terça-feira, janeiro 27, 2009

What is reality?


What is reality?

In the entry, “Was ist Realität?” (“What is reality?”) in Zeit Wissen — which I referred to in my last post — Ulrich Schnabel begins with a sentence consisting of scrambled words, which, when unscrambled (something one does intuitively, automatically), makes sense, even if in their scrambled state they do (or should) not. For instance: Hewn oyu rdea sthi, ti owuld kema esnes. (When you read this, it would make sense.) Schnabel points out that such reading experiments demonstrate, according to linguist Graham Rawlinson, that humans “understand” written texts even when they have been deliberately subjected to obfuscation. This, in turn, demonstrates that our understanding is, to a very large degree, dependent on, or conditioned by, our “pre-understanding” — to a large extent, we see what we believe on the basis of previous “knowledge”. (I put a number of words in scare quotes here because of the fact that, as concepts, they do not denote anything that is unanimously agreed upon.)
This raises the question, of course, whether humans could ever expect to “know” the world, or “reality”, as it “really” is. Many thinkers, including Descartes, have pointed out that, at least at a sensory level, our “pragmatic” knowledge of the world — what we understand it to be in relation to what we need to survive (what is life-promoting and what is harmful) — should not be confused with what the world “really” (or “essentially”) is. This consideration, incidentally, does not imply that what we know of the world around us is merely “subjective” either. Where there is a subject, there is an object — the terms are correlative.
But what about science? Does that not render an “objective view” of reality? Some people may be disconcerted to learn that what 20th-century theoretical physics teaches us is largely a corroboration of what the 18th-century Enlightenment-philosopher, Immanuel Kant, argued, namely that subjectivity is a precondition for objectivity. In other words, humans as perceiving, thinking subjects, “structure” (note: not create) what is given in space and time intelligibly by means of formal “categories” of reason. The result of such structuring is what we know as “reality” — strictly speaking, “human reality”– and the upshot of this is that, what “reality” is outside of the structuring function of human faculties, we could never know. (As the Afrikaans poet, Opperman, remarked: “We cannot see through the eye of a horse”.) This “outside” was referred to by Kant as the “Ding an sich”, or “Thing-in-itself”, and it must, for Kant, remain of necessity a mere object of thought, as opposed to an object of perception (perceptual knowledge). We can think it, but we cannot know it.
If this sounds like idealist rubbish, don’t be too quick in rejecting it. In fact, Kant’s epistemology is called “transcendental idealism”, which merely means that there are certain “a priori” (experience-independent) forms of reason that function as “conditions of the possibility” of something else — in this case the world of the senses. To put it rather cryptically, for Kant, “transcendental idealism” is the flipside of “empirical realism” — the former explains how our experience of the world as something “real” is possible.
So how does 20th-century science, broadly, confirm Kant’s epistemology (theory of knowledge)? In both quantum mechanics and relativity physics one finds the insight, experimentally confirmed, that humans alter the way that “reality” appears to them by the very fact that they enter into a perceptual relationship with it. In relativity physics, for example, Einstein claimed that every attempt to measure time is dependent on the movement of the observer and in quantum mechanics (even more clearly a corroboration of Kant’s view, albeit in different terms), Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle (that the speed and position of an electron around the nucleus of an atom cannot be measured simultaneously) has the implication that, by entering into a relation with “reality”, one changes it. Or, more radically stated: what we call “reality” is nothing independent from (or of) us as perceivers, but is a function of the (perceptual, epistemic) interaction between human observers and “something” (Kant’s Ding an sich, and in a certain sense — because there are differences between them — what Jacques Lacan calls the “real”, which is not synonymous with “reality”).
Another confirmation that everyday experiential “reality” (the so-called “life-world”), which we intuitively, for pragmatic reasons, assume to be “the same” for everyone, may not “really” be what it seems — although everyday knowledge of it is quite adequate for keeping appointments with one another in identifiable places, and so on — also comes from theoretical physics. Imagine taking seriously the scientific claim that atoms, which make up the “physical” world, consist mainly (99%) of empty space and that what we call “matter” is only a function of the energy fields generated by invisible nuclear and sub-nuclear events, movements, and so on. For one thing, one would not sit down on a chair without some trepidation.
In other words, “reality” — or, to put it in technical philosophical language, the ontological underpinnings of observable, “everyday reality” — is nothing observable. No one has ever seen an electron “itself” (and it seems to me that it is in principle and, not only empirically, impossible to be seen) — it is a theoretical construct posited on the basis of certain experimentally observed “events”, dependent on the functioning of various kinds of highly sophisticated apparatus.
And then, at this point, the question of questions crops up — already considered by Heraclitus, Parmenides, Plato and Aristotle in Ancient Greece — if perception or observation is so unreliable concerning the “true” nature of “reality”, is it at all “physical”, as most people seem to assume in everyday experience? Isn’t it rather, as Plato thought, of the order of ideas (the Platonic Forms), with material things only borrowing whatever reality they have from such ideas? Or is it, in a certain, restricted sense, material by nature, but existing in conjunction with ideas or forms, as Aristotle taught? Or is “reality” so multifarious, ontologically speaking, that one, or even two, “basic” categories cannot do justice to its pluralistic “nature” (as Nicolai Hartmann believed)? Whatever the answers to these questions may be, in anyone’s mind, one should not fool oneself by believing that a conclusive answer will ‘”ever” be available to humankind. I hope these brief thoughts will disabuse readers of the belief that simple, unambiguous answers can be given to the question: What is reality?
FONTE: Thought Leader - Johannesburg,South Africa
apud: theyareamongus.blogspot.com

Um comentário:

  1. Maybe we should consider that our true selves are a mass of subatomic energy or light particles and we are currently only manifested in the physical form as Human Beings at this moment in time.

    It appears that all forms of life and objects are mainly space as mentioned.

    Living mammals have an external subatomic energy field that surrounds and penetrates their physical bodies.

    This field contains memories and life programs and learned programs; however most people are unaware of their true selves and identify with their temporary physical form.

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    Ian Stone – Metaphysician & Founder of HEART Energy Healing System,
    Human Energy Assessment Release Treatments
    Metaphysical Institute
    Metaphysical Institute Blog

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