” Reality is created by observers in the universe” – John Archibald Wheeler, Theoretical Physicist (1911-2008)
To (finally!) continue the thread from the previous post a bit further, it follows we are no innocent bystanders here with respect to the spectacle of the world as we have encountered it; we are implicated in the very creation of it, as a conceptual construct based on our interaction with the world, given that we have no other means of approaching it other than through the realm of our sensory experiences. Here I am revisiting the views held by Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Idea (1818). I wrote about this earlier in 2006. I also share his rejection of naïve realism, or what I would call scientific materialism, that the things we observe in the world are what they appear to be, absolutely, and forever, and not in anyway a function of human perception in the sense that they can be modified based on our understanding of things.
This doesn’t mean that things don’t exist unless they are perceived – the peculiar thing that Berkeley seemed to have believed, but only that – while the world brought us about in a material sense through a process of evolution – we also created it for ourselves conceptually in order to be able to function in it. (Thinking our way around these two seemingly incompatible theories of the world is what Schopenhauer referred to as an antinomy in our faculty of knowledge, and here he follows Kant who has some well-known antinomies of his own.)
Now it could be argued that it is in fact a useless – if not false – distinction between the world as it is from itself and that very same world as we encounter it through our experiences. Given that we have no other means of accessing it directly in a material sense, is it in fact a meaningful exercise to even refer to it as a matter of some significance? To all intents and purposes, if we never refer to it again, what would be lost in our discussions about the nature of the world?
Kant introduced the “thing-in-itself”, or “ding ansich” in German – to suggest that the true nature of the world is fundamentally unknowable as we can only grasp the nature of things indirectly through perceiving them as objects in relation to ourselves – how we have experienced them.
In that connection I wrote earlier that it is one thing to experience the world through one’s senses – it is another thing to experience it logically, e.g., to experience such things as cause and effect, time, space and the various ways in which objects relate to us and each other. If these relationships are permanent features of the physical universe, it wouldn’t matter in what form you encountered them in your experiences, your conclusions about them would be same. But in the end, it would be less important what the world looks like versus what can be abstracted from it. And this would lead me to say that the nature of the world is about function (a method that relates an objective to its instantiation) – and not form (the manifestation of matter and energy), the latter being incidental to the process, and a means to an end in terms of being the medium that allows the function to be enabled or expressed.
This is an important view for me and consistent with my argument that we should perhaps be less preoccupied with determining the age, origin and size of the material universe, by poking into the furthest and oldest region of the universe, looking for clues of sorts – and, instead, look more closely at what the logical or functional nature of the various cosmic events appear to be about, such as the manifestation of a directional and seemingly intrinsic teleological process leading to ever higher degrees of material complexity and organization, and where this particular process would seem to want to take us to. As such, the cosmos is a work in progress, and that is as much information as we have about it.