Objects, Relations, and how Reality emerges

I left off my last thought with a separation of reality into different layers without any detail on how those layers come about. But I believe it is necessary to understand the underlying structure as much as possible because that allows me to shine a light on concepts like thought, memory, how my internal reality is constructed, and finally what kind of truths may exist in it. Besides that, I find it a profoundly interesting topic.

Looking into my living room I see a large, white radiator with two windows placed above it. Left and right of that radiator stand two small trees and three plants sitting on the window sills. I experience a cloud of separate objects forming a larger, interconnected scene. I am also able to attach names to them and experience a feeling of familiarity, of knowing. I can even distinguish their components and name them properly. The fig tree on the left has leaves, and branches, and stands in a pot full of dirt. But then again, a leaf itself corresponds to cells and the concept of air and photosynthesis. It seems I can decompose this scene in front of me into smaller and small parts no matter where I look. But there is more. Looking at the ficus I am also able to remember it as the small tree it was at the beginning and I can visualize other similar trees I have seen before. On my command, I can expand my experience to a wide array of other objects that are somehow related to the one thing in my focus. And what that suggests, to me, is what Hume already discovered some 300 years ago: My impressions form objects of the mind which themselves connect to a wider network.

The above exercise also proves another obvious but still astonishing fact: I can produce objects in my mind without any sensory impressions supporting them. Hume called that phenomena “ideas” and described them as having less vivacity or liveliness than objects coming from the senses. I can be aware of the idea of cells when looking at a specific leaf of the tree but I certainly don’t see such a microscopic structure from my point of view. I just know it. I create a corresponding object out of my imagination because it is connected to the impression of the leaf. What then distinguishes this idea from my senses is that it is less in focus or, to use an opposing word, more volatile. My ideas can be more or less clear but they never reach the clarity of sensory objects. For example, I am able to hold the name “cell” steady in my mind but images of such structures constantly flicker and change in front of my inner eye. Different representations fly by and I can’t narrow it down to one sharp instance. When I compare that with my experience of the ficus it is like day and night. The tree is one clear and sharp image.

Okay, but what exactly is an object of the mind then? My subjective experiences suggest it itself is a collection of other, simpler objects. I experience the ficus as a whole but I am aware that it is standing in a pot which itself is a thing that I can recognize as an object. On its surface is a meandering structure similar to those you can find on ancient vases or buildings serving as an ornament. Therefore this pattern is again an object in itself. And still, there is more. I can put all my focus on a small spot on the pot’s surface and just experience the color grey and its reflective properties. I can scale down my experience even more by pushing the whole tree further and further away from me until it reaches the limits of my visual perception and right before it vanishes it would be reduced to a singular point of some specific color and brightness. What that example shows to me is that at the bottom of this recursive structure of objects and relations are those simple representations of sensory impressions: color, light, sound, feelings, and all the rest. A relatively small number of basic objects leads to an endless number of possible combinations that create the complex world I experience.

Now, how are those connections between objects created? First, through temporal proximity I assume. Observing my second son gives a good example of this process. He grabs a leaf from the tree and observes it while turning it around, folding and stretching it, and applying all kinds of physical transformations. At that very moment, he captures the array of colors and light that materializes from the leaf while touch and sound accompany it. Maybe I sit next to him and name the thing of his attention thus adding even the sound of a word to his impressions. Because of that proximity in time a weak network forms between the base objects of those impressions. If he repeats the experience again, all those simple objects become alive at the same time and the relations between them grow stronger. I myself utilize the same process every time I meet a new person. After first contact, I have a rough idea of them but I will struggle to recall their name. The more often we come together the sharper the image gets and the name stays in my mind.

The second process to create relations is proximity in space. Here, the example of my son playing with a leaf applies again, because all those impression-based objects are spatially grouped together. He senses them coming from a small and bounded location.

Finally, the similarity between objects of the mind will create relations between them be it in appearance, sound, or any other of their qualities. To use my son’s learning endeavors the last time, eventually, he has formed a sharp and lively object of a fig tree leaf in his mind. When he now observes the leaf of another tree many of the component objects of the ficus leaf are activated as long as that new leaf is similar enough. At the same time, this new leaf will be its own object just that it shares many of its parts with the other. Both objects are sufficiently similar to have strong relations but at the same time, they are distinct. From that combination, a new object emerges that is akin to a class, concept, or what I also called a model: a collection of objects that share some commonalities and for which I could construct a generalized representation. The more varients of the model “leaf” my son encounters and learns the more generalistic his model becomes up until the point when he can recognize a new leaf immediately.

Any of these three relation types can create complex objects from simple impressions. But this list is not exhaustive. What I ignored so far is a relation based on causation which is the relationship between objects which don’t appear simultaneously in space or time but the one always follows the other. But causation requires an understanding of time which I still lack so I have to postpone this topic for now.

I will rather continue my investigation with a property of relationships I have not described in detail yet. That is, relations are not equal but differ in their strength. As I described before when I meet a new person it usually takes multiple encounters before I internalized their name. It seems my mind has a problem following the relation from the idea of that person to the word. When I compare that with people close to me, like my kids and wife, retrieving the name or any other information is fast and easy. What I start to realize is that the strength of all those relations of an object corresponds with its vivacity or liveliness. The stronger the connections the sharper the object in my mind. I can have an idea of any of my kids which represents them clearly from many perspectives in different scenarios together with all their mannerisms in behavior, speech, and so on. This idea is so detailed that it creates a virtual double I can interact with in my mind and which is not too far off sensed reality. It is alive. It has a high level of vivacity because it has those strong relations underlying it.

To summarize my arguments up until now, Sensory Reality creates and feeds into a network of relations between objects that are at the most basic level representation of those very impressions I get from my senses. Maybe a different, better name I can attach to this structure is ontology or ontology of Sensory Reality. From it emerges Intelligent Reality with its models and virtual worlds but there is also some connection to Conscious Reality I can make out. The vivacity or liveliness of my objects is strongly influenced by their origin, be it impressions or imagination. What that creates is an ability within my conscious experience to draw a line between Sensory Reality, or just reality whatever that is in the end, and my imagination. I think liveliness also defines what is part of consciousness and what never reaches my experienced world and stays sub-conscious. The stream of impressions and ideas generated every moment is massive and therefore the number of models and their objects that get activated is unfathomably large too. But only a small subset or even just a single one of those objects grabs my attention and guides my focus and I assume it is the one with the highest vivacity.

Those months of work to compile these arguments left me with a stronger foundation for my different realities. My impressions still stay at the edge without an explanation of how they exactly come about but I have a better understanding of how intelligence emerges from that and how it informs consciousness. Now I have to flesh out the details and build up experienced reality from the bottom.

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