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Consensual Reality

Timothy Leary, a patron saint of Stonedworld, once famously said "any reality is an opinion."  Alternately, Alfred Korbyski said that "the map is not the territory."  These aphorisms if carefully considered can reveal insight into the bizarrely fucked up state of affairs of our world.  I was speaking with bman on this matter and his insights on the matter prompted me to pen this little peice to help clarify my thinking on the matter.

The crux of the two aphorisms is purely semantic.  As George Box said "all models are wrong, but some are useful."  What is meant by 'reality' makes a world of difference.   Certain things are objectively and measureably true, or false.  The circumference of a circle divided by its diameter is always pi, every time.  This sort of 'real' is concrete, those who argue that 2 times 2 is 6 are simply wrong.  Most things are unfortunately not quite so clear.

There are other things that are 'real' in different ways.  All humans suffer from the common problem of an inability to directly experience reality.  Every 'fact' we know by necessity is filtered through the limited lenses of our perception and preconceptions.  Our perception of how things look, for instance, is limited by the unfortunate fact that our eyes are tuned to a pathetically small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.  To say the sky is blue is true, as far as it goes.  But its blueness is simply an artifact of how our brains and visual input equiplment process data.   And the fact that we percieve space as black says nothing about space except how it looks to us.  An alien with different eyes would percieve it differently, and his perception would be as valid and 'real' as ours.

Our perception of other people is colored by our prejudices and previous interactions in similar situations.  In this arena, also, it is possible to create a reality for oneself.  We've all known someone who, because he believes people dislike him, acts in such a manner to alienate even people who once did like him.  Timothy Leary described a 'reality tunnel',  a theory which states that, with a subconscious set of mental "filters" formed from their beliefs and experiences, every individual interprets this same world differently, hence "truth is in the eye of the beholder." 

Today we have a large mass of ignorant people who have been fed propaganda and slick salesmanship passed off as news and entertainment generations.  The reality tunnels created by such people in large numbers have the potential to affect reality for even strictly objective and reasonable people (if such exist,) by electing officials and passing laws; by acting in ways that more reasonable people would not.  On the flip side of this we have people of influence using their even more impressive power to manipulate conditions and events to their benefit.  We're not talking conspiracy theories here, even a cursory examination of history - even our own history - shows us how powerful individuals can shape events to move nations of people. 

The fact of the matter is that all these people have been creating reality, on some level - everyone does.  Do they have the power to make 2 times 2 equal to 6?  Of course not; but as the famous case of the Indiana legislature trying to pass a bill that would have set pi equal to 3 shows us, they can try.  Had that bill passed it might have come to pass that you could be jailed for teaching children objective, quantifiable truth.  More recent examples are easy to find

Descartes proclaimed the Age of Reason at least two centuries early; we're simply not there yet.