Marketing has never been a fashionable profession: we’re uncomfortable with the idea of being brainwashed into buying “things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like.” We treat tangible value as “real” and “honest”, and intangible or perceived value as “fluffy”, or even akin to “lying”. We’re lying to ourselves: there is no such thing as an objective reality.
No seriously. At the quantum level, it’s clear to modern scientists that you can’t observe reality without affecting it. As such we can’t actually prove that reality exists outside of the act of observation: this was what Schrodinger was demonstrating with (theoretical) cats in boxes. Scaling up to the level we operate on, the subjective nature of reality doesn’t get any better. What we see isn’t what’s really there. There are more colors than we can see. There are more sounds than we can hear. There are more movement than we can feel. What we experience as reality is modelled from the limited data picked up by our senses, in the neocortex of our primate brains.
We don’t even get the raw data: our senses only look for information when they notice something the brain didn’t already predict. It’s that prediction we get, not actual observations. This model maps to the real world when convenient, but when you think about it, objective reality isn’t really want we want. Knowing the objective truth of a situation might be appealing to our rational minds, but it’s our subjective, irrational mind that’s most responsible for our survival.
We don’t need a comprehensive accounting of all of the individual atoms within a 5 mile radius. It would be boring, and we wouldn’t learn anything useful. If some of those atoms form the shape of a tiger moving through the bushes, well that’s something our brain subjectively wants to know about. It would take too much processing power to process all the information available to us. We’re mortal and have limited cognitive resources, so we need to be able to make a lot of decisions without putting a lot of thought into them. Rather than trying to prove everything all of the time, we take shortcuts. If I’m wrong about the tiger, I waste a few minutes running away. If I’m too busy processing information, and I miss the orange stripes in the bushes, I’m tiger food.
Subjectivity is a feature, not a bug, when you’re the subject. Our superpower as a species is our ability to dream up new realities, then make them happen. Envision how we want the world to work, and then remake it in our image. We tend to assign credit to rationality, but our society is deeply rooted in emotion. We punish thieves far more than the cost of what they stole, because we want others to imagine what might happen to them if they did the same. We are willing to die for what we love, for our religion, or our country, none of which have any basis in objective reality. “Reality exists in the human mind and nowhere else” – Orwell.
The sphere of human consciousness and mental activity is called the ‘noosphere’, and it’s quickly becoming the only ecosystem that matters. Some of us already spend more time there (social media, streaming, games) than we do in the ‘real’ world. All our modern technological advances are from there – nothing about our biology has changed in 200,000 years. The only difference between you and a caveman is that you carry a smartphone. If you brought a paleo-lithic era baby to modern day and raised them as normal from birth, they’d grow up to be indistinguishable from the rest of us. It’s not our genes that are responsible for the wealth difference between us and our ancestors, it’s our memes.
Everything in your phone is improving exponentially faster than things normally do in the real world. As technology gets increasingly good at tricking our brain, simulations become better than reality. On a long enough timeline, assuming any rate of improvement, it’s inevitable that this will happen. Eventually the pursuit of the physical may come to seem a novelty, or antiquated hobby like horse-riding. In which time much of the value of physical activity will be the statement you’re making by participating. Eventually the simulation might get good enough that you may not know you’re in it. There’d be no way to separate the two.
Annotated captions of Rory Sutherland: Life lessons of an ad man in English
Does Observation Create Reality?
In Defence of Advertising
Life lessons from an ad man
Perspective is everything
Perspective is Everything by Rory Sutherland (Transcript)
Quantum Theory Demonstrated: Observation Affects RealityDate:
The Art of the Conspiracy Theory
The Ghost in the Machine - An Artificial Intelligence Perspective on the Soul
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