Flaw: I have to rethink Reality and Ontology

While I was finishing my article on the experience of space I noticed something in my reasoning that just felt wrong but at that moment I couldn’t really pinpoint it. At that time, I tried to establish simple sensory impressions as the most basic building blocks from which all my other objects of the mind emerge. In my head, all those objects didn’t exist for themselves but were just the mere product of a complicated network of sensory inputs. I even looked up how the eye, or more specifically cone and rug cells, capture visual information and forward those into the brain. And here it hit me: I was knee-deep into empirical observations of the human anatomy and far away from pure experience. But the premise I established in my first article is that I will try to reconstruct reality from the single truth I discovered so far: I experience.

What I did was establish facts about biology and let that information influence my reasoning beyond what I could actually prove to myself. And I already started doing that within my first article by separating reality into different modes: true, sensory, intelligent, and conscious. But within my world of experience, I can’t tell if there is something like sense information and on top of that intelligent models. Consciousness is the only thing that truly exists. That means at the basis of my reasoning is a flaw I have to eradicate before I move on, otherwise, I see myself constructing castles in the sky that fall apart when the first wind blows.

Coming back into my living room I take another, closer look at my fig tree. The first time I did that I did it with some deeply buried assumptions about how nature works which let me look for small points of color that would construct that image in my mind. But now aware of this ghost, I try to see the tree as it is: as a whole. It has color and light but there are no distinguished points I can make out. Even its components like the pot or stem are just part of the whole as long as I don’t focus directly on one of them. There is nothing else other than the recognition of the tree which is backlit by color and light.

But obviously, I can recognize the dirt, leaves, and pot if I want to. These sub-components just don’t stand alone, but rather feel like a new layer put on top of the object, which I call a “tree”. I know the tree but I also recognize the dirt it is rooted in. And yes, I can reduce my experience even to the level of a single point of color, as I did before, but that again is just an experience without any knowledge if that is based on the senses or something else. My experience tells me that there isn’t a clear-cut hierarchy of objects starting from the sense-based simple impressions and going up to a world model. Consciousness feels more like a large web that I can enter at many points and travel along its edges freely. A hierarchy wouldn’t be the same because my direction of travel would be predefined. How did I come to that conclusion? I see the fig tree and have the experience of recognition, or in other words, an object of the mind forms. Now I focus on its pot and recognize that too, while still being aware of the initial object. I move along those relations between objects either to things that I classify as components of the tree or laterally to objects which resemble other trees. What I never do is cut it down to simple impressions and establish them as a foundation. That is not how consciousness is presenting the world to me.

This sounds awfully identical to the ontology I have defined before, but there is a substantial difference. The bottom-to-top hierarchy is gone and so are sense-based impressions. The only thing that exists is the recognition of complete objects of the mind and the relations between those. They don’t represent a recursive structure of ever simpler objects with impressions at the bottom. There is the tree represented as a whole and it connects to leaves and dirt and another thing changed too. Before I described ontology as something I know in detail, but the opposite is actually true. I only see glimpses of that massive structure that is moving and evolving beyond my consciousness. It is more akin to an iceberg; most of it is hidden from my view.

Now that I shed sense-based impressions I still say that there are those basic experiences like color, touch, feeling, and all the others. But what are they? They are those experiences that I can’t go beyond. There is for example pain and I can associate it with the word. I can even connect it to some of the most painful experiences I had in my life. But there is nothing within pain itself. On the other hand, I can go beyond the ficus and see the pot, dirt, and leaves. There is more to it, a higher level of complexity, more layers of recognition and knowing. Experiences of color, touch, and so on are simple and together they fill the space in my mind, make it vibrant, and for the sake of categorization, I would continue to call them impressions.

But there is still one substantial part missing in my definition. How to connect the space of impressions with my more complex objects? How is the recognization of patterns emerging here? Before I just assumed that for example visual impressions activate corresponding objects and doing so repeatedly will form relations between those and from that something more complex emerges. But that assumption also has a flaw baked right into it. How are visual impressions grouped? If incoming signals would be connected by their proximity in time that would mean that all impressions would be connected to one another and my experience would be that of one undifferentiated blob. But obviously, that is not the case so I have to be able to make a distinction. What I am left with is proximity in space or similarity of objects, but these two only work for objects of higher complexity. At the level of visual impressions, there exists no concept of space or sameness. So, to be able to distinguish parts of my vision they have to form a unit. When I change my gaze and look at my phone as it lays on the table like a black cuboid it is differentiated. There is a clear edge surrounding it. I can make a distinction because of an abrupt change in my visual impressions. When that change isn’t as pronounced recognition becomes harder or even impossible. Every time I go to a zoo that hosts Chameleons I have proof of that fact. They sometimes blend perfectly into the background which makes detecting their shape nearly impossible. But what gives them away, in the end, is movement. Not the movement of the whole scene but only the change of a small group of impressions at the same moment. Through both processes comes recognition because now I can track objects across that field of color and light. So what is a visual object? A single unit or shape that continuously separates itself from the noise of visual impressions.

And since I am unpacking vision right now: Are there simple objects of the mind for each and every impression I have? There are all these points of color but I don’t believe there is a corresponding number of objects. When I try to recall the idea of the color grey as a singular unit I cannot skim through all the possible simple impressions. I just have one specific instance in mind. And even that is not a single point but some more complex object that has the property “grey”. As I said before my experience is that of objects being backlit by impressions. Another way I could describe it is as objects which have a shape, relations, and properties like touch, color, feeling, and so on. Those impressions are not their own object, at least not on an instance basis, but attach themselves as quality to an object.

And that description is true not only for vision but for any other kind of impression too. Is there an object for each possible impression of pain? No, there is just pain as property giving life to objects, attaching itself as quality, and there is a single corresponding object that emerges from the word and a net of objects which are related to that feeling and so the argument goes for any sensation.

What stays the same is my concept of relations, their strength, their source, and how they form more complex and abstract objects. Also, vivacity as an idea didn’t change. For now, these concepts still hold up but I will scrutinize them as I go on.

So what has actually changed? At first glance, my definition of impressions, ontology, and experience look the same, but the details are vastly different. There is no connection to the senses anymore. A priori knowledge of my biology isn’t needed. Even all those different realities I defined at the beginning are gone. There is just experience and the recognition of complexity. And even complexity has changed because the hierarchy from impressions to complex objects is gone. Objects are not recursive structures anymore, but complete units that relate to one another. Impressions on the other hand lost completely the state of an object of the mind except for the word that describes them. They are now properties or qualities of all those objects and they are the material in which recognition takes place.

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