Multisense Realism Overview
Multisense Realism is intended to be a “Theory of Everything”, or more precisely, a conjecture about the ultimate nature of all of physical reality and subjective experience. The hope is that this set of ideas succeeds in some way where others have failed in plumbing the mysteries of mind and matter. Whether it does succeed in that seems to depend in large part on the willingness and natural orientation of the audience to entertain metaphysical ideas and new ideas in general. This is part of the theory: Everyone gets the Multisense Realism that they deserve. Those who approach this chaotic collection of essays and diagrams with the idea of proving that every idiot on the internet has a metaphysical theory will likely find what they are looking for. Others may find something more interesting…an oddly sensible way of examining the full spectrum of experience, from the mechanical to the mystical.
The name Multisense Realism is intended to convey the idea there is a single unifying principle which reconciles all possible experience. It can be thought of as emphasizing a multiplicity of sense, asserting a foundation of the cosmos as overlapping channels of sensory-motive or aesthetic experience rather than information-theoretic/function or mass-energetic/material. To put this in a sort of bent dialectic, MSR proposes an aesthetic thesis and synthesis, with two antithetical antitheses of function and material. This is a progression in many ways from ideas touched on by philosophers and physicists alike. Russell, Whitehead, Berkeley, Mach, Spinoza, Hegel, Chalmers, Leibniz, Planck, Bohm, Penrose, Tononi, Koch, and others have considered forms of neutral monism, panpsychism and process theory to fill the so-called ‘explanatory gap’ between conscious experience and physical structure. What MSR attempts to do is to expound on those ideas and to make some minor changes that have important consequences so that the dualism of mind and body is not repeated again and again on smaller levels, but is truly bridged in a way beyond both monism and dualism. In short, MSR posits that the capacity to modulate between monism and dualism is part of the ontology of the absolute. Symmetry or ‘likeness’, imitation and novel variation are some of the themes of sense which echo across time and throughout the self-clustering architectures of space.
The name multisense realism can also be thought of as qualifying reality so that it is neither a fixed set of truths and facts, nor a totally relativistic postmodern blob, but a somewhat self-directed participation in many forms of sense and sense-making, which are themselves dynamically interacting, revealing, and concealing their overlap. When we use the word sense, sometimes we mean a tangible sensation, other times we mean a clarity of abstract mental understanding, sometimes we mean an intuition which has an ineffable quality. Using the word sense as a state of belonging to a category or context (“in a sense”) gives us a connection to semiotic process. All of these can be seen as clues to an underlying continuity of sense, from the physiological impulses of sense organs to the crystallizing effect of the intellect and general systems theory, to the emotional and spiritual influences which seem to guide us from beyond our personal control. Unlike computation or information, where inputs and outputs are merely one dimensional termination points to a deeper process of data configuration, sense inflates the importance of i/o for its own sake. Sense is an experience in which perceptual inputs are not only received and evaluated as sense-datum, but appreciated as the significance of experience itself. By pivoting from an aloof, third-person view of the universe as physical forms and computational functions to a first-person, or zeroth-person, or trans-personal view of the universe from the inside out, the role of consciousness and aesthetic quality can be revealed honestly, without being caricatured as mechanism or anthropomorphism. Not only can the extremes of eliminativism and solipsism be sidestepped, but they can be recruited naturally as the multisensory-continuum’s version of ‘red-shift’ and ‘blue-shift’.
If we look at matter objectively, what can we really say about it? One common definition of matter is “any substance which has mass and occupies space. All physical objects are composed of matter, in the form of atoms, which are in turn composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons.” When we dream realistically, however, matter need not be presented as being composed of particles. Matter in a dream as well as in waking life is that ‘stuff that feels like something when we touch it’ or which is seen to act like a solid, liquid, or gas. Matter seems to embody certain sensibilities, and to be the sensibility of embodiment.
All natural phenomena are similarly presented to us as phenomena which seem self-evident in some respects but hidden from us in others. Blue simply looks blue, and pain simply hurts, regardless of any biochemical processes that might be associated with them. Sugar and aspartame may be chemically very different, but they both taste sweet to us. It is not necessary to learn how to feel pain, nor could any such learning help us discover pain if we could not feel it to begin with. This presence of self-evident qualities is the key to understanding why well intentioned solutions from both philosophy and science have failed to decipher the deeper nature of awareness and sense. Sense is literally im-mediate. Even though we can measure neurological changes on microscopic scales which are sequential and digital, the experience that we have is irreducible, if not instantaneous. As soon as we feel pain it is painful. With mechanistic solutions that assume representation , the native moment of detection is discounted and replaced by the unacknowledged moments of detection among billions of neurons.
We shall seek to construct a metaphysics of matter which shall make the gulf between physics and perception as small, and the inferences involved in the causal theory of perception as little dubious, as possible. We do not want the percept to appear mysteriously at the end of a causal chain composed of events of a totally different nature; if we can construct a theory of the physical world which makes its events continuous with perception, we have improved the metaphysical status of physics, even if we cannot prove more than that our theory is possible. (Russell 1927a, 275)
Rather than sweeping the question of consciousness under a neurological carpet, or dissolving it in the ocean of evolutionary statistics, we can consider that the brain’s activity may be not be due entirely to the brain’s structure, but rather to (what we see as) the ‘unconscious’ activity of the brain. Each neuron may be more of a symptom or token of cellular-scale awareness, and cellular awareness is a child of biochemical awareness, which is the child of low level physical awareness. It could be experiential all the way down. If it weren’t, then it should logically be non-experiential all the way up. We would have to explain why a system which can routinely construct a human nervous system, immune system, digestive tract etc (projects which dwarf any measly achievement of human civilization) suddenly needs ‘consciousness’ to help hominids locate food and shelter…something which any single celled eukaryote does. Raymond Tallis’ book Aping Mankind does a great job of addressing the shortcomings of the current scientific approach. I agree with his criticism of the abandonment of humanity as a phenomenon in its own right in favor of overconfidence in neuroscience and evolutionary biology, which he dubs Neuromania and Darwinitis. In MSR, the notion of sub-personal and super-personal ranges of awareness is discussed, which fits nicely with Tallis’ argument. Simply put, because of the success of the approach that science has taken thus far in considering phenomena ‘objectively’ and impersonally, we are naturally compelled to explain all personal phenomena in terms which are either beneath us (neuroscience), or beyond us (physical anthropology and evolutionary biology). This externalizing approach, while enormously useful and practical, may be exactly the wrong approach to take in understanding consciousness as it is rather than as we would like it to be to fit into our scientific legacy. Consciousness is, if nothing else, about the physics of privacy and interiority, and a physics which is based on the interactions of public exteriors cannot conceptualize privacy as anything other than a mistake or illusion.
The assumption that all consciousness is the product of the brain relies on the deeper assumption that human consciousness can faithfully model itself logically, and that reflection is the only true reflection possible or the only reflection that matters to science. Given what we already know about how flawed our perception is, why would it be absolutely accurate in this one way? Why is this product of the brain that calls itself ‘consciousness’ able to do nothing but bathe in locally manufactured illusions, except when it comes to assessing its own shortcomings and insignificance with ‘logic’? In that respect, it seems, the scientific expectation of fallibility of subjectivity is turned on its head, and the scientific mind does not hesitate to make a special pleading rationalization for its own particular kind of reasoning about nature as ‘it’ rather than ‘we’. From that vantage point, all of human thought and feeling are reduced to mere predetermined chemical reactions, except, somehow for the enlightening thoughts and feelings which are associated with science. These scientific™ products of the brain are exempt from the limitations of blind natural selection and rise to the level of clear intent to document universal truth.
No formal equation can be solved in a way that feels like something.
Arithmetic functions, while making a certain kind of sense, do not sense anything themselves. They are figurative expressions, symbols. To turn them into computation they must be embodied by some kind of material system which interacts reliably and whose mathematics are technologically accessible. Symbols are not what they symbolize. A stop sign does not mean STOP, in the sense that there is nothing about the shape of the letters S, T, O, and P, or the reflectivity of the paint, or anything having to do with the construction of the physical sign, rather the meaning of the sign is in the intention to communicate and the ability to understand communication.
There is nothing that can be done to a symbol which will cause it to create conscious qualities. No formula causes a color change as a result. This may seem like begging the question to some who would like to deflate the Hard Problem of consciousness, because technically we can’t prove that some formula couldn’t have magical powers, to turn blue, to taste like chicken, or to cast a spell, but I think the more reasonable position is to ask whether we really need to prove these kinds of sophistic arguments. Beyond the fact that human history seems to have come down on the side against incantations being effective, there seems to be a natural intuition about sensory phenomena, similar to our geometric intuitions about circles not being square: Numbers and the concepts represented through numbers, are not a plausible basis for generating phenomena such as sensation and emotion. I would argue that numbers cannot, in and of themselves, even conjure up geometry on their own, but even that impossibility seems much more plausible than the idea that mathematics could somehow manage to create geometry than that either math or geometry could create sensation. This is not an argument from incredulity but a prophylactic against arguments from pseudo-credulity which see no essential difference between the map of symbols and the territory of sensation.
The hypothesis then, in MSR, is that all ideal or symbolic forms and functions as well as all substances and forces are inert without the a priori fact of sense. Sense is needed to ground symbols in experienced meaning, and parse the world of structures into relevant scales and perspectives. Instead of looking for a way to squeeze the blood of sense out of the stone of math or physics, we should begin with the aspect that we can explain the least, sense, and assume that is the larger container of possibility and authenticity.
There are some popular thought experiments within philosophy of mind, such as Leibniz Mill, or Searle’s Chinese Room which can help us ask what the relationship of consciousness to objective mechanisms, but personally I find the simple question of what the universe would be like without the appearance of Homo sapiens, or any biological organism on planet Earth to be even more useful. In order to dig beneath our preconceptions and biases about consciousness being a human phenomenon, or something limited to living beings, we should continuously challenge ourselves to clarify what we expect the universe to be like without any consciousness at all. Would there be only intangible invisibility? An unconscious void for billions of un-experienced years until suddenly the first sensation is invented in some obscure undersea lava vent? Or would the universe still contain aesthetic phenomena of some kind no matter what?
It’s not necessary to speculate on non-human awareness, but suffice it to say that cannot logically support the idea of a universe which operates in abject senselessness for billions of years but then suddenly sparks sense by accident. Even pure chaos requires a sensible perspective to discern chaos from order and to define that distinction. Simply put, nothing which existed before the invention of sense could be considered part of the universe that we experience. Once sense exists, all non-sense before it would collapse into infinite insignificance. The universe must, it seems, make sense before we can make sense of it.
The universe must make sense before we can make sense of it.
However vast the variety of phenomena in the universe, the one thing that they all have in common is that they can be detected through sense or inferred through ‘sense-making’. This is not to say that all phenomena must be sensed by human beings, or even living creatures, but I think that to understand nature, we must begin by agreeing that nothing can be real if it can never be detected or inferred in any way by anything. That which cannot be sensed in any way or make sense any way, and never will be, cannot be considered to ‘exist’. Such a hypothetical non-sense could not even have any connection to anything that does exist, otherwise it would become a thing which is sensed in some indirect way.
Sense cannot arise from non-nonsense, just as order cannot arise from dis-chaos. This is not an assertion that this must be true because the words we use suggest it, but rather because the words corroborate the undeniable truth; that chaos which produces order and sense, was never truly chaos because it must have always contained the possibility of order. Possibility itself implies order and experience. What is ‘possible’ is grounded in expectations of time and events, of actuality and non-actuality, of the causality, etc.
The primacy of sense also can be reasoned by our own experience – sense needs no additional introduction, it introduces itself – it is the very channel through which introductions are presented. Even if we think that our perception is only a product of neurochemistry, all that we have done is to push the mystery down to the levels of cellular and molecular bodies rather than animal bodies. We still have not explained how detection and reaction work, only given ‘complexity’ the benefit of the doubt for turning the unintentional and automatic into full blown human psychology. This perspective is a denial of microcosmic consciousness purely on the grounds of unfamiliarity. We are led to the materialism because we think that science has shown that our naive view of the world is biased, but we have not yet asked whether the objectified view of subjectivity isn’t an even more biased and distant view. What we have gained with materialism is not an explanation of awareness, but excuses as to why we need not trouble ourselves with trying to understand it more than the sub-human functions which we have arbitrarily defined as being devoid of awareness. It is circular reasoning. We don’t know how it is that we see, so we shut our eyes and decide that seeing is an illusion, and verify it by producing a number of experiments where people who have their eyes closed bump into walls.
The advice offered here is that we must not only embrace the reality of sense and awareness, but to consider what the big picture looks like if we allow that all phenomena in the universe are different kinds of sense experience – experience which makes sense and makes sense of sense-making. It is not natural for us to see sense itself as a phenomena in its own right. Sense is in the background of all thoughts and feelings, even those feelings of subjectivity. It could be said that sense is ‘existence’, but I agree with Kant that existence is an ’empty predicate’. There is no difference between a feeling and a feeling that ‘exists’, so that existence is really a part of speech rather than ontology. Existence is a way to specify that a phenomenon is being considered, like the word ‘the’. There is no difference between feeling happy and ‘the feeling of happiness’, except that with ‘the feeling’, the speaker is foregrounding ‘feeling’ more explicitly by adding the article ‘the’. Sense does not reduce to a generic non-property like that as it specifiers not just the ‘is-ness’ of ‘Being’, but that is-ness can be understood scientifically as a sensory-motive meta-ontology. It’s not just the fact of ‘stuff being there’, it is the possibility of seeming like stuff in the first place, which together with the possibilities of distinctions like here and there, was and was not, etc which give rise to our expectations of facts and ontology.
In our local experience, or perceptual frame of reference, we experience being a person in a physical body, in a physical world, all of which appear to be bound by nothingness. Nothingness becomes the physical absolute, and we have seen ‘nothing’ become a popular subject in pop-science interpretations of astrophysics. Vacuums, vacuum flux, zero point energy fields, etc have the transcendental objects of our age. This is perfectly consistent with a society which has taken the Western exploration of structure and externality to its ultimate conclusion…which is what I call nilipsism: A doctrine of the absence of self and the promotion of absence to the level of cosmological absolute. We began Western science by questioning the assumption of teleology in nature, and casting religion as supernatural, and we have now come full circle in elevating that absence of teleology into a supreme external-non-entity. We have actually come to believe that emptiness is a thing and that it might be all knowing and all powerful, just in an impersonal, mechanistic way rather than an intentional way.
In multisense realism, nothingness is not an option, since nothingness can only be an idea of something which can consider the absence of everything. Nothingness cannot conceive of any thing, let alone no-thing. If it could conceive of things, then it would not be nothing.We begin instead from an aesthetic foundation. A way to feel or sense, without even necessarily an expectation of a feeler or sensor, since being one-who-feels is ultimately a feeling or sensation, just as matter or numbers would be. It is very strange to think of feelings without any ‘thing’ feeling them, and perhaps there is something about feeling which is inescapably proprietary, even in the absence of any logical way to define universal proprietorship, but for now, it seems premature to insist upon it.
What seems more plausible to me is a universal absolute which is perpetually fluctuating between God-like/self-like pretending and machine-like/automatic pretending. The pretending and the pretender are the same thing, but ultimately I think that the pretender is part of the pretending more than the other way around. God cannot be unconscious and God cannot create his own consciousness, so that logically leaves us with a universe which was consciousness already before there could be any ‘thing’ to sense ‘itself’ as conscious. Awareness precedes ‘self’-awareness, and a self is a form of awareness. This doesn’t mean that human life doesn’t refer to God or gods in some way, that our ‘higher nature’ doesn’t call to us, perhaps backward from the future of our human potential, through intuitive channels. These channels may be ‘real’, and they may also be ‘more than real’ and ‘less than real’, as the aesthetics of the sacred and divine are well known to mix freely with both genius and madness.
When talking about an ‘Absolute frame of reference’, I’m not positing any special metaphysical thing. To the contrary, I am considering a scope of nature that I want to include only all natural phenomena (as opposed to all possibilities). From such a perspective, time and space are irrelevant, as we are taking inventory of the contents of the totality of experience ‘all at once’. Scale and duration are meaningless without being anchored in comparison to some particular scope of ‘here’ and ‘now’, so that to consider something like the Earth in its own frame of reference, we would have to naturalize it in geological scales of time rather than human time. From the absolute perspective, we must begin with the assumption not of a universe from the augmentation of nothingness, but a universe of everythingness, and from there go about re-orienting our worldview from a physics of particles in a void into one of partitions of participation. Rather than emergence from nothing, the future of cosmology should assume a divergence from a particular storytelling capacity nested within itself. Before we get to quantum mechanical ‘tendencies to exist’, we have a qualitative ‘diffraction’ from continuum, like the visible spectrum of light, where clear ‘light’ of seeing becomes beams of brightness through illumination, and reveals itself as colorful through spatial fragmentation.
From everythingness to universe, by diffraction.
While this idea of a foundation of absolute completeness which we see locally only in a shattered or fallen condition was not consciously modeled after any religion or philosophy, it does coincide with many traditional conceptions of the universe. The visible spectrum example given above is not produced as a mechanical process, but as an aesthetic revelation of unity being displaced or deferred. Contrary to the idea of a Big Bang in which an explosive presence appears in null-spacetime to detonate as spacetime using mass as an accelerant, multisense realism begins from the opposite kind of pre-causality. From this vantage point, with no relativistic measure to make the first instants of the Big Bang seem any longer or shorter than all of the rest of history put together, the Big Bang becomes the Big Diffraction, an experiential masking and dividing of the absolute. The difference between the proposed MSR myth and traditional creation myths is that MSR presents an outline of how such a cosmology can be conceived of physically and mathematically, through the inclusion of sense as the absolute.
By connecting the dots between quantitative and qualitative principles, it is possible to begin to answer many of the grandest questions of science and philosophy, mainly by keeping track of patterns of symmetry and being willing to reverse our most fundamental assumptions. This approach as provided what I think are radical and promising insights into the nature of information, mathematics and energy as well as resolving the most stubborn mysteries of philosophy relating to consciousness, meaning, morality, and free will. Each of these requires a lot of explanation even to begin to get into, but in this introduction, I’ll offer these teasers:
1. The nature of information: Gregory Bateson famously said that information might be defined as ‘a difference that makes a difference’. This is a very useful kind of definition from an engineering standpoint, but there are questions lurking underneath. “Makes a difference to whom?” and “What makes a difference different?” Looking at word etymology can provide some interesting connections here. The root word ‘fer’ in difference is the same root found in terms like ‘infer’ and ‘refer’, but also the same as found in ‘metaphor’ and ‘euphoria’. Both the Greek pherein and Latin ferre can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root *bher, which means ‘bear’, take, or carry. Taken together, this notion of differences which make differences can be understood to mean ‘a comparison of what is taken in (perception, afferent stimulation) to other such perceptions and comparisons’.
By getting down to the root sense of ‘differ’ as ‘dis-phor’, we can clarify the nature of information as being a) entirely dependent upon sense and sense-making, rather than an independent entity which spawns simulations and conscious experience on its own, and b) a view of experiential content from the outside…not carrying meaning or feeling but facilitating the contrary un-feeling structures and functions which lie in between and beyond personal experience.
The root word ‘form’ or forma, is thought to have come from the Greek morphe, as in Morpheus (god of dreams), meaning appearances, figures, and shapes, so that information can be thought of as that which acts to shape inner appearances. This insistence on distinguishing information, which is impersonal and reducible to quantitative codes, from phenomenal consciousness, which is reducible only to qualities of personal or direct experience is, in my view, an important key to understanding how to resolve the hard problem of consciousness.
2. The nature of mathematics and AI: Mathematics refers to the common sense which relates to two distinctly different (opposite) things:
- A private sensory experience of imagined symbol-figures which accompany a sensible motive of quantitative, logical reasoning.
- A collection of public objects functioning in a way which is logically inevitable due to the relation of their forms, without any private representations.
Because mathematics bridges the gap between 1 and 2 (private subjects and public objects) it is considered profound and absolute – and it is, but only in a one dimensional sense. Mathematics represents relations but cannot initiate or appreciate them. Math makes sense, but it has no sense itself. Numbers don’t think or feel, but it allows us to think about that which is external to feeling, and that which through which feeling is externalized (as objects). Because mathematics is grounded in the abstract rather than the concrete and the generic rather than proprietary, it is a rootless imposter compared to phenomenal consciousness – numbers are the antithesis of authenticity and feeling.
Human intuition thus far about machines and computers is that they seem cold, empty, and impersonal. There is the phenomenon of the ‘uncanny valley’, where people perceive realistic simulations of other people or living things as unnerving and creepy. When simulations are only loose approximations, like a cartoon or stuffed animal, they are seen as cute, but when they are almost real but not quite, like a prosthetic limb or a wax museum figure, there is a kind of icy shock…the presence of an absence of a presence which suggests unnatural or undead qualities.
While many strong AI enthusiasts will react with hostility to this idea, I think that it actually frees us from a future in which human beings either design machines as slaves, or are enslaved themselves by the superior machines they’ve created. In embracing the notion that the uncanny valley is an indication that in fact there is more to consciousness than articulating the right gears, we open the door to a future of services which extend our intelligence and serve our interests without being burdened with genuine awareness. The MSR view frees us from any ethical concern for laboratory abuses of accidentally sentient programs, as well as insures that no technology will ever learn how to want to take over the world.
3. The nature of energy. In perhaps the most crackpot-sounding conjecture offered here, I have proposed that with sense as the universal primitive, quirky effects which have been attributed to photons and other subatomic particles (wavicles?) may suggest that the view of energy as something which is independent of matter is false. Quantum mechanics can remain exactly as it is, but the interpretation can be turned around 180 degrees, so that rather than there being ‘waves of energy’ flying through a vacuum, photons, like ‘profits’ may not literally exist. Because MSR uses an aesthetic foundation, by default all phenomena are connected. It is only the localizing, contra-aesthetic effects of distance and scale which bind us perceptually to a particular frame of reference.
This is taking special relativity to its ultimate conclusion, only substituting the speed of sensation, or rather the speed of measurement/communication of sensation for the speed of ‘light’. Just as we see a friend smiling from across the street, the idea here is that sense experience ‘sees’ itself transposed aesthetically as matter by modulation of its own ‘photic’ qualities. Light is not a passive collision of dumb objects, but an active collaboration of sensitivity on multiple nested levels. Molecules are sensitive to each other in one range of frequency and scale, cells in another, bodies in another, etc. It isn’t just a bottom-up chain of causality, it is also top-down, center-out, and outside-in, all in semi-permeable parallel channels.
As perceptual experiments have shown, what we perceive visually is not composed out of optical pixels and then approximated into an image, but are filled in dynamically from our visual projections. We are actually seeing out of our eyes, not just receiving data through them. This inverts the entire model of phenomenal consciousness as a simulation or illusion, and opens the door to a truly new frontier in interpreting physics. With space and time redefined as the masking of fundamental sense or empathy, energy is a direct apprehension of changing conditions within a particular perceptual frame of reference, as translated into every other frame of reference. The spreading or waving of that perceptual, sensory-motive change is a participatory wave, such as a crowd in a stadium makes when they synch up throwing their hands in the air. To say that this spreading of the wave has a ‘speed’ is not exactly true. All that is happening is that we are judging events which are relatively instantaneous on an individual level as a collective event on another level, so that the difference between the scale of the individual and the collective seems like time passing to the individual. Time is the relation of significant sensations across multiple frames of reference. On some level, the entire history of the universe is no more than a single moment, and on another level, every instant is almost an eternity.
What light does in the microcosm does is the same kind of thing that it does for us – it illuminates public experiences; it is ‘the news’. Space is a pantomiming of perceptual gaps between public facing, temporally contracted but spatially extended ‘surfaces’ of sensation. Those gaps, while real in any given local perceptual frame, are absent in an absolute sense. From the perspective of the absolute (and of ‘light’), space has not yet been invented. The medium which oscillates the universe into being is feeling or sense…a non-dual, zeroth order dreamsource which plays thesis to a first order antithesis of private dreamtime and a second order synthesis of public spacetime.
In this new model, “energy” is not only about work, but about play as well. Just as we have private motivations which inspire us to act publicly, and do all energies reflect private-but-sharable states of aesthetic tension. I’m suggesting that it is through this modulation of aesthetic tension that a masking/polarization is achieved, which we refer to as space and time. This would mean that it is not electromagnetic waves which travel through space and time, but rather space and time which emerges from the interference pattern of experiential waving on every level. When we say ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, that is a physical effect in which the high level (large, slow) human experience is ‘accelerating’ relative to lower level (aesthetically shallow) clock-like experiences. This may be testable in some way.
I am not suggesting that human emotions can change clock-time, to the contrary, I am saying that clocks are a very crude, one-dimensional way to measure ‘time’, and that actually time is the sequential sense of experience itself, with different types of sensory ‘ticks’ corresponding to different qualities of felt significance. There is animal time, human time, personal time, geological time, etc. It is because of the masking of awareness by scale and frequency that both cosmological and microcosmic levels of description seem impersonal and involuntary to us here on the zoological-anthropological level.
In this new sense based metaphysics (really meta-ontology), voluntary and involuntary are seen as intrinsically relativistic terms – two sides to the same coin which flips between private and public perspectives, like electric fields and magnetic fields flip according to their frame of reference. Energy is conceived of not as an immaterial wave-substance propagating literally across a vacuum of space but as felt expressions of power relations from point to point underneath public interaction. I’m saying ‘underneath’ because energy which motivates physically is an urge or force which pushes and pulls from the static instant into an arrow of time, while energy which motivates intuitively or spiritually, ‘downward’ from the ‘wheel of eternity’.
I don’t want to get too far into theological speculation, but suffice it to say that there are well known aesthetic themes within spirituality which emphasize quiet, harmonious receptivity – the still small voice, a whisper of conscience, etc. Intuition asks politely for a brief moment of our attention. Bodily functions demand our attention with drama and overwhelming intensity. This gets into what I call the multisense continuum, which I have tried to outline here in many different crazy looking diagrams and symbols. In the end, its all about representing this topology of sense, in which all experience can be reconciled non-reductively under the same schema. This is similar to what has been conceived of in many mystical and philosophical systems, but the difference is that this new synthesis attempts to correlate directly with modern scientific frameworks.
4. The Hard Problem of Consciousness: The multisense realist view of the hard problem is to recognize it as being one of several related problems, referred to collectively as the Presentation Problem:
- Hard Problem = Why is X presented as an experience? (X = “information”, logical or physical functions, calcium waves, action potentials, information integration, etc.)
- Explanatory Gap = How and where is presentation accomplished with respect to X?
- Binding Problem = How are presented experiences segregated and combined with each other? How do presentations cohere?
- Symbol Grounding = How are experiences associated with each other on multiple levels of presentation? How do presentations adhere?
- Mind Body Problem = Why do mental and physical attributes appear aesthetically opposite to each other?
All of the above are aspects of the same issue, namely, what is a universe that is supposed to be made of intangible and deterministic forces and fields doing tricking itself into thinking that is a world of rich perception and voluntary participation? The multisense realist approach is to focus on this question of the origin of aesthetics as the real issue which modern cosmologies fail to address, rather than the red herrings of self awareness, strange loops, and the ineffability of qualia. The materialist or functionalist position typically begins by unknowingly begging the question of aesthetics, framing the debate in terms of how the role that sensations play in the life of an organism can be modeled rather than examining the phenomenal qualities of sensation themselves.
To quote David Chalmers:
- “In our world, there are conscious experiences.
- There is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness in our world do not hold.
- Therefore, facts about consciousness are further facts about our world, over and above the physical facts.
- So materialism is false.”
The facts about consciousness that he speaks of are not merely immaterial though, not just different from unconscious mechanisms, but seem remarkably like the direct antithesis of physical facts. Consciousness, the only ‘force’ in the universe which is capable of caring about anything cares not just about what things are, but about how things feel and how they seem. This is incompatible with a worldview of purely mechanical processes. If nature is limited to physical and mathematical interactions, then we marginalize our own direct experience, with its playful, pleasure seeking agendas as ‘supernatural’.
The problem with a universe which has no choice but to work the way that it does, is that there is no plausible justification for there to be any experience in it at all, let alone experiences of such a vivid and passionately real quality. Even if we allow that a physical structure which managed to reproduce itself would develop ad hoc strategies over generations to match the tests of its environment, such strategies would not be improved by the addition of metaphysical ’emergent properties’ that have no functional role or conceivable composition. The significance of the hard problem is that it points out the circular reasoning of materialistic arguments, which take the qualities of experience which motivate us to seek out or avoid material conditions as affirmation of those very qualities. Because pain hurts, we avoid conditions which cause damage to our body or species, but that does not begin to explain how experiencing pain to produce an adaptation would be useful to a biological machine which already is programmed to produce the exact same sorts of adaptations. The problem is not a technical problem, it is a problem of seeing that the big picture doesn’t make sense when we cannot account for the presentation of qualities within consciousness on their own terms. If we can’t meet our naive experience halfway, then we must start from where we are and meet science halfway instead.
5. Free Will: The presence of free will, even as an “illusion” is an even greater problem for deterministic views of nature than is even consciousness. The guiding principle of determinism is parsimony. The idea is that things just don’t happen willy-nilly, they are the consequences of strict physical or mathematical laws. Such a universe has no room for machines which present themselves with illusions of their own effectiveness. Certainly in the real world, our personal estimation of the our will’s effectiveness, and of our opportunities to exercise true freedom may not be all they are cracked up to be, however the only way that such an illusion could make sense is if believing it had real consequences.
If belief in our own free will does make a difference (and experimentally, it seems to) that can only mean that our feeling of participation is a cause of physical change as well as an effect. All arguments against free will are ultimately arguments against the possibility of participating in any kind of argument in the first place, since an argument presupposes that the participants or audience have the freedom to change their position based on the persuasiveness of reasoning. If the universe really were deterministic, debates would not exist. Instead, brains would synchronize and replicate their information based on the utility of it, with no sense of personal attachment at all.
What we actually do tend to see in debates about free will is a lot of personal attachment and strong beliefs about the meanings of words and concepts. This would be hard to explain for a bunch of brains merely rubber stamping the flow of biochemical code as it passes from synapse to synapse in the dark. People can get especially nasty in their support or denial of free will, asserting their personal opinion about it freely, and willfully, yet oblivious to the significant of the fact. This, again, would be surprising were our own opinions nothing more than conditioned reflexes taking up space in our neural network. Why should such reflexes care about whether they are characterized as voluntary or involuntary? How could such a difference even be conceptualized in a universe where the voluntary cannot be conceived other than as an epiphenomenon?
The multisense realism position on free will does away with all of the philosophical baggage of compatibilism and libertarian free will, choosing to focus not so much on the ‘freedom’, but the will of free will. Will is the thing that doesn’t make sense under determinism, and all will is free to some extent, or it is incoherent. We may be persuaded to make choices against our will, but that does not mean that there are not choices which we could make and possibilities which we could create if our circumstances allowed. I use the metaphor of the yellow light in a traffic signal to show how the determinism of red = stop and green = go, or the indeterminism of half and half are not the only options. The third option is the signal which points back to the driver directly, to awake from their automaton state of responding passively and actively seek their own counsel to determine whether to speed up, slow down, or remain at a constant speed. The yellow light means ‘caution’, and caution is another way of saying beware, or be-aware…use your public facing senses to make sense privately about the overall conditions on the road. No amount of fine tuning red and green signaling can generate the meaning of the yellow light, and in a deterministic universe of only red and green lights, a yellow light would be inconceivable, even as an ‘illusion’.
Ironically (or appropriately) multisense realism seems to require a voluntary commitment to entertain the ideas before they can make sense. It is like a Magic Eye 3D image in the sense that it is not for everyone. There is a Hermetic saying “The Lips of Wisdom Are Closed Except To The Ears of Understanding“, and this has proved true in my experience discussing these ideas. Some people get it very quickly and remark that they have been thinking along these lines all of their lives, while others will argue in circles for hours, missing every point that is made. The choice is yours, if you want use these ideas to expand your appreciation of nature in every sense, or if you want to see this as nonsense that has no purpose…both possibilities have their benefits.
I consider this model to be neither dualist nor monist, but an involuted monism in which ontology itself is seen to twist into opposites in one sense while remaining continuous in another. This means that physics is the participation in its own reflexive, “Ouroboran” relation to itself as other-than-self. The head of the ontolological snake is subjectivity, and the tail which it consumes is a range of experience, running the length of the snake from subjective to objective qualities. The involution (like a Klein bottle or Möbius strip) insures that every perspective is balanced out by what another perspective lacks, so that what private experience lacks in certainty, public experience makes up for, but at the expense of feeling and meaning. The who and they why are reflected in the snake’s tail as the what and the how.
The metaphor of light for consciousness is an ancient one, but which has enduring value. Multisense realism is the hypothesis that there is no ontological distinction between seeing, light, and the seen. A light can illuminate a room so that it appears as nothing but the surfaces of the objects that make up the room, or it can appear within that room as a concentrated source or beam of light. As a beam, white light goes from the very essence of transparency and revelation to a physical phantom of which can present itself anywhere along a continuum of transparency, from translucent, to opaque, to blinding. Splitting the beam against its own reflection reveals the visible spectrum – pure color in a sensible order of softly quantized hues. There is a linear continuum, a wheel, trinities and quadruplicities, octaves. It’s a great symbol for nature as a multisense realism since there is sensible structure as well as the direct aesthetic relation of color, vision, optics standing in for sense, multiplicity, and realism.
How does multisense realism differ from other philosophies or theories of everything?
- Eliminative Materialism: Eliminativism relies on an unacknowledged expectation of emergent phenomena while maintaining that these emergent phenomena still reduce to physics. This is understandable given that we are always looking through consciousness rather than at it, so it is tempting to construct a view where consciousness itself simply isn’t there. Matter which cannot be defined in any sensory modality whatsoever – which can never be touched or seen or known in any way can hardly be said to ‘exist’ in any meaningful way…and if it did, then we would not need any sense organs to detect that existence. A universe of eliminative materialism has nothing to feel or care about, so it is hard to justify caring about it.
- Idealism: MSR can be considered an idealist philosophy, as far as it recognizes that a Neutral Monism is ultimately a way of making sense of matter as a sensible alternative to mind…which is a mental distinction to make. Because this hypothesis turns the tables on materialism from the start, and sees matter as a kind of universal, low level sensory experience, there is much common ground with idealism. Where MSR departs from idealism is in the solipsistic implications of a universe in which matter is not-really-real. Matter is as real as anything ever could be, but realism itself is a quality of dense sensory accumulation. While MSR does not rule out spiritual or mystical experiences which transcend the ordinary, it predicts that such experiences are proportional to their privacy, so that attempts to present them publicly will tend to be distorted so as to conserve the mystery (secrecy, privacy). There are implications for psychology here, and a mapping of psychotic and autistic states to locations on the multisense continuum.
- Dual Aspect: Dual aspect is another close cousin of MSR. The idea of symmetry and duality is very much apparent in a lot of the diagrams and graphics that I’ve put together, however I do not see material and ideal qualities as a duality so much as a continuum which is, like the spectrum, light, and seeing, a much more nuanced relation which presents multiple aspects, and novel aspect creation.
- Substance Dualism: Descartes theory of mind and body as separate realms ran into trouble when it came time to figure out how the two realms interact. MSR gets around this by doing away with ‘the mind’ and ‘the body’ in favor of a continuum of private aesthetic qualities and contra-aesthetic public qualities. Seeing color is more private than seeing an object that others can see. Feeling an emotion is more private than seeing a color (you can’t paint a house ‘angry’).
- Property Dualism/Emergentism: More or less a hedge against the strong assertion of separate realms, property dualism can either run as an idealist or materialist view, but usually is seen as the latter, with matter playing the role of primary substance, and qualities of experience emerging as a property of its function. MSR really turns property dualism inside out, so that properties themselves are called into question and structure is understood to be the product of experiential qualities rather than the other way around. If nothing else, MSR is a strong statement against emergence, and property dualism relies on emergence.
- Theism: There is quite a bit of overlap between MSR and many theistic traditions, such as Kabbalah, Neoplatonism, Sufi, Vedanta, and others. While I intentionally use terms like Aesthetic Foundation, or Primordial Identity Pansensitivity to avoid preconceptions associated with spiritual terms, I do not object to people thinking of it as God. Just as no theory could predict what blue would look like in a universe that had no blue, I can’t claim to know whether the Absolute frame of reference is more like a luminous being, or more like the Taiji, a “Supreme Ultimate” state of undifferentiated absolute and infinite potentiality.” All that I can say is that I don’t logically see a reason why the absolute would or should define itself as a self, or as anything other than the spectrum of total consciousness. For that reason, I consider MSR ‘ambi-theistic’, in that the personal, self like qualities of the totality and the impersonal-unbounded qualities of the totality may be tessellated as well. We may contribute to the teleology or mechanism of the universe as whole through our direct participation.
- Computationalism/Simulation Theory: I have said of Computational Theory of Mind that it is almost 100% correct, but that makes it 180 degrees wrong on the most important issue. There’s a lot of debating that I have participated in on this subject, because I reject Strong AI on the grounds that exteriors cannot be assembled to generate interiors. CTM is, in my understanding, a very seductive oversight of the difference between map and territory, so that what is most authentic and proprietary is miscast as that which is most illusory and generic. Ultimately CTM is a case of the intellect chasing its tail, looking for the alchemical code for gold in the lead of recursive enumeration…which is the true imposter. The reason why the two greatest threats to computing worldwide are security and intellectual property rights stem from the same property that makes computation powerful: It is intrinsically generic. Like plastic or television, computation can present itself as an imitation of other things, but all that it ever is by itself is digital switches following a programmed pattern. The argument from CTM is that what we see of the brain looks much like a computer, however, it does not take into account the effect that seeing a brain from outside of itself, through a body’s eyes is not a neutral view. In my estimation, the brain is already a perceptual reduction…we are seeing only a momentary cross section of a human life, and seeing it as an animal sees it, like an organ. That may not be what human consciousness is at all, but rather the brain is more like a glove through which we encounter the universe as a human being’s life. The brain is an inflection point or event horizon of many levels of sensation, but it is only the outermost level which can be detected by physical instruments.
This is one of the first diagrams that I made to try to capture the overall picture of how all major features of the cosmos can smoothly fit together. The multisense continuum runs from the extremes of private sensation and public existence.
Multisense Realism departs from convention about spacetime as a physical or topological fabric. Instead of a curved four dimensional spacetime, the idea is that physical laws, space and time are localized by sensory modulations. Space and time are emergent from consciousness.
Space is the sense of how multiple bodies or forms are divided and united.
Time is the sense of how experiences seem to be divided on some levels while remaining united on others. Time is not position, not the coordinates of hands on a clock or calendar, but it can be inferred through the dispositions of the hands relative to each other. Time is both an ongoing duration (on and on) and an oscillation or repetition of similar experiences (again and again).
See also: Overview on Quora