Dissolving Reality — Addendum

Posted: September 26, 2015 in Consciousness, Culture, Debate, Education, Literacy, Music, Philosophy, Science
Tags: , , , , , ,

Every blog post I write suffers from the same basic problem: drawing disparate ideas together in succinct, cogent form that expresses enough of the thesis to make sense while leaving room for commentary, discussion, and development. Alas, commentary and discussion are nearly nonexistent, but that’s always been my expectation and experience given my subjects. When expanding a blog into several parts, the greatest risk is that ideas fail to coalesce legibly, compounded by the unlikelihood that readers who happen to navigate here will bother to read all the parts. (I suspect this is due in part to most readers’ inability to comprehend complex, multipart writing, as discussed in this blog post by Ugo Bardi describing surprising levels of functional illiteracy.) So this addendum to my three-part blog on Dissolving Reality is doomed, like the rest of my blog, to go unread and ignored. Plus ça change

Have you had the experience of buying a new model of vehicle and suddenly noticed other vehicles of the same model on the road? That’s what I’ve been noticing since I hatched my thesis (noting with habitual resignation that there nothing is new under the sun), which is that the debased information environment now admits multiple interpretations of reality, none of which can lay exclusive claim to authority as an accurate account. Reality has instead dissolved into a stew of competing arguments, often extremely politicized, which typically appeal to emotion. Historically, the principal conflict was between different ways of knowing exemplified by faith and reason, perhaps better understood as the church (in the West, the Catholic Church) vs. science. Floodgates have now opened to any wild interpretation one might concoct, all of which coexist on roughly equal footing in the marketplace of ideas.

Here is a good instance of another writer (in the New York Review of Books) noticing that news reports contain multiple subtexts:

There is a strong tendency, perfected over the years by Fox News, to cover and discuss domestic politics as a combination of war, sport, and entertainment all at once.

That quote is awfully brief, but the entire book review is worth a read. It’s appropriate that Fox News is juxtaposed with Donald Trump as both have redefined the terms of engagement through media, though not for the better. (Why does Trump so frequently impugn others via Twitter?) Indeed, both are flagrantly partisan, bellicose, and unrepentant even when caught in inescapable rhetorical traps. If St. Ronnie was the Teflon president, to whom nothing would stick, then Trump is (at present) the Teflon candidate. Fox News shares that ignominy, along with considerable market share for its unique brand of idiocy paraded under the ironic banner Fair and Balanced. In even further rich irony, Trump has refused to give further interviews to Fox News with allegations of having been treated unfairly. Predictably, Fox News spun the narrative in reverse: you can’t quit; you’re fired! (Some may enjoy these gladiatorial exploits; I just find them sad.)

Here’s a longer quote with more context from PZ Myers’ blog Pharyngula, which reveals a different sort of gambit familiar enough to anyone who has engaged with college students still getting the hang of reasoned debate:

They’re playing magic Jenga. Their proposed strategy is to, for instance, focus on removing all of the pieces from just the third row from the bottom. They know they can remove one piece and the tower won’t fall down, so hey, that implies that removing all of the pieces from that level will be safe, especially since in their philosophical universe gravity is irrelevant, the relationship between the different pieces doesn’t matter, and stability and balance are completely mysterious concepts.

They try to get away with it by casting doubt on known facts: they use “might” a lot. Well, if we remove that entire row, it might fall down. But maybe it wouldn’t! They get to ignore all the facts about the physics of this system because they’re bad philosophers, and all that matters is finding logical and rhetorical loopholes to permit their desired result to exist in their heads.

The significant line there is that the result exists in their heads, which isn’t really the application of logic as it may appear to be but the application of quasi-philosophical argumentation to construct chains of contingency completely removed from actuality. Again, reality is dissolved in ideation. Instances of this effect are too numerous to count, and like the automobile metaphor above, examples multiply quickly once one begins looking.

If you can get past the ridiculous imagery and music, this video of Terence McKenna lays out the issue fairly effectively:

McKenna himself has lots of competing ideas in his body of work. I find it especially curious that he praises mathematical logic but elsewhere dismisses scientism, which isn’t really a contradiction. He got to the heart of my thesis some 15 years before I find myself blogging about it.

Considering that I launched this blog series as a final book blog (referring to Iain McGilchrist and his book The Master and His Emissary), it would be obvious to circle back to him with a final killer quote. However, I’ve gone somewhat far afield from his writing, though I would offer that my thesis is fully within the trajectory mapped by his account of left-brain takeover of cognitive primacy. I still believe that the world has in effect gone mad and become a sort of bizarro world filled with spectacle and chaos more in keeping with cinematic dystopianism than with the consensus view of modern history (as told by the victors). Stepping outside the twisted framing of the dominant paradigm allows a few intrepid souls to see the truth for what it is and call bullshit on the rest. I’m still sorting it out with no particular goal in mind and zero expectation that I can convince anyone of anything. Good luck, should you travel similar paths.

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Comments
  1. colinc says:

    FTA…
    I still believe that the world has in effect gone mad and become a sort of bizarro world filled with spectacle and chaos more in keeping with cinematic dystopianism…

    First, belief of any kind for any, ahem, “reason” is the primary domain of nitwits who are so severely haywire, neurologically speaking, as to be utterly incapable of learning, let alone possessing the faculty of “reason.” Nevertheless, you are absolutely correct. Most of your observations, in addition to those of many others, provide more than sufficient evidence that the “world,” taken to mean the human species collectively, has indeed gone “mad,” or more appropriately, bat-shit insane. Moreover, that transformation was well underway before you or I were even born. I reached this conclusion more than a decade ago yet still feel amazement how much further down the rabbit-hole to the Mad Hatter’s deranged hallucination it goes each and every day. Political correctness has, as you’ve noted earlier, resulted in every word becoming polysemous with politicians, alleged “journalists,” Madison Avenue spin-doctors, celebrities of every sort and other whores (a term encompassing all the aforementioned) so completely confusing the abjectly ignorant preponderance of the population with euphemisms and malapropisms it’s truly miraculous that the system hasn’t already crashed. So, as I noted initially, belief is not required, evidence and reason show the “world gone mad.” The movie “Idiocracy” wasn’t a cautionary comedy about a potential “future,” it’s a fucking documentary of the current circumstances.

    • Clem says:

      So colinc, help me understand how reason explains the failure of the system to have not already crashed as somehow “truly miraculous”? It’s been my impression that reason doesn’t rely upon miracles. Have I been misinformed?

      But your careless use of hyperbole aside, the given observation that the system hasn’t already crashed does seem to suggest two things. One – a better analysis of the line of thinking leading to the notion that it should have already done so; and two – a bit of hope (which may not be a reason thing, but is a reasonable word for the human feeling concerning anxiousness about unknown futures)… a bit of hope for solution(s) or adaptations to the changes predicted.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. I suspect you are responding to the word belief as though a hot button of yours was just depressed. Belief has many possible sources besides the irrational. Mine is as much evidence-based as any but also has a sensing orientation that doesn’t allow easy quantification. Further, I’ve often described my thinking on this blog as provisional and open to revision, much like the scientific method is open.

      To your point about the transition to madness having been well underway before our births, I agree wholeheartedly. Pick just about any jumping off point in history and an argument could be made. From the standpoint of modern history, however, I’d say the first decades of the 20th century (the rise of mechanization) possess the strongest argument.

      Why haven’t things already crashed? Clem asks the same question. My answer is that although the house of cards has been tottering for some time, various factions buttress it continuously. There will come a time when propping up our expectations of normalcy won’t work anymore, but we haven’t yet reached that moment. In keeping with my primary thesis, physical grounding to reality has for the moment been temporarily replaced by consensus reality, which substitutes the idea or ideas of things for actuality. Put another way, story and narrative trump evidence. Fiat currency (and debt) and partisan politics are good examples of reality spun out of human ideation relying solely on figments of our imagination. We can get away with it for now because enough subscribers contribute to such thinking and the natural world has not yet (fully) crashed below us. Time will deliver a very different narrative.

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