The New Model Of The Observer/Observed Relationship

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The New Model Of The Observer/Observed Relationship—A Difference That Makes A Difference

This is a two for one Blog, — this one and the one below

Instead of another bicycle trip post, I’m taking time out to blog another way to perceive the relationship that occurs between observer and object observed. If we are ever going to get beyond the incongruity that separates how we perceive and understand the micro and macro universe, a different model of perception, I believe, is necessary. I am not suggesting that science has it wrong. I am suggesting, though, that a more encompassing model of perception will provide science—science being how we understand the physical world–a more comprehensive and coherent platform from which to understand how the universe works. So far in my blog, I have made various attempts at describing culturally generated mystical visions, but on this bicycle trip I change direction. On this bicycle trip I talk about quantum mechanics, Relativity theory, and epistemology and that’s why I am posting the above diagram now. However, except for this post, I will not talk about the above diagram. I am posting it only as a reference point that could be useful if questions arise. After I complete my bicycle trip, though, I will begin to use the diagram to facilitate further discussion.

To lighten things up a bit, let’s say the above diagram was created to help me write a sci-fi novella (one that remains unwritten). The novella’s plot went something like this: On a terrestrial planet that no longer supports life, some space explorers discovered a temple. Inside they found preserved texts, which, luckily, their onboard ship computer could translate. Fortunately, for this blog, the translated texts and the above diagram reveal the same thing—the meaning of the universe. Okay, I may be speaking a bit tongue and cheek here, but only a little.

So back to the other story; aren’t we all looking for a means to feel secure, at home, and connected to a meaningful universe? Without trying to besmirch anybody’s religion, isn’t that what religion is all about,–to make people feel comfortable, at home, chosen, — and loved, by that which nurtured all of us into existence in the first place? Every culture produces heroes, myths, shamans, and priests, all of which breathe religious meaning into existence. Rights of passage, totem and ancestor worship, religious rites and rituals—all contribute to the how and why of existence. The “how” of existence is also considered the main subject matter of science, but that doesn’t void the “why.” Take, for instance, Albert Einstein, he did not practice any orthodox form of religion, yet, in my opinion, he was as devout as any priest. When coaxed into answering the question: “Do you believe in God?” he hesitated, and then said words to the effect, “Well if I do believe in God, it would be the God of Spinoza.” Putting challenging questions to orthodoxy, while at the same time aspiring to coherent, unifying answers to those same questions, I believe is the definition of a religious person. Before I talk more about the specifics of the above diagram, I offer one of my favorite Einstein quotes:

“Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”

(Einstein, Ideas And Opinions, p. 225)

For me at least, the above diagram, speaks directly to this Einstein quote, as it also speaks to the issues of why nature responds so strangely when certain questions are put to her, questions like: wave or particle? Why is the universe comprehensible as opposed to incomprehensible? Is nature independent of the observer? Why, on the quantum level, do we find a physical reality with no uniquely determinable location, a physical reality that exists in several states at the same time, a physical reality structured by a mathematical equation? Nature’s response to these types of questions becomes less strange, I believe, if we look through the prism of the above diagramed relationships– at the relationship that occurs between object observed and observer. But first, here is one version of the standard reductionist model for this relationship:

“The process of knowing which starts with a physical object, makes it reflect light rays which are refracted by the lens of our eyes, and, finally, ends up with a stimulus upon the retina, there to elicit neuron impulses and final sensation in our brain. Such an analysis, while it may be entirely accurate as the final scientific version of certain types of experience, confuses the beginning with the end of the process of knowing and takes for granted the ontological status of constructs whose genesis is here at issue.”

(Margenau, Nature of Physical Reality, p.173)

It is not that science is wrong. It is just that science is limiting itself to a small piece of a much larger picture, one that when looked at in its entirety, reflects the connections that turns the perceptual process into a chain of processes which, ultimately, comes together in the identification of the known world. Let me begin by labeling how I perceive the known world and then conclude this blog with some comments concerning the relevance of that perception.

Layered Sequencing Of Platforms—Reductionist, Life, Mind—That Constitute Self.

1 R—The reductionist, mass/energy, platform.

2 L—The life, biological/reproductive, platform.

3 M—The mind, symbol/meaning, platform.

4 S—Human self—is not an entity, rather, it is intersubjective boundary horizons.

5 The reductionist, physical/cultural, self-boundary quadrant.

6 The life, biological/emotional, self-boundary quadrant.

7 The mind, psychological, sociocultural, self-boundary quadrant of human discourse.

8 The connecting bridge that separates and connects the life platform to the mind platform.

9 The connecting bridge that separates and connects the mind platform to the life platform as well as to the life platform’s limiting condition—the reductionist platform.

Science, doing science, is limited to the reductionist, physical/cultural, self-boundary, or the dark blue quadrant. The pink horizon of self is part of that quadrant, but I have made it pink for labeling purposes. In other words, when I look up from my computer screen, I see a physical world of cinder block walls (I’m at work), tile floors, furniture, colors etc. My five senses inform me of this world and science informs me that there is more to these sensations then what my five senses are telling me about the nature of this world. The unfortunate thing about science is that, in most cases, it tries to reduce all other quadrants, life and mind, to the physical/cultural platform—not possible.

The red horizon of self is a product of the overlap of the mind/life platforms—the green quadrant. This quadrant, in addition to representing life, also represents emotional life. Emotions are a defining characteristic of the plant/animal kingdom (yes, a quirky group of scientists have produced evidence that plants have feelings), but emotions are not just a product of the green quadrant. Emotions are informed by the mind and that is the difference that makes a difference. J.E. Creighton puts it like this:

“In the development of mind, feeling does not remain a static element, constant in form and content at all levels, but…is transformed and disciplined through its interplay with other aspects of experience…Indeed, the character of the feeling in any experience may be taken as an index of the mind’s grasp of its object; at the lower levels of experience, where the mind is only partially or superficially involved, feeling appears as something isolated and opaque, as the passive accompaniment of mere bodily sensation… In the higher experience, the feelings assume an entirely different character, just as do the sensations and the other contents of mind.” (Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, A Study in the Symbolism of Rite, Reason, and Art, p. 100)

The yellow self-horizon is also a product of the overlap of the mind/life/reductionist platforms, but its content—the purple quadrant, is restricted to the psychological, sociocultural, self-boundary of human discourse. This purple quadrant deviates somewhat from the standard science model, which lumps the “self “into the “physical stuff” of body/brain/mind— the blue quadrant. However, there is some disagreement here. If you were to ask a “structuralist” or a “symbolic anthropologist” if the mind can stand alone, their answers would be interesting. Here’s how the philosopher, Ernst Cassirer, addressed this question:

“Man has, as it were, discovered a new method of adapting himself to his environment. Between the receptor system and the effector system, which are to be found in all animal species, we find in man a third link which we may describe as the “symbolic system.” This new acquisition transforms the whole of human life. As compared with the other animals man lives not merely in a broader reality; he lives, so to speak, in a new dimension of reality.” (An Essay On Man, p. 25)

Cassirer, also adds:

“All knowledge of the world and all strictly spiritual action upon the world require that I thrust the world back from itself, that in contemplation as in action it gain a certain distance from it. Animals do not know this distance: the animal lives in his environment; he does not place himself over against it and so represent it. This acquisition of the world as idea is, rather, the aim and product of the symbolic forms ––the result of language, myth, religion, art, and theoretical knowledge.” (Cassirer, The Phenomenology of Knowledge, p. 276)

The reductionist/ life/mind platforms are connected and separated by bridges. These bridges hold everything together. The self, or our experience of self, starts at the horizons of the overlapping quadrants and proceeds inward via our experiences of these quadrants. Concerning the bridges, just to give this a little perspective, in Greek mythology one of Hercules twelve labors was to get some fabled apples.
To complete that task, he had to free Atlas from shouldering the world by taking the world upon his own shoulders, (Atlas being the only one who could retrieve the apples). In Chinese mythology, the jovial Chuang-tzu, when asked what supports the turtle that supports the world, (the world sits on the tortoise shell), replied, “Its turtles all the way down.” Well, in my cosmology, the self-contained bridges which separate and connect the three platforms are a bit like the turtles all the way down.


2 Responses to “The New Model Of The Observer/Observed Relationship”

  1. wings Says:

    Notes on the Purpose of Meaning:

    It is not only the concept of “meaning” and how it contributes to the formulation of reality that is most curious. It is that we are either able to agree on the meaning that we construct at some kind of relational and even universal level or that we believe we do and find agreement with others in this belief. The self/other bridge and one/many road that seems to propel and support this continual search for and finding of meaning is as essential to existence as consciousness. Navigation for lack of a better word. Maybe that is what we do.

    The diagrams and considerations here are interesting to me and I want to to spend a bit more time exploring them. Thanks for this turtle view. Happy New Year, Dave.

  2. dave Says:

    “The self/other bridge and one/many road that seems to propel and support this continual search for and finding of meaning is as essential to existence as consciousness.”

    Yes, absolutely, in fact, I would say more essential. We do not own the bridge or the roads, we interact with them. That is not “our navigation,” but it is the navigation that brought us to this place and time where we can choose to agree or disagree–either way, though, we own those choices. Choosing to agree is far more important and meaningful than to disagree because agreements build civilized societies. However, when one society (group), out of a desire for wealth, power, or domination, tries to subvert the autonomy of another group, that starts us down the road to nihilism (nihilism being the other option, the easier choice to make (disagreement makes agreement possible) and if we take this path, the path that “excludes the other,” then war is the outcome—maybe that is what we like to do, go to war.

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