it is formulated correctly as 'thought/consciousness is happening now').

    Any deviation from this minimalist reality requires baseless assumptions, the first of which should probably be 'time exists' and 'my memory exists, and is an accurate record of my thoughts' as this might allow for a thought 'process'.

    However, sound and absolutely true 'I think therefore I am' is, it is quite frankly useless without the added assumptions.

    A belief in an Objective Reality certainly does require assumptions over Nietzsche's famous phrase, but these small number of assumptions are able to provide a very robust system to understand the world. Importantly the Objectivity of this World means that observations retain some meaning over time.

    Observations of a subjective world might be made, allowing one to form a viewpoint, but this viewpoint may become obsolete and ridiculous even before it is completely formulated.

    That being said, obviously a study of the Objective Reality of the World will not be able to say very much about the subjective worlds in peoples heads. However, a study of such worlds is irrelevant. I mean this in the sense that they are entirely changeable, and knowledge of them now gives no surety of understanding them at any later point.

    I recognise the argument that subjective, individual, realities can in some way be said to exist... but they are not unique solutions and their nature is entirely dependant on the observer. In contrast, the Physical World and Platonic World are two unique solutions that my be 'discovered' by independent observers. These observes will eventually come up with exactly the same view of these worlds.

    Trevor makes a big deal over the duality of Euclidian verses curved geometries as being incompatible with each other and therefore constitute two distinct and different worlds of geometry where Kazim 'says there should only be one'. The failure here is on Trevor's part. Both (indeed *all*) geometries exist within the Objective (discoverable, rather than make-up-able) Platonic world.

    I think that is probably enough to be getting on with for now...

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  18. As an additional point I should clarify my use of the two Objective Worlds mentioned - the Physical World and Platonic World.

    These were mentioned separately simply for convenience of language.
    In my system of Objective Reality these are just two aspects of The Objective Reality. They are mentioned separately as they are to be *discovered* by different human faculties.(*discovered* rather than simply invented any way one might wish)

    As a pair they in fact represent an indication of the actual existence of The Objective Reality.

    In particular there is a quite astounding correlation between the two (why should a world accessible to our physical forms bear any relation to another world accessible only to our minds?).

    To provide an example: There are mathematical equations (occupants of the Platonic World) that are derived from the properties of circles and triangles (Objectively Real Platonic objects). These very same equations may be used to describe the way violin strings vibrate, the movement of waves on the oceans, electrons in orbit around atomic nuclei and how light propagates around objects (all Objectively Real Physical objects, and only a small selection of the possible examples). The equations also provide *uniquely* useful insight into the properties of these Physically Real phenomena. (a poetical description of light while capturing some of the aspects of light, indeed aspects physical models may miss, it is very unlikely to give the insight required to predict and build working lasers. Importantly there is no uniquely useful poetical description of light, whereas there is indeed such a unique physical description).

    The fact that all the physical phenomena, mentioned above, are very closely related is perhaps a little odd. But for them to be extremely well described by simple, humanly understandable, mathematical equations is quite frankly amazing. This correlation between the Physical and Platonic Worlds could just be some fantastic coincidence, but I would say that requires a special degree of blindness.

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    1. "This correlation between the Physical and Platonic Worlds could just be some fantastic coincidence, but I would say that requires a special degree of blindness."

      It's not a coincidence if what is called "objective reality" and mathematical equations or other "occupants of the platonic world" are the same thing - human creations.

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