Here is a ramble about ‘reality’, from a woman who, in writing fiction, tries to create a sense of it in her mind – and transmit it by symbols to the minds of other humans. No atoms and molecules harmed in the process. Of course, writers are not special – any conscious mind surely has a sense of narrative – even one so alien to us we couldn’t join the dots. We make our own fiction as we go, defining the ‘real’ to help us operate in the probabilistic soup around us. Our concept of reality is based on how we perceive it with our bodies, and how we process received information according to our personal book of rules. Objectivity is impossible, an ideal only achievable as an idea, and an absolute set of coordinates. If we could strip things down to a mathematical description of atoms and molecules in space-time, and if our minds could handle that data (an unreasonable proposition for even the brainiest human) it becomes devoid of human meaning unless we contextualise it with our inbuilt narrative generator. Every human is fitted with one. We imbue our worlds with layers of meaning, from our most basic physiological reactions to complex metaphors. All is steeped in a rich heritage of our human cultural frameworks. We focus on what is relevant to us.
How do we select what matters? Objectivity demands no selection. In our communications, we rely upon a mutuality. This does not give us objectivity or reality, but a resonance of shared experience. We all know that jokes don’t always travel. We rely on cultural and educational locality. Even in courts of law, there are enshrined ideals. There is no objective human observer – we are born hardwired for humanness and interpret the world in a diverse set of ways according to our personal circumstances.
I have tried to imagine the ideals of things physical, aesthetical, phenomenal, and moral, and end up thinking of an infinite zoo of possiblilities. For practical purposes, one must consider the state of affairs in all classifiable departments as arbitrary. Even the classifications are arbitrary. Any attempt to define – say – an ideal of a thing in a Platonic sense is a case of eternally moving goalposts, and are they even goalposts? Logic is fugitve with such arguments – what my daughter calls ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ reasoning. Consider a trivial example of the ideal of a known object – let’s say – a chair. I know that chairs come in many forms, and can imagine ideal chairs to represent all possible chairs – it’s a very big warehouse. But we quickly run into context issues. We are talking human chairs, I am thinking – not chairs for other foldable species or foldable aliens who like to take the weight off their appendages. But we run into problems even with other humans. Not all humans find chairs useful. Some people prefer to squat, or sit on the ground. Perhaps these people could not see its use as a chair having any value, and may potentially regard a run-of-the-mill chair from an alternative perspective – a platform for reaching high-up things, or a storage facility, a rack for clothes (already do that!) or indeed, a useless waste of space and resources. How does one therefore define, objectively, with reality, an essence of being there – dasein – of chair, even as a concept that has meaning beyond a limited context if it is not transferable even from one human to another?
This excursion was provoked by a kitchen sink thought – the future does not wait, nor does the past linger. A sense of time is an attempt at parameterising our existence as living beings. How time is regarded is heavily enculturated by societies according to what is useful. In the West – aided and abetted by science – we have a linear concept of time. We measure it with clocks, based on physical changes. It is a thermodynamic time, and forever forces us forward. Time and tide does not indeed wait for any man, but the washing up is a another story!