On Tantulus' Edge of Understanding

August 30, 2017

In the world of a flatlander, the ant marches forward across the earth with a mental model in which it is only aware of one dimension.

Because the ant’s perception is only been exposed to a single dimension (origin —> x), it is considered an impossibility to, “See other dimensions. This is almost a classic case of, “The ant doesn’t know what it doesn’t know”. It is only when the ant is moving forward and suddenly a large orange object is pulled from the floor beneath (a carrot), that the ant’s perceptual awareness is expanded to other ways of viewing the world. In this case, the expansion occurred in a spatial dimension, a new perceived y axis (origin —> y). The ability to assimilate and perceive higher order dimensions creates an interesting case for such intellectual questions that keep me rambling on and on into the night.

Similar to our flat lander discussion, in Michio Kaku’s childhood story of his grandparent’s pond, he wonders whether there exists Koi fish scientist in the pond, who think about greater questions of their world, and lives themselves. To imagine the experience of fish scientists when suddenly hoisted from pond, and held tightly by a young Kaku, the scientist is exposed to a strange new world of green objects sprouting from and covering the space before him. Odd creatures, unlike fish, with strange appendages, unlike fins. An open dome with a single shining point clouded by vague shapes made out of foggy objects. Then the sudden gasping for air and subsequent return to his previous world, where the scientist is to discern and reflect on what it was he’s just seen. Of course when he tries to explain it to the other fish, he is looked at as a babbling idiot.

“Yes, of course there are fish out there without fins, who have instead been replaced with long appendages. Those must be fantastic for swimming.”

The other fish would criticize him.

It is difficult for the scientist to conceptualize and propagate forward his experience. Primarily because the language used to communicate must, like a battering ram, barge against the listener’s perceptual channel (as language itself is a information compression mechanism). As we age, we continue to solidify our perceptions and thoughts about the world around us, becoming hardened and monolithic to new ideas like a dried river calcified where water once flowed. When the scientist fish sees such a novel world, the rugged calcium deposits and blockades make it challenging for the fresh new view to break through in any communicable way, and make it seemingly impossible for other fish to, “Just get it”.

However, the question remains, can we explore this model of expanded dimensionality, but not in the sense of the spatial world. That is to say, in mathematics we have abstract and higher order dimensional spaces wherein each dimension is somehow orthogonal to another. With this idea (if I haven’t lost you yet), perhaps we could begin to contemplate dangerous questions about life, metaphysics , under such a multi-dimensional lens. If you’ve ever gone into a deep philosophical spiral with yourself, you’ll realize that despite your best intent to take a position on a stance you always seem to end up in an infinite circle of thinking, wherein you get right back to the place you’ve started.

Let’s consider for example the idea in spirituality of becoming “your higher self” or “improving”, wherein you meditate or perform some sort of spiritual acts, offerings or rituals in order to remove your ego and become more spiritually high and guru-like. It is obvious, as Alan Watts puts it, that the minute you think you’ve reached the higher state, your ego re-identifies itself with the higher self and continues to keep you on the chase. This chase generally leads you in circles starting right back where you began,

“Try to watch all your thoughts, and when you watch your thoughts, who is the thinker of the [higher self] thoughts, can you watch that thought too?”

The Higher Self

But for fun let’s consider, that when we get into these infinite loops of circular thinking that we are actually stuck in a local minima limited by our current perception influenced by the complexity we are able to perceive. This dimensional perception is a property the mind inherently has, given the wetware, structure and neurons we have at the time of contemplation. But just as nature grows, so too do our neurons grow, recede and create new connections and pathways.

Given the assumption that there is an infinite set of thoughts possible to generate, there could exist a pathway created by the overlapping of two neurons which generates new view of one’s conscious world. Like our friends the ants in flat land, were there to be some sort of magnificent event that occurs which identifies a totally new dimension in our thought, we might see connections unlike ever before. This dimension might not be in the spatial world, but an abstract dimension (color, sound, sensation, understanding, relationship, symbolism, etc).

Perhaps the brain and it’s pathways generate a complex vector data structure used in tandem with a set of algorithms to evaluate the world around it. Maybe it’s 500 dimensions in size. What these dimensions are doesn’t matter but somehow they are all orthogonal, and through the use of an internal mapping function map(vector(o1,o2,o3…o500)) the brain places each snapshot of the reality it experiences into this space to assess and consider what this vector (thought) means.

Edge of Understanding

Suppose then that we are proposed a question, q, (“What is life, why are we here, what’s happening”) which requires at minimum dimensional perception, dp, of dp=501, and at current the agent’s model has only a dp=500. Inevitably, the agent will not be able to comprehend and answer the question because it doesn’t have the adequate dimensional perceptive to assist in doing so. It is as if a person looking at the same two images doesn’t know he is colour blind, unable to see the dimensions he is unaware of.

Or perhaps the reaching for Tantalus’ apple above, but lacking the arms long enough to reach it, thereby concluding it is impossible to apprehend.

For naturally the grapes too hard to reach, are all too sour to matter.