Quora – Could the reduction of experiential phenomena into objective categories (as championed by Science) be unhealthy psychologically for human beings?

Quora – Could the reduction of experiential phenomena into objective categories (as championed by Science) be unhealthy psychologically for human beings?

Depends what you mean by the question, and what level of development any particular human being is at.

Very few people understand much about science.

Everyone has to come to awareness with relatively simple models of the world in which we exist.

Many of those models will be simple binaries, like hot/cold, smooth/sharp, right/wrong, good/bad.

Most of reality seems to be vastly more complex than that.

Most people seem to have an idea that science is all about finding truth.
I’ve been engaged in science for over 50 years, and have had to get very comfortable with uncertainty and complexity. I don’t do truth in respect of reality, all of my understandings are in terms of probabilities.

We need to have categories to be able to make distinctions, and all categories can become traps that tend to make us put things in them that really don’t belong.

There are so many aspects and dimensions to that.

There are many other great answers here exploring aspects of the question.

Marty Frolick gets part of the answer, and it seems to me much more complex still.

Carl Grove goes part way into an essential set of dimensions around finding a balance between reason and intuition that works for us personally.

Dan Hall goes part way, but fails to explicitly declare that even matter and energy are subjective constructs that most of us agree are probably objectively present.

So if people over simplify their categories, acknowledging that all categories are probably necessarily simplification of complexity that is beyond computation, then there is danger.

If people use categories, in the full knowledge that all categories will probably be wrong in some contexts, then they are very useful and necessary tools in building some sort of understanding that is a useful approximation of whatever reality actually is (which seems to be the best any of us can hope for).

This demands a degree of humility, and can generate a degree of respect for different models that others use that they find useful in their particular context.

We have so many levels of profound uncertainty in science.

We have things like irrational numbers, like pi (the relationship of the diameter of a circle to its circumference), that cannot be accurately expressed in any integer based numeric system. One may continue calculating pi for the rest of eternity without coming to a final accurate answer. There is a mathematical proof that the infinity of irrational numbers is greater than the infinity of rational numbers (integers and fractions).

We have Heisenberg uncertainty, that says that we may not know both the position and momentum of anything beyond the Planck limit of accuracy.

We have photons arriving from beyond the space/time cone of things we might possibly have had any sort of foreknowledge.

If Garret Lissi is correct in his conjecture, then the simplest particles we know of in physics seem to have correlations to the most complex symmetry known to mathematics (the E8 Lie group). That such a notion has any evidence at all in favour of it (which it has) should be a serious mind bend to anyone looking for simplicity in reality.

What seems to be clear, is that all any of us ever get to experience is a subconsciously created model of reality that our subconscious minds produce, that we as conscious entities get to experience as our experiential reality. It seems that to a very large degree we are software entities in our own personal virtual realities; and for the most part, in most contexts, those models are kept entrained to whatever reality is by our sensory experience of it (at least to the degree that they are).

Reality seems to be so complex, and contain so many different classes of uncertainty and unpredictability, that we must all simplify it, at many different levels, to make any sense of it at all (at least to whatever degree that we do).

It seems that we, as human beings, are very complex evolved entities, with many different levels of evolved systems (genetic, cultural and beyond), existing in a reality that is mind numbingly complex – even for geeks like me who love numbers and logic and systems.

We have many levels of subconscious systems that have allowed all of our ancestors to survive in that reality.

The more we become aware of them, the more choice we have in determining what is appropriate in our exponentially changing present.

One of the great misunderstandings of our age is the idea that evolution is all about competition, whereas in reality, for complex organisms like ourselves, it is much more accurate to say that evolution is almost all about cooperation.

So an overly simplistic understanding of what “objective” means in science can be a very dangerous thing, as it tends to over simplify and devalue the extremely complex systems that are our subconsciously generated feelings and intuitions. And we all need those feelings and intuitions, without them, we would all be overwhelmed by complexity.

How we each find a balance that works for us individually, between our intuitive and our rational sides, between the deep lessons from the past encoded in genetics and culture, and the possibilities and creativity present in the eternal uncertainty of becoming, is a very personal thing.

We each have our conservative and our liberal sides, and we need them both.
Our currently societal practice of putting them in competition, rather than having them work through complex issues together, is dangerous.

So yes – over simplification of anything can be psychologically unhealthy, as can getting lost in complexity that we have no tools to deal with.

That is going to be different for each and every one of us.

For me, science is the eternal process of asking questions of reality, and looking as deeply as possible at how reality responds, then doing my best to work out what that is most likely to mean. For me, that seems healthy, as it demands of me that I respect all complexity, and human beings are the most complex thing I know of at present.

[followed by Morgan stated – …” mathematisc was about truth, while science is about descriptions of observations,”…]

Hi Morgan,

I can kind of agree with that, provided that one is clear that the sort of “Truth” that mathematics deals with is one that is restricted to the bounded domain of logic/mathematics.

And it does get tricky, because mathematics gives us the best tools we have for building models of reality, which is not exactly the same thing as saying that reality necessarily follows any set of mathematical rules. Unfortunately, many mathematicians and physicists are not clear on that distinction.

And one can certainly get great insights into the nature of reality by exploring the domains of logic and mathematics (which contain nested infinities – so no end to that process).

[followed by]

Hi Fabio,

What sort of GUT?

Are you talking physics, or philosophy?

In physics it seems to be that there is fundamental uncertainty involved.

In philosophy, most things seem to come out of an understanding of evolutionary epistemology and ontology.

And from a systems perspective there seem to be infinite sets of infinite systems available to explore.

I’m much more interested right now in creating the sort of large scale cooperative context that can give all individuals reasonable security and reasonable freedom (acknowledging that risk always exists and that all complexity requires boundaries for existence).

[followed by]

Hi Fabio,

I live in Kaikoura, New Zealand – about 18,000 km away, so not likely to pop in for a physical visit any time soon, but happy to arrange something via skype or teamviewer or zoom or whatever at a time that suits us both (given 12 hr difference in time zone). My gmail is (without spaces)
Ted Howard NZ

My life can get a bit busy and crazy from time to time – but I can usually make space for something interesting – and this seems like it may be interesting.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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3 Responses to Quora – Could the reduction of experiential phenomena into objective categories (as championed by Science) be unhealthy psychologically for human beings?

  1. flawedman says:

    I think most people mean experiential reality when they use the word reality or talk about the ‘ real world ‘ . They often use the term to suggest that others are not in what they claim to know is ‘ the real world ‘ . It can get nasty I could say listen ditch all this stuff we are in a desperate fight for survival , join extinction rebellion.
    There is a certain anger with progress produced by science because it has led to enormous problems and a fine example is the internal combustion engine .
    One other point made by Steven Pinker in his book How the Mind Works : the human mind was made by natural selection to survive and may not be up to unravelling the complexity of the cosmos. Not a nice thought suggesting we better stop and settle down and enjoy life .
    The other great problem is our moral nature which means as Freud put it ‘ we are at war with ourselves ‘ restlessness is part of our make up which ever way we look at it.
    There are those like Sam Harris who claim the self and free will are illusions ; he made me smile recently when he said ‘ the illusion of the self and free will is itself an illusion.
    But the wild flowers look lovely and the fish and chips tastes delicious and what could be better than a stroll by the ocean?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think most people do not have a clear distinction between reality (whatever it actually is) and the experience of being (which experience is of an internally generated model of reality).

      It certainly seems beyond reasonable doubt that our minds are not up to understanding reality in detail, though it does seem to be capable of generating far more complex and useful models than most people currently use.

      I have many arguments with Sam, even as I value much of his thoughts, and had a long running discussion with Trick Slattery, which was not resolved at all.

      Other than that – we seem to largely agree about a lot of things.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. flawedman says:

    Thanks for the mention of Trick Slattery I will follow that up, he was unknown to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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