We Are Only Conscious of What Is Useful


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The measure of that of which we [are] at all conscious is so entirely dependent upon broad considerations of utility for consciousness … Will To Power, Nietzsche

In typical style, Nietzsche throws a grenade into the room and then disappears. The quote given above would not be out of place in discussions around the nature of the reality we perceive today, and particularly research done by the likes of Donald Hoffman. So, what does it mean? In essence, Nietzsche is saying that our consciousness only busies itself with matters that have survival utility. The naive view of the world that is still accepted by most scientists holds that the world we study and perceive is the world, and not a set set of representations that have utility but do not have to be truthful. In fact, this is well expressed by Hoffman when he says “fitness trumps truth”. In other words, our mind will shape our perception of the world based on the survival fitness it creates, and not on the constraint that it must be truthful.

It is well known that Nietzsche didn’t particularly like the rationalist tradition and certainly the likes of Immanuel Kant. And yet Nietzsche’s assertion that consciousness busies itself with perceptions and thoughts that have survival value is not at all at odds with Kant, who said that time, space, causality, matter, and many other features of the world we take for granted, are in fact nothing more than the constructs we use to perceive the world simply because they have proved to be so successful.

The fact that time and space tend to break down when we consider the very large and very small in physics should be telling us that our consciousness is conditioned for the range of experiences it has traditionally dealt with. Move outside that domain of experiences and we see behaviors such as quantum entanglement, relativistic distortions in time and space, and so on.

Nietzsche’s grenade has not exploded yet, but it will do. The naive views of materialists are already being challenged, and will eventually be replaced by the unavoidable realization that the observer conditions the thing observed as much as the thing itself.



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We tell children fairy tales to cushion them against reality. Most people mature into more sophisticated fairy tales called religion and spirituality. Some people drop the fairy tales and look at reality as it is - but it’s difficult.

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