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Nicolette Sinensky

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How does virtuality translate into reality?

This week in my bioelectricity class, we spoke about electrical stimulation of nerves. One method of stimulation is to place a electrode directly on the surface of a nerve. One of the considerations of this method, however, is that the anode (positively charged side) and cathode (negatively charged side) of the electrode each cause a redistribution of charge around the electrode. Consequently, the anode induces a complementary "virtual cathode" and the cathode creates a complementary "virtual anode." These components aren't actually there, but we can observe a similar redistribution of charge that implies that something unseen is going on. Despite the fact that these components are not physically present, they have real effects on the functionality of both the electrode and the nerve. The virtual cathode and anode can cause a very real, measurable voltage change in the nerve, and can effectively block a nerve signal, which is dependent on the voltage.

In what other ways can intangible entities have physical manifestations? In this case, the unintended effect has a negative consequence, but can we find useful applications of such a circumstance?

Also, if these imaginary aspects can effect reality, what does that say about our definition of what is real and what isn't?

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  • Apr 7 2012: Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets, p20 "... as convincing as the material world looks, to the great embarrassment of modern science, no-one has been able to prove that it is real.", "... any neurologist will assure you that the brain offers no proof that the outside world really existsand many hints that it doesn't."

    This is a new and fascinating area to me. Thank you for starting this very interesting conversation Nicolette.
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      Tim Rue

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      Apr 8 2012: Interesting in that we don't really know what gravity is. perhaps there is a connection to consciousness, or so the quantum physics double slit experiment might suggest.
      • Apr 9 2012: Hi Tim

        Thank you for your reply. I am not a physicist, and had not connected the concept of gravity with the double slit experiment which shows that light particles can display the characteristics of both waves and particles? Seems I have some reading to do on gravity specifically and quantum physics generally! :)

        And yes, I think there might be connections to consciousness in a lot of areas that we have not realised or discovered yet. Lots of paths to the one truth?
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      Apr 8 2012: Hey Carrie,

      Your comment reminds me a lot about one of the dream argument, which Descartes' addresses in his "Meditations on First Philosophy." In "reality," we have our five senses, and we use these to give ourselves an understanding of what is going on around us. In dreams, we possess the same five senses and again, use them to understand our surroundings. The upshot of this is the following: if in either case we feel like we are in reality, then it should be impossible to for us to claim with certainty that we are currently in a state of "reality" and not dream.

      The brain is powerful enough to create for us this "alternate reality" (a dream) and trick us into believing it is "reality." Who is to say its not doing so right now?

      So what is real and what is not real? It seems very subjective - we choose to make real what we are comfortable with. We make inferences and we fill in gaps. For instance, with the virtual cathode / anode, we don't know that an actual cathode / anode is created, hence the "virtual." We simply invent the idea in order to explain the phenomena. We do this even outside of science (ghosts, the supernatural, religion, etc.).

      For all of these things, we cannot prove that they are of "reality," but at the same time, we cannot prove that they are "outside of reality." Thus, the choice is ultimately ours - how we put the pieces together and form conclusions. I don't believe that there is one universal or absolute truth; rather, as many others have said, we interpret what happens in our lives how we choose to.
      • Apr 9 2012: Thank you for your reply Andrew

        Are you familiar with Deepak Chopra's book and his ideas? I have not read any of his other books so am not sure if he talks about this in any of his others.

        The idea that everything comes to us via a "firestorm of electrochemical activity" and that there is no way to prove that anything is real is a fascinating one for me. I keep finding myself stopping and touching everyday objects and trying to discern their reality!

        As for dreaming and being able to tell the difference between the dream state and the waking state, and also whether you are looking at a photo or the real thing, Chopra says that the visual cortex is the part that is being used for all, but that the locations of brain cell activity shift slightly from one to the other, which is why we can distinguish between them.

        However he does say that the brain has pulled a "remarkable sleight of hand" on us"because there is no direct connection between the bodies raw data and our subjective sense of the real world".

        Although if I think about this too hard it could be quite unsettling, it is completely fascinating, and certainly helps with humility! There was already the realisation of how tiny each of us is in the huge vastness of the Universe/ creation, but now we also know that everything is energy - and more space than solid matter and that, even more amazingly, we can't even prove that there is anything outside of the brain! I'm still confused as to the implications of all this, but in the meantime, I am open to these new (for me) ideas and will continue to read up on them, while also continuing with my studies in practical philosophy and attempting to live a "good life".

        By the way, I do believe in one absolute truth, just that we haven't discovered it yet....

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