Ayn Rand is, in my opinion, one of the most levelheaded thinkers out there. However, she’s also wrong on a number of counts. Of course, I say that about pretty much every major thinker because I agree with them on some points and disagree on others. Yet Objectivism is virtually perfect. Look it up if you don’t know what Objectivism is- wikipedia shall serve ye well.
Firstly is the concept of an objective reality with objective facts that exist irrespective of perception. This is utterly true. If you are referring to “reality.” But that’s actually rather harder to do than you would think. When you hold an apple in your hand and say “this is an apple” you are drawing those conclusions based on sensory data, constructing a world completely in your own mind that you can then abstract into concepts such as “apple.” In reality, an “apple” cannot exist, only a set of atoms arranged in such a way that your mind gets the idea that it is an apple. As such, the perspective of the conscious agent is inseparable from the reality it perceives.
This is going to seem like a massive tangent, and perhaps it will end up that way. But for now, trust me- I’m on track. As a sentient entity, humans use self-conceptualizing thinking mechanisms. That is, when you think something, you think you are thinking it. For a squirrel (me, apples, squirrels, they work) it has no idea what it is thinking at the time. It is merely a bunch of chemical and neurological reactions that produce survival behavior. There is no conscious mind being informed “this is what we are now doing, what next?” The squirrel is an automaton. However, since I always unify things in unexpected ways, I would go so far as to say that all purely biological lifeforms must be automatons. They can be very complex automatons, even to the point of taking inputs and modulating outputs, but there is no sentience being served and being told that it’s running the show. That is a meme. A meme-less brain is actually impossible, since any “hard-coded” information pattern created by genes would be replicated genetically. In this case the memes that fill the brain and evolve would be best-geared for the survival of the species (given competition) because the survival of the species is a prerequisite for the survival of the meme. We evolved learning mechanisms, memory, emotions, language centers, etc. etc. to aid our survival. However, when you add what I will call code communication to the mix it becomes possible for memes to move around in non-genetic ways. Speech was the first code-communication, enabling two humans to manipulate semantic agents in the same way they were expressed in the brain. As a result, memes could put themselves into a speech-form which can pass to another human, ready to be passed to another human. Note that the faculty for speech itself is a genetic meme- languages are learned through baser, non-code communication like body language. You don’t think in body language, but you can acquire memes through it.
I should reduce that convoluted paragraph to its essence. But I’m not going to cut it because there may be some people who follow my mind like locomotives on railroad tracks and would get a lot out of it. Basically, you think differently than you can communicate. As we develop more explicit modes of communication, the ability for memes to spread increases. Secondly, there exists a threshold I call code communication- the point at which it is possible to reliably communicate thinking patterns. Body language through the development of spoken language was the crossover into code communication. Someone who thinks in English and is told something in English is going to automatically integrate what was heard in a manner similar to their thoughts. When communicating in body language, you have a communication buffer that gets in the way. This insulates the mind and stops memes from being contagious under their own power. To get a better picture of this barrier, imagine trying to explain Christianity, or physics, to someone who did not speak any language at all, who literally never learned about language. It’s impossible in the purest sense because you’re trying to explain a semantic concept to someone who can’t handle semantic concepts, doesn’t even know they exist. The idea that “physics” exists just would not work for them. By the same token, “apple” would not exist for them. The object, apple, they would recognize, and they would understand they could eat it. But the idea that there is a concept derived from a number of similar objects all called apples would never penetrate their mind. And if you tried to explain that the thing is red and edible, you aren’t helping because they don’t understand the property of redness or edibleness.
So we can agree that a mind adds greatly to the depth of reality, introducing the existence of new things like redness or edibleness, or “apple”. Pure Objectivism would say that nothing exists that isn’t “real”. I’m getting self-conscious about my use of quotes. In case you hadn’t noticed, I use them to indicate that the word is not being used in the conventional sense. Somewhat like a ‘ from Lisp… Anyway! I would say that something doesn’t have to be real to exist, but it must exist to be considered. A couple other stipulations: all things that are real, exist, and (therefore, for logical people) all things that do not exist are not real. I am not saying that unicorns exist. Unicorns are neither real nor existent. However, the idea of a unicorn certainly exists, although it certainly is not real. “Real.” Damn I hate English. Give me a truly logical language and a lever long enough, and I will move the world. And all the little slave gnomes straining away in the Labor Furnace of Evan’s Brain scream “Oh NO! Here we go again!” I’m hoping you’re understanding the distinction between reality and existence. “Real” would mean that it has corporeal existence in the physical sense, while existence means only that there exists a pattern of information that would be adequately represented by that label. In reality, “an apple” doesn’t exist. However, there exist a large number of objects that we would say exhibit the form and properties of an apple, so semantically we take a shortcut and say that any one of them could be referred to. This is a lot of wrangling just to make a fairly rudimentary distinction. Still more fun, there are also things in reality that do not exist in our perceptual worlds. What is the color of ultraviolet? It doesn’t exist in our perception, so we have to tag it with some other color already used by another spectrum in order to “see” it. This is rather like the position of the languageless human, who doesn’t know what a semantic object is because it hasn’t been created in their perceptual world. Who knows what idea-inventions of equal magnitude we haven’t even begun to consider.
Comic relief time. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. (Weeehoooo!) It’s a real, grammatically valid sentence. Look it up.
OK, reality and existence established, we now arrive at existence of paradigms. The world we perceive as real has a certain set of physical laws that don’t change. This we probably know. However, we clearly know that the idea of a unicorn is bound by none of these laws. In effect, the idea-world is operating with different laws. I don’t actually like Plato’s philosophy but he was the first philosopher to take a stab at abstraction so I must give him credit. A unicorn exists in a paradigm world defined only by the properties of the unicorn, with no other restrictions. Effectively, we can say whatever we want about the situation the unicorn is in, the laws of its world, none of those are defined. In fact, many of the properties of the unicorn are also not defined. Are all unicorns white? Must they have only two genders? Basically you get a horselike thing with a horn, everything else is negotiable. We could place the unicorn in a world with one law: very powerful antigravity. Or maybe where all organisms spontaneously explode seconds after being created (maybe they’re the same world)- whatever!
Remarkably, we can even conceive of paradigms that are not logically consistent, or even remotely sane. Consider a square circle. Right off, you’ll tell me that it’s logically impossible. A square’s definition logically precludes it from being a circle. For the most part, you’re right. However, you are using those definitions in a natural-world context using “real” laws you are familiar with. Let’s envision a paradigm in which a shape has two attributes which, depending on its environment, can cause it to “appear” as a square or as a circle when in fact it is both and neither. This example is weak because actually what we’re doing is rendering the natural definition of “square” and “circle” null and void by changing the laws of the universe and then converting those definitions into analogues for the new paradigm in whatever form we want- truly an impressive feat in algorithmic terms. The essence of the last sentence is that we are no longer talking about a square and a circle by our real-world definition, because those couldn’t exist in such a world- they would be logically impossible.
I am not saying that there actually exists a “world of ideas” that we all come from. Instead I am saying that we all have powerful minds capable of more or less unlimited manipulation of information within their sphere of influence, and that we can create any paradigms or concepts that we wish within that. This is the reason why many people become addicted to things like computers. A computer is a tool to aid your mind in the same way that a hammer is an aid to the hand. The major distinction is that adding power to your mind is a highly addicting process because it gives you that much more outlet power. I imagine if we were able to represent a massive virtual world with nothing but our brains, we would be doing it all the time because that creative outlet, that power, is highly addictive. People can also become addicted to content, which is a similar process, except that it is input instead of output. In a way, input is the first resource for the creation of output so all couch potatoes are information packrat zombies who store and store and store and never use any of it. Worse, they aren’t particularly selective about what they choose to learn or keep, so it’s invariably complete junk. On the other hand, you get people who never accept information input. This produces an ivory-tower pure reason thinker. Philosophers who choose to consider the sensory world and the assertions of others unreliable a la Descartes tend to exhibit this sort of mentality, in their philosophy at least.
How am I going to draw all this together? The universe is more complicated than we know, not because its laws are sophisticated, but because it actually contains an extra world for each sentient being in it. And each of those worlds exhibits N-dimensional, code undefined, plastic behavior that can even use impossible logical system as their foundation. Now let’s say, just for fun, that our minds were powerful enough to conceive of a large enough quantity of information to define all the atoms necessary to make, say, Earth, it’s ecosystem, and 6 billion human inhabitants. We can throw in the rest of the universe and its paradigm laws just for the hell of it. Each of those human inhabitants could exhibit the same property of consciousness, N-dimensional mind-worlds derived purely from their (mind-virtual) atomic information. This is where it gets really trippy. So you have within your mind enough computational power to simulate the universe (with generalizations and abstraction, otherwise it would take 1 bit to represent 1 bit and you would need to be the universe to simulate it- which is impossible). You have run this simulation and arrived at Earth with humans on it. Do you hear all their thoughts? I’m going to leave you with that one and get onto the truly trippy stuff- let’s say these humans develop computers, they learn to augment their brains, and grow their own brainpower. Now you have billions of humans who are also able to simulate the entire Earth plus 6 billion people. And they are inside your head. Though by that point calling it your “head” is probably inaccurate.
How could this possibly work, you ask. Well, like I said, abstraction and generalization all the way. Provided that no entity is consciously observing the subatomic particles you can fairly confidently just use some accurate heuristic to represent their behavior. And as for the positions of stars and galaxies and suchlike, you don’t really need to represent every particle in every star, and it may be more efficient to skimp on representing all the stars in a galaxy and just go to whatever resolution is sufficiently accurate without consuming too much processor power. So you get a big universe for a relatively small processor drain. As for the quantity of information being “created” by life- you only need to represent the locations of the particles- all the other information is just *there* if you want to “read” it. This would be using your exact knowledge of every particle and every motion through every second of someone’s brain to figure out what they’re thinking. By “reading” it and deriving information such as thoughts, you are performing an identical action to looking at the positions of atoms and concluding “apple”, and you have actually created additional information, only in your higher-level “reality”. Though I am long-winded, I touch on far too many deep ideas not to be. I have a link to a powerful short story that you really must read if you’re still here. Or perhaps you’re more interested in Isaac Asimov’s interpretation. These stories each do a great job of clearly highlighting the idea behind and within this post. However, just like the difference between my ideas and Ayn Rand’s, they’re both a little different from mine.
In short, the Objectivist metaphysics is missing a critical element. Though I had wanted to touch on all the other aspects of Objectivism, they’re going to have to wait because this post is already far too long, just like all the others. If you’re still reading, thanks for the attention. I hope one day to read or perhaps hear your thoughts- perfectly fair exchange.