Monday, 25 October 2010
“Reality isn't a word we should use with simple confidence” a quote from Richard Dawkins
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.