Middle World

Middle                       -                      Extreme
Newtonian                 -                      Einsteinian
Euclidean                   -                      Non-Euclidean
Gaussian                   -                       Mandelbrotian
Classical                    -                       Quantum
Classical                    -                       Postmodern
Rational                     -                       Non-rational
Whole number           -                       Decimal place
Digital                        -                       Analogue
Noun                          -                       Verb
State                           -                       Process
Noun                          -                       Verb
Order                           -                       Chaos
Known                          -                     Unknown
Conscious                   -                       Unconscious
Familiar                      -                       Novel
Consolidate                -                       Explore
Conservative              -                       Transgressive
Reductionist              -                       Synergistic
Parts                            -                       Wholes
Universal                    -                       Contextual
Absolute                     -                       Relative

-                                        0                                       +
Wrong                               Right                                Wrong
Deficient                           Balanced                          Excessive
Low resolution                 Correct resolution             High resolution
Macro                               Meso                                Micro
'Reality'                            'Illusion'                            'Reality'

Middle World, a term coined by Richard Dawkins, is used to describe the realm between the microscopic world of quarks and atoms and the larger view of the universe at the galactic and universal level.

This term is used as an explanation of oddity at both extreme levels of existence. There is a lack of understanding of the quantum and molecular universes, because the human mind has evolved to understand best that which it routinely encounters.

'Middle World'

Within the Darwinian conception of how we got here, there is no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties have evolved to put us in error-free contact with reality.

We did not evolve to be perfect mathematicians or logical operators, or perfect conceivers of scientific reality at the very small, sub-atomic level, or the very large, cosmic level, or the very old cosmological level. We are designed by the happenstance of evolution to function within a very narrow band of light intensities and physical parameters. 

The fact that we are able to succeed in creating a vision of scientific truth and the structure of the cosmos at large that radically exceeds those narrow parameters, that is a kind of miracle.

[Sam Harris]
‘Waking Up With Sam Harris #62 - What is True? (with Jordan B. Peterson)’

The universe is always one thing tumbling into the next, one form becoming another. It is a constant interchange, an unending rhythm.

Our perspective gives us the impression - a momentary snapshot - that it is this thing or that thing; a 'person',  a 'tree', a 'chair'.

A lifetime is a snapshot of this sort. Something is captured and held still long enough to identify it, to label it. Yet, while we may think that the thing is still - that is has boundaries and definition - really it is moving: growing and shrinking, flourishing and decaying. At either end of its life it tears at its definitions, and is not quite what it is - the half-formed nature of the fetus and the hollowed out shell of the nearly-dead.

But change your perspective and it may cease to be at all.

Zoomed in, we are atoms. Zoomed out we are specks.
Sped up we are sparks. Slowed down we are statues.

The right distance makes you what you are.
The right time keeps you what you are.

Thus, your perspective is the way in which you interpret the infinite tumbling mass of the universe, and it is the right way (for you at least).

Relating to or denoting the system of geometry based on the work of Euclid and corresponding to the geometry of ordinary experience.


An implication of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity is that physical space itself is not Euclidean, and Euclidean space is a good approximation for it only over short distances [...]

For example, if a triangle is constructed out of three rays of light, then in general the interior angles do not add up to 180 degrees due to gravity. A relatively weak gravitational field, such as the Earth's or the sun's, is represented by a metric that is approximately, but not exactly, Euclidean.

Until the 20th century, there was no technology capable of detecting the deviations from Euclidean geometry, but Einstein predicted that such deviations would exist. They were later verified by observations such as the slight bending of starlight by the Sun during a solar eclipse in 1919, and such considerations are now an integral part of the software that runs the GPS system.

It is possible to object to this interpretation of general relativity on the grounds that light rays might be improper physical models of Euclid's lines, or that relativity could be rephrased so as to avoid the geometrical interpretations. However, one of the consequences of Einstein's theory is that there is no possible physical test that can distinguish between a beam of light as a model of a geometrical line and any other physical model.

Thus, the only logical possibilities are to accept non-Euclidean geometry as physically real, or to reject the entire notion of physical tests of the axioms of geometry, which can then be imagined as a formal system without any intrinsic real-world meaning.

'Euclidean Geometry'

In his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Bohm uses these notions to describe how the same phenomenon might look different, or might be characterized by different principal factors, in different contexts such as at different scales.

The implicate order, also referred to as the "enfolded" order, is seen as a deeper and more fundamental order of reality.

In contrast, the explicate or "unfolded" order include the abstractions that humans normally perceive.

'Implicate and explicate order'

By definition, a category (and we would say, a presumptive object) contains things of a kind, considered in relationship to a goal. Things of a kind may be treated as if they were identical.

The inner workings of an answering machine may all be treated as homogeneous and identical “parts,” for example – as elemental atoms, metaphorically speaking – as long as the machine is performing as planned, expected or desired. This makes the answering machine something that may be treated as a unit, as a “single thing,” occupying limited cognitive, categorical, emotional and perceptual resources.

This means that the object category “answering machine,” and object categories in general, might be regarded as functional, low-resolution images of the reality they are attempting to encapsulate. 

It is frequently the case, however, that one or more of our current categories or presumptive objects contains things that may not successfully be treated as a kind, for the purposes of our immediate goal-directed operations. This happens, for example, when a “thing” does not perform its implicit, desired, and predicted duty, because of its inherent and often invisible complexity.

Such failure indicates the inadequacy of our current low-resolution take on the world.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
‘Complexity Management Theory: Motivation for Ideological Rigidity and Social Conflict’, in Cortex, December 2002, p. 440-1

[There is a phenomena] which seems to be almost universal when man commits the error of purposive thinking and disregards the systemic nature of the world with which he must deal.

This phenomena is called by the psychologists "projection."

The man, after all, has acted according to what he thought was common sense and now he finds himself in a mess. He does not quite know what caused the mess and he feels that what has happened is somehow unfair.

He still does not see himself as part of a system in which the mess exists, and he either blames the rest of the system or he blames himself.

If you look at the real situations in our world where the systemic nature of the world has been ignored in favour of purpose or common sense, you will find a rather similar reaction. 

President Johnson is, no doubt, fully aware that he has a mess on his hands, not only in Vietnam but in other parts of the national and international ecosystems; and I am sure that from where he sits it appears that he followed his purposes with common sense and that the mess must be due either to the wickedness of others or to his own sin or to come combination of these, according to his temperament.

Similarly, in the field of psychiatry, the family is a cybernetic system of the sort which I am discussing and usually when systemic pathology occurs, the members blame each other, or sometimes themselves.

But the truth of the matter is that both these alternatives are fundamentally arrogant. Either alternative assumes that the individual human being has total power over the system of which he or she is a part.

Even within the individual human being, control is limited. We can in some degree set ourselves to learn even such abstract characteristics as arrogance or humility, but we are not by any means the captain of our souls.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind ('Conscious Purpose versus Nature'), p.442-4

The researchers showed that in simple models of neural networks, the amount of effective information increases as you coarse-grain over the neurons in the network—that is, treat groups of them as single units.

At a certain macroscopic scale, effective information peaks: This is the scale at which states of the system have the most causal power, predicting future states in the most reliable, effective manner. Coarse-grain further, and you start to lose important details about the system’s causal structure.

Tononi and colleagues hypothesize that the scale of peak causation should correspond, in the brain, to the scale of conscious decisions; based on brain imaging studies, Albantakis guesses that this might happen at the scale of neuronal microcolumns, which consist of around 100 neurons.

For any given system, effective information peaks at the scale with the largest and most reliable causal structure. In addition to conscious agents, Hoel says this might pick out the natural scales of rocks, tsunamis, planets and all other objects that we normally notice in the world. “And the reason why we’re tuned into them evolutionarily [might be] because they are reliable and effective, but that also means they are causally emergent,” Hoel said.

“But if we do find that causal emergence is happening, the reductionist assumption would have to be re-evaluated, and that would have to be applied broadly.”

One rejoinder is that perfect knowledge of the universe isn’t possible, even in principle. But even if the universe could be thought of as a single unit evolving autonomously, this picture wouldn’t be informative. “What is left out there is to identify entities—things that exist,” Albantakis said. Causation “is really the measure or quantity that is necessary to identify where in this whole state of the universe do I have groups of elements that make up entities? … Causation is what you need to give structure to the universe.”

Treating causes as real is a necessary tool for making sense of the world.

[Natalie Wolchover]
New Math Untangles the Mysterious Nature of Causality

Marking out the right distance.

‘The largest and most reliable structure’ - akin to Peterson’s lowest resolution image that we can get away with. Do not include any more complexity than is necessary, because, in Hoel’s terms, complexity is noise: too much of it stops us from making sense of things; from seeing the outlines of things.

The reductionist assumption is that more detail is better; and for the more zealous reductionists there may be another assumption: that the further we dig, the closer we get to the truth (i.e. to the original cause, to God). But perhaps God is at every level, every scale, and no amount of digging will bring us closer, or further away.

If the material world appeared simpler in the past it was because we were looking at it through the perspective of classical physics.

When we choose to direct our sight only toward simple systems (for example, those close to equilibrium or that are acted on by small forces, and that behave in regular ways) then naturally the world appears simple.

[...] classical physics created a travel brochure of the cosmos, one that emphasized regularity and simplicity. Galileo idealized his observations of the way a ball rolls downhill by ignoring, or bracketing out, the effects of bumps and friction. Newton asked how an apple falls in the absence of air resistance. Chemists investigated reactions where everything was close to equilibrium. Scientists were interested in what they termed "closed systems," systems insulated from the perturbations of the outside world.

[...] In each case science was filtering the world.

[...] Carefully designed experiments, well insulated from the contingencies of the external world, provided clear data that would fit easily onto a graph without too much scatter or experimental error.

The world of classical physics was free from uncertainty, ambiguity, and chaos [...] As we move into this new century we realize we have been guilty of oversimplifying the world in so many fields of knowledge.

[F. David Peat]
From Certainty to Uncertainty, p. 200-1

When we're too young, our judgment isn't sound, and it's the same when we're too old.

If we don't think enough about something - or if we think too much - we're inflexible and get stuck. If we take a look at our work as soon as we've done it, we're not able to be objective; but if we wait too long, we can't get into it any more.

It's like looking at pictures from too near or too far away.

There is only one place that is exactly right: the others are either too far, too near, too high or too low. In the art of painting it's perspective that determines where that point should be.

But who's to say where it is when it comes to truth and morality?

[Blaise Pascal]

[...] the left hemisphere's version of reality works well at the local level, the everyday, on which we are focussed by habit.

There Newtonian mechanics rules; but it ‘frays at the edges’, once one pans out to get the bigger picture of reality, at the subatomic, or at the cosmic, level. 

Here uncertainty replaces certainty; the fixed turns out to be constantly changing and cannot be pinned down; straight lines are curved: in other words, Einstein's laws account better than Newton's.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 177

[…] Nietzsche denies that we can ever read the structure of the world from the structure of the means we have developed in order to make it livable by beings like us: 

“One should not understand the compulsion to construct concepts, species, forms, purposes, laws […] as if they enabled us to fix the real world; but as a compulsion to arrange the world for ourselves in which our existence is made possible.”

This is just the assumption that Nelson Goodman has more recently also denied: “Philosophers sometimes mistake features of discourse for features of the subject of discourse. We seldom conclude that the world consists of words just because a true description of it does, but we sometimes suppose that the structure of the world is the same as the structure of the description.”

The world we construct, Nietzsche repeatedly insists, is absolutely necessary, and we could not live without it; for us it is as real as can be. We are not in error to live in it, to think and talk about it as we do, and to continue to do so.

Our error is to believe that the ways in which we think and talk about it make by themselves any commitment about the real nature of the world, the world that is the common object of all the different perspectives on it. Our error consists in believing that our logic, language, mathematics, or any other practice is metaphysically loaded in the first place, that any such practice can be our guide to the nature of reality.

[Nietzsche] argues that even if the grammatical categories of subject and predicate are categories that are essential to us, this does not imply that the ontological categories of substance and attribute, or any others, are correct […]

Nietzsche tries to reinterpret them in order to bring this point out, and he tries to accomplish this goal by offering a reinterpretation of these categories themselves, by trying to show that neither substances nor attributes, neither agents nor effects, are as we commonly take them to be.

We cannot […] stop talking of objects that remain the same through change and that persist in remaining distinct form their effects. But this way of talking, Nietzsche believes, does not reflect the world’s underlying reality.

From a synchronic point of view, as we have seen, an object is given by an interpretive hypothesis that best allows us, given our particular ends, needs, and values, to group certain phenomena together. Such groupings are often themselves reinterpretations of earlier groupings and enable us to live as best we can.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 95-6, 99

The Cynefin model allows us to see knowledge as both thing and flow, and this allows us to continue to use the insights and practices of scientific management, while embracing the new learnings and insights from the new sciences of complexity and chaos.

Cynefin focuses on creating the conditions for the emergence of meaning.

In its two complicated domains – known and knowable – these conditions are rationalist and reductionist, and the SECI model works. In the complex and chaotic domains new science and new approaches are required.

[Dave Snowden]
'Complex Acts of Knowing: Paradox and Descriptive Self-Awareness'

I am looking at the rug in my study.

If I examine it with a microscope, I will see a very rugged terrain. If I look at it with a magnifying glass, the terrain will be smoother but still highly uneven. But when I look at it from a standing position, it appears uniform - it is almost as smooth as a sheet of paper.

The rug at eye level corresponds to Mediocristan and the law of large numbers: I am seeing the sum of undulations, and these iron out. This is like Gaussian randomness: the reason my cup of coffee does not jump is that the sum of all its moving particles becomes smooth.

Likewise, you reach certainties by adding up small Gaussian uncertainties: this is the law of large numbers. 

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 259-60

Note the central assumptions we made in the coin-flip game that led to the photo-Gaussian, or mild randomness.

First central assumption: the flips are independent of one another. The coin has no memory. The fact that you got heads or tails on the previous flip does not change the odds of your getting heads or tails on the next one. You do not become a “better” coin flipper over time. If you introduce memory, or skills in flipping, the entire Gaussian business becomes shaky.

Recall [the theories of] preferential attachment and cumulative advantage. Both theories assert that winning today makes you more likely to win in the future. Therefore, probabilities are dependent on history, and the first general assumption leading to the Gaussian bell curve fails in reality.

In games, of course, past winnings are not supposed to translate into an increased probability of future gains - but not so in real life, which is why I worry about teaching probability from games. But when winning leads to more winning, you are far more likely to see forty wins in a row than with a photo-Gaussian.

Theory shmeory! I have an epistemological problem […] with the need to justify the world’s failure to resemble an idealised model that someone blind to reality managed to promote […] The ubiquity of the Gaussian is not a property of the world, but a problem in our minds, stemming from the way we look at it.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 250-1

Categories form a hierarchy, with three vaguely bounded tiers: superordinate, basic, and subordinate.

At the top stand the superordinate categories, like furniture. They are abstract and no one object clearly represents them. Instead, they are collections of basic categories, such as chair, sofa, lamp.

The basic categories fit in between. They are fundamental. A basic category is the largest class of which we can form a fairly concrete image, like chair. People tend to recognise their shape and use the same motor movements with them. They are the first classifications children make.

At the bottom lay subordinate categories, the divisions of basic classes, such as kitchen chair and deck chair. These tend to share most of their attributes with others in the basic category. For instance, kitchen chair and deck chair overlap much more than chair and table.

[…] people begin forming concepts in the middle. We grasp immediate classes like chair, cat, and apple, and both add them together synthetically to form larger categories and carve them up analytically to make smaller ones. 

From an evolutionary perspective, this approach makes far more sense than the atomism of Locke. Animals need to identify concrete objects above all else. The cat must recognise the mouse at once, as a whole, because if it mentally assembles parts, the rodent escapes. A focus on […] basic categories has survival value.

[Daniel McNeill & Paul Freiberger]
Fuzzy Logic, p. 87-8