Monday, 25 October 2010

“Reality isn't a word we should use with simple confidence” a quote from Richard Dawkins

“Reality isn't a word we should use with simple confidence”

Everything is not as it seems, or at least that is what Richard Dawkins is telling us. We are stuck in the “middle world” where everything isn't very big or very small (light years and atoms); our minds can't imagine such sizes coherently as this wasn't needed in our fight for survival. We needed to know that a rock is hard and we can use it to break open a nut shell, not that it is made up of billions of atoms that are massive distances from each other in comparison to their size. This is what Dawkins is trying to get across, our reality is only what we perceive, and we see only a narrow strip of the picture that is reality.

However, even this wider picture of reality may be wrong. If you take Descartes" “malicious demon” he asks us how do we know that everything we see isn't just fed to us from this “demon”? How do we know that the reality that we see isn't just lies made up by a scientist in a lab? (Putnam’s “brain in a vat argument”) Descartes brings up a point that is disturbingly believable and completely ludicrous, believable as we can’t disprove it, but ludicrous as it is beyond our comprehension that something could possibly feed us a false reality. Descartes tries to discredit this himself with his famous quote “I think, therefore I am” meaning that as you are able to doubt yourself you therefore must have a self in order to doubt and “think” in the first place.

Now let's go back to Dawkins, in his book the “Delusion of God" he talks about a quantum theory called the “Many Worlds”. It is not so much a theory but an interpretation of a theory. The reality this theory presents is mind blowing. The “Many Worlds” reality is dominated by a vast multitude of parallel universes all “mutually undetectable” except through narrow holes of “quantum-mechanical experiments”. Each of these universes are different, in one, your hair might be slightly longer or a different colour maybe, and in some, I might even be Prime Minister! Now, if we apply that to our own reality it really does mean we can't use the word "reality" with any real confidence at all. It would mean that we wouldn't see only a narrow band of reality; we would only see, maybe, a pixel of the greater picture. This understandably plays with our common sense and rationality, however unpleasing it may be, the experiments and mathematics add up. This doesn't mean it's true though; there are many other interpretations of quantum theory that also fit the bill.

So, our reality could be some elaborate ruse made up by a scientist in a lab feeding our brain sensory information about our life, or similarly a demon whispering lies into our head, making a false reality in which he can lead us to and fro, or maybe our “world” is one of an infinite number of other parallel worlds all connected by small port holes of quantum mechanics. Whatever is the truth, or the perceived truth, we will still live in our narrow band of reality and will continue to do so no matter which theory turns out to be right.


  1. great read, impressive thoughts!

  2. Im glad im not going to be around when there is like a huge boom in science where freaky shit is discovered. Well... kinda glad, I would like to see interstellar travel, though.

  3. aahh but we might well, science is still progressing at a crazy rate :D
    and yes so would i :) would be awesome to see new planets :D

    im going to address that in a later post :)

    thanks for commenting

  4. It seems like the only thing this line of thinking does is to numb us to the idea that there can ever be truth. It is both a source and an extension of postmodern thought. I can start by agreeing with Dawkins, et al, or I can already think this way and then choose to see his words as some sort of confirmation. But the problem is this: the more people begin to believe that this (or any other idea) is right or plausible, the closer we are to admitting there is, in fact, truth. The same truth postmodernism would say cannot exist. It seems self-defeating.

  5. wow, you have some interesting thoughts

  6. I don't know if that is in response to the post or to my comment, but I'll say this to clarify what I meant. If we talk about all of these possibilities and then say we could likely never prove one is right, then we have to accept them all as plausible. In other words, we all have to believe that no one can know anything for certain, a rule we would break if we all agreed to that sort of thinking. The quicker question is this: how do we know for certain that nothing can be known for certain? If we cannot know for certain that we can know nothing certainly, then we believe what we believe, in part, by faith, and not because we are certain that what we believe is true. Or right.

  7. @Matt
    If we all believed that "we cannot know anything for certain" this does not mean that it is true.
    It doesn't even mean that is more true than it was before. It still remains a belief, just a widely held belief.

    It is true, we cannot know if the statement "nothing can be known for certain" is true.
    But by doing this we are only certifying our original statement that "nothing can be know for certain".
    You arrive with a logical paradox.
    As with all logical paradox, it neither falsifies the statement, nor proves it true.
    In which case you have to decide which side of the paradox you lie, just out of belief.

    Which side fits better with you, we cannot know anything for certain, or everything we know is true? Generally and I'd think most would agree, the former is more believable.

    On your last statement you utilise false logic. Just because we can never know if the statement "nothing can be known for certain" is true, doesn't in anyway say anything about our beliefs.
    You cannot justify the next statement on the grounds of using the paradox as proof. A+B≠C

    Although as an answer to the second part, we believe what we believe for whatever reasons we wish. A belief by definition is something that we hold to be true. It can be, by faith, it can be because we believe it to be true, it can be anything!