Updated: Nov 17, 2020
If I show you an apple and a banana, you would easily be able to tell me which fruit is red and which is yellow.
But colour is not an intrinsic property of either fruit. Colour is a quality of subjective perception that occurs when certain photoreceptive cells in the eyes are stimulated by electromagnetic radiation.
When these cells are stimulated, they send signals throughout the nervous system to produce the conscious experience of colour.
That means if you remove the subjective perceiver, colour doesn’t really exist.
Extend this argument to literally every sense perception and you’ll see why I think we live in a simulation.
Now we are often thought of as living in a four-dimensional manifold of spacetime. Time, the fourth dimension, is how we perceive the motion of space. Space, the first three dimensions, is how we perceive the physical world.
I will argue that spatio-temporal extension is, in-itself, a product of the mind. This is the simulation our own mind creates. In the current western scientific paradigm of reality, spacetime has an extrinsic ontological existence, meaning it exists independent of human perception. I want to contest that. (This is the big claim. That we don’t merely live in a spacetime continuum, rather we live in it AND create it simultaneously in a mutually interactive way. It doesn’t make sense to think ourselves living in a reality, but separate from it. We are a part of reality and we actively create it while doing so. More on this later.)
As I have suggested, all that we know of the physical world is our perception of it. This is dependent on how our sensory cells are stimulated, and then how our our neurons process this sensory data.
Maybe the crudest way I can describe it is:
External stimulus >>> Sensory reception interacts with stimulus >>> Neurological consolidation of sensory information >>> Subjective Experience
Imagine walking into a great big library. Immediately you are greeted by musky smell of old books – when odour molecules from these books stimulate the olfactory neurons in your nose. You walk down the literature aisle and touch the spines of great classics like Wilde or Joyce – when the matter of these books come in contact with the sensory cells in the skin of your fingertips.
We gain a complete experience of this great library from all these different sensory data.
At this moment, you’re probably saying, “hold up kari. Reality is not merely just perception. There are definitely things that exist in the physical world beyond our perception of them. Like, the subjective experience of a smell indicates the existence of odour molecules that exists beyond our subjective experience of it.”
Well, wait a second. Subjective experience does not always necessarily presuppose the existence of a correlative physical reality. Take, for example, hallucinations and dreams…
Think about all these external stimuli that interact with us - odour particles (olfactory), the physical matter particles (tactile), electromagnetic waves of light (visual).
These things interact with our sensory receptors to produce subjective experiences.
But it is well known that sensory receptors can be activated in the absence of these external stimuli. We call these hallucinations.
I am fascinated by the neurophysiology of hallucinations.
How can one perceive things that are not there?
All that you need for a subjective experience is the activation of its correlated neuronal substrate. At a neurological level, there is no difference between a hallucination and perception – it’s just networks of neurons firing.
While it’s still mostly a mystery, the most dominant explanation of schizophrenic hallucinations is that they occur because of a malfunction of recognising self-generating actions as being externally-generated. We all hear thoughts in our head, like “the Beatles is kind of overrated if you think about it” or “toast was invented by someone who was dissatisfied with the solidity of bread”. But we can recognise that we are generating these thoughts internally. We know they weren’t spoken by someone else. Schizophrenics though might actually hear these as if they were actual words spoken by someone else.
This means that everyone is able to internally produce subjective experiences, but we have an internal mechanism that shuts down the sensory manifestation of this. Schizophrenics don’t.
This is demonstrated by quite a few scientific findings. The most fascinating one to me, without a doubt, is the finding that some schizophrenics can tickle themselves because they are unable to distinguish between self-produced stimuli and external stimuli. That’s fucking amazing!!!
CREATIVITY AS CONSCIOUS HALLUCINATION
Hallucination, then, is the spontaneous generation of information.
Creativity is much the same thing. Both reify objects of the imagination.
There is no wonder why people say there is a fine line between creativity and insanity.
The difference between creativity and insanity is how well the story is organised. Creativity is coherent and playful delusion. Great works of fiction are mass delusions we delight in collectively.
There also seems to be some degree of lucidity and control in creativity that is absent in insanity.
Now, how do you know you’re not the insane one? How can you be sure that everything you experience is an accurate reflection of reality?
I THINK, THEREFORE I AM
Descartes asked that very question – how can we know reality? What is truth and what is falsehood?
Of course the most rational approach is to remain agnostic about the true nature of reality. And as such, Descartes denounced sense perception as deeply flawed, and was profoundly sceptical that we would sense reality accurately.
Take dreams for example – Descartes would often dream of sitting by a crackling fireplace. He would actually sense the warmth of flames on his skin, even though there was no real fire. Dreams in themselves are a type of hallucination. If we can be wholly deceived by dreams, then isn’t it also possible that we may be deceived by waking life too?
His solution was to start from scratch.
We must forget everything we know, and start again from first principles.
These first principles will act as axioms which logically prove more truths and propositions, thus ultimately creating a true picture of reality structured on geometric proof.
What was his first principle? “I think”.
In thinking of the first principles, he realised the very act of thinking was the only thing he could be sure of.
And what was the corollary of this principle?
Leading to his first rational proposition, “Cogito ergo sum”, or, “I think, therefore I am”.
This, to Descartes, is the first a priori necessary truth!!! That he thinks, and the act of thinking presupposes the existence of the being behind the thought!
I THINK, THEREFORE I THINK
Although Descartes intended on “I think, therefore I am” to be an axiomatic & self-evident proposition, I will argue that the proposition still holds presumptions that aren’t a priori and thus still need to be proven.
Firstly, like I mentioned before, since we can only be sure that reality arises from a neural substrate, and that we must be agnostic about external stimuli, spatio-temporal extension in which a being is often conceptualised as occupying IS AN EXTENSION OF THE MIND.
THE MIND IS NOT AN EXTENSION OF THE BODY.
THE BODY IS AN EXTENSION OF THE MIND.
Before you bring out the pitchforks and accuse me of being a solipsist, let me redeem myself, if only for a little bit.
I do not believe that there exists nothing outside my own personal qualia. I just believe that we must be agnostic about it for now, and focus on the things we can control in this simulation created by our brains.
CONTROLLING THE SIMULATION Imagine a time in your life when you had to avoid a temptation of some sort. Choose your poison - be it video games, mud cakes, texting a person that wasn’t good for you.
No matter how much you resist, you can’t keep your fat fckn hands off that cake. Your free will is compromised. In this case in particular, your free will is compromised by an internal survival drive for high-calorie foods.
There are internal and external influences that have a strong influence on your actions. Internal influences include limbic brain imperatives, myelinated habits, genetics and epigenetics. External influences include social imperatives (reciprocity, social proof etc), rules and laws, social contracts and religion.
In my opinion, if you strip away all these internal and external influences, you are left with your true self. (sounds like spiritual woo-woo but before you call me discount-store Oprah hear me out:)
There is a story about the great artist Michaelangelo: He was once asked if it was difficult to create the sculpture of David. He replied, “It is easy. Just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.”
Your true self is one that you naturally gravitate towards to, an ideality. We come to know this ideality through intuition rather than by any rational means. The problem is that the actualisation of this ideality is often compromised by these external and internal influences.
All you have to do is chip away any superfluity.
There are two ways to do this: 1) Priming and 2) Selective Attention. These are basically the two things that grant you agency in a simulation.
Priming is the act of pre-emptively influencing mental content. For example, if I prime you with images of police, then when presented with the riddle “P_G” you are much more likely to think of “PIG” rather than “PEG”.
Selective Attention is the act of consciously focusing on one type of mental content over another.
Now so far I have tried to establish a cognitive-based model of reality. A cognitive-based model of reality views reality on a mental plane rather than a physical plane. Because of this, our whole reality is just what we are conscious of. In any given waking moment, we are aware of one thing or another, and in that moment, nothing else beyond what we are aware of exists. So by using selective attention you are controlling what exists in your universe.