Reality is in the eyes of the beholder

From: Saj Malhi <>
Date: Sun, 6 Jun 1999 20:41:22 +0100

Some time ago on this list there was considerable wrangling over the nature and reproducibility of consciousness because it seemed inextricably linked with the MWI. For example, it is only when something is consciously perceived that we can know which world we are in, and it is in the act of perceiving that we somehow "jump" from one world to another. However, I've never been entirely comfortable with what I understand to be the MWI, a tree-like structure growing from a single root with a "perception" at each of the branches. It seemed a rather grand proposition that when I see a coin land heads an entire "alternative" universe pops into existence in which I see it land tails (incidentally, if I fail to notice the outcome, does the MWI still apply?). The everything-list also talked long and hard about how consciousness may continue at the moment of death in another universe, which in turn spawned many more discussions on topics such as quantum immortality, measure and whether consciousness was based on information or computation. However, there was a conspicuous lack of discussion on what happens at the moment of birth, or more particularly at the moment a SAS (self-aware substructure) comes into existence, in the context of physics and the MWI, a significant omission since it is one of the few things we can actually be sure of and observe (e.g. a child becoming self-aware).

With his famous statement "I think therefore I am" Descartes saw that the only proof of his existence to him was his own mind, a SAS. It has already been said that all universes capable of generating SAS's exist, but for me this idea would be more accurately expressed the other way around - that all universes are generated by SAS's. If it can (in the sense of "within prevailing physical laws") be perceived, it can (in the sense of "maybe in the future") be realised. Hence all individual SAS's experience a unique existence determined by their own perceptions. However, the fact that we can all see the Sun or feel the air or struggle with mathematics suggests an underlying structure governing the scope of our perceptions, and therefore of our realities. But within this there is freedom to think, to imagine and to interpret. Some things may be real only to a minority, and others only to an individual. The "other" universes we speak of exist only within the confines of our skulls; we have no physical relationship with them. At each "branch point" of the MWI, we instead have a "Multiple Collapse", whereby all (conceived) potential outcomes which failed to be perceived converge into the one that actually was, making that particular universe real to the SAS which perceived it. The familiar phrase "you have to see it to believe it" or the use of witnesses in court to establish "the facts" illustrates that this idea, of perception being at the root of reality, is not a new one and already pervades our everyday lives. We are constantly incorporating multiple realities into our own through communicating with one another and sharing our unique perceptions.
It is important to realise that this perspective does not exclude the existence of other fundamental structures. Instead, we could say that all universes exist (why should there be one particular universe from which all others spring?) but that they do so independently and are entirely distinct; there is no inter-connectedness via branching or jumping of consciousness in the physical sense. But as well as there being no spatial link between the universes there can also be no temporal link since time does not exist "between" them. Indeed the only link would be in the thoughts of SAS's which evolve within some of them to a level where they can contemplate the existence of alternative structures (as we do). So, when I see a coin land heads that is exactly what happens in "my" universe and it becomes a reality for me. There is no other me who sees the coin land tails; his potential for physical manifestation evaporates from my neural net the instant the image of the coin reaches my consciousness. In this way, by seeing ourselves as wholly integrated and important structural parts of the reality we perceive rather than its mere observers, we can perhaps avoid many of the more vexing problems associated with the MWI. A space-time theorem alone may be incomplete; a space-time-consciousness theorem is probably closer to the "truth" as we would perceive it.

I would welcome any comments on this.

Saj Malhi
Received on Sun Jun 06 1999 - 12:38:34 PDT

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