Thought — 4 Min Read

Social Reality

by Case Greenfield, December 20th, 2023

Thought — 4 Min Read

Social Reality

by Case Greenfield

December 20th, 2023

Social reality, not truth seeking animals, the ability to tell and believe stories, are three different perspectives on what I call mind models.

Here are these three perspectives on mind models by three totally different people, Lisa Feltman Barrett, Jef Bezos and Yuval Harari.

The neuroscientis – Lisa Feldman Barrett

Below is an interesting video with neuroscientist professor Lisa Feldman Barrett about “Social Reality”. Social Reality is what I often have called Group Reality. It is nicely expressed by John Lennon’s song Imagine.

It is about all of these social constructs that we create to create (our own) order in the ‘chaos’ of the world around us. Think of ‘country’, think of ‘borders’, think of ‘passports’ and that’s just one category of social reality. Think of all those things that we, humans, sort of take for granted, but animals simply don’t know; the things that exist in our world, but not in the world of animals.

Animals don’t have passports. Animals unknowingly cross country borders. There’s a nice Dutch song about the birds in former Berlin that freely fly over The Berlin Wall, “because sometimes they want to be in The East, and sometime in The West”.

En de vogels vliegen van West- naar Oost-Berlijn
Worden niet teruggefloten, ook niet neergeschoten
Over de muur, over het IJzeren Gordijn
Omdat ze soms in het Oosten, soms ook in het Westen willen zijn
Omdat er brood ligt soms bij de Gedächtniskirche
Soms op het Alexanderplein

Nice examples of Social Reality.

Anyway. Here’s the video with Lisa Feldman Barrett:

Basically, what she says is, that the brain really sits in a black box, the skull. And the only way it can experience reality is through our senses, vision, hearing, etc. And our senses are limited. They give a limited picture of reality. We cannot and do not observe reality as it really is. We observe an image of reality as filtered by our senses. Yet, the brain wants to predict what will happen next in order to maximize our chances of survival. So it creates an image, an idea of the world based our our senses, but supplemented with a model of the world based on previous experiences. That exactly is what my “mind models” are. Exactly that.

That is what my “mind models” are. Exactly that!

The business person – Jeff Bezos

And this is very interesting, too. Here’s Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, talking about social reality in organizations:

Here are some quotes of what he says in the video:

(…) You have just asked a million dollar question. So this is whay you’re asking, generalizing, you’re talking about truth telling. And we humans are not really truth seeking animals. We are social animals. Take you back in time 10,000 years and you’re in a small village. If you go along to get along, you can survive. You can procreate. If you’re the village truth teller, you might get clubbed to death in the middle of the night.

Truths are often, they don’t want to be heard because important truths can be uncomfortable. They can be akward. They can be exhausting. Impolite. Challenging. They can make people defensive, even if that’s not the intent. (…)

And then he goes on about how any high-performing organization has to have mechanisms and a culture that supports truth telling, that you have to talk about it, that it takes energy to do that, that it is ok that is feels uncomfortable. etc, etc.

The historian – Yuval Hariri

Below is a video of a speech at University of California by prof. Yuval Harari short after having published his book Homo Deus, A Brief History Of Tomorrow.

The person who introduces him actually gives a very nice summary of Mr. Harari’s perspective on mind models:

And one of the most challenging of all questions [that Dr. Harari asks in his research] is what makes humans special? What distinguishes humans from the rest of the species that are out there? And his answer, for at least the first part of it, is relatively straightforward. He argues that humans are able to evidence flexible cooperation in large numbers. Yes, other animals can cooperate, chimpanzees can cooperate, but not in large scales though, groups of maybe 15, 20, 30, but certainly not in the hundreds thousands that humans are. Bees can operate in large scale, but not flexibly.
What distinguishes humans is their capacity to be both able to operate in these large scales and to operate cooperatively and flexibly. And then he asks the question, the harder question, how do we do it? How are we capable of manifesting this remarkable flexibility at such a large scale? And here his answer is really very timely, especially in this time of fake news and alternative facts, things that we are the sort of, how can people believe these things? How can this be possible? And his conclusion is that, in fact, our capacity to believe in such things is actually part of what makes us so special. That ultimately, it’s humankind’s imagination and our ability to believe in fictions, to hold collectively a belief in fictions, which is what gives us our remarkable capacity.
So, our fake news and our alternative facts and our willingness to believe in this, although these may have some serious consequences, may also be reflective of what has gotten us here in the first place. So he argues that there’re really also these two aspects of reality. There’s objective reality that we share with animals, and then there’s the fictional reality, which is what makes us unique and special.
And the things that he includes in fictional reality, is most of the things that we take nearest and dearest, things like religion, corporations, nations, rights, laws, countries, even money. All of these are fictions, but they are tremendously powerful fictions. They are what give us the glue that holds us together and allows us to operate in such a remarkable power. So ultimately, according to Dr. Harari, the power of humanity is in its capacity to tell and believe in great stories.

Since I engaged in the topic of mind models as the main theme of my art and philosophy, more and more I have come to believe that this truely is the all differentiating factor in our lives, our society, our science, our everything.

So … art, my art

In his speech, Yuval harari says some very intersting things about art, referring to Marcel Duchamps. whom I also often named in my stories and in the Blank Slate project:

The same idea is also found at the basis of modern art. What is humanist art? It is art that believes that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. How do you know what is art? How do you know what is good art? What is beautiful and what is ugly? For thousands of years, philosophers and thinkers and artists had all kinds of theories about what is art and what is beautiful. And usually, they thought that there was some objective yardstick. A divine yardstick probably, that defines art and beauty. God defines what is art and what is beautiful.
Then came along humanist aesthetics in the last two centuries and shifted the source of authority to human feelings. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. In 1917, exactly a century ago, Marcel Duchamp took an ordinary mass-produced urinal declared it a work of art, named it Fountain, and ever since then, if you went to a first year course in art history, you probably saw this image almost in every first year history of art course they bring this image in one of the first lessons, and the lecture shows the image and asks the students, “Well, what do you think?”. And all hell breaks loose. “Hey, it’s art, it’s not art, it is, it isn’t”. How do you define art? And at least if this is a humanist university or humanist college, the lecture will steer the discussion to the conclusion that there is no objective definition or yardstick for art, or for beauty. Art is anything that human beings think or define as art, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you think that this is beautiful, this is a beautiful work of art, and you’re willing to pay millions of dollars to have it in your home, and it costs millions of dollars. Now the Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, then who is there in the world that can tell you that you’re wrong? And that you don’t know what art is or what beauty is? So this is humanist aesthetics.
And the big question, then, obviously is:

What will be good art in the post-humanist era?

Yes, what will be good art in the post-humanist era? In the era when not individual human emotions, but algorithms will determine what is good and bad art.

So, in the future, probably an algorithm is going to tell what artwork is good art and what is not. And, you see it happening already.

Recommender systems now already suggest you what books you may like to read, what music you like to listen to, and soon … what painting you like to own. Algorithms are now used by art dealers to determine what artwork will be valuable in the future and what not.

Are we this predictable, after all?

Or … are we followers, willing to comply to whatever the algorithm suggests? Algorithmic reality … ?

Or something in between?

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