observerThe observer is really interesting to think about. If an observer sees a phenomena in the world, then does that shape the phenomena, or does the phenomena exist independently of the observer? It’s the old ‘if a tree falls in a forest, does anybody hear it?’.

Doesn’t sound need an observer? Without the observer the falling tree just causes air fluctuations, but once those air fluctuations hit an ear it becomes sound. The ear is a necessity for sound. Without the ear, there is no sound.

Note that the observer does not have to be human. A bird, a frog, a deer can hear too. But with humans we have the added complication of categorisation, and narration.

The observation becomes filtered and categorised. The human sees a pattern, interprets the pattern, and then categorise the pattern. The resulting interpretation becomes a coherent story that we tell ourselves.

dandelionA dandelion grows in a crack in the street outside my window. Cars drive along the street all the time, yet the dandelion is fully grown, and it looks like it is growing out of the asphalt itself. Probability says that a tyre should have flattened it long ago, but there it stands. Unexplainably. That can not be, so I spend time thinking about why it lives.

The unexplainable becomes the phenomena in the case of the dandelion. It defines it, in contrast to a dandelion that grows on a lawn. So, I expect a pattern where a car’s tyre have squished the dandelion. That story doesn’t fit this case. Since it stands there still, the dandelion becomes interesting. I have established a pattern, interpreted the pattern, and have categorised the dandelion as a special case.

With a metaphysical element added to it, and the reason that it still stands is due to luck. Luck is a metaphysical pattern laid on top of an expected pattern of chance. It is the story of the lucky weed. This story fits, so I go with it. But the story is also false.

play-roulette-gameIf you go to a Casino, and only play red or black at the roulette table, you go in thinking that eventually your colour will come up. If you persistently play red, probability you think would have it that red would come up eventually. If you put chip after chip down on red, but the ball always stop at a black number, you will explain it as bad luck. Or that the casino is cheating.

This means you apply a pattern to a situation where that pattern is not applicable. Whether the ball stops on red or black has nothing to do with whether the ball has stopped on red or black in earlier spins. The spin that happened five rounds ago has nothing at all to do with the current round.

A human mind will say that there is such a connection though. When the high probability that an individual spin will stop on black instead of red happens, you relate it to previous spins, and think that there is a connection, and you apply a metaphysical explanation based on luck. Like with the dandelion, you can tell your friends about your night of bad luck, as I tell people of the lucky dandelion. Even though, neither story is the objective truth.

apesfeatrev__spanHere I think, somewhere, lies the key to everything – the human need to tell stories to each other, where subjective patterns attaches to objective phenomena. Human beings have a need to tell stories, whether it’s the story about the youth league football game or the presidential campaign in the USA, or indeed about the Christian god.

Our need for a narrative, stretched over time, is our biggest advantage because it has allowed us to conquer the elements. We can think ‘if I do this, then that will happen, and I will be able to do that’. But at the same time it is probably our biggest limitation, because it is like having an observer that can only view the world in infrared light.

The human observer is limited to a narrow band of frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, by another narrow band of frequencies of air movements, by how many molecules float in the air, and by how dense the molecules in a piece of food item is. These sensory inputs feed into a mind that is in itself limited to a narrative pattern seeking.

If the human observer is limited by his senses and his mind, then how much of what we perceive can we know to be true? Our limited senses, and our constrained interpretations, have to skew reality.

By knowing the limitations, we can also defeat the limitations, like humanity has always done. We’re not a social ape anymore by virtue of the technology and science that have removed us from nature and direct evolutionary pressure.

Advertisements