Philosophy, Physics, Spiritual Types - how many distinct Dimensions of reality?

There have been a few Big Think threads lately that have led to discussion, so might as well pile on.

In this thread on the everyday application of Determinism vs Free Will:

I mention a couple of times that, based on my self-directed attempts at digging into this stuff and most Humans’ perceptions, I believe that we engage 3 (three) dimensions of reality:

  • the Physical/Material
  • the subjective/mental, I.e, Consciousness
  • the Ideal/Forms - where things like “the number 2 has an essential Two-ness that is separate from the physical and subjective” reside. Plato’s forms. Mathematics.

Now - we can debate forever a bunch of stuff, like whether the Subjective and Ideal are illusory and emerge from the Physical (as discussed in the other thread - Determinists believe this; cool). That is NOT what this thread is trying to be about. My question is: are these the Big 3? As Humans, regardless of how they emerge, do we experience our Reality in ways that can be covered fully by these three dimensions?

I am ONLY discussing what we Humans experience now. Dimensions like Heaven in any religion is not in scope here. Cute places like Magic dimensions and alternate realities are part of a person’s Subjective imagination. I guess multiverse approaches add dimensions but outside our perception so wouldn’t count here.

DSeid, I think, in the other thread, counted the Subjective and Ideal as one group called Information, so there are only two dimensions to our Reality, The Physical and Information. I think they are too distinct in nature and application - there are shades of Jung’s collective unconscious in the Ideal, and Plato held Forms out to be separate, too. So three feels better as I am pondering right now.


Next day bump

Hmm - nuthin’. Too weird? Not thought through?

To what extent can item 3 (Platonic ideals) be argued to be ‘real’?

The number 2 has ‘two-ness’ in a)physical reality -two apples are two apples and b)consciousness - we perceive two apples as having ‘two-ness’ because we have the mental capacity to abstract ‘two’ away from ‘apples’.

The fact that all or most people are able to perform this abstraction, consistently with one another, does not (as far as I can see) provide the concept ‘two’ with any independent reality of its own - except maybe as a social/cultural convention.

So maybe I’m arguing that our three ‘dimensions’ are really:

  • the Physical/Material
  • the subjective/mental, I.e, Consciousness
  • the cultural/conventional - i.e. that which is passed as information between individuals who agree (or debate) a concept.

That’s essentially the view of Roger Penrose: there’s a mental, a physical, and a Platonic realm, which however aren’t independent. Rather, basically, the mental emerges from the physical, the Platonic from the mental, and, in a somewhat surprising turn, the physical again from the Platonic—in a sense somewhat similar to Tegmark’s mathematical universe, i.e. the physical world is ultimately a mathematical structure that just happens to contain conscious observers.

Personally, I would add the moral and the aesthetic as realms of experience. And perhaps there’s something like an intersubjective experience—partaking in others’ joy or sorrow, empathy, that kind of thing.

Hey, thanks for chiming in!!

Mangetout, I have no issue with your post - you still end up with 3 dimensions, which is what I am trying to explore through my OP.

To be clear, both #2 and #3 are open, ongoing debates. Plato’s concept of ideal Forms, and whether numbers exist outside / beside the Physical, have been around since, well, Plato’s time ;), but positions for and against their distinct existence remain solidly divided.

My points is that Humans experience Ideals as part of our Reality. If someone is making a decision, they use what’s observed Physically, their own Subjective Consciousness, AND input related to Ideals to compare their current situation against as part of their decision.

So regardless of whether each dimensions truly exists distinctly, Humans experience them that way as we engage our Reality. Are those all of the dimensions we experience?

ETA: HMHW - yes, Penrose sounds like what I am getting at. Now, wouldn’t the Aesthetic be an overlap of the Subjective and the Ideal? The neverending debates about whether Truth or Beauty, etc, can be defined in the Ideal realm represents this. As for the “inter-subjective” hmm, gotta ponder that. Isn’t that a flavor of Jung’s collective unconscious ?

I’m not altogether sure we can count them if we can’t exactly outline what they are.

The ‘ideal’ bit could be subdivided into many parts which function more or less independently and therefore maybe warrant being counted separately, if any are to be counted at all.

For example: plans. What is a plan? It’s a defined intention to do something. Once a person has formulated a plan for something, should that plan (which is a sort of future reality) be regarded as a thing in its own right?
People act as though their plans have existence of their own (we even have bits of language to describe it “Oh, that clashes with my plan” or “Our plan will stop that thing happening”)

So are ‘plans’ a different category of phenomenon from any other kind of conscious thought (a ‘fourth dimension’ of human experience), or just a subset of dimension 2?

Same deal with any other distinct mode of thought or human experience - such as fears, flavours, music, etc.

There’s one dimension - material - plus any number of dependent emerging phenomena, some of which loop back and affect one another, or give rise to additional layers of emerging phenomena.

But I don’t think the layers are real - that would just be a way of thinking about the whole set of phenomena.

Yes, that gets back to the concept I attributed to **DSeid **in the other thread linked in the OP: are there TWO essential dimensions - Physical and Information.

I am of the mind that Information is too broad, as I indicate in the OP. I agree that Humans haven’t definitively decided what exists in Subjective vs. Ideal. But I see that as B/White vs. Gray - meaning that something like Numbers or Math represent a most fundamental example of an Ideal. Things like Plans, per your example, and Aesthetics, are much more fuzzy in how they overlap the Subjective and the Ideal.

But I would argue that the persistent “feeling” that Ideals can exist is an essential part of how Humans engage reality. We perceive a shared sense of “Twoness” and then stumble about looking for similar examples that don’t work, just like we chase our tails regarding Determinism vs. Free Will.

The philosophical discussions are helpful, but, as with the other thread, I simply am looking to acknowledge that, as we go about our days, we engage a Dimension related to Ideals that informs how our Consciousness perceives and acts within our Reality.

Just as a datum point since you bumped this - I’m not engaging in this discussion because my answer (There are only two) was already excluded as irrelevant in the OP.

To be clear: you are arguing for Physical and Information?

I am NOT looking to exclude it, merely explain my case for 3. If you would argue that both the Subjective and Forms/Ideal are aspects of the dimension of Information, I am sure open to hearing that argument.

My basic point is that Subjective is wholly contained within an individual’s Consciousness. Ideals have a shared component that, IMHO!!, distinguishes them from the Subjective.

You know, you could subdivide the ‘physical’ into meaningful realms too though.

There’s a difference between a rock and a person - they’re both made of physical matter, but the person is organised in such a way as to perform functions (a rock performs functions too, of course, but typically not very complex ones).

So ‘organisation’ could be a argued to be a dimension, or something like it.

I guess I’m too much of a materialist: I’d throw out the “ideal” dimension, as nothing more than an abstract concept, having no real validity.

It’s wonderful to work with the concept of infinity in mathematics, for instance, but it’s really just a symbol on paper. There isn’t any such thing.

There are some hard-ass blokes who apply this back into math, and (for instance) deny that 10^350 is actually a “number,” because there is no physical reality that it can apply to. I know a guy who is totally fixated on this kind of “constructive” math.

I don’t go that far! But I do go as far as to say that, while the “ideal” dimension is fascinating, it is also remote and austere. It partakes of the liar’s paradox or the barber paradox: you can talk about it, but it isn’t true. We can speak of a perfectly straight line, and do geometry on the basis of the concept, but in reality, lines break up into graphite smudges when you look at them closely enough.


Only, they don’t, though. IMO, of course. What you’re describing (“twoness”, maths, platonic forms) are cultural artifacts, not universal truths.

Yeah, I think I agree and I’m going to stand my ground here, just because the thread title does contain the word ‘reality’

The physical universe is real
Some objects in the physical universe do interesting things
Some of the outcomes of those interesting things are self-perpetuating, recursive or otherwise build into complex, co-dependent structures, effects and processes, but none of those things have reality independent of the physical objects which create them.

Okay, interesting. Here’s a 10 minute YouTube vid on the views on numbers: Do numbers EXIST? - Numberphile - YouTube

It says there are three points of view:

  • Platonism = Numbers exist independently as abstract objects (problem: what’s an abstract object?)

  • Nominalism = numbers emerge from our use of them in the world (problem: what about Pi, i, and other non-Natural numbers?)

  • Fictionalism = numbers are a convenient fiction (problem: their successful use in our world must be explained as not strictly correlated to their existence).

Each has its followers and problems. I guess my point is that my Perception of Reality includes the need to “access” numbers as I face the day, make decisions, etc. so regardless of if or how they exist as objects, I access them, and do so in a way that is commonly held and therefore distinct from Subjective thought.

Therefore, to me, they are a separate component of the Reality I am part of, separate from the Physical and the Subjective.

Question: is it reasonable to state that if a person is a Determinist, they are more likely to believe that Numbers are a fiction?

Mangetout - yes, the Physical part of our reality can be sub-divided, sure. I am not sure those subdivisions are required to answer my OP - does acknowledging them change the number of Dimensions a person needs to access? Noodling about whether the Subjective and the Ideal are subcategories of Information feels more applicable to the OP, as far as I can tell right now.

And none of the physical objects that create them exist without the information about them and in informational inter-relationships. That information is real and does interesting things.

Relevant to the op may be this Einstein quote: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain they do not refer to reality.”

I think it’s a mistake to think you “access” anything the way, say, a computer accesses a memory register. What you’re really doing is behaving in a way consistent with all your past experiences with numbers - the way that gets you Pavlovian-rewarded in maths class, or punished at the craps table. Your attitude to numbers is a learned response. There’s the illusion of commonality because you’re in a culture that experiences, reinforces and reifies those same responses as though they were anything more than cultural artifacts - the “culture”, in this case, being human culture (or hominoid culture, maybe. Who knows how gibbons conceive of numbers)?. But in this case you’re elevating conditioning to something more communicative when it’s just a property internal to you. Sure, it looks like access, but it isn’t, any more than lava cancount to sixas it cools.

I disagree.

I appreciate your argument that Numbers don’t exist as separate abstract objects. That is not the point of my OP question. The point is that we Humans use them and that Ideals like them occupy a different place in how we engage reality vs the Physical and Subjective.

Even if the Subjective and the Ideal are illusory and emerge from the Physical, we Humans experience them in our everyday existence. My question is focused on how many dimensions we Humans “think” we access as we engage the world. Arguing that the Subjective and the Ideal are not distinctive enough to be categorized and so 2 dimensions - physical and information - are sufficient is an argument that speaks to the OP. Dismissing Numbers as illusory, while a viable position to hold, does not.


DSeid - hey, you came into this thread, but haven’t really engaged yet. Is the question not thought through well on Philosophical terms, or not considered a particularly “important” question, based on your philosophy education?

Answering as a physicist, I say that the question can’t be answered without proper definition of terms. What counts as a “dimension of reality”? Furthermore, I think it highly likely that, given any proper definition of terms, the answer would be immediately obvious.

Where is that information stored? Can information exist without a physical medium?