Spot the Douglas Adams quote (or ‘I find it really difficult to come up with post titles’).

I had a conversation with someone the other day in which I was completely wrong.

Which is, and I realise that I run the risk of sounding like a bit of a wanker here, quite unusual. That’s not because I am wise and all knowing and a total pantomath but more because I very very rarely argue fervently on position unless I am totally certain that I’m right.

The conversation was about faith*, in a general sense and I swore absolutely blind that atheists don’t just think that there are no God/ gods but are actually materialists too, and that being an atheist means that you have no truck with the soul/ghosts/NDEs or any of that woo-woo type stuff.

The person I was speaking to apparently found this very illuminating and, convinced by my earnest explanation, decided that I must be totally right. So imagine my surprise and embarrassment when later in the day I picked up a book and discovered that atheism and materialism are not synonymous.

I know that when I decided that there wasn’t a god and became an atheist, I absolutely became a materialist as well. I realised that if I was going to reject the fantasy of God then I was also going to also abandon the belief in all the accouterments that I felt went along with it; souls, ghosts, ESP, reincarnation and the like. From what I remember I thought it was bloody obvious that the rejection of one would involve the rejection, domino like, of all the rest.

In fact I clearly remember thinking ‘Well if God doesn’t exist then neither do ghosts! Now I can go to graveyards at night!’. I can see why I made that assumption. It makes sense to me that if you are going to reject God due to claims of rationality and a lack of scientific proof then surely it does make more sense for all atheists to be materialists. But hey, I’m no poster child for rationality, I’ve just decided that the weight of evidence falls in favour of reincarnation.

So I’m a little surprised now to realise that I was actually wrong and that an atheist can still believe in say, reincarnation. Actually it turns out that a close friends of mine does take this position- she believes in reincarnation and the power of prayer but not God. So technically she is an atheist. But she believes in the soul.


So anyway I had to ring my friend and admit that I’d been totally wrong and he said that he’d been re-thinking reality in light of my very convinced sounding claims and I thanked him for thinking so highly of my apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate claims and there was laughter all round.


Of course when it all boils down, it doesn’t matter what you believe or how you label yourself. Just that^.

*(not my faith of course because that’s something that I just don’t discuss with people because a) no ones interested and… no, that’s it. I don’t know anyone in real life who likes to talk about faith. Hence; blog)

42 thoughts on “Spot the Douglas Adams quote (or ‘I find it really difficult to come up with post titles’).

  1. So I’m a little surprised now to realise that I was actually wrong and that an atheist can still believe in say, reincarnation.

    Possible, but not likely. Atheists tend to be rational and infuse belief about reality with confidence only if reality itself offers compelling evidence for that belief. So although some atheists will make exemptions for specific beliefs (for whatever reasons other than reality’s compelling arbitration for them), it’s not usual. After all, if an immaterial soul, say, can be believed to exist by an atheist, then why not god for exactly the same exemption? Why not the memory power of water or the vital forces that run along meridian lines that can be ‘read’ by a ‘sensitive’ person, and so on?

    Beliefs infused with confidence without reality’s arbitration to provide compelling evidence is faith. Withholding it in regards to religious beliefs to be an atheist makes little sense if one is willing to use the same broken methodology to be a believer in, say, reincarnation. This is methodological hypocrisy in action and some atheists are not immune to its seductive – if not foolish – charms.

    • So most atheists would consider consider themselves more than just atheists, I would think. I’m assuming that there is a very small proportion of ‘pure’ atheists, given that the actual definition is just a rejection of belief in a deity. I would certainly want to adopt a more overarching term- I know that when I was a member of the Australian Skeptics that did cover most of the areas in question. Maybe Skeptic?

      • Well, it’s usually used only in the context of religious belief. We’re not self-defined as a-Nessie-ists or non stamp collectors; we simply use the term in response to the ridiculous identifier of religious affiliation (as if kids were equivalently born as either Liberal Democrats or a-liberal democrats, Keynesian economists or a-Keynesian economists). But because religious identity is so prevalent, the rise of atheism as an contrary identifier is socially required. Sure, it involves degrees of skepticism and humanism and materialism and naturalism and so on but the question I have is what use is the label if religious privilege is returned to the private domain? I want all of us to be a part of Us and not Them. And I don’t think this collective identifier is possible as long as unjustified faith-based beliefs in general and religious beliefs in particular are accorded public respect and privilege. As a response to that deplorable condition, I call myself a NEW Atheist to advocate why faith-based belief is never a justified belief and speak out against its use.

  2. Actually I used the phrase ‘new atheist’ in my first draft in the way that you suggest but I decided that I wasn’t sure enough of the definition and didn’t want to be presumptuous. Thanks for that input 🙂

  3. I’d describe myself as an atheist who’s agnostic regarding the existence of the supernatural. A very kind Christian friend sent me a C.S. Lewis book called Miracles which I thought argued pretty persuasively against what’s called methodological naturalism. There are, of course, responses to Lewis’s arguments, and responses to the responses, all written by people smarter than me, but I’m kind of exhausted with that whole battle at the moment.

  4. 1. Buddhists are spiritual but don’t believe in a deity that runs everything.

    2. Scientists believe in a physical universe that exists separately from awareness, yet they can’t prove such an assertion, for the simple reason that we can’t step outside our awareness to confirm something beyond it. All “evidence” of such a thing is conjectural, like medievalists arguing for angels on pinheads. In a way, then, scientists believe in a “material universe” the way religionists believe in God: neither can prove or disprove it. And if — as Karl Popper insisted — something can’t be falsified, then it isn’t good science. (On the other hand, a universe made up entirely of awareness IS possible … but that’s another story.)

    … For both these reasons, it’s misleading to assume that atheism and materialism are necessarily connected, except perhaps culturally.

    • Jim, you assert that In a way, then, scientists believe in a “material universe” the way religionists believe in God: neither can prove or disprove it.

      Wrong. Absolutely wrong. Flat out, unequivocally wrong. This is inaccurate, in error, a mistake, and supports a trope that the two methodologies – faith-based and evidence-adduced beliefs – are equivalently justified by reality. They are not. One is wishful thinking that doesn’t allow reality to arbitrate its claims made about it – the kind of ‘belief’ we call faith – the other a reasonable conclusion adduced from compelling evidence arbitrated by reality in ways that seems to be consistent and reliable for everyone everywhere all the time – the kind of ‘belief’ we call knowledge. The two are not equivalent and we know this because only one method – naturalism – produces stuff that works. Religion doesn’t, hasn’t ever, and probably will never produce one jot or tittle of knowledge about the reality we share.

      As soon as someone presents an argument for this false equivalency, we almost always encounter this notion of neither side able to provide ‘proof’… as if this mattered. It doesn’t because science and religion don;t produce proofs. They produce claims about reality… only one of which seems to work and it’s not religion. We should all know that the idea of proofs means a deductive conclusion from premises (that may or may not be true and it doesn’t matter, you see) within an axiomatic system. That’s why we get ‘proofs’ in logic and math and why it’s silly to look for them in biology and literature.

      Evidence actually matters for such claims. And it is this that separates the methods of inquiry into how reality oeprates. Your computer – like the rest of the reality we share – doesn’t work and isn’t affected in any way by hope and wishful thinking and prayer. It works by applying explanations of physical processes, and it is this reliable and consistent result of stuff that seems to work for everyone everywhere all the time that grants us some demonstrable, compelling, and reasonable confidence about those explanations. Those explanations seem to describe a single reality accurately. This should count for more than a hand wave towards some kind of awareness.

      • To tildeb: My apologies; I wasn’t clear. I’ll stipulate that science is all about evidence and religion is largely about arbitrary belief. So you can drop your weapons.

        HOWEVER: Most scientists, I contend, casually assume an unscientific metaphysical belief, which is that there is a hard physical universe that exists outside our awareness (or consciousness, or “experience”, or whatever you want to call it). This belief — though convenient in the same way that we “believe” the equator is a real thing even though it’s just a symbol — can cause weird ripples in one’s viewpoint, like the terror of believing our consciousness will be erased when we die, or the puzzle of why sub-atomic particles behave differently when observed differently. (The same category error would cause us to go to a restaurant and start chewing on the menu, thinking it’s the real food.)

        My original purpose here was to present evidence that there are varying metaphysical crosscurrents among scientists and non-believers about what’s real and what’s not, so as to benefit Eva in her contemplation of atheism versus spiritualism.

        So again: Science rules, yay! Agreed. Science is about using sophisticated tools to discern the truth, whatever it may be, and not about defending a particular presupposition, such as that there is a physical universe and not a spiritual one. I maintain neither one exists of itself. And, in any case, neither are any more provable than is God.

      • Jim, I apologize for my harsh tone but I’ve encountered this argument about proof everywhere I go and it’s a really poor one. Why more people aren’t aware of just how poor it is frustrates me because I know these same people are quite capable of thinking much better than this.

        The notion that consciousness is somehow separate from the brains that produce it is really quite bizarre when we look at the claim with any seriousness because there’s zero evidence to suggest it is possible or even likely. It harkens back to a dualistic notion that consciousness and brain are two ‘things’ that have a relationship that produces causal effect on the world we inhabit. This is ascientific claim.

        Yet the evidence is absolutely overwhelming by every avenue of inquiry we can make using the method of science that our mind is what our brains do. I relate by analogy the notion of consciousness to a flock of birds or a school of fish that only appear to be distinct entities with concrete borders and possessing a seemingly independent consciousness. But when we look closer at what’s really going on in these flocks or schools, we find exactly the same rule in play that exists in neural circuitry that produces behaviours: local units obeying local rules that give the appearance of producing a larger and independent cohesive unit. And this larger unit is easier in language for us to describe than what’s really going on by its constituent units. Your name, for example, identifies you as a person: a giant flock of cells numbering in the trillions. Describing you by all the interactions of these cells doesn’t serve our linguistic purpose of identifying your particular flock; your name does.

        Every indication we can find is that consciousness is not an independent thing but an emergent property of all these units acting as they do. This is compelling evidence to show that our descriptive words used for convenience are not accurate because they imply separate agencies that are not in fact separate. To suggest otherwise shifts the burden of proof to those who claim that it is possible to have consciousness without the units. When this can be shown by compelling evidence adduced from reality to be possible, then and only then is there any reason to grant confidence to the idea of a disembodied whatever. So far… nada.

        Look, when people try to use woo to explain stuff in or about reality, it’s a pretty good indication the explanation is going to be about as useful as breasts on a bull. Deflecting that by asserting there’s an a priori belief in play by those who take the claim seriously – a claim that ‘scientists’ rely on equivalent presupposition that woo is rejected – is a diversionary tactic from recognizing that there really is a paucity of evidence to justify any confidence granted to nebulous agents that supposedly produce causal efficacy.

        • “The notion that consciousness is somehow separate from the brains that produce it is really quite bizarre . . . ” — That’s not what I said or what I think. I’m not arguing about proof versus faith. It’s a completely different topic. I stipulate that there’s a one-to-one correspondence between mind and brain states. In this conversation I’m being tossed onto the heap with woo-woo religionists and then scolded, as if I share their beliefs. Please stand down from DEFCON 4. You’re arguing with someone else’s beliefs, not mine.

          But my concern isn’t with science itself! It’s with the philosophical viewpoint of many scientists, a viewpoint that’s easy to adopt but not, strictly speaking, scientific. Mine is an arcane cavil, and it in no way denies the work or the value of science. (It might, however, have some influence on the Observer problem in quantum physics and, therefore, the Standard Model of physics. Long story for another time.)

          If your life were merely a dream, you wouldn’t need to assert a separate physical reality that underlay your dream. Why bother? Besides, within the dream there would be no way to ascertain the existence of a physical reality underlying the dream, since any such examination would still be within the dream awareness. This argument works equally well for the world we all live in. That’s the point I’m trying to make. The religionists you think I represent will mostly agree with you, not me, about the “hard reality” outside their awareness. I’m not with your group or theirs. I’m standing on the outside and pointing at an assumption that both sides make.

          In fact, I’m trying to use Occam’s Razor to solve the problem of consciousness as an irrelevant “ghost” — which somehow floats next to the physical universe, affected by it but having no effect itself — by eliminating the physical universe altogether from the equation. This doesn’t eliminate science, just a casual presumption that most scientists make about reality. Most seem to conclude that awareness is an unimportant byproduct of the “real” universe, whereas I take the opposite course and assert that awareness is all there is, and the physical universe is as imaginary as the equator. But instead I’m accused of asserting that consciousness somehow impinges itself on hard physical reality. Clearly I’m being misunderstood, so I say again, “There’s NO physical reality,” and they answer, “How, then, can you explain how scientists perform research on physical reality?” Well, because I think there’s NO physical reality! And so forth, endlessly.

          I can’t be heard because people literally can’t imagine existence without a “hard physical universe”. That idea simply doesn’t compute for most people. They will conflate this “external real world” hypothesis with the basic principles of science, assuming they must go together, and conclude I’m attacking science itself. But I’m not. I’m commenting on people’s untested philosophical assumptions that aren’t strictly related to science but happen to impinge on it and have a great allure. A hard physical reality, a world which exists whether you see it or not, makes things seem stable and concrete. It’s an easy explanation for why we find our cars in their parking slots every day. Easy, but likely mistaken. There’s a simpler way. And that simpler way includes science and its discoveries, just not the unprovable notion about a separate physical universe.

          What I’m saying — that there’s no physical universe outside of our awareness — makes no sense to most people. It’s like I’m speaking Greek. So they try to shove my statement into a slot in their worldview where it looks like it will fit, and then argue against my idea in terms of the slot they’ve chosen. But my idea won’t fit into slots that store concepts about a hard, separate physical universe! We need a new set of slots.

          I’m trying to have a “meta-conversation”, not about science, but about philosophy. I’m not getting very far, alas.

          This stuff is super-hard to think about. It’s as hard as physics or math. It’s philosophy, but most scientists tend to give philosophy short shrift, thinking science has displaced philosophy as a system of knowledge. But that, in itself, is a philosophical position! We can’t escape philosophy. It’s a conversation _about_ knowledge, not the knowledge itself. It requires taking a step back from our daily work and wondering about the big picture.

          Good science can make deeper inroads into that big picture if, firstly, it doesn’t presume to dismiss out of hand philosophical questions like the one I’m asking. It’s hard to talk about epistemology or metaphysics to a scientist who thinks philosophy is a waste of time and all that matters is data.

          Science is a massively powerful tool. But to a hammer every problem looks like a nail. And philosophical questions about reality appear, to many scientists, like quaint silliness that long since have been solved by science. My hypothesis contains signifiers that remind them of woo-woo religionists, so they dismiss me out of hand. I can’t finish my statement before I’m being scolded for believing things I don’t believe at all. I love hammers, but I’m feeling like a nail.

          • Okay, Jim, I’ve thought long and hard about your comment and have realized that what I find problematic is that the philosophical position means that whether we’re talking about reality itself or its perception by an awareness – only later dealing with whether or not claims made about reality are true or not – makes no difference whatsoever using this line of approach. We are still left with contrary claims about how reality operates.

            It seems to me that what you are asserting is that if all conceivable evidence is perfectly compatible with x or ⌐x, (reality or an untethered awareness philosophically floating about and creating what we call reality), then it follows (in my mind at least) that the term we use to describe what we find out about this Matrix-like reality – knowledge – is, pragmatically, completely irrelevant. It renders whether a claim made about how reality operates – brought into being as you claim by awareness – is true or not indistinguishable from a dream state that assumes it is existent independent of any particular awareness. And that means that it’s NOT, as you claim, a conversation about knowledge itself; it’s a claim that knowledge is merely a subset of awareness. Yet we have to assume that the awareness is universal to deal with the fact that this reality seems to operate – independent of us – identically for everyone everywhere all the time. (If reality didn’t provide this feedback, then we would be having an entirely different conversation. But it does, which lends a certian amount of likelihood that reality produces awareness of it and not the other way around.)

            But I don’t think this is what you’re actually proposing. I think (and I may be mistaken) that what you are actually asserting is that reality is dependent on awareness of it. What I think you’re saying is that if we change the awareness, we should be able to change the programming of the reality application it produces, so to speak. Knowledge claims about this reality or that reality – assuming on this philosophical basis that different awareness precedes different realities – are therefore linked but dependent.

            So my standard question for any claim about reality is, “Is this true and how do we know?

            Well, the first and insolvable problem (it seems to me) is defining what constitutes awareness independent of awarenss.

            Uh oh. Not possible using the philosphical model you think deserves more respect..

            You speak of awareness as if it were some disembodied agency producing reality and thus making knowledge claims depdent on it; I think of awareness as a receptor and manipulator for environmental input. Can they both be correct? I don’t think there’s any way for us to determine this if your model is used. And this difference in definition is no small problem to overcome so that we can move away from charge of ‘shared philosophical assumption’ and into the realm of understanding based on knowledge independent of our own awareness. .

            Assuming it is possible to arrive at a mutual definition of what awarenss means that has some pragmatic use, for the sake of argument, then can we show that reality is linked to it’s single version, or many and varied, of whatever constitutes this thing you call awareness? How might we do this?

            Rather than try to answer these questions, let’s do as you advise and step back for a moment and think. If we are going to expend effort, then what method are we going to use so that the product of this enquiry can be shared with others?

            Uh oh. I see another insolveable problem, namely, if others have a varied version of awareness, then no sharing is possible without first having to engage awareness. All evidence fits the philosophical model.

            But is this what you are proposing?

            It seems to me (and I may be mistaken) that you are suggesting that your reality is yours; mine is mine, and we don’t have to worry about the lack of compatibility between claims made about them because there is no way to establish what this difference or similarity in awareness might be. This makes your knowledge claims equivalent to my knowledge claims because knowledge is relevant to dependent realities created by awareness rather than any independent arbiter we now philosophicall assume is a shared and singular reality. And as is so often the case in philosophy, this line of enquiry has no practical value because it doesn’t relate to the reality we seem to share; it’s job is to question the assumption using a philosophical lexicon that obfuscates it to the point of irrelevancy. The role doesn’t relate to the likelihood of accuracy for knowledge claims made about this assumed shared reality, but pontificates that we might all be brains in a vat so we have no firm foundation upon which to compare and contrast anything with anything. This use of philosophy acts to obfuscate and muddy the waters of seeking independent validation for our knowledge claims and explanations – adding nothing useful but assuming the role of policing, mistaking its lack of mutual transparency (especially in definitions for key terms) for presumed depths of wisdom that must be respected for it authority.

            In effect, this role alters philosphy into a metaphysical model that acts as a meat grinder for all incoming information and evidence and renders it into a kind of linguistic hamburger of indeterminent meaning so that we can have a chain of reasoning to support the claim we can’t know anything about anything for sure and therefore don’t have to worry of having to deal with likelihood and probability that can be demonstrated to be the same for everyone everywhere all the time for particular claims we wish to make that doesn’t fit this adjudication.

            You can see how handy this role is for woo-meisters. That’s why woo-meisters use this approach. That’s why philosophy can be so easily manipulated to provide the form necessary to produce what appears to be reasonable ‘proofs’ for whatever claims one wishes to believe. That’s why metaphsycis never has, curently doesn’t, and probably never shall, produce any practical knowledge. Ever. That’s not its role. That’s why quantum mechanics is so often hinted at by those using this tactic – because it’s very hard to understand counter-intuitive phenomena as if claims of understanding woo were similarly counter-intuitive… but sound so sciency while doing so.

            I see no positive value in this philosophical approach if we are concerned with finding explanations about how reality works to arbitrate calims we make about it. But I see a a highly negative value in its use to mask knowledge claims with philosphical cover and camouflage.

            • “ . . . it’s a claim that knowledge is merely a subset of awareness.” — My knowledge exists within my awareness; yours, in your awareness; etc. But scientists, I suspect, tend to think that knowledge also exists as a kind of absolute, in a Platonic sense, beyond awareness, containing all true reality. I’m arguing that this concept is as much a fantasy as the idea of God in His Heaven.

              “You speak of awareness as if it were some disembodied agency producing reality . . . ” — My assertion is that there is no reality separate from awareness. Awareness doesn’t create reality; it IS reality.

              Let me clear up my position very quickly by saying that I’m what philosophers would call a “solipsistic subjective idealist”: I’m unable to prove that anyone else exists, and I also maintain that, in any event, there’s no real world out there. So: either there’s just us having experiences, or there’s just me having experiences. There’s nothing else — no abstract physical universe, no heaven, no hell, no nothing outside of awareness.

“ . . . what you are actually asserting is that reality is dependent on awareness of it.” — Again, I’m saying there is NO reality apart from awareness. I’m not saying, e.g., “Awareness creates reality” or “Awareness influences reality”, which in any event would open up the arbitrary possibilities of ESP and ghosts and so forth. Instead, I’m saying “Awareness IS reality.” There’s no extra realm underlying awareness. Awareness (or consciousness) is all there is. Anything more is redundant.

              “ . . . if others have a varied version of awareness, then no sharing is possible . . . ” THIS is where the real sticking point is. If awareness is all there is, then what connects one awareness to another? How can we do any science if every awareness is a bubble unto itself? Allow me to work my way toward a solution:

              For science to work, there ought to be some commonality, which most scientists assume is a “separate reality” beyond awareness that exists whether anyone observes it or not. That’s intuitively a nice, clean way to look at things. I maintain, on the other hand, that such a viewpoint actually makes things more complicated, and that Occam’s Razor dictates that we resolve those conflicts by finding a simpler explanation.

              As you know, in the Middle Ages the Church held that the Earth was the center of the universe and everything else revolved around it. This led to certain difficulties, especially the problem of planetary retrograde motion, which the Church resolved by invoking “epicycles”, quasi-magical force gears that turned the planets back on their paths from time to time. Then Copernicus came along with a much simpler explanation, that the SUN was the center and the Earth merely one of several planets revolving around it, and that retrograde motion was simply a consequence of perspective as the planets passed each other in their orbits. This solved the problem of epicycles (though it didn’t do much for the Church’s self-regard).

              In somewhat the same way, we assume there’s a “real world” that exists outside our awareness, that unfolds across time and space whether anyone watches or not. This theory, too, requires “epicycles” of a sort, namely the ghostly apparitions of our awarenesses that spring forth magically from the “real world” and float somehow on some separate plane of reality. Hence from time to time there crops up the question, “How does consciousness arise from the physical universe?” The question presupposes there’s a physical universe to begin with, and then wonders how this “consciousness” thing showed up, much the way Church elders assumed the Earth was at the center and then puzzled over why the planets lurched in their travels.

              But let’s start from the beginning. All we have to work with is our awareness — our sensations and feelings and thoughts. Awareness is the only place where we can collect data. Every experience we have, every lesson we learn, every color and sensation and yearning and thought we have, all of it takes place within the field of awareness. From birth to death, learning happens to us within the realm of awareness. We can’t ever observe our own awareness “from the outside”, so to speak. We can’t go over and enter someone else’s awareness. And we certainly can’t step outside awareness to contact a hard, outer reality. That supposed reality we must infer within our thoughts, and our thoughts are as close as we can get to it. We can never “see” it outside of awareness. So this “real world” begins to have the attributes of magic — it is arbitrary, can never be observed directly, and has no physical-sensory attributes of its own.

              Anyway: awareness makes maps of itself, putting its experiences into a coherent order so it can find its way from, say, the sensory phenomena it calls “kitchen” to the sensory phenomena it calls “bathroom”. These maps become more sophisticated as awareness grows up, and one of those maps it calls “other people”. Child psychologists name this our “theory of mind”: we begin to infer that other people have awareness, too, and we use that insight to understand and deal with the people around us.

              Another map that awareness makes of its own experiences it calls “the world”. This is a comprehensive map, and for scientists it tends to include a subset of markers — a “compass rose”, if you will — called physics and chemistry and whatnot. This map is so powerful that it begins to take on a mystique of realness, to the point where we believe it represents something that exists quite apart from our own awareness.

              To complete the illusion, we begin to objectify “the world” and to consider it to exist in a higher, more permanent order of reality than our own awareness. At this point, the entire data set contained within our awareness is seen as a mere reflection of some outside existence. We’ve reckoned, from the data generated by our senses and thoughts, that there is a universe that exists apart from us. We’re now just temporary visitors in that solid, more “real” world.

              We’ve got it exactly backward.

              (Someone once said: “Experience is primary. The brain is an explanation.”)

              Here’s a big problem with this “outside reality” thing: our awareness has no edge. There’s no border to your senses and feelings and thoughts. They aren’t located anywhere. What, for example, lies “beyond” your sense of touch? Where is the existential line past which your sight cannot function? Where is the frontier beyond which your senses and feelings and thoughts cease to exist and another reality begins?

              There isn’t one. Awareness is unbounded. Boundaries exist inside awareness, not the other way around. Space and time are thought constructs made up of experiences we’ve had, and it’s unwarranted to suppose that those constructs, designed to codify our sensory inputs, have any validity in some hypothetical realm beyond awareness.

              A wise man once pointed out that, though it’s obvious that the eyes see light because of the sun, it’s not so obvious that the sun is light because of the eyes. Every single law of physics we’ve constructed acts to define or explain patterns within our sensory experience; what’s more, the explanations of physics are composed in terms of those senses. Acceleration, light, mass, dimension, time: all of them put order to our sensations. None can be described without ultimately making reference to the sensations of light or sound or pressure, etc. Even the math used to express the laws of physics is based on counting. Counting what? Things we’ve touched or looked at.

              We assert there’s a universe beyond our awareness, but we literally can’t imagine it without conjuring up sensory images. We’re saying, “There’s a real world that’s beyond the senses, and it’s made up of … um … sizes and shapes and hot and cold.” See, we can’t imagine it without invoking our own sensory awareness. We call it “the physical world” for a reason.

              Again: there’s no border to our awareness, and everything we know is based on our senses. If there were an edge to awareness, then when that awareness gets destroyed, it would have to “disappear” into something else beyond it. What is that “something else”? There isn’t any such thing.

              “But wait!” you reply, “Why can’t there be a mathematical universe that’s somehow real but not sensory?” This is like arguing for the immaterial nature of God, which most scientists quickly poo-pooh as an airy-fairy fantasy. I’m saying that the “real world” is similarly a fantasy. It doesn’t exist. It never has. It can’t. Instead, all there is is awareness.

              “But wait!” you reply again, “How can we have a conversation if there’s no underlying reality to link awarenesses?” Great, great question. We’ve gotten to the crux of the matter. Here’s my answer:

              Since there’s nothing “outside” awareness, there can be no separate awarenesses that exist apart from each other. (Not so mention any separate physical reality.) Every awareness, then, must be equivalent to every other awareness.

              Stay with me. All awarenesses — no matter how few or many there may be — are essentially the same thing, except “written differently” the way the sides of an equation look different but express the same thing. My awareness is “equal” to your awareness, except the terms read out differently.

              Any such version of awareness that is “written” sufficiently similarly to mine will be more likely to contain similar experiences and memories, and I’ll be more likely to encounter the “outside” of such awarenesses in the form of the people I meet. Those people will report consistencies within their experience that are likely similar to mine, and we can develop science from those consistencies.

              It’s not as fun as a grand machine that we’re merely observing (and, perhaps worshipping), but it solves the “epicycles” of awarenesses floating next to some sort of external reality. When you think about it, such a dual universe makes no sense at all (pardon the pun), yet we’re all hypnotized by the idea of it.

              To conclude: There’s only one awareness, and it contains no “outside” beyond it, and it exists in different versions, all of which are equivalent.

              By the way: this theory does not automatically admit of ESP or aliens or seances, unless the science we local awarenesses have developed proves them consistent with the local data.

              Stop laughing! I’m serious about all of this.

              “That’s why woo-meisters use this approach.” — I actually don’t think anyone besides me (and my fellow solipsists) believe there’s no underlying universe outside of awareness. I think most woo-woos believe their thoughts impinge somehow on an underlying reality and move it about. They wish for a kind of magic over the world and hope that ESP, etc., can somehow violate the laws of physics in their favor. I suspect this is what most concerns you about my philosophical stance, and I want to assure you that I’ve been marinated for decades in scientific skepticism and am pro-science and not trying to defend woo-woos.

              My philosophical dispute is not with science itself. It’s a disagreement with a metaphysical viewpoint that most scientists seem to take, which I believe adds a redundancy to their arguments. Granted, this dispute has almost no effect on most science. It’s interesting at the edges, though, especially with Quantum physics and the Observer problem. I haven’t thought deeply on this connection, but I can imagine how a shift in philosophy might lead to an opportunity to solve those deep physics problems. (By scientists, not by woo-woos.)

              Meanwhile, when this discussion is over, most everyone can go back to the labs and continue working with almost no change in their approach to research.

              “ . . . we can’t know anything about anything for sure . . . ” That’s always true, regardless of one’s philosophical outlook. Mathematical philosopher Bertrand Russell maintained that most of the important information we acquire (i.e., scientific) can’t be demonstrated as logically true. That’s because theories based on scientific data require inductive reasoning rather than deductive, and as such are unprovable. So we must consider our discoveries about the world (regardless of whether that world is solipsistic or public) to be contingent. The best we can hope for is a “5 Sigma” data set that gives us a .99999 certainty.

              “I see no positive value in this philosophical approach if we are concerned with finding explanations about how reality works to arbitrate claims we make about it.” — Granted; see above.

              “ . . . metaphysics never has, currently doesn’t, and probably never shall, produce any practical knowledge.” — Agreed. Its purpose is to adjudicate the basic rules of reality under which science operates. Meanwhile, epistemology is where philosophers of science work out the principles of knowledge-gathering. Such rules, including the conduct of research, peer review, the use of statistical analysis, stochastics, the applicability of math to various fields of research, and Russell’s warning itself (above) are philosophical in origin. My dispute is metaphysical, but it involves a conversation about how we gather knowledge and to what that knowledge refers, so it’s also epistemological.

              Talking about science, then, is inherently philosophical, even if most scientists conclude airily that they can dismiss philosophy as irrelevant to them. Maybe that’s because much of the philosophy they’ve heard is woo-woo in nature. There’s a lot of room for bushwah, especially in metaphysics, but ignoring philosophical concerns leaves science without moorings.

              “But I see a a highly negative value in its use to mask knowledge claims with philosophical cover and camouflage.” — You’re saying, “Don’t talk about this! It’ll just encourage the woo-woos.” I’m aiming my comments at scientists, not woo-woos. But it’s better to bring out all the arguments than suppress the ones we don’t like: the truth will out in the competition between ideas. I’m happy to be wrong, but I’m unhappy if I’m forbidden to discuss the “wrong” things.

              Science will win out in the end. It may not always give us the answers we hope for, but, if it’s good science, its conclusions will have the compelling power of truth. My little cavil has little to do with science per se. It’s mostly for Eva’s amusement. But I’m always willing to engage in this extended type of sidebar with anyone who’s willing to jump down the Rabbit Hole with me.

              • Sorry Jim, but I think you’ve allowed this line of reasoning to become derailed from any means to differentiate up from down, black form white, without checking in first with an absentee boss: metaphysics. If you allow metaphysics to rule the roost of knowledge, then all is lost because it has no means available to any assertion about anything at anytime armed as it is with an epistemology that contains no independent method to adjudicate. That’s where woo reigns supreme – ignoring any and all arbitration of any of its claims. That’s how we end up with assuming that motion must have agency, that things have natures, that mind is dissociated from brain, that awareness determines reality, and so on. These assumptions fool us because they offer no means to verify them. Yet when we try to explain how things operate, such an epistemology leads us exactly nowhere and produces not one jot or tittle of insight upon which we can build applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time. It allows Fred the woo-meister to assume stars are little sparkly thing dangling from the covering blanket to be an equivalent authority to an astrophysicist talking about celestial bodies in the vacuum of space because you’ve ordered the epistemology that cannot be independently verified. Your model fails to be either practical or functional. Or, as Sean Carroll likes to say, you’re relying on terms that are ill-defined. Metaphysics is founded on such terms.

                You say of metaphysics that (i)ts purpose is to adjudicate the basic rules of reality under which science operates. Meanwhile, epistemology is where philosophers of science work out the principles of knowledge-gathering.

                No. Just because you allow metaphysics this role doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or justified. In fact, we have a long history to evaluate this role and it is an abject failure to produce knowledge. Motion does not require agency. things have properties, that mind is what the brain does, that awareness arises out of reality. And we have models for each of these that informs applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time and THIS is what justifies these claims… not philosophy, not metaphysics, not an epistemology of ill-defined terms.

                You assert that We assert there’s a universe beyond our awareness, but we literally can’t imagine it without conjuring up sensory images.

                Again, no… not because I say so but because we can determine that our sensory apparatus is built only to receive and not project. We have a raft of compelling evidence – liking injury and chemical interference – that our awareness is dependent on the health of our biology. That why, for example, many people sneeze in sunlight. Your model doesn’t care how this comes about because you compartmentalize science as being a subset of philosophy which is a subset of metaphysics where no arbitration is ever possible to claims such as assuming that it is imagination that determines our awareness of reality! Involuntary sneezing in sunlight is a subset of the metaphysics of awareness, apparently! But surely you appreciate that this sort of epistemology doesn’t mean anything. What means something is that sneezing is a chemical response to firing neurons excited by activation the optic nerve activated by incoming photons striking the retina and starting a chemical cascade in the brain with predictable results. Awareness has nothing to do with it; it’s simply a physical process independent of any awareness we might wish to visit on it. Your model fails to account for this compelling evidence so busy is it waxing metaphysical terms. And was retrograde action of the epicycles that indicated why the brilliant model by Ptolemy was absurd. But reality tends to have this effect on our metaphysical claims when we allow it – and not our assumptions and assertions – to arbitrate claims made about it… including the claim that everything is awareness.

                Sorry if this sounds harsh, but philosophy unhinged from reality’s arbitration of its proposed models serves only to promote ignorance and woo as a compatible ‘way of knowing’. Empowering it or anything else with belief that it deserves some kind of authority over the method we call science (when dealing with claims about how reality operates independently of our perception of it) is a guaranteed way to impede the acquisition of knowledge about the reality we share, and the effects for this misplaced empowerment are always (I think) pernicious to human well-being.

                • “That’s how we end up with assuming that motion must have agency, that things have natures, that mind is dissociated from brain, that awareness determines reality, and so on.” — That’s not what I’m saying. I almost got it across (not that you agreed with it, which of course you don’t have to do), but now you’ve returned to your earlier arguments, which don’t speak to my own position but to another viewpoint entirely.

                  1. It sounds like you still believe that I’m arguing for awareness untethered by physical reality. No! I’m arguing that there’s NO REALITY OUT THERE. Yes, it’s a weird proposition, but that’s because we’re thoroughly indoctrinated to the idea that the maps we make of our experience actually represent something outside our experience. My position is a radical one, but it’s NOT an excuse for woo-woo.

                  2. You appear to claim that I’m questioning the foundations of science. I’m not questioning science! I’m questioning a metaphysical assertion that most scientists — especially cosmologists and particle physicists — tend to make. Science and the beliefs held by scientists are two different things.

                  3. You appear to dismiss my ideas on the ground that science can’t happen merely inside awareness. I assert that awareness is a complete description of the universe — that it IS the universe, that every single awareness is equal to every other and therefore all are versions of the same thing, except seen from different angles, like different facets on the same diamond. Science is a conversation between the facets about consistencies across their perspectives, where each facet IS the diamond as a point of view. This part of my theory is super-weird and takes a lot more discussion, but we can’t get there if the listener is focused on disproving a proposition that I’m not even making.

                  4. You assert that metaphysics has no place in science. THAT is a metaphysical assertion! Science presupposes that there’s a discoverable truth out there, and THAT, too, is a metaphysical (and epistemological) assertion. Science further asserts that it knows how to find the answers, and THAT is a philosophical assertion. Philosophy and religion often become entangled, so that scientists often want to dismiss philosophy altogether, and THAT is a philosophical stance.

                  We can’t escape philosophy if we’re going to do science. If we think we don’t need philosophy, we’ve just made a philosophical assertion that will cripple our research. You’re already operating under philosophical ground rules yet you’re claiming those rules aren’t philosophical but merely “scientific”. And THAT is a philosophical assertion.

                  Science floats on a sea of philosophy — a much more navigable sea than the one sailed on by religionists — but it’s philosophy nonetheless. Without science, philosophy is arid … but without philosophy, science can’t get anywhere.

                  5. You seem to believe that my alternate explanation for the nature of reality is an attempt to open the doors to woo-woo beliefs in the power of thought over the physical world. No! Again, I don’t think there even exists a separate physical world. And I certainly don’t agree with the woo-woos. But I also don’t hold with the “hard reality” metaphysics of most scientists. We can’t have that discussion, though, as long as I’m unable to communicate my ideas so they’re not seen as something they’re not.

                  I accept that brain states have a one-to-one correspondence with consciousness, but I also assert that “brain states” are merely a different viewpoint within awareness; they have no separate existence apart from awareness. This is the crux of my system, and it’s where the conversation collapses, not because I’m wrong (which I may be), but because your comments speak to some other philosophy, not mine.

                  If you’re looking at an EKG readout or a brain’s blood-flow image, you’re still operating within the realm of your own awareness — recall, in my version of reality, knowledge doesn’t exist outside awareness, because your awareness is all there is — and then you make the METAPHYSICAL ASSUMPTION that the brain you’re observing exists separately from your observation of it. You could be lying on a gurney, looking at screen readouts of your own brain’s activity, but your visual sensations — AND the readouts AND the concept of your brain in your skull — exist only within your awareness. You could be dreaming up the whole thing, and there’s no way to prove you’re not, so why add an extra layer of reality by asserting that there’s a separate existence that mediates your sensory input? We add that layer because it’s convenient, not because it’s true.

                  In the same way, we add a redundant “I” to our concept of ourselves, as if there were a little person inside our brain who watches what we see and hears what we hear. It’s redundant. There’s no such person, just as there’s no external reality beyond our awareness.

                  It’s like looking at a watch, figuring out what’s inside it that makes the hands move, and then never being able to test that hypothesis by opening up the watch. The “external reality” belief system is like a watch that can’t be opened, a hypothesis that can’t be tested. It’s the single biggest unprovable assertion made by most scientists. It can’t be proven for the simple reason that all the evidence for it exists within awareness. We can’t escape our awareness to “see” something beyond it.

                  In short: people say, “It’s raining,” and I’m asking, “WHAT’s raining?”

                  Yet this persistent, commonsensical, metaphysical viewpoint among most people (not just scientists) amounts to a foundational belief of the secular religion that I name “materialism”. It’s as arbitrary as Hinduism. It’s as arbitrary as God and angels and demons. Yet most scientists — untethered by a solid philosophy — float off into that arbitrary belief system as if it were as real as the sunrise. They never question it because they think it’s beyond questioning. They never see it because, living inside it 24 hours a day, they stop noticing it altogether.

                  It’s so pervasive we don’t even realize we’re believing in it. We swim inside the ocean of that philosophy, never realizing we’re swimming, never rising out of that ocean to see that it’s an ocean of unprovable belief.

                  And then I come along and say, “There’s no external reality,” and people respond, “Yes, but you’re not accounting for external reality.” *SIGH*

                  People also tend to think that anyone who questions that belief is also questioning science. But science is about finding the truth, not propping up a favored philosophical viewpoint about what constitutes reality. Asserting that your data set points to a category of reality that you can never observe directly, outside your awareness, is like deciding who’s telling the truth simply by asking them. The answer will be reflexive; it’s not valid evidence; it’s a form of circular reasoning. It’s philosophy done badly.

                  Philosophy isn’t about producing knowledge. It’s about coming up with the RULES for producing knowledge. You may argue this point with philosophers of science, in their offices at science departments of universities, to your heart’s content, but I must claim exhaustion and bow out.

                  Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I fear I will leave you with the misapprehension that I’m promoting awareness-impinging-on-reality and the victory of woo-woo over science and evil winning out. I’m not, but nothing I say seems to convince you otherwise. You’re welcome to scold me once again about the woo-woo beliefs I don’t actually have, and in that way you may have the last word. I’m happy to answer questions about my viewpoint, but I’m exhausted from being lectured about the viewpoint you incorrectly insist I hold. It’s my fault; my viewpoint is really weird and hard to describe. (But so are Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. That doesn’t make them wrong.) I’m out of ideas on how to clear up the misconceptions.

                  You’re doing a fair job of defending science, even — in an excess of caution — against those who aren’t attacking it. It was an adventure chatting with you, and it helped hone my theory and develop great material for my own blog. Best of luck.

                    • “But this awareness, like everything else you derive from it, is simply imaginative…ispo facto. It’s irrelevant.” — I don’t “imagine” sunlight or blue skies or warm water or sweet desserts. Those are fundamental, and “the real world” is an explanation for them, an explanation I question.

                      We’re talking past each other again, talking about different things. This is pointless.

  5. Tildeb, you said; “The notion that consciousness is somehow separate from the brains that produce it is really quite bizarre when we look at the claim with any seriousness because there’s zero evidence to suggest it is possible or even likely”

    I think that there is a large amount of evidence that it is separate, you see. I feels that numerous studies have done a lot to establish this. But maybe not in studies that can be replicated in a lab, so maybe not your idea of ‘evidence’?

  6. I know there are a lot of reports about weird stuff but what I am talking about is a total lack of any understanding of any mechanism that links cause with effect applied towards explaining reports suggestive of a disembodied consciousness. The evidence for the explanation has to demonstrate why it’s justified, you see. And this has been a major problem because no such demonstrations are forthcoming. We have reports; we have this suggested explanation; we have nothing independent of those making these claims to link them together.

  7. tildeb, wait, I think I get it. You’re saying that our sense data — blue, hot, hard, etc — are imaginary, but our concepts — our ideas about a “physical world” — are real. It’s a compelling idea, that our awareness is a mere reflection of something that’s more real. But this is like saying, “What I feel is an illusion, and what I believe is real.” That’s tantamount to saying, “The real is imaginary, and the imaginary is real.” It’s upside-down.

    UV-B, photons traveling at light speed, the biochemistry of Vitamin D production, all of that is conceptual — imaginary! useful, yet imaginary — but a sunburn is real. Instead, we worship our concepts as if they were gods, while our actual experience — our awareness of feelings and sounds and so forth — we take to be imaginary.

    Imagine that.

    • Because we interpret sensory data does not mean the data itself is illusory or subjective. This only speaks to how we process sensory data.

      Look, my criticism is that either

      1) the model you’ve presented that awareness is real but everything else is an emergent property of it seems to me to be identical in every knowable, testable, predictive way to reality is real AND awareness is an emergent property of it… as long as we keep the terms of your model ill-defined (what exactly is ‘awareness’, how is it produced, and how is it bordered from not-awareness? More importantly, how can we compare, contrast, and know if this is accurate?) I will use the analogy of a balanced equation using ill-defined symbols and suggest that pointing to either side of an equal sign doesn’t add anything meaningful to our understanding of what constitutes the equation itself. We simply recognize that particular symbol as meaning ‘equal’. I think that’s what your doing with your model: pointing to the equal sign of an equation you’ve created that doesn’t seem to mean anything other than possessing an equal sign. That’s not an insight into what the equation supposedly means if we don’t have a well-defined and mutual comprehensive understanding of what the symbols themselves represent.


      2) we look to what we find in the ‘awareness field’ to see how reality is projected. But what we find is consistently the other way around: that all data from this ‘awareness field’ must be received. This is a significant problem to the model you present because it makes no sense why any ‘awareness’ would project nothing but ‘receiving’ sensory apparatus. If your model were correct, it should be the other way around and we should have evidence that the data is transmitted. To get around this significant problem, you have assured us that we can assume ‘awareness’ just is… but that we interpret it from various angles. All you’ve done is replace the term ‘reality’ with the term ‘awareness’ as if this solves the problem but then you continue to go back and use ‘awareness’ as if it is a projection.. This is where the woo factor comes into play: any claim about reality using your model can be presented as if it were a projection of awareness – an imposition – on reality without any means for reality to arbitrate claims made about it. This is the same method that informs any and all faith-based claims… an imposition of belief on reality and then justified by the earnestness of belief!

      Because we know that faith-based beliefs do not ever produce practical applications, therapies, and technologies that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time, I see no compelling reasons to think your model is an improvement over faith-based epistemology. Claiming by a circumbendibus jaunt into and through the rabbit hole of philosophy and metaphysics to support your claim that your model is meaningful or revealing I think is a diversion from its lack of usefulness.

      • “[ . . . ] what exactly is ‘awareness’, how is it produced, and how is it bordered from not-awareness?” — Please please please listen carefully to this: I’m saying there IS NO REALITY OUTSIDE AWARENESS. Yet you keep asking, “How, then, can you explain the reality outside awareness?” I say, “There is only ‘A’ and no ‘B’,” and you respond, “Well, then how do you account for ‘B’?” Please think carefully about that.

        It’s important that you respond to my theory on its own terms and not try to nest it inside your theory and then criticize it for not fitting. Only then can we discuss possible problems with my theory, e.g., “How can we do science if there’s only awareness and no outside reality?” and “How can multiple awarenesses exist if there’s only one unbounded awareness?” THOSE are interesting questions with useful answers, but they can’t be addressed if you insist that I’m merely saying that awareness (or consciousness) is simply detached from a real world.

        You especially can’t engage with my ideas if you’re busy trying to prove that it’s anti-science woo-woo. I read science digests every day, and I subscribe to eSkeptic, etc. I’m a philosophical outlier, true, but I believe the scientific method is one of the great inventions of humanity. I’m not an anti-science hippie. You’re defending science against someone who loves science. Our philosophies differ, but the scientific method fits nicely into both viewpoints. However, you must understand my viewpoint before we can critique it.

        Anyway, my assertions is simple: THERE IS NO REAL WORLD. The “real world” is an idea, a concept, an illusion. It’s imaginary, like God or ghosts or alien colonoscopies. Honor me by pondering this idea carefully. I guarantee, it won’t hurt science or make you disloyal to science.

        • “There is only ‘A’ and no ‘B’,” and you respond, “Well, then how do you account for ‘B’?” Please think carefully about that.

          I have. That’s why I say you use this tack to substitute the term ‘awareness’ for the model about ‘reality’. There’s only reality or there’s only awareness. The two are interchangeable in the way you use it. There is no ‘and’. This makes your model immune from any verification. Please think carefully about that.

          You especially can’t engage with my ideas if you’re busy trying to prove that it’s anti-science woo-woo.

          I’m not trying to prove it’s woo-woo; I’m pointing out that it uses the same methodology as that which informs claims that are woo but tries to harness sciencey sounding terms to it (especially quantum physics).

          THERE IS NO REAL WORLD. The “real world” is an idea, a concept, an illusion. I have pondered the idea and this is the crux of my disagreement with your model because there’s no evidence in its favour that indicates it’s usefulness and much evidence contrary to the assertion (sensory receptors and not sensory projectors) that is the same contra indicators as that which faces claims of woo. Don’t assume disagreement means misunderstanding. How do explain sensory receptors if the real world is an idea, a concept, an illusion that can be shown to respond to chemical and physical changes? How can an illusion cause these responses unless there a mechanism to project it and instigate a causal response?

          • [I said I was done with this, but the will is weak. Here we go again . . . ]

            “How do you explain sensory receptors if the real world is an idea, a concept, an illusion that can be shown to respond to chemical and physical changes?” — You observe a flag waving in the breeze, and decide to keep notes every morning about whether the flag is still there. Every day, regular as clockwork, the flag is there, waving away. Soon you conclude that the flag is always there whether you look at it or not. But all you’ve proven is that the flag is there WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT. You’ve simply mapped out a consistency in your conscious awareness. But claiming that you’ve somehow therefore mapped out a separate “reality” is going a bridge too far.

            Yes, I’m asserting the moon is only there when we look at it. “But what about when other people look at it?” Those other people only exist when you look at them, too. Both moon and people are contingent on your observation of them. And you can’t use one contingent source to prove that another source exists unconditionally. “But those people think they exist!” How do you know? Just because you hear words coming from their mouths? Prove it. Prove they exist. But don’t assume as an axiom that they must exist and then “derive” that they exist from your original axiom. That’s cheating.

            Saying, “The universe has many black holes” is like saying, “If I travel to certain places, I’ll see the X-ray storms and other evidence of a black hole.” It’s NOT saying, “Black holes exist somehow of themselves, regardless of whether anyone looks at them.”

            Take away all sensation — all feeling, all vision, all sound, all pressure — and you take away all of your data. Without sensations, you can’t even guess that there might be something beyond your senses. Without sensations, you can’t develop the math that might count the elements of a “reality”. Without sensations, you’re describing … nothing.

            * * * *

            “ . . . there’s no evidence in its favour that indicates its usefulness and much evidence contrary . . . “ SHOW ME this evidence without “assuming the conclusion”. Show me that science has proven there’s an external world beyond the senses without arguing, “Well, we start with an external world because that’s common sense, and then science observes it, so therefore everything science discovers must refer to an external world! Ta-DAHHH!” That’s called “begging the question” in logic. 

            All you can guess is that if, for example, you follow the map in your head that describes the tall rectangular thing you’re pulling open as a “door” and put your “feet” one in front of the other along a “sidewalk”, that after a few dozen steps you’ll find you’re looking at your “car” in a “parking lot”. But to go from that to the idea that there’s a parking lot and sidewalk and door that exist all the time, whether you’re looking at them or not, is convenient but UNPROVABLE. 

            It’s absurdly simple: no one — not a scientist, not a hippie, not anyone — can observe a parking lot when they’re not there to observe it. No one can ever prove such a thing exists beyond awareness because all the evidence we collect lies in a realm called “awareness” (or consciousness), and none of the evidence we collect ever comes directly from the presumed realm called “reality”. It’s simply awareness making notes about itself, and then it thinks up the concept of an external reality that it can never see directly and, hence, never prove exists, even if it seems useful and reassuring. A menu is useful, too, but don’t try to eat one.

            A sense of self is useful, as well, but there’s actually no person inside your head that’s having your experiences. That’s as redundant as “reality”. You say, “I went to the store,” but there’s no THING that exists separately from everything else and then used a body to go to the store. Thinking there’s an “I” that exists inside ourselves is comforting, but it’s just as illusory as the concept of a solid, stable “separate reality” out there beyond the senses. It’s a crutch.

            All you can claim for sure is what you notice in your awareness (or experience, or consciousness, or whatever you want to call it). But awareness then makes up categories — “tree”, “person”, “car”, “sky” — which start to look like separate, real things. They’re not. They’re just patterns within awareness, maps of our sensations.

            There’s no data whatsoever that proves there’s an external reality; there’s only an ingenious, “unfalsifiable” supposition that the data must refer to an outside entity. But there’s no way to sneak up on that entity “without its sensory clothes on”, so to speak, any more than you can sneak up and watch God take a bath. You can claim all day that there’s a God or a “reality”, but you can never point to that reality directly or gather data directly from it. Both God and “reality” exist on a separate plane from awareness, like the “astral plane” of the woo-woos, that you can never access directly. “Reality” is an extra; it’s not provable. By Occam’s Razor, then, you must simply drop the concept of “reality” altogether. This hurts, but then, sometimes the truth does that.

            The only way to amass data is to use your sensory awareness, either to observe sensations directly (blue or hot or long or heavy) or to monitor, still within your awareness, sensory aggregations you call “people” or “machines” who apparently are doing the collecting for you. But no one can extract data from an “object” without the intermediation of sensations. To claim more is a fallacy. The “reality” you assert is always invisible to us, like the machinery of a magic trick. And I’m saying Reality — and God — are beyond invisible: they don’t exist at all.  

            Still, an ever-present parking lot (or a “city” or a “university” or a “mountain”) is a useful idea, like the lines of latitude and longitude on a map, but those lines don’t “exist” separately from the map. Same for “reality”: it doesn’t exist except as a convenient concept. You’re mapping your awareness, not some external reality. You’re collecting evidence “within” awareness, not from an outside plane of existence. That’s my whole point.

            * * * *

            “ . . . no evidence . . . that indicates its usefulness . . . ” — This is a philosophical stance derived from Pragmatism, and it discounts much of what underlies science. It’s like insisting that mathematics — which is made up entirely of logical propositions completely outside the realm of empirical data — contains fields that are false simply because they haven’t yet proven useful. Besides, my solipsism might well prove useful in aiding our understanding of wave functions, the “many worlds hypothesis”, etc. (Again, long story, no woo-woo.)

            “There’s only reality or there’s only awareness. The two are interchangeable in the way you use it.” — Close, but not quite. I’m not claiming that awareness equals reality. In my approach,THERE IS NO REALITY! There’s stuff you might call “sensations”, and there’s stuff you might call “thoughts”. Those realms I collect into “awareness”. And that’s all we’ve got to go on. There’s no getting outside sensations and thoughts to witness an alternate reality. We’re trapped, and there are no windows. We CAN do science all day, but only by working with the data of our awareness. Calling awareness “reality” is trying to start up the “separate realm” idea again. Don’t go there. At least, not with my approach.

            (You should give up on this, by the way. You’re convinced I’m using sloppy thinking and/or trying to trick you … and hey, I might succeed! So get out now before the Devil has your soul. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)


            Hey, Eva! Are you still there? Eva? … Eva? … Nah, she left a long time ago.

            Basically, you’re dreaming. It’s all dream, and no reality. And science is a powerful way to map out your dream. Your science will necessarily involve absorbing reports from “other people”, but all of it — including the people — happens within the dream. Science still works fine! It’s just not referring to any solid absolutes beyond your dream.

            (Whether anyone else is dreaming alongside you is another matter. But if you can’t at least assume, for the sake of argument, that you’re merely dreaming, then we can’t get to that part of the discussion.)

            … I’ll end with a story: Once upon a time, a very long time ago, the village chieftain was walking along the shoreline when he came upon a young man from the village. The young man was squatting down, using a stick to draw pictures in the sand.

            The chieftain asked, “What are you drawing?” The young man replied, “I’m inventing a new form of transportation. It’s called a ‘sailboat’. It will float up and down the coast, moving people and goods much faster than an ox cart.”

            The chieftain asks, “Where do the oxen go?” The young man says, “Oh, there are no oxen! The sailboat moves with the wind.” The chieftain says, “That’s impossible. An ox cart is too heavy to move simply from a breeze. There must be oxen. Where do you put the hay?” The young man, frustrated, yells, “It’s not a cart! It’s wind-powered! THERE ARE NO OXEN!”

            The chieftain snaps, “There must be!” The young man, angry, gets up and jogs off toward the village. The chieftain looks down at the sand drawings for a moment, then carefully uses his foot to wipe them away.

            • In conclusion I will reiterate that we must remember that science is a method of inquiry that produces models that are then tested against reality to see if the explanations seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time. This method seems to be very fruitful in applications, therapies, and technologies.

              To suggest that your model incorporates science but presents awareness as the only game in town and that reality is a projection of it doesn’t contain any means to differentiate claims based on the merit of any independent justification. As such, I think it isn’t a useful model and produces no knowledge. It isn’t mind-blowing because the evidence against I think is quite compelling, namely, that all the sensory means we have at our disposal is to receive and not transmit. In your model we shouldn’t need this order because awareness only creates illusions. And that’s why I think your model is wrong: unlike the sailboat analogy, it cannot be demonstrated to work. Pretending criticisms of it are based on fear or ignorance or misunderstanding is a diversion from you recognizing why your model’s explanatory weaknesses are I think fatal to it. It doesn’t fit the evidence.

              • (Apparently I can do this all day. Already I’ve written upwards of 10,000 words. This is the biggest pen-pal connection I’ve ever had.)

                “ . . . science is a method of inquiry that produces models that are then tested against reality . . . “ — Science tests its models against DATA, not “reality”. Everyone assumes the data “comes from reality”, but that’s a leap. And that’s my whole point. My approach is minimalist. No extras. No philosophical baggage attached. Science is organized data, not necessarily organized reality.

                You don’t have to presume a “real world out there” to do science. All you have to do is be careful with your assumptions, collect data, find consistencies, refine your hypothesis and collect more data, etc etc, until you have a 5-Sigma result, and then you can collect your Nobel. But you can’t simply ASSUME that the data is somehow arriving from a separate plane of existence beyond conscious awareness. That’s extraneous.

                The Scientific Method is about developing FACTS; whether it’s about a “reality” is a separate issue, to be tested if possible. But nobody does that because everyone assumes “reality” is already proven. It’s not, and it probably can’t be. Moreover, it’s an unnecessary assumption that sometimes gums up the works.

                “ . . . all the sensory means we have at our disposal is to receive and not transmit.” — Only if you assume at the outset that there’s a separate reality out there that somehow impinges on the awareness that’s collecting data. You’re assuming the conclusion again, the very conclusion I’m questioning. (Anyway, “transmit”…? Where does that come from? The ancient Greeks thought the eyes transmitted light, but what did they know?) 🙂

                I have failed to communicate my idea, because you keep commenting on a theory I haven’t proposed. Admittedly, my theory is hard to explain because it’s so weird. I’ll know I have succeeded when you start asking different questions. And there’s plenty to ask and plenty to critique. Until then I’m stuck parrying your embedded idea about a “reality”. You keep insisting I’m somehow trying to shoehorn an amped-up theory of awareness into a “real world out there” when that’s precisely NOT what I’m saying.

                Your entire analysis of my thesis would work beautifully IF I were asserting that awareness somehow affects an outside world. But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying there’s NO outside world. And for you, apparently, that idea bounces off your notion of what science does, so the idea gets rejected out of hand, and you go back to trying to argue that my idea is simply a failed version of your own theory of a separate reality.

                The trick is to abandon entirely the idea of “reality” JUST FOR PURPOSES OF DISCUSSION. You don’t have to adopt my theory forever; just for the moment. Then we can work out how to do science — and how one communicates with others — in the absence of the commonsense idea of a “separate reality”. (SPOILER: science turns out to be essentially similar in my version, the way most physics works just fine in a Newtonian framework even though Relativity/Quantum Theory are more accurate … Hold it, that’s just an analogy! Don’t waste your time picking at it.)

                Yes, my idea is a “Red Pill” concept. I keep handing you a Red Pill but instead you take a Blue Pill and call it Red and then complain because it isn’t working. Of course it’s not! You still haven’t taken the Red Pill.

                Frankly, I can’t blame you. It’s probably bad for you. What if it tempts you to abandon Science? What if it turns you into a Woo-Woo? I’d stay away from it. But meanwhile you’re wasting your own time and effort when you keep criticizing a theory I haven’t even proposed.

                Let’s say you and I go to the art museum, where there’s a room full of 3-D pictures. At first they look 2-D, but if you cross your eyes just so, the overlapping left-and-right pixels line up and suddenly your brain “gets it” and you can see that the horse is in the foreground and the people are in the background and not just midgets. But until then it just looks 2-D and boring. I can talk all day about how cool the 3-D is and you’re just gonna keep saying, “It’s not 3-D. You’re making it up.”


                Anyway, you’re wasting even more time assuming I’m trying to dodge and weave around your knockout punches — that somehow I really know you’re right and I just won’t come out and admit it. You’re not hitting me! You’re slugging the referee.

                • I know I said earlier, “In conclusion…” but I have to respond to clarify a misrepresentation. I had written, ““ . . . all the sensory means we have at our disposal is to receive and not transmit.”

                  We can demonstrate this fact, that our senses receive data without saying anything at all about the data itself or its origins. The sensory apparatus receives, in that it doesn’t operate until it is activated by incoming data. In your model of awareness, this doesn’t make sense. If awareness projected what we call (that you continue to say we ‘assume’ when we don’t) reality, then there should be evidence of this projection by the construction of our senses and demonstrable by how the senses operate. They – our sense – are not cooperating with your model.

                  You then respond by asserting, “Only if you assume at the outset that there’s a separate reality out there.” No. I’m not making this assumption. I’m examining how our sense are built and how they operate. They are receiving data that is not illusory. You insist that reality is illusory. Again, our senses and how they operate are contrary to this assertion. And again, I’m not talking about data these senses receive; I’m pointing out that they only receive and this fact does not comport with your hypothesis that what these senses receive is illusory.

                  Here’s you claim: “I’m saying there’s NO outside world.” If this were true, then what is it our senses receive? According to you… nothing other than ‘awareness’. You’ve built a circular argument here by insisting that there’s only awareness and everything supports this model… including compelling evidence contrary to it because this evidence is simply ‘awareness’ too! And you accomplish this feat by simply calling contrary evidence a problem of comprehension on the part of whoever points out it because, hey, there’ only awareness – a term that remains identical to reality but without the same means to verify how it operates. So, yes, your hypothesis is, at heart, contrary to the method of inquiry we call science because it has no means to be arbitrated independently of your hypothesis.

                  Furthermore, this notion can be used easily to blame people for their self-imposed conditions (if they were more aware, they could dismiss a painful cancer that’s killing them, let’s say. It’s as if you say, “No problem” because the cancer isn’t real unless an awareness makes it only seem so. This is the bunk behind The Secret, a handy way to allow victims to be blamed for any and all misfortune they encounter. The hypothesis you present is not just deeply anti-scientific in that it disallows any arbitration of it (there is compelling evidence for the Matrix in the movies by anomalies of natural physical laws and physical connections to the bodies for interactions with the Matrix) but I think a way to fool yourself into allowing belief to be empowered by belief. That’s never been, and continues not to be, a path to knowledge that is productive.

                  • “The sensory apparatus receives, in that it doesn’t operate until it is activated by incoming data.” — How do you know? Your argument starts by assuming you have sensory “receptors”, and then of course you conclude there must be an outside world. But all you know from the outset is that you’re experiencing sensations, not that those sensations refer to anything.

                    Sensations are primary, not eyeballs. You start with sensations, then derive the (possibly incorrect) concept of a sensory apparatus. An eyeball is a conclusion, not a premise.

                    Just because you’re having a sensation doesn’t mean it’s a sensation OF something. It’s just a sensation. Whether it refers to an outside world is debatable. For all you know, you’re an alien being in a far-off universe, lying asleep on a hospital gurney, tentacles dangling limply, enjoying some really great drugs that are creating an hallucinatory dream state where you think you’re a human having a debate about reality. Just because that possibility might seem unpleasant doesn’t make it wrong.

                    Again: your argument BEGINS with the conclusion, that there’s an outside world, and then you decide that sensations must be activated by receptors, and then you say, “See? There’s an outside world.” That’s circular.

                    Try working through that process without starting with the assumption that there’s an outside world, or that your sensations MUST be receptors that are connected to an external reality. Accept only the data of your sensations without assuming they refer to something outside you. Your purpose, then, is to find out whether they refer to anything outside. Observe the sensations without the baggage of the presupposition about an external reality. You’ll find that the most you can deduce, legitimately, is that there are consistencies within your sensations that you can make use of in daily life.

                    You can’t use your sensations to prove you’re not dreaming.

                    Meanwhile, you blame my idea, which you’re misreading, as the cause of all sorts of bad fallacies that lead to suffering in the world. So not only am I wrong in your view, but my ideas are bad for people, as if the bad consequences of a conclusion prove it to be wrong, or that a theory must have productive consequences in order to be valid.

                    By the way, the rebels escaped from The Matrix because it was flawed. But that doesn’t mean all simulations are flawed. You could be inside one right now, carefully proving that your sensations are based on receptors, when all along they are fake.

                    • But all you know from the outset is that you’re experiencing sensations, not that those sensations refer to anything.

                      Again, no. I earlier used the example of sneezing from sunlight. About 35% of the population does this. The reason is because of the physical proximity of the neural circuitry between the optic nerve and those that control the involuntary sneezing circuitry. Awareness has nothing to do with the chemical cascade that is caused by receiving photons that result in the sneeze. And this is why I keep harkening back to the word play you rely on to avoid dealing with evidence that indicates a receptive causal chain independent of your sensations or my sensations but a physical phenomena that can be demonstrated and explained by a model of an independent reality. You can’t just reject this kind of evidence under the heading of ‘awareness’ without assuming that the term is going to mean only what you want it to mean when it’s convenient. This is why the ill-defined term ‘awareness’ seems to me to be used repeatedly by you as a substitute for ‘reality’. Awareness means perceiving but you use it to mean projecting. But there’s no evidence for this! There is, in contrast, overwhelming evidence that we receive information/data from an independent source we call ‘reality’. This is the root source for our perceptions. We also can interpret these perceptions that by how we interpret can cause additional effect. And this is a key understanding about how we learn: by interpreting our perceptions and then working with the received data, we can then alter neural circuitry.

                      An eyeball is a conclusion, not a premise.

                      An eyeball is a photon receiver. It is neither a premise nor a conclusion and defining it this way does not further our understanding of how it operates.

                      Observe the sensations without the baggage of the presupposition about an external reality.

                      This is why we can be easily fooled… because our sensations have to be interpreted to gain any meaning that may or may not be accurate. Assuming they are accurate is how magicians and snake oil salesmen make their living! And that’s why I keep harping on the construction of our senses as receivers and not projectors. The sensation you feel are just that: sensations in the brain. It’s only by following the evidence that we begin to gain a clear picture of what’s going on. There are certain sensations like reflexes and automated responses that do not involve the brain’s interpretation of them. This doesn’t fit with the awareness model, with the ‘we’re a dream of an alien’ model, with the ‘we’re just brains in a vat’ model. You keep discarding this evidence. But it is this evidence that reveals a fatal problem to the disembodies consciousness model.

                      For the final time, I’m not blaming your ideas, you model, as the cause of woo. For the umpteenth time, I’m saying that the method you keep using – allowing your assumed belief (in this case, awareness as all there is) to arbitrate and justify a belief about reality (that there’s no such thing) – is identical in epistemology.

                    • “An eyeball is a photon receiver.” — Okay, fine. From your point of view, photons from the sun strike someone’s retina and generate a biochemical cascade, etc. For THEM, there’s an awareness of a bright light. All you’ve demonstrated is that there are at least two ways to observe eyeballs: your outside view and their inside view. Neither proves there’s an external world beyond your and their conscious awarenesses. Maybe all there is is your awareness and their awareness, with nothing connecting them but happenstance. (I have a better theory, but we can’t get to it as long as you’re stuck at eyeballs.)

                      “There are certain sensations like reflexes and automated responses that do not involve the brain’s interpretation of them.” — How do you know? You can’t get outside your own consciousness to observe whether it’s formed by some brain, which means it’s possible there’s no brain at all but instead a massive magic-trick illusion. I keep saying, “Prove you’re not dreaming,” and you keep responding, “Because my life is real.” I say, “Prove life is real,” and you respond, “Because I’m not dreaming.”

                      We’re talking past the problem, which is that my idea is terrifying. But we’re, you know, intellectuals, and nothing scares us, right? We can see things coolly, with detachment. Except we’re just kidding each other and, in fact, the idea that we can’t prove we’re not dreaming scares the crap out of us. So we waste time pretending to each other that we’re simply parsing the evidence and not backing and filling frantically to block out the existential horror that we might be totally alone in the midst of nothing at all.

                      Parsing evidence? There is no evidence! We might be dreaming. All our “proofs” of a “real world” are circular because they all require evidence gathered WITHIN our awareness. That’s like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop. It’s like asking a liar to tell us whether he’s lying.

                      There’s no way to prove consciousness isn’t a gigantic illusion, not with photons or eyeballs or anything. Photons and eyeballs might simply be part of the illusion. All I want is proof you’re not dreaming. Prove it! And if you reply, “Well, to begin with, eyeballs are sense receptors,” I will reach right through this computer and spank you!


  8. Hi there. It’s late and I am skimming, but this title made me think. I haven’t read any Douglas Adams, but my mom did and used to always talk to me about it. I gather that the number 42 is of importance in Hitchhikers. I just recently discovered that the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew (I think) is three series of 14 which adds up to 42. Anytime I see anything about Adams I think of that. Makes me smile. Probably nothing new to people familiar with the book, but it was to me. 🙂

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