This is a response to the question posed by John Brockman “What will change everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?” He is the author of many books on science which aim to arrive at the edge of the worlds knowledge.Understanding that the outside world is really inside us and the inside world is really outside us will change everything. Both inside and outside. Why?
“There is no out there out there”, physicist John Wheeler said in his attempt to explain quantum physics. All we know is how we correlate with the world. We do not really know what the world is really like, uncorrelated with us. When we seem to experience an external world that is out there, independent of us, it is something we dream up.
Modern neurobiology has reached the exact same conclusion. The visual world, what we see, is an illusion, but then a very sophisticated one. There are no colours, no tones, no constancy in the “real” world, it is all something we make up. We do so for good reasons and with great survival value. Because colors, tones and constancy are expressions of how we correlate with the world.
The merging of the epistemological lesson from quantum mechanics with the epistemological lesson from neurobiology attest to a very simple fact: What we percieve as being outside of us is indeed a fancy and elegant projection of what we have inside. We do make this projection as as result of interacting with something not inside, but everything we experience is inside.
Is it not real? It embodies a correlation that is very real. As physicist N. David Mermin has argued, we do have correlations, but we do not know what it is that correlates, or if any correlata exists at all. It is a modern formulation of quantum pioneer Niels Bohr’s view: “Physics is not about nature, it is about what we can say about nature.”
So what is real, then? Inside us humans a lot of relational emotions exists. We feel affection, awe, warmth, glow, mania, belonging and refusal towards other humans and to the world as a whole. We relate and it provokes deep inner emotional states. These are real and true, inside our bodies and percieved not as “real states” of the outside world, but more like a kind of weather phenomena inside us.
That raises the simple question: Where do these internal states come from? Are they an effect of us? Did we make them or did they make us? Love exists before us (most of us were conceived in an act of love). Friendship, family bonds, hate, anger, trust, distrust, all of these entities exist before the individual. They are primary. The illusion of the ego denies the fact that they are there before the ego consciously decided to love or hate or care or not. But the inner states predate the conscious ego. And they predate the bodily individual.
The emotional states inside us are very, very real and the product of biological evolution. They are helpful to us in our attempt to survive. Experimental economics and behavioral sciences have recently shown us how important they are to us as social creatures: To cooperate you have to trust the other party, even though a rational analysis will tell you that both the likelihood and the cost of being cheated is very high. When you trust, you experience a physiologically detectable inner glow of pleasure. So the inner emotional state says yes. However, if you rationally consider the objects in the outside world, the other parties, and consider their trade-offs and motives, you ought to choose not to cooperate. Analyzing the outside world makes you say no. Human cooperation is dependent on our giving weight to what we experience as the inner world compared to what we experience as the outer world.
Traditionally, the culture of science has denied the relevance of the inner states. Now, they become increasingly important to understanding humans. And highly relevant when we want to build artefacts that mimic us.
Soon we will be building not only Artificial Intelligence. We will be building Artificial Will. Systems with an ability to convert internal decisions and values into external change. They will be able to decide that they want to change the world. A plan inside becomes an action on the outside. So they will have to know what is inside and outside.
In building these machines we ourselves will learn something that will change everything: The trick of perception is the trick of mistaking an inner world for the outside world. The emotions inside are the evolutionary reality. The things we see and hear outside are just elegant ways of imagining correlata that can explain our emotions, our correlations. We don’t hear the croak, we hear the frog.
When we understand that the inner emotional states are more real than what we experience as the outside world, cooperation becomes easier. The epoch of insane mania for rational control will be over.
What really changes is they way we see things, the way we experience everything. For anything to change out there you have to change everything in here. That is the epistemological situation. All spiritual traditions have been talking about it. But now it grows from the epistemology of quantum physics, neurobiology and the building of robots.
We will be sitting there, building those Artificial Will-robots. Suddenly we will start laughing. There is no out there out there. It is in here. There is no in here in here. It is out there. The outside is in here. Who is there?
That laughter will change everything.