18 February 2005

Interpreting Reality

Interpreting Reality

18 02 2005

Dear Friends,

Next Sunday we are discussing "Interpreting Reality".

This should be fun because as I suspect a lot of subjectivism is involved. Of

course that is not a problem for us, we are used to expressing our opinions in

public. So I hope you can come a long and tell us what your reality looks like.

See you Sunday

Take care


SUNDAY 6.30pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs, but just in

case there is no football on go to the very back of the pub, then turn left

and left again!


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Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004

metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147

Interpreting Reality

If a friend of mine sees me carrying a bag full of apples and asks me how many

apples I've got, I'll probably say, ''let's count them.'' And if before that I

happen to be walking down the street and saw this figure walking towards me and

though it was an old colleague, but on closer inspection I discover it is my

friend, then I would just change my belief to fit the real situation.

These sort of reality incidents or issues are common every day standard problems

about what is reality. The problem of reality has many aspects. There is the

semantic issue of what do we mean by reality? What is real, as opposed to is

what is not real? Some, at this point, take reality to mean what exists.

Strictly speaking the issue ''interpreting reality,'' is not the same question

as,'' what is reality?''

Strictly speaking, "interpreting reality" is an epistemological problem and not

a question about perception, physics or, at a pinch, metaphysics.

There is the temptation, however, to assume that reality is what is out there

and for us to find out. This approach implies questions like, how much can we

know, as human beings? How much is knowable, meaning how much can reality enable

us to know? And then there is the old question, how do we know that we know?

Let us, however, not get bogged down with such issues as, what's beyond the

Planck's constant in the microscopic world? Or what's on the other side of the

galaxy? These are all very interesting questions, but not necessarily within our

scope. Let's look at things closer to Earth, things that people like you and me

come across in our everyday life. Let's look at reality which depends on our


Before we can go into specific examples, however, we need to say a bit more

about the interpreting side of the question. When we say interpreting, it is

assumed to mean something like coming to the right conclusion about a state of

affairs or inferring what is reasonably expected from a given set of facts.

Now, since no one lives in a closed black box, and we are talking about our day

to day normal life, we have to take two factors into consideration: 1) our day

to day reality if full of distracting events and information; also known as

white noise. In other words, there are things that are relevant for the piece of

reality we are trying to interpret and things that are not? 2) Everything we

come across as reality has a context. Nothing, as far as our normal everyday

life is concerned, happens outside a context. Could it be that we find the idea

of the big bang so difficult to comprehend conceptually, precisely because it

happened outside a context?

Let's take a practical example, or at least an example that is closer to home.

It is now quite fashionable for governments to try and sell us the need for a

constitution. I mean sell us because the way these things are being promoted is

the way a company would promote its packets of washing powder. The face value

reality seem to be quite a laudable move on the part of governments. So

interpreting reality at face value is more or less settled as far as this matter

is concerned. The face value justification for a brand new constitution seems to

be historically entrenched; and if a country does not have such a document it is

really being out of tune with reality.

But if we really want to do some interpreting of our own we can do no better

than to ask a few awkward questions. For example, if this document is so

goooooood for us, why don't we have it already? I mean, it is not as if the idea

of a goooooood constitution is a new whiz bang discovery. Constitutions have

been around for quite some time now; not to mention what is goooooood for us.

Besides, what is going to happen to the old constitution anyway? So when we are

being sold a new constitution what is the white noise? What is the context? What

is reasonable to believe about the intentions of governments?

Another flavour of the month is globalisation. The face value reality seems to

be that having a world wide open market must be good for us. Think of the new

markets we can sell our goods to. And of course, developing countries can have

all these wonderful opportunities to sell to the developed world. At face value

we can all agree that open markets are good for everyone and unjustified

protectionism does not do any one any good. These are powerful arguments until,

that is, we add some relevant information. Such as the fact that the economies

of developed countries survive on credit; be it mortgages, car loans, or the use

of credit cards. On the other hand, developing countries can really make ago of

things because they don't need sophisticated labour laws nor excessive social

security rights.

The reality about globalisation, maybe, is not that developed countries are

exploiting developing countries, but that developed countries have priced

themselves out of the market. And as a consequence they cannot even afford to

exploit each other any more. Maybe, reality should not be interpreted as needing

different markets, but a different way of doing business.

On the same theme of big business it is often argued that big corporations are

only interested in making big profits. I'm not sure if this is an analytic truth

or a face value reality. This can be further extended to suggest that big

corporations exploit their workers to make a few people rich and powerful. Yes,

of course, but we now that already and it has always been the case anyway.

However, big corporations do actually provide employment. Moreover, the entry

costs are much lower to join a company than starting one's own business. Maybe

there is an element of a catch 22 situation here; one is anti corporations

because one is not employed by the corporations, but one will never be employed

by a corporation if one has an anti corporation attitude. This, is clearly

another way of interpreting reality.

Some would argue that this way of interpreting reality is called cynicism. Maybe

the word cynicism is itself a cynical way to make us feel guilty. That's not the

issue, maybe even frivolous. The issue is that reality is very much context

driven. It is also dependent on how much knowledge and information we have

available. Indeed, we do say that knowledge is power, but the relationship

between knowledge and power is not, in my opinion, linear. I mean, it does not

automatically follow that the more one knows the more powerful one is or

becomes. I suspect knowledge is related to power in a non linear fashion. Maybe

what I know, plus what you don't know, plus the miss information I manage to put

your way, plus…plus…, you know, whatever.

Seeing through the white noise, whether intentional or even accidental, will

certainly give us a head start to interpret reality correctly. Being well

informed will also help us. And finally, being able to spin a good story will

certainly put us in a good position to help others interpret reality correctly.

So let me try it out on you and then tell me how you interpreted reality: "Once

upon a time there was this charismatic phi………"

Maybe next time.

Take care


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