Tuesday, 27 August 2013
(Friday 30 August: From Sunday 1 September, posts will resume at the rate of one per day for a while.)
"We do not perceive reality, we conceive it. To suppose otherwise is to invite catastrophic surprises. The tragic nature of history stems in large part from this endlessly recurrent mistake."
-Oskar Haeml, Betrachtungen uber die menschliche Verlegenheit
This quotation is at the head Poul Anderson's "Hunter's Moon" (Space Folk, New York, 1989, p. 147).
What is reality? We cannot perceive and necessarily conceive the microcosm described by chemistry and physics: molecules, atoms and their constituents. Believers in a supernatural reality cannot perceive that and must conceive it in terms of "God", "spirit" etc.
I argue that we do perceive our immediate environment, which is also real, although perception involves application of concepts. I not only feel hot (sensation) but also see the sun (perception) but the latter mental act involves application of the concept "sun" which can be analyzed as "round," "bright," "yellow," "hot," "above" etc. So perception combines sensation and conception. Someone who thinks about the sun while not seeing it is, of course, conceiving it.
What are the "catastrophic surprises" and the "tragic nature of history"? Many people treat their conception of reality as if it were a common perception. Thus, our shared certainty that the sun is above us is taken to be a model for what it is thought should be an equally shared certainty that God is above us. This does indeed lead to catastrophe and tragedy.