Friday, November 10, 2006

confusing the model with the whole

I seem to keep having to fight a similar demon. Becoming too theoretical. Thinking that some piece of the world, some pciture of the world encompasses everything. I felt this way about images when I was writing image compression software. Somehow having a mathematical model of something makes me devalue that thing. Every possible visual experience I could have became a set of bits in a digital image. Somehow Susan Sontag's "On Photography" helped me out of that one.

Lately its been information and the internet. The fact that all information can be transmitted through the internet makes me devalue reality in a new way.

But doesn't physics in general do this? Provide a model for reality that all existence, experience is supposed to fit into?

I wrote something about this before in the context of virtual reality.

Could this be a psychological problem hiding out as a philosophical problem?
Let me try to address it anyway. Start with the image and the visual world. What is the model of the image? It is a set of pixels. What is depressing about this? First there is finiteness. There are only a finite number of images that one can distinguish from another. But it is a very large number. There that wasn't so hard.
Now... the internet can transmit information. Does this devalue the real world? A similar finiteness issue seems to arise. But the number of possible information streams is very large. There, that wasn't so hard! Now I can sleep much easier!


Sarah said...

Finiteness isn't so bad. In a way, things could also be devalued if they were infinite---wouldn't be as special? But that's just one piece of the puzzle, and I get what you're saying.

You left your math book here! What do you think-should I try and read it or send it back to you?

Boaz said...

Yes, you're exactly right about finiteness. I guess its just an excuse, not particularly logical.

Ummm, I'd say you should read the book, though I would like it back... actually, if you wanted to read a math book, I don't think this would be the one I'd recommend.

Sarah said...

I was joking!

Boaz said...

Joking? Never heard of it. What's that?

Anyway, I don't see why you shouldn't read it... I guess you might need a linear algebra class first.

Derek said...

Hmmmm... but the process of capturing an image, whether as pixels or on celluloid, says nothing about the objects that image represents. A photo of a tree sent through the internet is just the symbol of a tree, and not at all comparable to the tree itself. Just like how if you see a picture of the Grand Canyon you can think to yourself "wow, that's pretty big," but when you actually go and SEE the Grand Canyon you think to yourself "WOW! That is REALLY big!"

So, I think the internet only devalues reality so far as it sometimes fools people into thinking the experience it provides can be an adaquate substitute for (instead of an addition to) reality.

I suppose physics is the same way. If someone looks at the motion of an object exclusively from the perspective of newtons and joules and all that, they might end up de-valuing that object and its motion, but if physics is used as an additional perspective to lay on top of the original one, for the purpose of enhancement and not replacement, then the object may be seen to be even more miraculous, cool, interesting, etc.

Umm... I think so, anyway.

Boaz said...

Thanks Derek!
Yep, physics usually simplifies... gets at a certain aspect of a phenomenon. And I agree that an image doesn't capture an object, but saying that it says nothing about the object it represents is going a bit far... after all we learn a lot through seeing, and a photograph is a delayed form of seeing!
Still waiting for the Freud video...