On Cognitive Models, Existence, and Wikipedia Rabbit Holes

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Well, the answer is yes. To even begin to process the definition of reality — “the state or quality of having existence or substance” — we must first ascertain what exactly is meant by “existence”. Google, tells us that existence is “the fact or state of living or having objective reality.” So the simple definition of reality and existence tells us that they are essentially the same thing. To be real is to exist and to exist is to be real. So how do we determine reality?

The accepted method is to observe it, but this is fraught with uncertainty. What am I observing? How am I observing it? Am I observing all of it? Does the observation affect the observed? It can be overwhelming when thought about and this has been thought about for as long as we’ve had the leisure time to not worry about basic survival. Most that have bothered to think about this have come to the same conclusion: “Cogito ergo sum” — the only thing for certain to exist is the thinker, with everything else being speculation.

Speculation, because everything the thinker observes is filtered through some kind of sensory apparatus and that experience of sensation is then modeled by the thinker to represent reality. What you think is objectively real is an extrapolated simulation of the limited sensory input because, in short, you can’t handle the truth. There’s just too much of it for us to understand. Also, your model is directly limited by the sensors and shaped by your experiences.

These models are developed through a function of two factors, nature and nurture. Your natural instincts or survival model has developed over the eons to allow you to become the highest rung of the food chain. You only need to hear enough frequencies to recognize if something is stalking you — there is no need to see in the ultraviolet spectrum to fell that deer.

You also have developed a cognitive model that allows you to explain phenomenon satisfactorily enough to make predictions about events to help you survive. The cognitive model always starts with some fundamental assumptions or axioms because we do not know all of the factors. Learning when to sow the crops in the spring so you can harvest in the fall or recognize that when a dog snarls he’s not looking for belly rubs are examples of cognitive models.

The reasoning behind these models do not necessarily need to be an accurate explanation of reality, they just need to be reproducible. If your explanation for the change in seasons is because Persephone was kidnapped, and that helps you get the crops in the ground in time, then that is a valid model. Cognitive models are not only influenced by natural phenomena, but also by cultural influences, which causes a feedback cycle in the next generation where cultural dogma becomes the axiom for the next generations’ developing cognitive model.

But science describes objective reality. Yes, science has developed one of the most accurate predictive models to date, but science and its religion of scientism is still built on axioms; the world is objective, orderly, and comprehensible. If any one of these can be called into question then the whole structure is questionable. The axiom that the world is objective has been seriously questioned ever since Bohr came up with his Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Following this interpretation to its logical conclusion indicates that the measurement by the observer determines the reality. A recent quantum experiment dubbed the “delayed choice quantum eraser” also indicates that causality could be violated, which means observations after an event happens can change the outcome of said event bringing orderliness into question. Even though science has had many achievements, science still cannot explain how consciousness arises which, as said before, our own conscious is the only truth we actually can know.

So why discuss reality, modeling and science on a cultural satire (I think?) page? It is because culture is the accepted consensus cognitive model of the people. This model does not necessarily need be, and often is not, correct in regards to ultimate truth. Dogmatic adherence to what is essentially a mental construct is the leading cause of violence and destruction in history. Only by realizing that these models of reality are completely subjective to the individual’s belief system and that they are not set in stone will we be able to try to see the world from another perspective and gain empathy and understanding to modify our personal model to be more inclusive and loving.

Author: William Davenport

William Davenport graduated college with degrees in physics and mathematics, which have been put to use becoming a goat herder. Often the victim of his own solipsistic traps, William has spent more time staring in his navel than he cares to admit but probably less than he actually should.

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