All my searches for truth spring from one question: “What is creativity?” Although I have big chunks of answers to this, in the process I have come across many philosophical models that are incompatible but within their own scope, they appear to be true. How is that possible: true but incompatible?
To answer that question, I need to introduce the physics of the slide projector. If you remember those then I salute you, oh traveler from 70’s and 80’s.
Just in case, a “slide” is a small see-through photo mounted in a 2”x 2” frame that you slide into a slide projector which has a point light source that shines through the slide and a focal lens that then projects the image on a screen. All this predates PowerPoint presentations and if you wondered why we talk about PowerPoint ‘slides’ then now you know.
I’ve always been fascinated by this process. The idea that you can project an image on a screen from a white light source using a film that has a small image printed on it, is ingenious. As it turn out, our whole world view is based on this concept of projecting images on screens, starting from a light source. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s ask some philosophical questions about this set-up.
The light source has to be white light or otherwise it would color the image differently from the image on the slide. White light, as you may know covers the spectrum of all colors and so every beam of light from the white light source contains all colors and using the color filter of a pixel on a slide, will show just that color. To put that differently, the white light from the light source has the potential of creating any image that you could ever want to show on the screen. Not just your holiday pics but also Vincent van Gogh’s starry night over St Remy de Provence. That white light even contains all the paintings that have not been painted yet. Refer: Randomness as the source of creativity.
The projection screen is where the image comes to life. Anywhere else, the light is invisible. So when we are in a cinema watching a film, the entire experience comes from that screen. The anguish, fear, joy and tears are all triggered by what happens on that screen. The light source and film projector and quite irrelevant. But what if we wanted to know where that image comes from, we might have a good look at the screen and infer that the image is in fact a projection and all we have to do is follow the light back to its source to figure out the origin of that image. But what if we didn’t know how slide projectors work and we didn’t know that there was such a thing as a slide that converts white light to an image? In that case, we would trace the colored light beams back to a focal point and assume that the image is contained in that focal point, which would be where the white light source actually is.
Just imagine this for a moment. The projected images would be inferred to come from a single luminous point in front of the screen. That point has exactly zero size. This would be a stunning realization, that an image can come from something so small that it is basically nothing. Light, color and form, from nothing. And if this was a film, then the entire story, the moving images would all come from that light point of nothingness. For the purpose of this blog post, I’m calling this point the focal origin.
The slide contains all the information of the image and its role is one of conversion. If you were to study it, you might see the white light white on one side and infer the light source or you might see the colored light on the other side and see it disappear into an ever larger beam of light into infinity. As it reaches infinity, the light would be so dispersed that it would be perfectly dark. The light would have started in a point of perfect and infinite whiteness and ended up in perfect darkness.
So much for the slide projector
Now I need to go back to my friends Kant, Ouspensky and their contemporaries. Instead of arguing about the truth of God or science, they stripped the discourse back to what they could know: their experience of the world. Only that what they could feel, see, hear, taste or touch. You can’t argue with that but the obvious next step is to surmise, extend and infer the rest of the world from there. And with that, you are back to square one: how can you know the world beyond that which you can sense directly?
By using the slide projector model. That’s how! And this is what philosophers have done for as long as humans have wondered about the how and what of themselves and the world.
Let’s say that you accept that your experience is conscious, i.e. you are aware of it and therefore it is real enough to start your exploration of your world. What you see, taste, touch and feel is real. And let’s say that you surmise that you are the screen in the slide projector model. The question is then: What is it that projects these sensations into your conscious experience?
You can make many choices in which way you want to follow that projection back to its focal origin. You could decide that your conscious experience is due to “a material world out there”. To trace back the projection that you consciously experience as a screen in the slide projector model, you would look around, touch rocks and flowers and conclude that this is evidence that there is a world out there. Bolstered by this validation, you try to make sense of that world. Before you know it, you are engaging in some branch of science and you will establish the laws of that world out there. The fact that we have airplanes, iPhones and tinned baked beans is for many sufficient validation of our initial premise that there is a world out there that is projected onto our conscious experience through our senses, with its laws of physics etc.
But it turns out that not everyone has started with the same premise. For as long as people have believed in the material view that there is a world out there, there are at least as many people that have turned the other way and said: “The conscious world that I experience is a projection from a consciousness that creates everything”. Some will even add that “There is no material world out there, everything is a projection from that source of consciousness.” Instead of touching rocks and flowers, these people turn towards the source of experience by deliberately avoiding rocks and flowers, as well as thoughts and sensations. In doing so, they discover a sense of deep wellbeing and happiness which comes with the experience of love. They conclude that the source of consciousness is the ultimate source of love and name that focal origin of their world, God.
There are many variations of this slide projector approach to inferring the ‘true’ world model from our conscious experience of sight, hearing, touch, feeling and taste. Probably all world models, religions and philosophical streams are an inference from the only Kantian truth that we actually know (conscious experience).
Many of these projected world models are incompatible. It is evident that if your focal origin is God then that focal origin cannot also be the Big Bang or some many world quantum ripple that may have triggered it. And so non-dualists may exclaim that there is no evidence whatsoever that matter exists at all with as much vigor that the materialists may claim that there is zero evidence for God. I suspect that most people accept that there are multiple worldviews that are somewhat true but incompatible but who will pragmatically accept a few of them.
Here is the reason, I believe, that these worldviews are incompatible: they all assume that the slide projector model is valid. They all assume that you can infer the focal origin of their world view from the Kantian conscious experience of our senses. The fact that these world views are incompatible demonstrates that the slide projector model has a snag somewhere.
Interestingly, we know that the slide project model of finding the focal origin is completely wrong when it comes to the slide projector itself… The image that is projected on the screen is the result of a white light source that beams through a colored image. There is no focal origin that contains that image.
To translate that into the common worldviews: it is not certain that there is a focal origin that explains the universe and matter. The universe and matter may be the confluence of different phenomena other than quantum fluctuations and big bangs. And these phenomena may never be found, in the same way that it is unlikely that you would infer a slide projector from an image on a screen if you had never known about slide projectors or cinematographic apparatus in the first place. Similarly, it is not certain that there is a focal origin referred to as God even though the experience of enlightenment with its deep experience of love, oneness and the spiritual power that this bestows on the enlightened persons through the ages may suggest it.
Every adept of a world view can go back further and further to the focal origin but may never ever get there. In the same way that the idea that a slide projected image cannot actually come from a zero-sized focal origin, it is in fact not a sure thing that the material world comes from zero-dimensional zero-sized event and formula. It is equally unlikely that an infinitely powerful consciousness in a non-dimensional ‘space’ would be the source of the loving consciousness that allows us to be happy.
How can I be so sure? Firstly, if ever we would discover the focal origin of any of the competing worldviews, it would almost certain negate the others – for which there is already sufficient evidence that they are at least partially real and true. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the only thing that we can be sure of is the Kantian experience of the senses. All else is projection.
Kant believed that the entire scaffolds of reality, including our dimensions and time, but also our conscious world model are features of the mind and not necessarily of ‘reality’. Therefore, it is entirely possible that the various worldviews are partially self-fulfilling promises. Yes, physics is real. As is the loving experience of enlightenment. But how much of that could be hardwired in our minds? Whether that mind is a brain or a chunk of consciousness is a feature of the worldview. But is it possible that we have literally constructed these world view realities, including their scaffolds and laws and passed them down human genes and memes through the ages?
If you can’t see, or are unwilling to do so, that all worldviews are projections and logical extensions from our Kantian conscious experience, then the answer to the previous question is probably: no. If you are willing to entertain the slide projector model of world views, then you could entertain the thought of that question wonder if the answer is yes. And if it is yes and we accept that the focal origin may not be the source of our worldview, then we might have to turn our attention to the slide between the focal origin and the screen.
The slide that contains all the information and transforms a point light into a projection. That slide is not infinitely small. Perhaps that slide points us at an imperfect non-zero origin. How would that fare as a worldview?