Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Symbols and reality ...

According to the late neurologist Russell Brain (see previous posts), "the receptive function of the brain is to provide us with a symbolical representation of the world outside it." I find this an intriguing notion, especially when one thinks of it in terms of what physics tells us about the nature of the "material" world.
I am six feet tall. According to Eddington, if you eliminated the spaces between the molecules and atoms of which I am composed and reduced me to "matter" and nothing but, I would be a speck just large enough to be seen with a powerful magnifying glass. I am, in fact, a galaxy of electrical impulses.
If Brain is right, then everything we know is a symbolical representaion of energy configurations. The schoolmen and the ancients thought in terms of matter and form. Perhaps it would be more correct to think in terms of energy and form. What we call matter is, to use Brain's formulation, a symbolical representation of those energy configurations. Indeed, the energy units themselves that we speak of -- atoms, protons, electrons -- would also be symbolical representaions.
This leads, I think, to a key question: What is the basis of the symbology? From what does it derive?
I have a hunch that Plato's theory of ideas might be usefully looked at in this regard -- though I can't begin to say how just yet. But I'll keep thinking about it. After all, the brain itself would be a symbol also. If what we are dealing with are symbols and energy, then it would seem that mind is the fundamental reality. And that would seem to suggest that intelligence is a concomitant of reality as well. Of course in Eliot's words, "These are only hints and guesses,/Hints followed by guesses ..."

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