Tuesday, October 05, 2010

On Reality, Truth & levels of Abstractions

Much of the philosophy literature is full of the notion of identity, consciousness and perception. Table is a table and not a chair kind of stuff. What actually exists and what is just our perception.

Chair is a chair. It is made of wood. But no chair is also made of plastic and metals. Even wooden chair has metal nails and may be some glue and polish. Sofa is also a chair. It could have leather or cloth. The wood itself is made of molecules and molecules are made of atoms and then atoms are made of electrons and protons and neutrons, which themselves are made of sub atomic particles.

Technically the reality is based on sub-atomic particles which we can't see.

This brings us to the core conjecture of this post: the Reality & Truth is just a comfortable level of abstraction.

It will be useless to talk about recipe of fried chicken at the level of sub atomic particles or molecules. Or discussing the design of a building in terms of atoms. If you are making a atomic reactor, yes that is the level at which you need to think. May be sub atomic particles are made of further small units and if someone making a atomic reactor cannot explain his truths on current theory, he will further invent a better level of abstraction to deal with those things.

Things are grey, but it is efficient/simple to talk using black and white. Company distinguishes  between the people based on their roles  - manager, developer, QA, architect, etc. Political parties distinguish between people based on voting units or religion or caste or gender or education etc. Banks distinguish the same set of people based on their net worth or ability to repay loan etc. Police looks at them as criminals or non criminals. Doctors would have a different way of people classification. If we don't do such kind of classification to abstract out what is important and what is not, it will be impossible to get anything done in the world. For every one, this is the reality and at the same time it is a comfortable level of abstraction.

Every calculation in the world which uses pi is incomplete and yet we use it because it simplifies life. You can choose as many digits as you like, whatever you are comfortable with. Reality & Truth is just a comfortable level of abstraction, as long as they work, all abstractions are good enough substitute for reality. The only problem is we get so comfortable with these abstractions that we cease to think beyond them which by the way was the very reason for creating them in the first place.  All we need to do is to be aware of these abstractions, so that instead of beating our head on why things are not making sense, just think beyond the abstractions and invent new ones which make sense, until they also break.  The bigger problem is that we share these abstractions with other people in the world and unless they too feel the need, it is very hard to make them adjust/agree to a new "uncomfortable" abstractions (They are comfortable with the current setup).

Newton did a great job at describing motion and then Einstein questioned how do you measure it. Both theories are currently in use depending upon which suites the given problem. Before google all search engines looked at each page as a collection of words and then google defined each page using the link structure around it.  When Zynga copied from other games on facebook, they had figured out that it was not about the quality of the game, but about how do you use the facebook platform to grow the user base. When IBM was thinking PC is the business, Microsoft figured out that OS is what makes the difference and is the strategic point of control.

Well the point is that many innovations in business or science are simply the result of looking at the problem differently, using different level of abstraction. The same is true for any form of knowledge we have ever encountered. Yet the world continues to struggle with what is reality, this is reality and this is not, fighting wars, writing blogs, doing marketing and propaganda. I guess if we could knock off the word reality/truth and simply use abstraction, world would be much much peaceful.

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