We are now struggling with two existential crises (The Pandemic and Global Heating) which have probably arisen, in the last analysis, from our neglect of thinking “in the large”. This has arisen from an extraordinary mass inversion in human cognition from the synoptic to the myopic. Of course the switch away from synoptic cognition was not a voluntary choice, rather an involuntary one… because so many issues which arise from attempts at synoptic thinking seem to be jinxed from the start by hopelessness. The moral for this serious condition can only be a return to the main aim of these blogs:
1 To identify the capitulations made in the 1920s in physics and mathematics, which have cast a huge shadow of doubt over so many things such as whether the human mind is capable of sorting out the principal problems which confront us.
2 To convey specific news about the new, extraordinary, revolutionary, fledgling solutions to these problems, which have surfaced recently, but have been brushed aside by the subject hierarchies.
A vested interest established itself long ago among all those who accepted the fudged solutions of the 1920s. They have thrown in the towel —acquiesced, in effect, to the notion that human beings have a cognitive deficit, that of being unable to unravel the hardest problems of mathematics and physics. They are not going to look for solutions to problems they have already decided are beyond our ken. They are not going to encourage anyone else to solve these allegedly insoluble problems, because that would imply that they had failed to meet the requirements of their disciplines. (If the problems are insoluble they cannot be blamed for failing to solve them.)
To make matters worse, academic philosophy generally is not slanted anyway towards the conceptual problems which arise in mathematics and physics. The genre of ‘philosophy’ studied in universities appears to have fallen latterly into two quite distinct, different ruts: (a) hair-splitting discussions about the exact meaning and scholastic implications of relatively minor generalised words, (b) attempts to find some kind of new angle on issues surrounding personal identity, lifestyle choice, and commitment, while accepting various degrees of hopelessness. The latest issue of Philosophy, for example, is entirely devoted to peripheral areas of kind (a). The latest issue of The Philosopher by contrast is devoted to rather hit-or-miss gnomic discussions of type (b).
Breaking away from both these ruts, David Chalmers’ latest book looks at some unnerving issues based on the idea of virtual reality. It is widely agreed that virtual reality is gradually becoming more “realistic”. So if this trend continues, how will we be able to distinguish between virtual reality and actual reality? Worse still, might what we regard as ‘actual reality’ actually be some unknown agent’s ‘virtual reality’?
No, it is a form of delusion to think that virtual reality is “almost as good as the real thing”. It is comparable to the delusion that so-called ‘artificial intelligence’ might eventually over-take human intelligence. Both delusions are the product of a blindly uncritical attitude towards IT, which has burgeoned as a result of the remarkable progress made by IT in the most unpromising of times —i.e. a collapse of faith in traditional disciplines. The term ‘artificial intelligence’ was already a considerable hype when it was introduced. (‘Intelligence’ signals a pretty high level human accomplishment, particularly exercises in critically rejecting the apparently obvious.) What computers can do via neural networks is a basic kind of pattern-searching which might be more aptly described as ‘artificial comprehension’. Anyone can see for themselves that the AI-powered subtitles on TV make howling mistakes every other sentence.
What today’s virtual reality lacks is a natural generator which is able to simulate the kind of processes behind actual reality. Today’s virtual reality is still painfully put together by slavishly copying from ordinary reality, via a process which is methodical but lacks logic. Virtual reality may be becoming “more realistic”, but this is not happening by the natural agency of digital software, but by the deliberate application of copying to ever higher standards of verisimilitude.
But Chalmer’s conclusion is not so far from the insight that the world we know is actually generated by the flow from the actimatic principles which have to be met if we are to have rational, conscious minds.
This offers us the new reasoning paradigm which has been so tragically absent since the collapse of traditional reasoning in the 1970s.
The fact that there are five more potential existential crises waiting in the wings, is a reminder that we must address this revolt against synoptic thinking —and with great urgency— if we are to avoid extinction. There is nothing mature, sensible or advisable about burying our heads in workaholic or hedonistic sand, when the big picture is turning increasingly dark.
The first proper response to the existential crises was to return to the two serious inexcusable fudges adopted by the maths and physics hierarchies in the 1920s and actually to solve the original problems instead of fudging them.
This has been done.
So the proper response now is to study, accept and implement the genuine, revolutionary solutions which have been found.
What are the pluses involved with these solutions?
1 A simplification of assumptions greater than ever previously expected in attempts to understand the physical universe. Ockham’s razor enjoins us to adopt the simplest explanations we can. But this new approach leads to mass simplifications of the basic principles. Space itself and the relativity of the speed of light now come with explanations.
2 A clear recognition that we are umbilically connected to the physical universe.
3 A clear recognition that others are near-clones of ourselves, and an equally clear recognition that trying to understand the mental processes of others is the principal way to improve ours, and their, lives.
A great new era of good-feelings backed by genuine self-knowledge can begin.
CHRISTOPHER ORMELL February 1st 2022