The Next New World: an Introduction to Contextual Division— Parts One and Two
Published in philoso.philica.com
The Next New World
An Introduction to Contextual Division
Parts One and Two
C o n t e n t s
PART ONE INTRODUCTION
PART TWO THE TOOLS
The Concept of Truth
The Use of Metaphor
The Construction of Narrative
PART THREE THE PAST
Science and Religion
PART FOUR THE FUTURE
Introduction to Contextual Division
The Biospecific Context
The Extracontextual Realm
The Next New World
P r e f a c e
The world is new again and very different from what we thought. For a century now we have understood that matter and time are fundamentally inconsistent with the immutable, regulable qualities we expect in our conception of material reality. These inconsistencies add to the divisive wedge between necessary ideas and matters of fact that Hume and Kant began propounding in the 18th century. The recent development of a cognitive neuroscience, utilizing advanced brain imaging and case studies of brain damage, calls into question the assumption of a ‘self' along with the concept of free will and reveals a stunning dissonance between perception and truth that becomes harder and harder for a thinking person to ignore. Extension, solidity, temporal ordering, cause and effect, color, sound, texture, smell; the basics of our experience, can no longer be passed off as inherent qualities of an external world. Rather, the bulk of our experience depends on purely subjective cognitive processes occurring in the eye, ear, skin, nose and brain, all functioning at the behest of imperatives built into the context of our organic format. The experience of existence we take for granted as involving a fully separate external physical reality is instead entirely interpretive, fabricated, built of layers of highly creative and useful self-deception. What does it mean that our assumption of a freestanding independent world is so resoundingly exploded? What now does ‘reality' actually and practically refer to?
Throughout history we have been obliged to reformulate fundamental beliefs whenever our curiosity exposes flaws that undermine our conception of reality. This is never an easy process, particularly now. The institutional and emotional investment in the certitude and fixity of material reality is gargantuan. The energy required to reach a critical mass for so dramatic a shift in thinking is too great to consider. And such energy must necessarily arise from the dissatisfaction of individuals who are powerless against monolithic institutional self-protection. Governments, businesses, educational and religious institutions are equally and blindly bound to the political and economic principals that a belief in a solid Copernican world model elicits.
Fortunately for those who seek change, dissatisfaction is on the rise. Economies based on a materialist conception are blatantly configured to ignore the well-being of all but the wealthiest and are inherently damaging to the broader ecological health of the planet. Humanity's subjective, personal/experiential requirements of existence are increasingly at odds with a forced and stressful reality of objects and obligations. We find ourselves challenged to form and feel a meaningful connection to a world that is categorically incapable of validating the sanctity and sovereignty of meanings and connections. Our institutions and governments have been decisively warped to service the demands of an energetic marketplace which continually reproduces itself, creates ever newer needs, and constantly refocuses our attention on a material worldview by defining us in relation to new products.
A sour-grapes reversion to a personal, dogmatic and divisive religious interpretation of reality provides neither emotional nor intellectual satisfaction. Instead it blinds us to the significance of the present moment by calling forth compliance to the values, conditions and circumstances of a bygone era. The recognition of being trapped between illogical, oft-times cruel religious prescriptions and an impossible, value denuded material culture is beginning to breed a discontent that can ultimately fuel significant change through public uprising.
Another way to change the world is remarkable for its simplicity and non-combativeness. It can be achieved in the quiet comfort of an armchair. We can, by introspection and reevaluation, significantly alter our understanding of the world, forever changing the nature of our experience. In a religious age such shifts in thinking were considered miraculous transformations. The Western religious tradition is deeply invested in the concept of transformative miracles, but in the 21st century, ‘miracle' fails to resonate as a sufficient explanation for a change in the nature of reality. We are fortunate that in the present instance science (albeit entirely inadvertently) actually supports a transformative experience so that the logic and rationality with which humanity has progressed in recent centuries is not wasted here but fully utilized.
Yet, while science itself has undermined the validity and universality of a solid Copernican world model and broken new ground in territories defined by non-linear, non-causal, non-material qualities, it can offer us no way forward in terms of a meaningful world-view with which to order our lives and institutions. This is so, not only because the logic and rationale of science prohibit meaningful interpretations but also because the entire endeavor is ultimately bound and committed to the materialist conception at the root of its origin; and that it has so thoroughly and successfully embedded into Western culture. Science's criteria for proof are explicitly and permanently founded on quantifiable material properties which categorically eliminate the validity of non-material, non-causal, non linear explanations. More damaging than a narrow circumscription on proofs, funding in the sciences will continue to be tied directly to interests that disallow the undermining of a profitable materialist paradigm. Profits, defined materially, propel and self-justify a material paradigm. The circle appears closed.
The dissatisfied or unimpressed seeker of truth is obliged to risk ridicule, to step outside the circle and begin new formulations on one's own that will not be validated by the traditional proofs and institutions. Contextual division is an idea formed outside that circle. It is "off the map," according to Anthony Freeman. Its dubious location invites easy ridicule. Yet, for the flexible mind, contextual division is a formulation which supports a significant change in the way we see our world and allows us to create new and useful logical structures capable of accommodating and validating all phenomena, not just a narrow material version of experience.
Though I have made every effort to keep this essay brief and relatively jargon-free, this will be by no means an easy, predigested, passive read. You will need to bring yourself to this material in a new way, to step willingly inside the circle of its logic ——it will not come to you where you are. And even with a willingness to give yourself, I guarantee your mind will fling itself in other, safer, more comforting and familiar directions. The subject matter requires the development of an entirely new cognitive muscle, one capable of controlling the mind's own built-in proclivities toward common self-deluding/self-preserving/self-comforting assumptions.
Your ability to remain clear and focused on this subject matter will be forged in small doses. It will be tough going but I promise that this particular new muscle will be the key to fresh conceptions and novel experiences and will provide you access to an infinite realm of alternative possibilities. This is an entirely original and unfamiliar way of making sense of the world and will change your experience and your appreciation of the strange veil we've devised out of spinning energy and conscious directives. You will see, as you grasp the implications of contextual division, the inevitability of the transformation it represents. The re-conception that contextual division affords us is the logical next step for mankind and can only have come about after the very distinct cognitive evolutions of religious abstraction and scientific reduction.
Admittedly, this introduction to contextual division provides only a glimpse of the next new world. Like the Americas of the 15th century, this new realm awaits the aspirations and exuberance of humanity to flesh it out. The American melting pot transformed humanity's experience and expectations in significant ways. On the new continent, concepts and ideals previously untested were given room to manifest into previously unimagined modes of governing, working, communicating, traveling, amusing ourselves, etc. The individual and communal experience of living changed dramatically. The next new world revealed through contextual division represents the opportunity for transformations far more significant and widespread. To the author, the uncharted aspect of this realm is its most exciting feature. To some readers, the fact that it is not a prepackaged, ready-to-use world will be a disappointment. My apologies. The goal here is to show that such a realm not only can exist but does exist, sits there waiting, is available to all. I do not propose to flesh out all it will become, though that opportunity is truly unparalleled. Whatever small inroads adventurers dare make now will be the conceptual superhighways shaping the future of mankind's experience.
These are tall promises considering these pages may not posses the clarity to deliver you to the most obscured locale imaginable. At any rate, the intent of this essay is to assist in a fundamental reevaluation of your worldview. I salute you. Facing down reality in a new way requires an uncommon bravery and daredevilry historically rewarded with burning at the stake, hot pokers through the eyes, being stretched and dismembered on the rack. This adventure has all the danger, excitement and uncertainty akin to traversing the Atlantic for the first time, sans map, sans compass, without even the benefit of a very clear or rational expectation. All faith here must be invested in your own stern resilience rather than in the comfort of a god concept or the seeming certainty of the physical world. Bon voyage, brave soul.
A c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s
Fond thanks go out to David Fel, Uziel Awret, Knud Thompsen, Carla Newberg, Helmut Reich, Axel Randrup, Thomas Metzinger, Diane Powell, Susan Blackmore, Anthony Freeman, Catherine Creath, Karen Soich, Michael Wiggins, and Marjorie Nordlinger for conversations, comments and criticisms vital to the development of this material.
P a r t O n e
The center does not hold. Even the most superficial critique of our conception of reality reveals a host of anomalies, shortcomings, inadequacies and conundrums. No accounting can be given for the odd behavior of sub-particles in the quantum realm, the ironic incalculable abundance of dark matter in the cosmological realm, the miraculous emergence of life and consciousness in the biological realm, or the manifold inconsistencies in the realm of human interaction (where even the commonest experiences of non-causal intercommunication must be denied as coincidental, unscientific claptrap). It is delightful to see that the very scientific endeavor which delivered us to the certainty of a directly observable physical world has, through a blind and dogged persistence, completely undermined the validity of its own conception. Time is not a line (Einstein, 1920); matter is not solid and immutable (Bohr, 1922); the concept of free will is a useful fiction (Libet, 1985) and the notion of a central experiencing ‘self' is a cognitive fabrication (Dennet, 1989; Metzinger, 2003) which, embarrassingly, relies entirely on the three previous misconceptions.
Where now is the certainty and solidity of the world so promised us in science's bid to replace religion as the more valid descriptor of our reality? Again we resort to blind faith. We actively choose to believe in a purely materialist conception (despite all contrary evidence) in order to maintain the certainty, constancy and comfort humanity requires for itself. We are obliged, beholden to and invested in the materialist conception in ways we cannot directly decipher. It may not be ‘true', this conception of ours, but it's ‘true enough' and at any rate the kinds of exchanges required in a material conception allow us little time to ponder the significance of that difference. To stop and think, in the midst of a commercial culture, is an act of unfathomable, unforgivable rebellion. It manifests as the failure of the individual in both financial and psychological terms. To do nothing is to be nothing. To stop is to die. The economic viability of the individual becomes the over-urgent and all-demanding imperative of life. If the inherent falsity of our materialist conception of reality isn't sufficient reason to question it, this overwhelming degradation of the experience of conscious existence surely must nag us toward reformation.
The kind of raw exploitation which manifests in a materialist conception is cause for a thorny additional concern - the death of the planet. If we conceive of the world as a lifeless material resource, to be hoarded and stockpiled; inevitably, that is what we reduce it to.
While institutions and governments are obliged by habit to make all changes slowly, painfully and begrudgingly, individuals have the private freedom to pounce on problems of perception and make significant internal changes in a heartbeat. Leadership in this instance is at the level of the individual who is sovereign in determining the values and meanings which define his or her own vision and experience of reality. We are indeed the makers of our own world which begins with private ideas and personal beliefs. We either comply with what is given or question these and develop our own. The opportunity is to question, reevaluate, reformulate and then to institute the necessary changes at whatever level of manifestation we aspire to attain. This is the loudest lesson of human history and the most significant opportunity in anyone's lifetime. Individuals are the makers of meaning, and from there, with the rise of critical mass flows the inevitable transformation of institutions and governments based on those formulations. With the awareness of this opportunity comes the awesome obligation it signifies. No one can do it for us. A reevaluation can be discussed publicly or shared in communications like this, but the commitment to a final valuation and the power of that belief are uniquely personal endeavors.
In a broader sense, the opportunities inherent in a critical reevaluation are infinite. If we agree that we are the makers of meaning then the meanings available to us are indeed without limit. We are bound only by our imagination. Yet, if our imaginations are bound by the metaphors and imperatives of a materialist conception we will not get very far. This is where it gets tricky. Our entire culture (including languages, narrative structure, metaphorical references, etc.) is in essential ways a manifestation of the outdated beliefs we are endeavoring to alter. We are surrounded by hidden assumptions and indirect sources of enforced meanings which can hamper and obstruct the attainment of a truly objective perspective. An entirely new logical structure is needed to accommodate the very thinking required for significant change. Contextual division is introduced in this essay as the structural means for re-evaluating our condition at this level.
An understanding of contextual division is greatly enhanced by a closer look at how the beliefs of a materialist conception have been instituted. Part Two is an exploration of the tools we use in the formulation of our current belief systems: the concept of truth, the use of metaphor and the construction of narrative. Understanding these tools in a new way allows us to circumnavigate the pitfalls of hidden meaning that these cognitive processes engender. You will undoubtedly be confronted with some of your own deep-seated assumptions. To attain a perspective of objectivity you will need to step into an uncomfortable realm of meaninglessness to observe from this critical distance the construction, uses, and maintenance of meaning in our everyday life.
This is not an easy step for anyone to make. Western culture imbues meaninglessness with a particularly negative, even loathsome interpretation. Many will recoil in terror or glide mindlessly over this prescription in complete denial of the existence of a meaningless realm. Few of us are able to squarely face the fungible nature of our deepest sustaining beliefs. Others uniquely disposed to or familiar with the concept of meaninglessness (as the result of meditative practices or recurrent depressive episodes) will persist and make use of meaninglessness as an invaluable cognitive tool; a neutral space for adjudging all concepts. To see this next new world we have to see ourselves in a new way. Observing the ways and reasons we make meaning is the key to unlocking a broader and more objective truth about our world. Paying attention to how we employ truth, use metaphor and form narratives allows us to alter and reemploy these tools in constructing entirely new conceptions of greater strength, beauty, validity and objectivity. Understanding ourselves as co-creators of meaning gives us the power to begin reshaping the parameters of our experience and allows us to attend more directly to the imperatives of the present moment.
Part Three explores some of the most recent historical uses of the construction of meaning in order to view the truth/metaphor/narrative mechanism in action and to adjudge the natural inevitability of a new paradigmatic formulation. Western culture currently relies on a dualist system (a material/spiritual dichotomy represented by science and religion) to satisfy our needs for certainty and emotional security, despite the fact that the logic of these two distinct systems of thought entirely invalidate one-another. Combined, science and religion form the standard and accepted basis we currently employ for understanding the truth of our condition. A piling up of quantum, cosmological and cognitive/neurological anomalies in the 20th and 21st centuries induces us to question the continued usefulness of this formulation for adjudging and contextualizing an absolute truth about our condition. A brief critique of these belief systems reveals the pitfalls and shortcomings of their use.
Part Four presents a new formulation called contextual division and a few of its uses and possibilities are displayed. Unfortunately this new formulation will make little sense to those who skip ahead of Part Two and Part Three and undoubtedly there will be a strong critical response from those who attempt such an impossible leap. It is important to develop a sufficient critical distance from all constructions of meaning before attempting to apply contextual division. For contextual division to function smoothly even the idea of an absolute truth must be abandoned alongside every other cultural/biological imperative. The universe has little interest in humanity's distorted hopes about it. The opportunity contextual division affords us is to see the universe on its own terms for the first time and to re-conceive our condition within this vast new realm of understanding.
Among the re-conceptions of our condition that contextual division affords us is a reformation of our ideas about consciousness. The role of observation is considered part and parcel of phenomenal description in physics. A useful explanation of reality will have now to make sense of what an act of observation actually is. This sorting out of conscious phenomena and cognitive processes is well on its way, aided by the development of a disciplined cognitive neuroscience, by new developments in real-time brain imaging, and by a growing multi-field interest in the conundrums consciousness presents to our traditional scientific narratives. To speak of a purely objective physical world in three dimensions, subject to linear time observed by an impartial observer, is by now a quaint 19th century throwback. The observer and the observed are inseparable co-creators of phenomenal experience. It behooves us now to give consciousness it's due among the fundamentals of reality and to understand its secrets in the way we have come to understand those of the supposed physical world.
This prescription regarding the necessity of accommodating the presence of consciousness in our rendition of absolute truth is not at all new. It has been shouted from the rooftops for centuries by philosophers, poets and scholars. It is only now being embraced by the sciences in fields as disparate as biology, cosmology, quantum physics, and psychology because each has come to the end of its tether in the quest for an explanation of the properties and processes that their respective fields intend to subdue. Long avoided because of its immaterial, non-locatable properties, consciousness is the last remaining piece of the puzzle and, arguably, the most essential feature of our description of the natural and physical world.
Physics, since the advent of relativity theory, has acknowledged the importance of the observer in equations concerning the fundamental properties of reality. Relativity theory describes linear time and three dimensions bound together via relativity to an observer. Missing from this explanation of reality is an understanding of the decisive and qualitative effects co-created by a conscious entity in the act of observation. Any viable theory attempting to describe reality must necessarily include an understanding of the objective limitations of the observer as well as the contextual, cultural and biological imperatives directing and informing all acts of observation. Contextual division reveals and defines the nature and extent of our biologically bound objective limitations. It performs these functions so thoroughly that we are able to re-contextualize our observations sufficiently to circumnavigate the standard pitfalls embedded in our hidden expectations and beliefs.
In addition to falling short on explaining the act of observation, science has not properly contended with the central presence of consciousness in predetermining the structure and meaning of all explanations. Science is in the business of explanations, which do not exist in-and-of themselves in the natural world. By looking at the way the hidden objectives of conscious entities determine explanatory concepts we can isolate anthropocentric, biocentric and culturally-centric explanations of our universe and begin exploring realms of reality that exist independent of purpose-biased expectations and observations.
The responsibility of the present moment is to take an honest look at the tools we use to create explanations, especially reality concepts, and to understand ourselves as creatures that create and re-enforce reality concepts quite automatically. The opportunity thereafter is to utilize the same tools and methodology in a more conscious and intentional way to construct logical realms in a more objective manner, informed by unbiased research. The concept of contextual division introduced in this essay is not a theory or explanation of our condition. Its application is functional. It is a cognitive tool that can effect an important and extremely broad paradigmatic re-evaluative process.
Traditionally, scientific theories intend to explain individual aspects of nature or physics in newer more explicit terms. Sometimes these newer terms (often necessitated by an anomaly within a specific field of research) result in a forced re-evaluative process affecting many branches of science at once and can ultimately foster important but limited paradigmatic shifts in perspective (Kuhn, 1966). The discoveries of oxygen, electromagnetic forces, radiation, quantum processes, relativity, etc. while creating great shifts in thinking within limited areas of the sciences and benefiting society in general, did not effect changes in the broader culture's accepted world-view. Despite a mountain of evidence against it, a solid Copernican world-model persists in the communal mind of the culture and circularly re-informs the practice of science by continuing to be the accepted touchstone of reality by which all science must be compared and explained.
Although admittedly inspired by a slew of serious anomalies and conundrums within the matrix of science, culture and worldview; contextual division is not the result of a specific crisis in a specific field and no field of research will ever be forced (nor can be forced) to apply its formulations. The various branches of science will happily plod on in their separate worlds of research and those with a concern for a cohesive overview will continue to search for a unified theory of everything within the confines of accepted thinking. Scientific methodology is very good at reconfirming the properties of the world-view it was designed to describe and subdue; science circularly reconfirms its own worldview and has learned to isolate anomalies so that they do not affect the function of the overall paradigm. There will be no eagerness within the scientific community to reformulate a paradigm that continues to provide every sub-endeavor its structure and purpose. Applying contextual division is very uncomfortable as it reveals an entirely new format for understanding our condition and instantly subsumes all branches of scientific endeavor equally and simultaneously. Contextual division performs this drastic function by unmasking the hidden terms, formats, expectations, motivations and imperatives of all traditional scientific endeavors. This does not necessarily demean or implode the current sciences but does in fact circumscribe rather distinctly the realm of effectiveness we can expect from reductive thought processes and invites very different kinds of thinking and research.
What is new in the following text and within the idea of contextual division is the accommodation of quantum, cosmological and conscious phenomena into a broader conception of reality. New, also, is the introduction of the means to attain sufficient self-awareness regarding biocentric distortions in our common assumptions. It is chiefly this new form of self-awareness that allows an extraordinary new vision of the world built of alternative logical systems.
Far greater in scope and significance than direct practical application are the incredible cognitive and conceptual possibilities apparent when we gain even the smallest foothold in the new extracontextual realm that contextual division describes. This unique perspective reinforces an objective deconstruction of our methods of making meaning, logical structures, experiential realities, etc. Thus it fosters a reconstruction of meaning into newer more useful formats based on what is presented us (rather than on outdated world-models or hidden biological imperatives). Creative conceptualizing of alternative narratives combined with new research standards will forge alternate worlds of focus for our experience; creating entirely new, internally validating, circularly reconfirming paradigmatic realities. It is important to remember that science forwarded humanity's interests by turning a blind eye to the overarching religiously prescribed (and enforced) reality of the Middle Ages. A new endeavor, with a host of new motivational directives, can proffer equally valid conceptions un-beholden to the parameters of the current dominant discourse, unconcerned with the circularly reconfirming validations and proofs embedded in contemporary scientific practice.
Unlike the religious and scientific worldviews, contextual division is not an attempt to describe an ultimate reality. Contextual division answers questions and creates new ones by accommodating new information. It expands and divides the logical context of the inquiry; nothing more. That is all we've ever done in our quest for understanding and that is all we will ever do. Contextual division, by creating two equally valid contexts for the incorporation of classical, quantum, cosmological and cognitive concepts provides a number of new gateways. It highlights a condition of consciousness, allows us to see ourselves manufacturing the terms of logical realities, to recognize the usefulness of doing this, to study the methods and mechanism of doing this, and to consciously apply this creative activity wherever it is determined useful. We make our own world, over and over. With the self-awareness contextual division affords us we can do it on purpose, quicker and better —- not as we have historically done, as a reactionary measure or a matter of happenstance, but as an enlightened method of living - in a constant conscious act of co-creative engagement with our environment.
P a r t T w o
"The notion of reality is primarily explanatory, an idea which we create to make sense of experience. No particular concept - not even the concept of physical reality - is absolutely binding."
All explanations are composed by us and for us. Explanations are fungible creations that do not exist in-and-of-themselves in the natural world. They are by no means objective. As conscious creatures in a material age we expect to understand our environment and our experiences at ever higher levels of materially determined factual articulation. We expect explanations in the form of a collection of hard scientific facts —- in details relevant to a solid Copernican world-model. The world-model provides a basis for what we are willing to believe as true and establishes the criteria necessary for defining all explanations. Once we have our explanatory system in place we assume the end product to be universally true rather than merely true in relation to our current world-model.
Our current world-model is glaringly outdated. To sustain it we are obliged to overlook the presence of non-material, non-causal, non-linear qualities throughout the universe, in the quantum realm and in conscious phenomena described in the neuroscientific realm. The immutable material hardness of anything is no longer a sustainable metaphorical notion in the sciences. Immutability, the emotional core of our reality expectation, no longer holds in a universe composed of spinning energy subject to gravitational warps in time and space or in a realm where sub particle photons behave as either a wave or a particle; a condition fixed by the expectation of the observer. Our ideas about reality (our world model) have been superficially bound by contexts, expectations, perceptual capacities; are formulated for specific purposes (biological, cultural, personal) and are constructed with a limited set of tools. The following is a critique of the tools we use to understand our condition: the concept of truth, the use of metaphor, the construction of narrative. By being fully conscious of our employment of these explanatory tools we can better judge the accuracy of the condition they describe and we can learn to re-employ these tools in new contexts for vastly different purposes as we improve and update our world-model.
THE CONCEPT OF TRUTH
"Truths are illusions we have forgotten are illusions" - F. Nietzsche
Truth is a malleable tool, context specific and task oriented. We tend to think of truth as something innate or inherent about our world when in fact even a very brief look at the history of humanity (Tarnas, 1991) reveals truth as consistently changing to support ever-changing criteria, contexts, needs and uses. As a concept, truth functions best if we agree to overlook its ever-changing nature. Whatever current truth we are entertaining about our condition in the universe, that truth is always to be considered the ultimate and final version. By committing in this way, we can fully institute and enjoy the benefits of our beliefs. We only find, by virtue of a full ideological commitment, the wanted psychological, spiritual and emotional comfort in the concept of a permanent, fixed and dependable reality.
Despite the wanted comfort of permanence, the maturation process over the arc of humanity's multi-millennial intellectual development has and will continue to require constant reevaluation of the context of our perceived reality. At various times we have lived under the aegis of logical systems supporting the ultimate reality of angry or benevolent gods, monsters, magic, avatars; of hidden forces in animals, weather and geographic configurations; of augury involving bones, hands, entrails, numbers, stars, cards and tea leaves; of immaculate conception, transubstantiation, miracles regarding lamp oil, etc. To attain our recently acquired scientific mindset we reevaluated and reapplied the concept of truth to quiet the vagaries and unpredictability of spiritual beliefs and to wrest control over our destinies from the hands of intermediaries such as the clergy.
With ‘certainty' and ‘control' as guiding imperatives we chose what presented itself with qualities of certainty and controllability. The material properties of the objects directly in front of us and the predictable relationship between objects and natural forces thus became the obvious and available choice. Like all versions of reality it is a concept informed by the imperatives of the day. Verifiability could thereafter be achieved democratically by the individual, and ‘truth' could be imbued metaphorically with the desirable qualities of objects that seem solid and permanent. Humanity moves itself forward by manipulating its beliefs and values into an improved and updated contextual landscape -a revised world-model.
When we change the concept of truth we change the focus of our attention. If gods are our truth we attend to gods. If physical objects are our truth we attend to physical objects. From what we attend to emerges the quality of our conscious experiences so our choice of truth very directly informs the quality and nature of our reality. We instinctually perceive it the other way round, wrongly believing that from within our ‘given' reality we passively discern and recognize inherent qualities of truth. The belief that we are passive in this process allows truth to seem inherent to reality which vastly increases its psychological efficacy.
When we fight over differing versions of the truth what we are fighting over is the right to define, validate and self-justify a particular, seemingly passive mode of experiencing. A satisfactory experience of truth depends on our assumption of it to be the ultimate truth. Allowing for multiple, equally valid truths dramatically reduces the ecstatic texture of our experiences while opening the door to the terrors of uncertainty. Conflicts, therefore, are primarily of a self-justifying nature for the purpose of avoiding a loss of meaning, certainty and texture in our concept of truth. For the illusion of truth to function properly, we are ever and always obliged to justify by full commitment of resources whatever current self-delusions our culture attaches to the concept.
When we understand that the culture as a whole is choosing and committing to specific ideas as representations of truth and when we understand the motives and mechanisms for doing this, we can design better truths (in this case broader and more inclusive of phenomenal and conscious properties) and institute them at will, not by default or by awaiting the expression of mute urges in the broader culture.
THE USE OF METAPHOR
"Use whatever metaphor happens to help you to think, but don't confuse the metaphor with a conclusion."
- N. Chomsky
We use metaphors in the same way and at the same unconscious level that we use causal narratives and truth concepts. Unfortunately we ultimately conflate the metaphorically referred to object (initially chosen as a descriptor) with the absolute truth about the condition or object being described. We are in the habit of choosing metaphors from new technologies - the body is like a machine, the mind is like a computer, evolution is like a manufacturing process of continuous upgrades, etc. It is natural that we would use the objects and processes we can know and control to describe what we want to understand. We are fascinated by our own technological prowess. This process of comprehension is of course hugely helpful, but it also enforces a loss of infinite possible meanings by circumscribing our capabilities of understanding to a self-contained materialistic vision. Our understanding of our bodies, for example, is limited to a collection of inter-working parts, engines, filters, tubes, pumps, fluids, etc. set in motion and monitored by a computer-like brain of wires and circuitry, informed by DNA encoded computer chips. This gives us the impression of a controlled and controlling top-down system when, in fact, much of what composes us is neither "us" nor controlled —- such as the mitochondria, centrioles, basal bodies, etc that inhabit our cells and have their own DNA, RNA and genomes (Thomas, 1974). In fact our own cells interact in ways that indicate intention and self-sufficiency without any direct access to brain signaling - such as in a petrie dish. The top down, mechanically controlled metaphor is a useful conceptual convenience but entirely untrue from any objective standpoint.
The usefulness of the fictional mechanical-object metaphor for the human body is especially apparent in a context of causal narratives in which top-down assumptions of control inform behaviors benefiting all our cells and resident mitochondria: it gets stuff done. The original and continued use of top-down causal metaphors is for the purposes of nutrition, procreation and self-protection. These fundamental biological imperatives require and support the concept of a self in order to manifest the conglomerate organism's individual success in basic species sustaining functions. Survival imperatives compel a conscious awareness to be manifested at the level of a self to inform behaviors which define experience for the organism as a whole. The truths, metaphors and narratives which support self-survival imperatives are unquestionably practical and compose a very useful and beautiful reality but should not be confused with an ultimate or objective truth about the universe.
We tend only to imagine and inform ourselves in terms of narratives and metaphors tailored specifically to the scale and purposes of an individual conglomerate organism. This conscription prevents us imagining and perceiving the inherent interconnectedness of living things and obliterates the qualities of a mostly inorganic undifferentiated universe with vastly different material and non-material properties, a universe unconcerned with the narratives and metaphors of individuals and biological success. In short, we are in the habit of applying metaphors directly related to our subjective concerns onto objects and phenomenal properties for which such metaphors are entirely irrelevant and obfuscating.
Our inability to integrate phenomena by this grossly inadequate method, results in anomalies, oversights and a loud and desperate call for a unified theory of everything. We instinctually desire all phenomena to conform to or be described in relation to the reality we have unwittingly developed from biological imperatives. We automatically employ metaphor to reconfirm and extend the qualities of a world we already know and are comfortable assuming as real. Just as ‘up', ‘down' and ‘sideways' are so clearly irrelevant to orienting objects in deep space so too, though less easy to discern, are the biologically subjective metaphors of linear time and 3 dimensionality. These may be the oddest and most useless metaphorical abstractions in the phenomenal realm of an objectively observed universe that we know encompasses non-causal, non-linear features (in the quantum realm) vast regions of non-material dark matter, time warps, black holes, etc (in the cosmological realm) and the non-linear, non dimensional properties of our conscious experience as communal creatures with shared and disparate cognitive viewpoints. Three dimensions and a time line do not compose a useful map for navigating through complex relationships to other beings; through religious, aesthetic and moral experiences; through the ever-changing emotional qualities and states of being relative to conscious experiencing. We use material metaphors to explain and validate phenomena but these limit our reality to a material one. Expanding and altering our use of metaphor will accommodate and validate more of our experiential reality and broaden the possibilities of experience. As more phenomena become valid and explicable by broader use of metaphor the common currency of the culture will expand to accommodate a broader interpretation (and expectation) of experience.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF NARRATIVE
"When we try to make sense of a particular happening, we often tell a story about a sequence of events that led to it. If we do make sense of it we must take the elements of the story to be true,…"
- B. Williams
The construction of narrative is the creation of meaning. "A search for truth is the search for a cohesive narrative that can provide meaning across the widest possible spectrum of phenomena and experience." —Knud Thompsen. Narrative structures provide the format to create an intelligible, reusable explanation of events and circumstances. However, deep within the blank narrative structural format are hidden assumptions that in themselves direct the development of meaning into certain predetermined directions.
Narrative formats rely on the assumption of time unfolding in a linear, regulable one-way arrow allowing cause-and-effect scenarios to proceed from past, through the present, into the future in a reliable, replicable way. Narrative formats also rely upon the notion of the separateness of objects in a three dimensional space - cause-and effect implies distinct objects causing effects via interaction with distinctly separate objects extended in space. Causal concepts (object-boundaries, linear time and three dimensional space) continue as integral to the production of meaning despite science's century-old exposure of the fallacy of these seemingly fundamental concepts. Despite this unmasking, the causal narrative production of meaning remains essential to animate functioning, is the foundation of linguistic thought processes, and continues to be our primary mode of conceptualizing the truth of our world.
Unfortunately, the production of meaning via traditional narrative can only reveal a version of the world already circumscribed by the narrative format. Causal concepts are circularly reconfirmed in a process intended to describe an objective, absolute truth. Causal concepts, despite their usefulness, are not objective truths and cannot describe, either directly or metaphorically, a universe unbound by and unbeholden to the perceptual/cognitive imperatives of biological existence. Traditional causal narrative structures do not properly service the broader truth of our known universe nor allow sufficient breadth to explore the greater unknown. Instead of integrating quantum phenomena, cosmological conditions and new insights from cognitive neuroscience, new data is either ignored or deemed anomalous by the application of traditional narrative explanation. Accessing and integrating a broader version of the truth require a forced revision of narrative processes. Narratives that consistently reference an outdated world-model continue to feel intuitively correct because they affirm the psychological comfort we've come to expect in our explanations about reality —- a longed-for stability and solidity.
The current quest for a unified theory of everything is the quest for a continuation of just this sort of psychological comfort and reassurance despite contrary evidence. The search for an ideal unity, specifically between the quantum and classical worlds of physics, is greatly at odds with science's pretense of purely objective observation. The intension to find (or force) a unity assumes that reality should be built of one set of unified fundamental features that in combination gracefully explain all phenomena from the quantum realm through the classical model and into the cosmological infinitude. This assumption springs from humanity's psychological need to represent all reality as a realm of simplicity, certainty, coherence, consistency, stability, replicability, objectivity, etc.
Understanding how humanity's overarching psychological needs and deep-seated biological imperatives influence perception, the direction of our questioning and the format we expect in an explanation will help us to circumnavigate these hidden narrative assumptions. This will allow a better understanding of phenomena based on what is actually presented us. Without this rudimentary self-understanding we can only build narratives which describe reality in terms of our psychologically driven fantasies and continue to exclude from our understanding, all phenomena, phenomenal relationships, states of being, concepts, etc. which fail to support that narrative. The delimiting effect of narratives based exclusively on rudimentary anthropocentric, psychological directives results, among other things, in a narrow, voracious materialism that is ultimately too great a price to pay for the short term advances and temporary comforts such narratives provide.
Under the guise of seeking truth, various human endeavors thinly mask hidden assumptions based on anthropocentric psychological necessities. Religion endeavors to create and sustain a narrative to provide comfort against the universal experience of uncertainty, injustice and mortality. Science endeavors to provide a version of truth in response to a need for certainty, replicability, coherence, consistency, commonality, solidity, immutability, etc. Psychology and psychiatry endeavor to create a narrative of truth which sustains and validates the notion of a self in a healthy relation to a reality defined by social norms. Practitioners of all three endeavors would claim that their version of truth is the valid and consistent one and that only one version can predominate and subsume all others. Others look for coherence between these independent versions —- some unique unifying principle which supports or is supported by the claims of all three ‘truth seeking' endeavors.
Yet these three narratives, based on three sets of needs, do not offer us any inherently privileged description of truth either alone or in combination. What can be said to be coherent or true is that the questions each narrative attempts to quell spring from a common psychological origin unique to animate existence. Under the self-deluded guise of seeking an absolute truth regarding our universe we have instead devised a handful of reflected self-portraits based on the need to subdue the vagaries and predicaments of embodied conscious experience.
Our narratives are profoundly self-referencing for good reason. All levels of animate existence from humans to single celled organisms require a fundamental comprehension of (and a highly specific alignment to) the basic narrative structure common to survival. Creature-hood requires the assumption of concepts integral to embodied consciousness. We have, above all else, to assume and understand the concept of a "self" existing in a world of separate, three dimensional objects; a self capable of manipulating those objects on a one-directional field of time to effect nutrition, procreation, self-protection, etc. In these primitive and deep-seated fundamental assumptions are the roots of all our reality concepts and the source of our deeply felt need to continue recreating the same fundamental, simple, coherent, self-validating narratives despite (or perhaps in response to) contrary evidence in the sciences.
The simple concept of matter being solid can no longer be said to be fundamentally true, nor can the separateness of objects (Bohr, 1922). Time cannot accurately be described as a distinct, regulable one way line but rather as something inherently entwined with space and effected by the force of gravity at the cosmological scale, and a largely irrelevant measurement standard at the quantum level (Einstein, 1920). The notions of self and freewill are now debated as cognitive fabrications based on research using functional magnetic resonance imaging and data gathered from cases of illness and injury to the brain (Dennet,1989; Metzinger, 2003; Libet, 1985). So that, not only are our concepts of reality unfounded, our understanding of our free use of these falsified concepts is a fiction as well. The breech between our hidden assumptions and the newly discerned features of the universe has widened to a degree that we can no longer ignore without imperiling the very sanctity of our notion of truth. Is truth to be a descriptor of the actual universe or a description of what we need it to seem like to suit our needs?
This is the essence of the conundrum we now face in trying to comprehend and explain the universe and our condition within it. Our direct experience confirms one sort of world while a very different world is confirmed via abstract processes and tools which extend our perception beyond biological limitations and psychological imperatives.
We still need to function in a realm described by three dimensions and linear time despite the lack of veracity in these concepts. We require the concept of a fully independent physical self with freewill and volitional capabilities. These concepts continue to function as useful narrative components despite the lack of scientific support for the supposedly fundamental features on which such narratives rely. Our direct perception of the world, it turns out, is more of a creative/interpretive process compelled by survival-based, task-related goals specific to a unique condition within the universe —- conscious organic life. As animate creatures we have evolved to perceive a functional truth distinctly unrelated to a broader and more objective truth of the universe revealed through quantum physics, theoretical mathematics, astrophysics, cosmology and cognitive neuroscience.
Classical physics describes the familiar world of material objects and causal relationships necessary for the sorts of narratives animate creatures require to self-sustain. Quantum and astrophysics offer the beginning of a description of a very different universe of narratives —- distinctly unrelated to our needs and concerns as animate creatures. Quantum and cosmological behaviors do not hold to traditional physical properties or causal narratives. Our familiar geometry and narratives are not applicable to either a cosmos that warps, bends and swallows space-time or to a sub particle behaving non-causally as either a particle or a wave, a condition apparently fixed post-facto and fundamentally influenced by the expectation and measuring devices of the experimenter.
The purpose of a unified theory of everything is to accommodate these unruly new properties into a singular narrative utilizing classical Copernican physics as the centerpiece of our concept of truth about reality. We may in fact be able to produce a theory which will satisfy the constraint of this forced coherence, but the cost will be the obliged wearing of blinders to maintain the false comfort that such a theory is intended to provide. Lost to our view will be the infinite possibilities suggested by the quantum realm's non-causal narratives, flexible material properties and the qualitative effects of observation. Lost will be the philosophical implications and possibilities relative to a universe of antimatter, time reversal and multiverses.
By attempting to bind non-causal and uncertainty properties to the classical realm we also bind our expectations and beliefs about them which in turn decide the effect and nature of our observations. Criteria we use to define reality inform and restrict the parameters of what we can validate as a real experience or as relevant phenomenal properties. Committing to a specific and limited truth about the universe based on practical imperatives allows us to function but dictates the parameters of our attention, circumscribes the breadth our experience, and undermines the legitimacy of all other phenomenal possibilities.
Our self-limited version of reality appears endlessly flexible which gives us the illusion that eventually it will flex to fit all the insistent anomalous properties that at present confound us. We are creatures with ever-increasing capacity for refinement and detailing in our standard reality narrative. The material narrative format, like language itself, invites infinite complexity and revision. The development of flexibility in our reality narrative is due in part to the demand our individual psyches place on narratives that render each of us uniquely meaningful creatures.
We are of course tempted to believe that the universe must surely be this three-dimensional, linear-timed conception which supports and is supported by our uniquely meaningful personal narratives. Our deep-seated psychological need for meaningful narratives combines with our biological prerequisite of a clear and manipulable functional realm suited to our creaturehood. These combined imperatives inform and distort our intuitive choices when we attempt to conceive an objective physical world. The investment in outdated reality explanations runs deep in each of us. We intuitively disqualify any new version that threatens the comfort and meaning in our personal or cultural narratives or that calls into question the validity, usefulness and ultimate truthfulness of the narratives that inform the functional format of our existence.
The concept of contextual division introduced later in this essay allows us to maintain the legitimacy of narratives, metaphors and truth concepts that contain and support our functional existence while encouraging the development of distinctly separate, equally valid narratives —- narratives capable of encompassing the vastly different phenomenal properties already revealed to us in the sciences and already intuited by us within the realm of subjective perception and interpersonal experience.
see additional posting for parts two and three.
Information about this Article
Published on Wednesday 4th October, 2006 at 18:58:21.
Peer review added 20th August, 2011 at 22:21:06
A well-organized metaphysical presentation that could benefit much from the modern theory of levels in Ontology developed by Roberto Poli in actually producing results that could be implemented in the real World. Quite well-organized and formatted but lacking a foundation in General Systems Theory or Complex Systems Analysis, thus lacking some real ‘teeths’. Hopefully it can be developed into an essay useful to the real World based on philosophical considerations combined with the Ontological Theory of Levels of Reality.
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