Monthly Archives: February 2018

The Noise In The Data

What are the limits of my knowledge of the world?

For the last ten years I have “existed” in Japan. Within this time the nature of reality has not changed. This is as expected and is not surprising. I had lived in the three countries previously, and also extensively spent time in another country intermittently most of my life. The nature of reality holds true for all these places. I have also looked through the telescope at the International Space Station, the surface of the moon, Jupiter and Saturn its moons, Mars, and the light from distant stars and galaxies. As far as I can tell the nature of the reality is no different than to the one here on Earth. But that does not mean the nature of reality cannot be different elsewhere in the parts of the universe I have yet to observe.

What I can say is this: the nature of my immediate physical reality is thus, and that is all that matters.

Why should I need to worry about there being a different reality? For me, to function and operate in this world, this is all that I need to know – that within my world, reality is uniformed.

In the Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta, The Buddha said this when asked about the “deeper questions” of the nature of the world:

“[Your questions are] just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a brahman, a merchant, or a worker.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me… until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short… until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored… until I know his home village, town, or city… until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow… until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated… until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’ The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.

The story tells us The Buddha’s attitude toward questions of irrelevance. What we need to know is immediately available to you through your senses and perception. This should be your starting point on the investigation into reality, whether you are Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, a philosopher or scientist or any other category of being I have not mentioned. For this is truly what is common among us, our senses and perception. Everything else is supplemental and, in my opinion, like noise in the data.

On Reality

This morning I took the garbage out, as I do every Saturday morning. There was the sky. There were clouds, mountains, trees, rocks, roads, my car. birds singing, the rice fields, our vegetable garden, my neighbour bringing home a dead wild boar. This is physical reality. The world I see and all its objects, space and time exists. I verify it independently. And you can come verify it as well. The world where you are now reading this is the same but different part of the physical world. I can, if I want to, come to you and verify it independently as well. Few would argue that this is not the world, not real.

Outside my house, as I said, are rocks. The one particular rock that I picked up this morning is real. It existed with the ground, vegetable garden, mountain, clouds, sky. But does the rock “know” of its existence and the physical reality it belongs to? Let me put it down – both physically and metaphorically – for the moment and come back to it later in this post.

There is a physical reality. But how do I know it? I know the reality through my senses and perception of it. There is no other way for me to have knowledge of it. The senses, my, eyes, ears, nose, skin and tongue give me the sensory data, and my brain saves and processes this sensory data to let me know of its existence.

Suppose there was a person who was born without any senses (no eyes, ears, nose, skin or tongue) but with a brain. Would this person know anything of the reality? Now let us suppose there was another person who was born with all the senses but without a brain. Would this second person know anything of the reality as well?

Yes, there is a physical reality. And in the reality there are objects which can know the world and objects which cannot know it. These objects have been called variously throughout history as animate/inanimate, sentient/non-sentient, etc. I prefer either observing/unobserving or perceptient/non-percpetient objects. I am perceptient. The rock outside my house is non-perceptient. There are a multitude of objects out there. They are either perceptient or non-perceptient. I can perceive the existence of perceptient and non-perceptient objects. Others can perceive them (and me as a perceptient object) as well. The rock has no such understanding of the reality. Note, this does not make me “better than” or “superior to” the rock, only that I am different from it, as far as objects are concerned. The non-perceptibility of the reality is the rock’s characteristic. The perceptibility of the reality is a characteristic of my being.

Senses precede sensation, and sensation must precede perception. And perception limits and informs my understanding of the reality. I act and make decisions (inferences) in accordance to my understanding of the reality. Knowledge is the sum of perceptions, inferences and actions of a perceptient object. The rock outside my house cannot know the reality. It perceives nothing, makes no inferences and does not act volitionally.

The physical reality is made up of objects, perceptient and non-perceptient. It includes space which separates the objects, and time in which objects interact within the space. The interaction is complex. To not look at this complexity is to ignore the reality, to ignore space, objects and time.

Generally, I do not like to make analogies but I will make one here because analogies make concepts easier to understand. Furthermore, the ability to make analogies is a characteristic particular to the perceptient object that I am – a human being.

Chess is a game with a physical reality and rules. In the physical space of eight-squares by eight-squares and thirty-two pieces (sixteen to each side) is the game played. There are five different pieces (king, queen, bishop, knight and rook) and the pawn (the pawn is not called a “piece” for some reason). each piece and pawn has its own particular characteristic. The objective of chess is to win the game by checkmating the opposition king. The minimum needed to play chess are 1) to have a chess set, 2) to have a playing partner, and 3) to know its rules. Yet, having these conditions do not make for an interesting and entertaining game. Knowing how to win – the strategies and tactics of the game – knowing how to interact meaningfully in the reality is what is needed.

Defining observing objects

I am an observing object. I observe the objective reality. I observe that I observe, and I observe that I am observed.

Defining Objects

There are numerous objects in the world. They are of two general types – observing and unobserving objects. I am an observing object. I interact with the space and objects as an object. I therefore mark time by interaction and by observing this time.

Defining The World

The world is the objective reality, the collection of independently existing things – space, objects and time. Space is a special kind of object. Time is the interaction of space and objects.