Abstraction clustering

(This page is defunct)

If different individuals have abstractions of the world (including thematic abstractions) that are close to each other, then we call what they have in common, or an average of them, consensual reality.

For example, if members of one group tend to interpret some aspects of another's dialect with particular qualities (e.g. being uneducated, or being French), then we postulate a group thematic abstraction of the way that group is viewed. There may be individuals in the group who don't have that association. The smallest unit is the perception of a single individual, and different individuals' perceptions may not agree very well. However in some cases they would agree enough for the concept of consensual reality to make sense. In a way, the concept of similarities between people's perceptions is itself an abstraction. If you could know how every individual felt you wouldn't needn't to generalize about it.

Language is a guide to consensual reality. This has been observed by many, e.g. consider the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Knowledge of the consensual reality can be used to make generalizations about the motivation for human action. We have constructs such as the political spectrum.

The Republican party

Take the Republican party of the United States. The stereotype that many have includes the following elements:

  • Rich and European-American, who oppress the poor and African-Americans
  • In favour of the death penalty
  • Don't care about the environment
  • Socially authoritarian
  • Warmongers
  • Biblical fundamentalists, creationists
  • Free marketeers and in hock to large corporations

It is interesting to think about all the ways such constructs get created. The BBC had a report about a group of Republicans. They were all elderly and white. One woman was wearing a ring with a huge jewel, and the camera lingered on it for a ridiculously long time. This can only have been to send the statement that Republicans are rich. This kind of bias is disgusting.

(While I'm on the subject of the BBC, it has a huge statist bias. Often there'll be a report saying, 'Under a new programme, so much money is going towards this particular thing,' without even mentioning who is running this programme. It is implicit that it is the British state that is doing it. To make sense of the reports the audience will internalize the belief that it's perfectly normal for the state to be involved in many different areas.)

Michael Moore helped this construct to be formed with his film Fahrenheit 9/11. Watching this made me feel very angry at the system, at how these politicians and businessmen could get away with all of this. At the end though, I didn't have a clear idea what the point was. It was just a lot of weird facts strung together. He claims that Afghanistan was invaded in 2001 because the USA wanted to build a pipeline across the country. In the next scene there's an interview with someone who's saying that it made sense to invade Afghanistan because they were aiding Al-Qaeda, but it didn't to invade Iraq. He also had a scene with John Major, which must have aimed to surprise with the idea that 'they are all in on the conspiracy'.

I don't place my trust in either the Republicans or the Democrats; I oppose the portrayal of oppressive, residual conservative forces within American society. So Obama's going to break the racist American establishment is he? He's going to 'stick it to the man'? Look at the list of Obama's biggest campaign contributors. Large investment banks and information technology corporations. There'll be no 'change' in the elites and interest groups that exert power in the American political, social and economics systems.

That's weird! That's all upside down! There must have been a reconceptualization of consensual political reality

Historical development

They say that classical liberals believed in free markets and modern ones don't. It's a confusing situation. It goes to show that consensual political reality can change radically and isn't to be trusted. In mediƦval times your thinking would have been shaped by religion. I think an interesting strategy is to pull out quotes and facts from former times, which will give an indication as to what the prevailing consensual reality was at the time. Open expression of 'blasphemous' views by prominent figures will show that the church didn't have a stranglehold on public at that place and time. Expressions against democracy will show that there wasn't a taboo against such expressions.

A problem with talking about historical forces or movements is that a new-born child has no preconceived ideas. Within 50 years the consensual reality can change dramatically if old abstractions are not passed on. Between the time of the Renaissance and today there have many events and movements and I think there aren't that many trends you can point out. Both Protestants and Catholics have been at times a nuisance to the development of science. Martin Luther said that the Earth stood still. European imperialism was supported by Whigs who wanted to bring civilization to Africa, but today's Whigs will complain about its legacy. Various socialist revolutions have been motivated by nationalistic ideals, but today's socialism is internationalist.

I think a good thing to do would be to lay out the positions of various prominent figures throughout history, regarding various issues: economics, nationalism, race, science, religion, social welfare. We could then track the development of various beliefs.

Influential opinions can persist through the generations, such as Christianity and moral beliefs. Ideas such as 'love thy enemy' persist even in a mostly irreligious society. In children's books and television programs often some lesson is being taught - be nice, share your sweets with the other kids, don't steal or lie, and to some extent this is reflecting society's arbitrary beliefs.

(I think that if these ethical maxims are true, then it should be apparent to everyone, and we shouldn't need to teach them to children. Actually, I think some of them are lacking. What about the belief that it's good to be make friends with people? If you're at a party and your talking to some dullard you hardly know (like me) and your friends are over in the other corner, then it would be better to aggressively work against any friendship you had with the dullard, by being as cold and unfriendly as possible. This is the kind of thing that The Little Red Hen didn't teach you, but in fact all so-called 'people persons' know this instinctively.)

There is a variation on the persistence of ethical codes. The prevailing culture may make a revival possible of the codes which it is supposedly based on. This happened with Christianity with the Protestant Reformation and the growth of various Dissenter sects, Methodism, Quakerism, Puritanism, and so on. Although such were are change from what had gone before, they still wouldn't have happened if not for the special regard in which the book of the Bible was held.


I'm not saying that you can create reality by getting other people to agree with you on what it is. 'Consensual reality' is not a type of reality. I've hijacked an already-existing term, which may be being used to mean something completely different. Maybe I should call it a thematic attraction instead. It's important to have good names for things. It would be really cool if I could weasel my ideas into the English language, so when people use a word they automatically think of my interpretation of it. Every time I look the meaning of a clever sounding Greek word (like 'praxis'), it always refers to something Aristotle made up. It's also much more acceptable to redefine scholarly sounding words than common words.

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