The Perceiving Subject

The Perceiving Subject

The other great pointer to a world utterly different to the current paradigm is that the problems are resovled simply by being phenomena of the perceiving subject. As explained by David Mermin in his article in Nature, the central problem is not something undiscovered, but something that has been very specifically omitted. The great paradoxes in both pillars of the new physics come about because the perceiving subject has been excluded from the science, and all are resolved by including it:

In Nature and the Greeks, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger traced the removal of the subject from science back more than two millennia. Alongside the spectacular success of physical science, this exclusion of personal experience has given rise to some vexing and persistent puzzles and paradoxes.
Two such unrelated long-standing problems are both resolved by recognizing that the perceiving subject has as important a role to play in understanding the nature of physical science as does the perceived object.
The first problem is the notorious disagreement, confusion and murkiness that for almost a century has plagued the foundations of quantum mechanics, in spite of the theory’s extraordinary usefulness and power. The second, less famous, problem has been with us at least as long: there seems to be nothing in physics that singles out ‘the present moment’. Albert Einstein called this the problem of ‘the Now’. Both problems are symptoms of the exclusion from physical science of the perceiving subject, and are solved by restoring what the ancient Greeks removed. (2014)

What is so special about the perceiving subject? What does it mean? The answer is that there is far more to the perceiving subject than we have conceived. Naturally, this is the same thing as the usual concept we have of ourselves. The perceiving subject is the physical body-mind one identifies with. But at the same time it is in certain respects very different to our accustomed ideas. These differences not only explain the great puzzles in the new physics, they reveal extraordinary capabilities of our situation we have been completely unaware of.

The Perceptual Reality

The first thing to explain is the nature of the perceptual reality. This is the reality generated ‘in here’ by the neural system of the brain, in order to represent and understand the environment, the world ‘out there’. In the past, the nature of this perceptual reality was not at all clear. Now we know exactly what kind of thing this reality is because we use the same principle in virtual-reality technology. It may seem weird, but the perceptual reality is simply a three-dimensional virtual reality. As Richard Dawkins states:

Our brain constructs a three-dimensional model. It is a virtual reality in the head. (1998, 276)

The brain produces a representation of the three-dimensional physical reality, the world, in the form of a three-dimensional virtual reality. It is kind of obvious once you start thinking about it. Imagination is obviously a kind of virtual reality, by definition. We make up stuff in our minds, and see it in an imaginary reality ‘in here’. As David Deutsch states, exactly the same mechanism is at work in the perception of the real world:

Imagination is a straightforward form of virtual reality. What may not be so obvious is that our ‘direct’ experience of the world through our senses is virtual reality too. … What we experience directly is a virtual-reality rendering, conveniently generated for us by our unconscious minds from sensory data (1997, 120)

In other words, one’s apparently direct experience of reality ‘out there’ is in fact the experience of a virtual reality ‘in here’. What is actually experienced directly is the virtual-reality rendering of what reality looks like, rather than the reality itself. This is the perceptual reality. This is the reality defining what is observed ‘out there’, experienced ‘in here’.


As well as representing the things you are observing at the present moment, this virtual reality also represents all the things you have observed in the past. So it also represents everything you know about the world from past experience. As Deutsch goes on:

Every last scrap of our external experience is of virtual reality. And every last scrap of our knowledge ― including our knowledge of the non-physical worlds of logic, mathematics and philosophy, and of imagination, fiction, art and fantasy ― is encoded in the form of programs for the rendering of those worlds on our brain’s own virtual-reality generator. (1997, 121)

In other words, everything you know about the world, and even everything you can think about the world, is all part of this virtual reality. It is all part of the virtual-reality world ‘in here’, representing the real world ‘out there’. This is simply the way our perceptual apparatus works. The brain creates a virtual-reality rendering of reality, so that one can perceive the world and interact with it.

This virtual-reality construct is your perceptual reality as a whole, and this is your entire concept of the world. Whenever you think about any aspect of the world, where you went yesterday, what might be happening now far away, what you are actually dealing with is this virtual reality.

The World Hologram

There is one more vital and fascinating fact about this virtual reality. It seems totally obvious that what one is actually experiencing is ‘out there’. In one sense this is as true as it is obvious; but in another sense it is quite false. As Deutsch explains:

Consider the nerve signals reaching our brains from our sense organs. Far from providing direct or untainted access to reality, even they themselves are never experienced for what they really are – namely crackles of electrical activity. Nor, for the most part, do we experience them as being where they really are – inside our brains. Instead, we place them in the reality beyond. We do not just see blue: we see a blue sky up there, far away. We do not just feel pain: we experience a headache, or a stomach ache. The brain attaches those interpretations – ‘head’, ‘stomach’ and ‘up there’ – to events that are in fact within the brain itself. (2011, 10)

Although the virtual reality itself is going on ‘in here’ within the brain, it is experienced as going on ‘out there’ in the world, or elsewhere in the body. It is mentally projected out onto the world ‘out there’. This is why we do not notice that what we are actually experiencing directly is a virtual reality ‘in here’. But it is.
The virtual reality being experienced is like a hologram; it is a spatially-distributed, three-dimensional image. This is the extraordinary technology of the brain that enables us to perceive the world and interact with it. The perceptual reality is a holographic field of information that is mentally projected onto the real world, so as to match up precisely with the three-dimensional physical reality, here the world hologram.

world hologram 300

This Is Reality

The implications are certainly strange. I feel the computer keyboard under my fingers, and I look down and see my hands doing the touching; but as Deutsch explains, the entire reality I am actually experiencing is the world hologram ‘in here’. Everything that I experience is a projection of the world hologram representation of reality ‘in here’ as ‘out there’. The experience of reality all around me, the experience of the real world and even the experiences of other parts of the body, are all experiences of the virtual reality itself in the brain.

The same is true of everything one has experienced and everything one knows about the world. It is all part of this virtual reality, this world hologram. If you think about a place in the world you have been to, or where a friend might be today, you are accessing an aspect of your world hologram. There is of course a real world ‘out there’ onto which the world hologram maps precisely. And this is of course what you are experiencing, but indirectly, by report of the five senses. Whenever you interact with any aspect of the world, even including the here and now, what you are actually interacting with is the world hologram.

Now we go back to the quantum theory. As described on the first page, in the universe of all possible worlds, there is a huge number of identical copies of you. Naturally, they all have the same world hologram. It would seem obvious in the current paradigm that this world hologram is simply and solely a structure of information, instantiated in all those identical copies of the person. True of course, but in effect it is something else altogether. This is where the whole issue of consciousness and logical type comes into play as described in the page on Universe Consciousness. In a nutshell, the fact that we are experiencing the passage of time means that consciousness can only be a property of the universe itself. It is a system property, and from this perspective all the many instantiations of your world hologram are one single instance of this structure of information. The deep and vital implication is  that the experience of this world hologram is the experience of all of the worlds in which it is instantiated, all at once. This means that in experience, the superposition of worlds described in the front page is inevitable. And this produces a world in which the principles of QBism apply exactly. It is determinate only where personally observed. Thus it is determinate only where defined by the world hologram. In other words, effectively, the world hologram is reality. This is how the true nature of the perceiving subject utterly transforms the meaning of the new physics.

It is this that also transforms our concept of ourselves. It means that we are not only bodies with minds in, we are also much more than this. At each moment the body exists in a specific state, and the mind inside the body produces the world hologram of that moment, the holographic representation of the world at that moment, in this lifetime, this ‘world line’. But the perceiving subject is not the body, and it is not just a phenomenon happening in the body either. The perceiving subject is the four-dimensional space-time movie, experienced by consciousness. The full nature of the identity of each person is addressed in Identity.

The Inside View

There are two different types of frame of reference. This is resolution of all the great puzzles of the new physics. It is of course well-known, but it has not been understood that both are fundamental. As Max Tegmark explains, the physics has taught us that we must carefully distinguish between two different views of a physical theory:

… the outside view of a physicist studying its mathematical equations, like a bird surveying a landscape from high above, and the inside view of an observer living in the world described by the equations, like a frog being watched by the bird. (1998, 23)

Both are equally real and valid, but they are intrinsically very different. The outside view is the objective view, also called the view from nowhere. It is simply what physical reality must be like, given the equations of physics. The inside view is the reality of a conscious individual in the world, defined by the record of observations, the world hologram.

It seems obvious that the inside view is just a subjective perception of the real objective physical reality all around, but as shown here it is much more than just that. On the inside view, the world is the superposed sum of all of the worlds in which this world hologram is instantiated. As a result, the world hologram defines all the determinacy that reality has. On the outside view, this is just something going on in the head of an observer. But the reality one lives in is the reality of the inside view. And on this inside view the world hologram is effectively the world, and the oddities of quantum theory and relativity are just exactly what we would expect.

The answer is that these different classes of phenomena, of different logical type, are all attributes of the perceiving subject. The inside view is the holographic field of information, defined by the record of observations. This is who and what one actually is, on the inside view. It has the self-identity avatar figure at the centre, which is what you believe yourself to be. 

One is, of course, also a real physical entity. At the primitive level of logical type, the perceiving subject is just a physical object. But on the inside view the body is the superposition of all of the physical body-minds in which one exits. This is reality. It is a second-logical-type phenomenon. This is the 4D space-time matter & energy movie of life, essentially an information process. The consciousness that experiences this reality is a fundamental property of the universe, a third-logical-type phenomenon. And at this level of logical type the movie of life is enacted in real time. In other words, that which experiences, and that which is experienced, the core components of the perceiving subject, are at at the centre of the science.

The world one encounters is the reality defined solely by experience. Mermin is right, this is the reality of the perceiving subject. It is at the heart of the physics because the perceiving subject is the inside view. And as described in Identity, you are the world.