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Meta Matters radio talks: synopses & excerpts

This page features synopses and click-to-play excerpts from the first sixteen Meta Matters radio talks. 

In the first series, Scientific Unrealism (talks 1-8), Paddy Gormley considers the issue of whether the material world exists, and shows how recent developments in science and technology suggest the need for a reappraisal of idealist philosophies. 

The second series, Philosibility (talks 9-16), envisages an immaterial world, with the help of metaphors drawn from 21st Century computer programming and virtual reality technologies. 

All enquiries to paddy@paddygormley.info.

Click here for the main Meta Matters website. 

 

Meta Matters radio talks: first series: scientific unrealism

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The Big Bang may have been the start of something, but it certainly wasn't the start of everything.  Where did those colliding particles come from, and why were they moving so fast?  No less importantly:  an expanding universe needs a vast void to accommodate it.  The void cannot be infinite since infinity, being immeasurable, is incompatible with scientific principles.  Therefore the void, the finite void, must have boundaries.  The something beyond the boundaries cannot, by definition, be a void. What then, lies beyond the boundaries of the great void of space? 

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  Our vision of the world we seem to see is constructed from an elaborate stream of electrical pulses that symbolise the symbolic patterns of reflected light entering our eyes.  Our only sources of information are our memories, also wholly symbolic, and our senses.  Our understanding of the world is, therefore, entirely symbolic.  Any concept may stand as a symbol for any other.  Any symbol may have any number of different meanings.  And yet, many of us fervently believe that the material universe revealed to us through our senses is so realistic that it must be real.  Do you believe that?  And, if so, are you not a little ashamed of yourself?  frame frame
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  Our links with the world around us and with history are more tenuous than we might be inclined to think.  Our personal experience, bounded by our respective journeys in time and space, is extremely limited.  Accordingly our world view is primarily based on others' accounts of their experiences.  They, in turn, depend on others: a phalanx of intermediaries stands between us and the facts.  There is no guarantee that they, however well intentioned, are all as trustworthy as we. or they, might like to think.  Whom should we trust?  Whom can we trust?  frame frame
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  The immeasurable depth of the universe challenges our sense of visual perspective.  Whereas the light from the foreground objects reaches our eyes in a few seconds, the lights in the background are hundreds, thousands, millions of light years away.  Astronomers' view of the universe is prehistoric. Any assertion that humanity is one of the highest life forms in existence is indefensible.  As we look through the keyhole of our intelligence into the vast room beyond our experience, we must bear in mind that the view from the other side of the room may be radically different. frame frame
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  All our travels on the metaphorical highway of time are conducted in reverse gear.  We are unable to turn our heads to face our direction of travel.  We are perpetually caught up in the present moment.   Events appear suddenly alongside us before receding into the distance, beyond our sight.  For all we know, there may be another vehicle just a few yards ahead (behind our backs), able to see us as clearly as—perhaps more clearly than—we see past events.  Such suggestions, while self-evidently fanciful, are disarmingly consistent with mainstream scientific thinking and with recent developments in information technology.  frame frame
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  Technology is increasingly coming between us and the world around us.  Whether we are buying a railway ticket or talking to a friend via a video internet link, our communications with organisations and individuals are primarily governed by machines.  As virtual reality technologies become more sophisticated and gain acceptance, we become more susceptible to exploitation by unseen powers that lurk behind the inscrutable mask of the computer screen.  frame frame
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  If we were to dissect a human brain and identify its every component, would we find thoughts? memories?  Above all, would we identify the imagination—the engine of thought that is the defining feature of our humanity?  The problem for science is that thoughts, memories and imagination are symbolic and, like all symbols, immaterial.  If they are to be explained scientifically, some cherished assumptions about the nature of reality must be called into question.  frame frame
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The widespread assumption of material existence is largely due to the fact that (Western) religionists need the real world as much scientists need it.  The weight of opinion alone is not enough to carry the argument, however.  The material world is completely detached from the symbolic domain of human consciousness.  The human brain appears to differ from all other matter insofar as it is the only material that spontaneously stores and retrieves symbolic information.  We have good reason to doubt the proposition that life, thought and symbolic reasoning are the products of lifeless, thoughtless, meaningless material reality. 

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Meta Matters radio talks: second series: philosibility
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Symbolic reasoning is as old as intelligence.  Without imagination—without the means to devise symbolic images in the eye of the mind—images that transcend material reality—we could never think purposefully or create anything.  We are wrong to think that symbolic reasoning is exclusive to humans. Thoughts are invisible.  Others' actions give us clues as to what they are thinking, but inaction does not necessarily denote the absence of thought. We may think of the brain as the only organ capable of thought, but how can we be sure, when thoughts are invisible? 

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  A few decades ago, it seemed ludicrous to suggest that anything so complex, so ordered and so consistent as the material world could be immaterial—constructed from thought alone.  Scientific research seems to reinforce our belief in materiality and yet, by a wonderful irony, science itself has produced the very evidence that now calls the philosophy of scientific realism into question.  In only a few decades, film makers and manufacturers of computer games have created virtuality reality worlds of increasingly breathtaking realism, fashioned entirely from immaterial ideas and stored digitally in symbolic form.  It is increasingly reasonable to suggest that we may have invented matter to help us make sense of our existence.  frame frame
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  The edifice of scientific reasoning is a house of cards.  The ground floor represents material reality.  Take away the ground floor and everything falls down.  In the realm of the imagination, by contrast, everything is philosible.  Science has many answers to offer, but they may be fatally undermined.  Doubt, by contrast, roams freely.  Philosophy has too many fundamental questions and not enough answers.  Science has too many answers and not enough fundamental questions.  I think, therefore I am doubtful.  If I think I know everything, I am not really thinking properly at all.  frame frame
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  Consider the process whereby hyper-realistic animated characters are brought to life on screen.  21st Century computer programming is a thoroughly modern miracle of mathematics.  In object-oriented programming (OOP), complex objects are constructed from tiny parcels of computer code—coordinates, colour gradients, shading, textures, symbolic light sources, and so on—with infinitely variable parameters and, accordingly, endless opportunities for reproduction, evolution and mutation.  In the realms of symbolic reality, OOP objects are the atoms and programmer-geeks the gods.  frame frame
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  The truth beyond reasonable doubt is doubtful nonetheless.  Imagine trying to prove in a court of law that seeing corresponded to an actual material event.  Material reality is only one of a number of mutually exclusive explanations of the phenomenon of seeing.  A philosophical witness telling the whole truth must acknowledge the possibility that his or her evidence may be a pageant of illusions.  Truth, far from being absolute, depends on conformity.  It is an instrument of inclusion and, therefore, of exclusion.  It is for us to choose the truth that is right for us, or to become makers of truth.  For if we do not find truth, or at least try to find it, we live a lie.  frame frame
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  In Erasmus' putative country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.  But the one-eyed king or queen has no reason to feel superior.  The citizens of the country of the blind must look within themselves for answers that seem all to obvious to those who put too much faith in the evidence of their eyes.  Our developed-world system of values, for example, is governed largely by appearances, whereas our real value to one another depends principally on our willingness and ability to interpret and communicate.  In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man would do well to shut his eye and tune his ear.  frame frame
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  Whether or not computers are intended to mirror the workings of the human mind, they have much to teach us about the infrastructure of an immaterial universe.  For example, relational databases provide a thought-provoking metaphor for the metamechanics of human memory, with its symbolic daisy-chains of connections and astonishingly rapid assembly of complex filigrees of information.  Databases, too, like human memory, are entirely based on symbolic information.  In an immaterial world, where existence is defined by thought alone, a metaphorical database of illusions would make a very effective substitute for material reality.  frame frame
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  If the material world is an illusion, the passing of time may also be an illusion.  Time is primarily concerned with physical action, but action is meaningless in an immaterial realm.  If the material world is an illusion, action is nothing more or less than sensory experience. Sensory experiences may be stored, in much the same way as this radio talk is stored for retrieval in a future present moment.  In an immaterial world, a database of stored sensory experiences could be used to create the illusion not only of material existence, but also of the passing of time.  The present moment of thought is the only reality.  The rest is memory and imagination.  frame frame
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