Home Before reading this article its best to read: An Introduction to Reality and then Qualities.


heories of Observation
The most common idea of observation is actually an idea of "measurement" in which events are recorded at each instant. This idea is useful for  measurements made in the lab and for tracking electrical signals in the brain but it does not explain our observation.  It does not explain observation because we cannot observe anything in no time at all and the idea that our observation is a succession of fixed states bears little relationship to the geometrical form of the view in our Experience. 

The graphic below represents how describing the world as a succession of fixed states removes time from the idea of observation (the greyed out zone).  Such a pattern of measurements might accurately record the latest data to be loaded into our brain but this does not describe our Experience.

Another common theory of observation is "dualism" in which our observation exists as a result of a supernatural soul.

The soul, by being outside time and space, can take a look at what is going on at any instant.  The biggest problem with the dualist "soul" is that it has been invented because current physical theories do not seem to explain Experience.  Rather than waiting for a physical description of Experience "dualism" proposes that our observation is non-physical.

In the following text an "Observational Theory" of Experience will be described. This will rely on what we actually have in Experience.

The Observational Theory attempts to fit what Experience is like to an idea of time and space.

hat is "time passing" like
What is the passing of time like?  We have a largely constant past at any moment that is expanded by events in our extended present.

If time exists as a single direction for arranging events then even random or unpredictable events are already written on our timeline. If we say “hi Jane” the word “hi” is fixed in time and the word “Jane” is also fixed in time a half second later so what moves from the “hi” to the “Jane”? Only our observation point needs to move. In fact only the observation point can move because, being a point, it is not fixed in time.

Observe your Experience whilst looking at this page at this moment and then observe your Experience whilst looking away.  The version of your experience when you looked at this page does not travel forward in time.  That version is now several seconds in the past and the version of you looking at the page is getting ever more historical.

So what moves into the future?  The version of you, now, does not move because it is fixed in time.

Point can move in time

Only something outside of time and space, such as a geometrical point, can move in time.  Moving the observation point is equivalent to moving the view.  The view extends in time which means that Experience will contain a bit of glum Joe even when Joe is happy.

The problem of "becoming" is even more acute if we reject the idea of time as a dimension.  Rejecting time leads to an instantaneous world in which one microsecond is entirely detached from the next and from the one that went before.  However, even a microsecond is too long if we have rejected time as a direction in which events can be arranged: if we reject time as a dimension then our theoretical "now" lasts no time at all. Things that last no time at all do not exist.

hat is our observation?

How are events arranged in our Experience

How can an arrangement be known?

Consider the image below:

Imagine you had cut out the outline of the “d” above and had thrown the cut-out through the air to be carried away in the wind. Anyone picking up the cut-out would have no idea whether they had a “d”, “b”, “p” or “q” in their hands. The immediate “sidedness” of a two dimensional pattern requires three dimensions because we, the observer, have to be separate from the pattern, receiving simultaneous input from right and left, to see that one part, such as the bulge in this “d”, is on the left or on the right. That the content of our observation has an immediate left and right, a “sidedness” or “handedness”, suggests that our observation consists, in part, of a three dimensional geometry. “Dimension” sounds very grand but a dimension is simply an independent direction for arranging things, the three spatial dimensions are up-down, forward-back and left-right.  Time is also a dimension with events arranged from the past to the future.

In the world outside our bodies and brains we could easily devise a machine to tell the difference between a “b” and a “d” as examined from a particular place. The “particular place” for the machine is most important because from another place the “b” will look like a “d”.  The machine would need to transfer data so that the left and right sides of the image can be compared. The comparison would require data  acquired simultaneously from both sides of the "b" or "d".  So the minimal machine for immediately distinguishing a "b" from a "d" requires a three dimensional framework with a preferred viewing direction and a simultaneous comparison of two points in the "b" or "d". 

If an image is simply transferred from one place to another the problem of "sidedness" is not resolved.  Resolving the immediate sidedness of an object requires that the object, or a copy of the form of the object, is loaded into a system that has the properties of a "view".

Whether or not we see a “b” or a “d” depends on our viewing direction. The direction of view within the three dimensions in our Experience is set by the location of the viewing point.

We always view as if from the point.  Our immediate grasp of the “sidedness” of objects requires that our Experience has at least three dimensions and also a viewing point and this confirms the description based on what vision is like. Vision is like viewing from a point.

It is clear that there is a viewing point but nothing is seen flowing into the point.  So how can it be a viewing point? How can a separation in space be bridged without any movement, without any flow?

A neat example of how to bridge space without movement is to mark two points on a sheet of paper with ink dots and to bring them into contact by folding the paper. Anything that happens on one dot now happens no distance at all from the other dot. What was separated in two dimensions can be brought into contact by adding another dimension, a “dimension” being an independent direction for arranging things. Like the dots on the folded paper are separated in two dimensions but adjacent in three, the content of a visual image could both be distributed in three dimensional space and also at a point if another dimension, a fourth dimension, exists. Fortunately the world is indeed four dimensional so this “folding” of the visual image onto a four dimensional point is not forbidden by nature (See Appendix). 

The reason for this digression on sheets of paper and dots is to show that there are possible physical explanations for the viewing point, not that the explanation given above is the explanation.  We do not know how we can view Experience as if from a point but we do know that physical explanations are conceivable.  One day there will be a physical explanation of how we have a viewing point.

A separate viewing point allows a "b" to be immediately different from a " d" in the view. It also allows an immediate difference between a "b" and a "p" or a "q" even though a cut out of a "b" can be laid down as either of these letters.

Once we have constructed an object in our Experience as, say, a “p” it remains identified as “p” even if it is stuck to a board and rotated. Of course, the “p” will become a “d” with rotation but once identified it becomes a rotated “p”. The difference between a “d” and a rotated “p” is of  interest because they are objectively the same. There is an immediate connection between the form of the “p” and its attributes such as context and previous Experience containing the form, such as the Experience containing its rotation. In the same way as our viewing point has many simultaneous objects present this is also true of each point in the view.  The entire “p” object is connected simultaneously to its attributes at the viewing point as well as at the “p” itself. See the section on Qualities above for more on the connectedness of things.

We have come a long way in describing our Experience. Our visual Experience is something in our heads constructed by our brains based on data acquired from our two separate retinas which respond to light focussed into images. The images contain data about the world around us. The images are merged so that our Experience is a single model of the world with an immediate sideness and is stuff arranged around a point. This might require four directions for arranging things (dimensions).

The existence of a viewing point means that the things we experience subtend angles at the point. The separations between things in our experience are angular separations.  We label the separation of events from the viewing point as a separation in space but it might truly be a separation in time or no separation at all with our experience being arranged tightly around a point. We should keep an open mind on the possibility that within our Experience time and space might be substituted for each other or mixed or even replaced by a way of arranging things or a direction for arranging things that we have not yet described.

ow can arrangements be in Experience?

How do we have arrangements of events now. How can the arrangement of the letters in a word on this page be an arrangement now? At any instant there is no way to compare whether the “h” in “hello” is to the left or the right of the word on the page.  However, we have more than an instant in our Experience and so we can immediately see or hear an arrangement of things because the analysis of the sequence is extended in time.

We have already seen that Experience contains events extended in time as well as space.  "hello" begins now and ends then, it is scanned from left to right and scans are things extended in time. That we have evident arrangements in Experience is a feature of Experience being extended in time yet viewed or heard at the observation point now.  The arrangement occurs as a succession of angles at our observation point whether it is an arrangement in space or an arrangement in time.

odes of experience

Modes of experience correspond to groups of nets that are commonly used together.

The principle modes of Experience are observation, imagination and sensation.  

Imagining is popularly known as "mental activity".  It includes inner speech and all other types of imagining. However, all of Experience is mental activity and the difference between sensation and inner speech/imagining is that the first deals with events that have their sources in the world beyond the brain and the latter is mostly sourced from within the brain.

Where modes use the same nets they tend to exclude each other.  As an example it is difficult to hear the finer points of a piece of music whilst ruminating on a lover's tiff and difficult to daydream while playing squash.

Inner speech is the stream of unvoiced words that occur in the Experience of most people and is a mode of imagining.  It has submodes such as relationship planning and anxiety planning. This mode is also sometimes known as the Default Mode and it produces a characteristic pattern of activity in MRI scans of the brain.

The relationship (planning) mode is second nature for many people because we are social animals. It can entail the mental rehearsal of social interaction with other people, especially friends and family. This involves a considerable amount of inner speech. Relationship mode can greatly lessen sensations from the world in general while it is happening.  Next time you are soundlessly talking to yourself you may notice that you do not easily stop to pay attention to anything. The suppression of sensation by inner speech/imagination is a result of sensation and inner speech/imagination sharing the same space.

Anxiety planning submode is called “worrying”.  Worrying creates an addictive cycle in which the worry creates bodily discomfort that then provokes anxious inner speech to lessen the sensation of discomfort.  Too much worry is an illness, either created by bodily discomfort or creating a sense of bodily discomfort, especially in the gut.

Dream mode usually happens during sleep but can occur at other times. When we dream our Experience is largely detached from actual sensation. Most people only remember the contents of sleep dreaming that occur just before waking. During a dream the content of Experience is based on internal rather than external events. Dreaming has the submodes of day dreaming, lucid dreaming, hallucinating and sleep dreaming. Dreaming uses all of the nets of “mental” qualities, the qualities that are not directly derived from sensation and action.

Dream mode usually just rolls on unless something in the dream provokes attention. Lucid dreaming involves gentle attention to control the flow. 

Although there is a spectrum from free running inner speech through day dreams to dreams, inner speech and dreams use fairly separate nets of events and deserve to be recognised as different modes. My dreams seldom use inner speech.

Action mode can be highly absorbing, especially in sport and dance. It is less so when it is expressed as physical labour.  Action mode overlaps the sensation mode. The best way to stay in sensation mode is through action. There is no truly pure action or sensation mode because sensation without action is very limited. Many people live much of the time in sensation/action mode. Sensation/action mode uses the nets of qualities that are populated by the senses.

Sensuality mode has submodes of relaxation and emotion. Emotion can be overwhelming, possessing Experience. The brain can signal for the release of drugs such as adrenaline or prolactin to bring purely mental qualities into an equal prominence with sensory qualities and so heavily bias decisions and actions. Calm relaxation allows untroubled mental qualities to dominate (See “Experience and Mind” below for a description of “mental qualities”).

Modes occur as whole packages of events in our Experience. We can switch between modes. The mode switch uses our “attention”.  Attention isolates a particular event within Experience whereas observation mode contains the whole of Experience. 

Observation is our Experience in general. It is listening, looking etc. without any deliberate re-processing of what is seen or felt. The observation mode uses attention to switch between modes and submodes. The switching involves attending to, say, sensation then relaxing this attention.

When we attend to events we submit them to the parts of the brain outside of Experience that analyse them. This analysis largely consists of taking the events isolated by attention and relating these to other events in our memory. Attention switches modes and can also focus on a small area of the space of Experience.  We can see from this how attention can trigger a change of mode, for instance attending to a verbal thought in our Experience draws out the relations of this thought so triggering a succession of verbal thoughts.

Observation mode is specifically the state that is not dominated by any particular mode. Observation mode allows us to balance the other modes.

Observation often leads to the sensation/action mode because it tends to shut down the other modes. Once in sensation mode a return to observation mode can be accomplished by ceasing to attend to sensations. Pure observation mode entails relaxing and not attending to anything.

The selection of modes within Experience is known as “will power”. An act of will is the ability to switch between modes or stay in a particular mode. It is the switching on and off of attention and wielding it within Experience. Attention is a push button style of switch, press once to change mode, press again after several seconds to stop an established mode. Observation mode is the first step to resisting the poorly focussed attention that prolongs residence in a particular mode.

As an example of mode switching try relaxing with your eyes shut. You may find yourself attending to a fragment of inner speech, this might turn on relationship planning mode. Your attention lapses and the relationship planning mode will just continue. To switch off relationship planning mode you need to attend to it, to listen carefully to the words of inner speech. This briefly interrupts the inner speech and returns you to observation mode. If you immediately attend again to the next unconsciously generated tranche of inner speech you will switch back to relationship planning mode. This shows why the general planning mode, in which inner speech is mixed with imaginings and all of this is checked and re-processed, is difficult to sustain because it involves repeatedly attending to inner speech and imaginings, each new attention being a possible branch point to another mode.

Mindfulness is a technique of disrupting modes by attending to any minor mode so that Observation Mode predominates.

Sensation/action mode is a source of truth, other modes such as dreaming and inner speech are at best entertainment because we create their contents. General planning mode is useful for work and creativity.  We do also create the qualities of sensation/action mode but in this case the general form and sequence of the content comes from sensations evoked by real external events.

Next: much more about time in Experience: Time.

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