What’s real #7…..?

Posted on August 27, 2011


8/31 /11 Hawking says that we don’t have direct access to ‘reality’. Instead our brains construct packages of  “reality” and “truth” out of a continuous bombardment of samples of light and sound waves. To make sense of the shifting complexity we rely on models (assumptions, theories, beliefs, emotions and biases.) Since different people have different beliefs about what’s real and true they construct truths and realities to fit their beliefs – about what’s true and real, what’s  good and bad, who to love, who to hate, what to buy, how to vote, who to marry or divorce,  etc.) Since some of our beliefs and feelings change over time, or in different situations ( the time of day, or when surrounded by different people)  what’s ‘true’ or ‘real’ changes to fit the occasion. You  know people whose beliefs and realities depend on who they happen to be with, or what they’re drinking, or how their ulcer is behaving. But Hawking’s isn’t just saying that what we believe is true or real at any time depends on our models (our assumptions and biases), he’s also saying that’s all the reality or truth we can get hold of – there’s no way to get at the really real or really true. So when we argue with people it’s our model (beliefs and biases) against theirs, it’s not our real truth against their erroneous one, rather it’s  our pet model, at a given time and place,  against their pet model at a given time and place.

Cat's see/hear things we don't

But you say surely there’s more to it than models and beliefs – we agree about a lot of things even though we have different political, or religious, or cultural beliefs. We SEE a lot of the same things like rocks, flat tires, doors, bald heads, etc. Yes, but that’s because people share a similar nervous system – different from bats and cats for instance. Our similar nervous system helps us construct different realities and truths than a blind or deaf person does, than a bat or a cat, or an x-ray does. A cat’s eyes and ears pick up more light and sound waves than our’s do – so a cat constructs some realities and truths than we don’t.

Welcome to my humble home


If you had x-ray vision you’d construct different realities about your friend’s appearance. Which ‘reality’ is ‘true’?  All of them are ‘true’ in  the sense that they represent the appropriate construction given the models represented in the brain or nervous system doing the construction. Different detector systems (Republicans, Democrats, Christians, atheists, cats, bats, x-rays, gamma rays) extract and compile different messages, truths, and realities from the flow of experience, from the sound and light waves, accessible to them at any given time.

Whatcha think? For physicists the realist real consists of invisible particles or strings – that’s their pet model. For anthropologists the realist real consists of cultural mores, beliefs and customs. What’s the realist real for you… today?

Cat’s eyes flickr.com/photos/doug88888/4535174486

Skelton: lickr.com/photos/32074980@N06/3707590061/

Posted in: Sciencing