Yesterday’s article focused on how will not be ale to build a total theory of everything that would explain all of reality. There will always be unknown parts and more secrets. Instead we can only have concepts, abstractions, or maps or reality – but a map is not the territory!
And I remembered some notes I had written a while ago (now already one and a half years ago).
The idea is the same: we always just build up models of reality, but we can never know the reality directly.
I present them here, slightly edited.
Everything is just a model!
Think of Magrite’s picture of a pipe: “Ce n’est pat une pipe.” Magrite once painted a famous picture of a pipe along with the sentence “This is not a pipe,” to remind us that neither this picture nor the words are the real thing, nor is the mental image of a pipe that we hold in our minds.
So if I show someone a photo of myself and ask “who is that?”, they will say “a man.” Wrong! It is only “a piece of paper with some color on it.” (That is wrong, too).
So then I show them myself “in person,” and ask “who or what is this?” “A man,” they say, again. Wrong again. In their brains they only see an image of me, just like in that photo. I can only be a model in your brain.
So then I ask myself: “What is this?”, referring to “me.” “It’s a man,” I say. For Surely I know myself. But that is false also! Again, I only hold a model of myself in my own brain. I cannot know the reality of me – apart from the model.
That may be hard to understand. But we only see and know the world, including ourselves, as a model, a set of concepts, a set of constructs or abstractions, and never see the totality that is us.
I love this idea of a model compared to a concept. Because concepts are purely mental, but there are many models that we can see and touch physically, like toy models of cars and such, and maybe for that reason the idea of “a model” it is more graspable to me.
You see, as a kid I used to love to build models, of great sailing ships, model cars, tanks, airplanes, and so on. These models were smaller version of something “real.”
So let’s say that I have such a small model, say a toy model of some car, then we clearly know it is a model. Fine, let’s extend this. Now let’s say, we stand in front of the real car that the model represents. The issue I am getting at, is that this object is still “out there” apart from us, and we have to form a representation – another model—of it in our brains.
We can only ever know the model – and never the real thing!
That is because when we interact with the car, we only ever interact with an aspect of it.
If I touch it, I only though a part of it – never the whole thing at once.
If I see I the car, I only see one side of it (the other side, or the interior, is hidden).
If I smell it, I only smell the exhaust, or the leather, etc.
So we only see, tough, smell certain aspects of it, never the totality –at once– and thus in our mind build up a model of it (which may involve memory or other cognitive mechanisms, etc.)
So you say, “Yes, OK, but I can touch something and thereby know it is real! Don’t I know its reality then?”
Well, actually, that depends on the definition of touch – another model. We really never touch something! Because there always remains a very thin layer of voidness between “us” and “it.” This is due to the fact that we are made out of atoms and their electrons repel each other due the same electric charge, and this prevents two atoms from ever truly touching. What happens during “touch” is that atoms get moved closer and closer until in the larger structure of the organism an electrical impulse gets fired up a nerve to the brain, and we feel (or model) this as touching.
Likewise our body (another model we hold) is all these disconnected atoms that are grouped together and process together into larger structures of molecules, cells, nerves, the brain, and so on. But we think we are “somebody” – but all this is a model of what really is a very complex organism.
All we do is to model the world and ourselves.
Namaste — I bow to you and the Divine in you.
Copyright © Hanns-Oskar Porr