Friday, 05 December 2008

It's all in the mind - Where is the real world?

To some, reality only exists in our mind's eye. Reality only exists in our consciousness. For millennia people have tried to understand the nature of reality. Newtonian physics describes a world where the laws of nature govern a rather straightforward and real world. Does an objective reality exist, or is reality something that is created through our perceptions of the world around us?

Schrdinger's cat is a classic and rather misleading illustration that reality does not exist until observed. A cat is placed into a sealed box. Inside the box is a vial of deadly gas that will be released if a random quantum event occurs. The quantum event is the decay of an isotope. Until the box is opened there is no way of knowing if the cat is dead or alive. The cat is therefore in an indeterminate quantum state. It is simultaneously dead and alive. When the box is opened the cat is either alive or dead.

The argument that there is no reality without consciousness has been attributed to quantum physics.

Schrdinger used this example as a critique of the theory of quantum states. In reality the cat dies when the random event occurs even if we are not aware of the event. To the cat, the random event is very real.

Substitute the cat for a person. Is the person simultaneously alive and dead?

Quantum physics has produced a rather new and bizarre view of the world. The world works in ways that are far more complex than ever imagined. Ayn Rand put it quite succinctly when he distinguished between the "primacy of consciousness" against the "primacy of things".

Many attribute the "it's all in the mind" philosophy to quantum physics. But some prominent scientists dispute this interpretation. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is perhaps the source of this misconception. The principle states that "quantum phenomena have no definite values until they are observed". Simply interpreted, every quantum object has an indefinite value until it is observed and measured. Therefore reality is an illusion. Or is it?

The question is one of interpretation. The use of the word 'observe' is more than a little misleading. It is intended to refer to the interactions of one quantum phenomena to another. In other words, an object has an indefinite value until it interacts with another object. Whether we observe it or not is hardly relevant.

So even in quantum physics there is space for an objective reality that exists independently of us. Whether we observe a stream gushing forth from the earth it will continue on its course.

Our perceptions of the world may conflict with the underlying reality. People bring their own learning and understanding to every event and to every place. Contrary to popular opinion, quantum physics has illustrated that objective reality is dramatically different from the perceived reality that we experience from day to day. Our consciousness perceives and interprets reality. Our conscious perception of reality can vary from time to time according to our mental state. The reality of quantum physics is not the reality of our perceptions.

Perceptions change over time. Perceptions change according to our age. When we are happy reality seems very different to when we are sad or distressed. Drugs such as LSD can alter our perception of the world. LSD affects the perception of time and space in quite a profound way. Reality has not changed, merely its perception. Perceptions may alter our personal reality, but outside of our perceptions is an objective reality.


Chandira said...

But, if there is only consciousness, then, there is only perception.
Enlightenment has been described as 'perfect subjectivity'.

How do YOU know that water is still flowing in the stream, if you aren't there to observe? By what somebody tells you perhaps? Your perception is of that somebody telling you, so therefore, the stream does or does not exist, same as if you saw it yourself.

My experiences lead me to believe that there is only Consciousness, (greater than the individual ego 'consciousness' we assume is 'us'), underlying all of this, so to me, there is a strong possibility that the cat is simultaneously dead and alive at the same time.

Unless you smell the box, of course, dead cats are a bit stinky. ;-)

Barry M said...

Thnks for the insight.

Consciousness is very central to our destiny, what we do with our lives and our perception of events.

But it doesn't mean that there is no underlying reality.

You are away from home and your house gets burgled. In your mind's eye, everything at home is fine until you arrive home ...
But the burgler has the benefit of all your goods as soon as he has taken them.