|Life evolves to see the world in ways that are useful, not in ways that are true.|
In their public conversation, Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society and professor of psychology Jordan Peterson discussed Hoffman’s interpretation of an icon-based perception of the world. They disagreed slightly with his interpretation, because our perceptions and mental pictures inform us to some degree of what will happen when we interact with them. Thus, it is not correct to say that the icons we see are nothing like reality, but they are versions of the truth at a low-resolution.
This fits with my own experience, and I presume the experiences of most people as they progress through life. In our quest for nobler purpose and deeper truth, we keep finding that the truth as we see it is not entirely correct, and that some nuance at the edges of it speak of something more complex. We continually find ourselves looking closer at things we thought we understood, only to find new insights about them that cause them to make even more sense and explain things more thoroughly.
As reality pertains to the human experience, the lowest resolution is one of stories. We see how the patterns in the world and our lives line up with the archetypes buried in our unconscious minds—or how they deviate in tragic or amusing ways. At a slightly higher resolution, the world is made of agents of choice,* people with free will who craft the future through effort and action. At a higher resolution, we find deterministic biology and physics, with organs, neurons, and fluid systems performing their tasks like clockwork. And at the highest resolution known to humankind, we find probabilistic quantum physics, where two systems that start out exactly the same can end up differently, but with well-defined probabilities for each. That might be the highest resolution, or there might be more layers hidden beneath it. No one knows.
You might wonder, as we come to understand higher and higher resolutions of truth, if there is any reason to look at the world in the lower resolution pictures. Shouldn’t we just go with the clearest, most in-depth understanding of reality, and throw out the naive views we had before? I’ll answer that question with another question: is it better to look at a map of the world, to walk along a beach, or to examine a handful of sand? All of the layers are important, because every time we peer closer, we lose a little of the big picture. What I’m saying is that reality comes in layers. At one level, physics is probabilistic, but at a large enough scale, it behaves deterministically. At one level, human beings have free will and the power to make the future, and at another level we act out our archetypal instincts like actors on a stage. All of these pictures are true, and we find the richest, fullest understanding and engagement with the human experience by taking all of them seriously.
*I am actually not sure what order free will and archetypes come in. It may be that free will is sandwiched between telling stories at a lower resolution, and acting out archetypal instincts at a higher resolution. I left the main text as it is, though, because its lower-resolution explanation gets my point across nicely, while this higher-resolution explanation in the footnote would bog it down.