Ways to understand consciousness: the self and the reality of perception
Deny the reality of things
and you miss their reality;
assert the emptiness of things
and you miss their reality.
If someone would try to explain, to an audience of people without a scientific background, the principles under which modern physicists consider the world, the audience would probably see his or her statements at least as mildly delusional or even entirely crazy: not only is contemporary science crowded with all sorts of strange objects, bizarre theories, and counterintuitive behaviors, it also affirms that those concepts and representations are the roots of an unknowable “fundamental reality.” The first realization coming from this apparent “strangeness” of our universe is that every ultimate representation of the so-called “physical reality” is not only impossible, but epistemologically wrong! A physicist once joked that the reason we are unable to mentally represent dimensions higher than the 4th is because we’re made to gather bananas from trees, not to think about the dimensions of our universe. In psychological terms, this means also that every effort to “match” the so called “reality” of the world to our mental faculties is doomed to fail from the very beginning, unless, by stating that the world is as simple as it looks (a rock is just a rock, a tree is just a tree), we prefer to substitute illusion – or a shared illusion – for reality. After all, illusions have power because human beings, in contrast with other animals, tend to act according to what they believe to be true. Therefore, whoever is able to shape your worldview controls you, because most people will act according to the belief system that has been proposed to or imposed upon them. The social consequences of this attitude have been vast and extraordinary throughout the entire history of mankind. If someone can, then, establish a consistency of illusion, that person can create a consistent unreality that benefits him or her in various ways.
Modern science – including logic – shows that we are allowed, from a physical standpoint, only a vague glimpse into reality, a feeble understanding similar to an island surrounded by a sea of illusions. Isaac Newton, the father of classical physics, after a long series of successful scientific discoveries, humbly declared: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Human beings generally tend to be suspicious, or openly skeptical, about such a viewpoint, because they intuitively believe that they possess some sort of personal certitude about the forms of their perceptions and their consciousness of the so-called “reality” of the world. Some philosophers have even announced a convenient conflation of being with perception, as expressed in the phenomenalist proposition of the Esse est percipi, To be is to perceive, by the Bishop of Cloyne. But reference to perception per se doesn’t solve intellectual dilemmas and paradoxes about cognitive issues: we can easily perceive matter as “solid,” a straight stick partly immersed in water as “bent” or the earth as “flat,” all the while knowing that they are not; therefore our esse doesn’t necessarily depend on, or follow, our percipi, unless we prefer to exchange the illusion of the flat earth for its spherical reality. Perception is a limited (and too-often wrong) tool in the investigation of realities, whether they be internal or external, and the same errors that apply to the resulting interpretation of the world through perception are easily carried over to the understanding of ourselves.
Following the various claims and doctrines of Empiricism, Materialism, Utilitarianism, Huxleyan-Darwinism and Pragmatism, today’s biological sciences have taken a certain approach to consciousness, declaring, in many instances, that “the world is an illusion constructed in our heads.” Obviously, neurologists are not claiming “there is no world out there”; they are simply pointing out the inadequacy of our brain to process reality “as it is.” Strange as it seems, this conceptual attitude is a derivation from the belief that there is indeed a “reality as it really is” out there, and that, even if our mind is playing tricks on us, we can select from this “reality” what is useful or convenient to our survival.
Somehow we take for granted that the topic of consciousness is related to perception or to the “reality” of the external world; by doing so, we’re establishing a hypothetical relationship between ourselves and what we call, in general terms, “the external world.” When the Peripatetic axiom, nihil est in intellectu quod prius non fuerit in sensu, nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses, eventually made its way into modern philosophy,  it became a key element of Empiricism, supporting the belief that our entire thinking is a patchwork of elements we have experienced through the senses. Following this line of reasoning, a unicorn is then merely the sum of a horse and a narwhal or, in other words, all there is is what there is: est quod est. Lewis Carroll, himself a mathematician and a logician, well-aware of the intellectual debate regarding consciousness and perception, instead had Alice say, “one can’t believe impossible things,” to which the Queen replied “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” The irony of such an answer should be duly noted.
When we try to ponder the aforementioned discoveries of physics, we’re thinking about something beyond our realm of perception; then, accepting such conclusions, we can’t interpret reality any longer through only the senses, but through the intellect. Therefore, Leibniz’s addition to the Peripatetic axiom, “nisi ipse intellectus, except the intellect itself,” gives an opening to reach above and beyond the mere senses.
The idea that what’s outside us determines what’s inside us is an interpretation of reality characteristic of the Western cultural tradition, mainly based on the fact that each human being is a privileged “point of perception.” Other cultures have instead related consciousness and perception only to the interior of the human being and have understood the problem of consciousness as autonomous from the external world: this is the reason why the statues of the Buddha have closed eyes, because they are contemplating the “real reality” inside. Similarly, the Gospel of Luke declared, “No one will say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’; because the Kingdom of God is within you,” and centuries later, M. K. Gandhi echoed, “the truth is to be found nowhere else other than within ourselves,” pointing once again to a concept of truth not based on sign and reference, but which requires a deeper understanding, not necessarily dependent on the external world. Is not just ethical/philosophical thinking that points to an internally generated reality; even neurobiology asserts that the world is, in fact, “inside your brain,” meaning that reality is something generated by the brain, or, to use a similitude, the world is the canvas on which the brain paints “reality.” Some contemporary academics go so far as to claim an “illusion of consciousness,” or a dream within a dream, as Edgar Allan Poe would probably have said, poetically. Neurobiology, with the statement that “reality” is something that “happens inside your brain,” seems to have rediscovered the old philosophical concept of representation (Vorstellung), i.e. that reality seems to be, up to a certain extent, a selection of perceptions. If the brain really manipulates the world to the point of creating a representation that resembles reality in the way that a Tintoretto painting resembles Venice, then all our minds are merely producing elaborate hallucinations and illusions. If this were true to the extent claimed by some neuroscientists, we would have no physics, mathematics, logic, philosophy, or even any common understanding, because a long chain of physiological illusions would not allow any consistent cognizance of the external world, nor any possibility for real communication – If your triangle is my square and my triangle is someone else’s octagon, then our languages cannot meet on the ground of a common hermeneutic.
Although we accept that the world cannot be entirely perceived in absolute clarity – a realization as old as rational thinking – there are, at the same time, intellectual instruments and methods that allow us to cross the gap between appearance and reality, without necessarily retreating into mechanistic or reductionist explanations that would lead to bizarre conclusions. If we did not have intellectual tools to investigate the universe apart from our wishes, desires, misperceptions, etc., we would be fatally abandoned to a subjective physiological response to the external reality, and the entire human world would resemble a solipsistic asylum where each individual lives in some sort of a personalized cosmos generated by his/her brain and for himself/herself, therefore incapable of any real communication with others. It’s a monadic vision of the human being, a fractured interpretation of reality, where the individual is living in some sort of a cosmic theater with just one spectator. A thinking being should refuse such solitude, as it only leads to confusion, a radical separation from other humans, error and despair.
 Published in «The Bulletin of Computational Mathematics and Epistemology» vol. III, #49, pp.35-40, NYC, February 2018.
 Hypercubes, Riemann sphere, chronotope, etc.
 Wave–particle duality, closed timelike curves, etc.
 A straight line is impossible in our universe but only geodesics are possible, etc.
 At a fundamental level, Heisenberg proved that it’s impossible to know both the position (p) and the momentum (x) of a particle on an atomic level. Moreover, at the Planck scale, the laws of physics, as we understand them, break down entirely.
 Dr. Johnson, a champion of naïve realism, believed he had refuted Berkeley’s thesis of the non-existence of matter just by kicking a stone and spouting: “I refute it thus.”
 See also S. Caldarella, The Empty Campus, Dark Age Publishing, Princeton 2016.
 Usually translated as “To be is to be perceived.”
 In many ways, Descartes reacts to the uncertainty of perception when he is looking for a certain ultimate ground with his res cogitans.
 Once again, a disguised Darwinian doctrine emerges here. From the epistemological side, Niels Bohr was the greatest critic of any representation of atomic realities: “We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.”
 Plato rejected the idea that knowledge can be identified with perception (αἴσθησις): see Theaetetus 184b-186e.
 The axiom was first posited through a Scholastics interpretation of Aristotle, was later put forth again by Pierre Gassendi, then by John Locke (“There appear not to be any ideas in the mind before the senses have conveyed any in,” An Essay concerning Human Understanding, II, 1, 23), and was finally taken up by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz with the addition, “nisi ipse intellectus.”
 A conceptual attitude that can easily be converted into support of any kind of authoritarianism.
 In mathematics, for example, the equations can reveal things of which we were not aware before performing the calculations, so our wishes or preconceptions play little role in the logical conclusions. As a major example, we can recall the discovery of irrational numbers, made by the Pythagoreans: they wanted the world to be commensurable, but mathematics taught them otherwise.
 Luke 17:21.
 But if consciousness is an illusion, who is making this statement and what legitimacy does it have? Logically such a statement has the form of a self-referential paradox similar to when people declare that “all truths are relative,” without realizing that for such a statement to be valid, there must be at least one truth that is not relative, and that’s the truth stating that all truths are relative. See also the Epimenides paradox that tricked even Saul of Tarsus (Epistle to Titus, 1:12–13).
 It’s called “the internal model” or “mental model.” Optical illusions are examples of how the “internal model” works.
 I believe this attitude of viewing reality as a pure solipsistic product of our brain is deeply influenced by the modern predominance of sophistry that allows people to believe it is legitimate to say that there is “your truth” and “my truth,” “your logic” and “his logic.” Therefore it seems plausible that there is even “your world” and “my world,” which is a radical non-communication among human beings.