baudrunner's space: Perception and what we think is real
"Philosophy to Science - Quark to Cosmos. Musings on the Fundamental Nature of reality"

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Perception and what we think is real

Reality can be defined as that which involves and meets the limits of our perception and experience. Perception includes vision, the ability of the cones and the rods on the surface of our retinas to detect the electromagnetic wavelengths that fall within that very narrow range of frequencies which we call visible light and which occur in the middle of the entire optical spectrum which lies between the the shortest wavelengths of radio waves and the longest wavelengths of x-rays. The spectrum of EM waves extends beyond both of those limits. We humans have one set of cones and one set of rods on the surface of our retinas. Birds have an extra set of cones, and this allows them to see into the near ultraviolet in addition to the established optical range which we can detect. They see more than we do and yet we share the same reality.

Perception to some degree also involves understanding of the nature of things. This means that we don't necessarily need to see that which we can deduce from the results of experimentation based on the study of theory and the application of science and mathematics. Relativity and quantum mechanics are things we know to be real. We know for certain that moving clocks tick slower than stationary clocks, and that a clock not bound by gravity ticks faster than an earthbound clock. And we know that a giant large enough to hold the Universe in the palm of his hand would witness the creation of a star occurring as nothing more than a spark, whereas from our perspective that same cosmic spectacle will look pretty much the same a hundred years from now. These are peculiar aspects of the reality wherein we find ourselves, and while our perception of these ideas may not involve a complete understanding of them, that does not make them unreal.

Insomuch as the limits of our perception are defined by our abilities to sense therefore we draw the conclusion that things that occur outside of those limits necessarily occupy a different reality. Imagination extends the potential which this offers for consideration, and scientific theorists have conjured up and expounded upon any number of inflamed theories, none of which hold much water but which make for interesting science fiction. Among these are multiple dimensions, parallel universes, bubble universes and the like. And the theorists misuse the tool of mathematics to support those ideas.

By very definition of the word, there is only one Universe and it encompasses all. This Universe can only be observed from within - ie. there is no "out there" beyond the periphery, where creation continues to expand its boundaries. Space is as much a creation as the matter which occupies it. Astronomers and astro-physicists have never found a "center of the Universe", and that makes logical sense because that would imply that there was a place in nothing for the Universe to begin, and there can be no place in nothing. Nothing is not something you can walk around in, or wave your hand through, or poke with a stick. What we observe in this expanding Universe from our point of reference within it is the same as what we would observe from any other point within it. We can not share our reality with a Universe which exists beyond the boundaries of our own. The very idea makes no sense and defies the very definition of Universe.

Reality is strange enough, what with the peculiar accommodations of relativity and quantum mechanics, that we don't need to introduce anything stranger and unreal. We should acknowledge that there are practical limits to what can be created and maintained, and that the reality which we share is really the only possible conformation wherein physical existence, wondrous enough of its own accord, can be defined.

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