Knowledge versus Existence

Consider the classic philophical question..

If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is around to hear it, then did it really happen?

Before I answer this question, allow me to explain the difference between knowledge and existence. It is the same difference between a map and the territory it represents. Because our thought processes are attached to the (invented) languages we use in everyday communication, it can be hard to distinguish knowledge and existence. But knowledge is only what we have recorded in our heads, while existence is that which we directly experience in interaction with the subject. So our impression, our 'knowledge', is just a guide we use to predict what we directly perceive of existence via our senses.

In The Way of the Explorer, astronaut and founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences Edgar Mitchell employs a couple of metaphors to illustrate this confusion we tend to have. His first was the map\territory comparison. Here is his second..

"The equivalent mistake would be to assume that just because a pilot is flying through clouds and cannot see the ground, mountains don't exist."

In each example, the confusion between knowledge and existence arises in the same way. Knowledge is built upon the assumption of discretion. Existence, however, is inherently indiscrete. The confusion happens in thinking that existence, as well, is discrete, since the knowledge model representing the existence is discrete itself. That is, one thinks about life as a videogame, a sort of computer program built on discrete principles. As if, upon being a certain distance away from an object, it despawns to remain an efficient program just like objects in games do, temporarily ceasing to exist, until the next time the player is within a certain range requisite for experiencing the object. This is certainly not the case, however.

Say it is my cousin's birthday. He lives in another state. I would have to guess whether or not he has blown out the candles on his cake yet. I lack knowledge of his progress. If I were to do a video call with him, however, I could see that oh, he hasn't blown out his candles yet, and I could then watch him do it. But if I had called later instead, after he had blown out his candles, I would still see evidence that he had done it – burnt candles sticking out of the cake. And I would know it had happened. Either way, knowledge or not, there is still an effect. As such, there is a difference between knowledge and existence. Forensic science depends upon this kind of reliability of the universe.

Now, you might still argue that if I had called later and just seen the burnt candles, perhaps it didn't actually happen, but rather only the burnt candles became manifest. But this is a naïve assumption resulting from the contrived idea of discretion. What you have to realize is that truly there is no difference between the burnt candles and the blowing out of the cake. Those are just concepts selected by the mind, whereas in reality the universe is an entirely holistic continuity unstructured by dividing linguistic concepts like subjects ('candles') and verb phrases ('blowing them out').

Edgar Mitchell also has the following to point out about languages such as mathematics..

"Mathematical descriptions are not embedded in nature, but created by mind. The differences between existence and knowing must be observed carefully when considering the larger viewpoint. We can unequivocally state that mathematics is a linguistic creation of the mind, not an intrinsic characteristic of nature, because it depends on how we assign labels to nature, and then quantify those labels."

That is, 'we create the definitions of mathematics (by selecting things we recognize as significantly individual in appearance and counting them). This realization comes from the holistic understanding that there is a difference between existence and knowledge, between map and territory'.

The same situation applies to time versus change; we often confuse our approximating measurements of time as an absolute nature of change.

Let us again consider..

If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is around to hear it, then did it really happen?

First of all, it's insane to consider a contradiction. That a contradiction has been reached should be evidence enough that this is a fallacious line of reasoning; contradictions come from contrives. We now need to reason at the extremes to figure out how the train of thought wrongly arrived at this confusion.

But playing with the idea past that hole, I can still assure you that actually everyone in the universe did hear it. It's because of this that the implied alternate hypothesis embedded in the question, the possibility of 'the tree not really falling', cannot be proven. This is due to the way that sound waves have no end, but rather are continuous propogations that taper off across infinite distance with eternally diminishing volume. Even mathematics agrees with this; waveforms are stated to be continuous. As such, the discrete idea whereby only a certain number of people hear the tree fall is false. Also, a "butterfly effect" could always be computable with very advanced measurements.

There is another widespread confusion between knowledge and existence - the idea of scientific "laws" of nature. Laws are often taken too literally; there seems to be an assumption that scientific laws imply the universe must manifest in a certain way. As if it is constant, such that alternate manifestations are impossible. I think this is the result of anthropocentric projection of the way we apply rules to other people onto the cosmos. As C.S. Lewis once said, "To say that a stone falls to earth because it's obeying a law makes it a man and even a citizen." It's a fallacious understanding of cause and effect, in this case the belief that there are laws in nature (not recognizably human ones, even though we describe and name them) which dictate/control how certain aspects of the universe manifest. When really, it's the other way around; what we call "laws" are really just completely invented descriptions made to match the patterns we perceive on a consistent basis. In reality, our "laws" are really our knowledge of patterns, and existence isn't necessarily bound by them, but rather our descriptions tend to match its manifestation because they are consistent. The imprecise understanding comes from a confusion between our knowledge ("laws") and existence (the universe).