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Book Review: Refuting the External World, Goran Backlund

August 28, 2020

Refuting the External WorldRefuting the External World by Göran Backlund

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book contains a dialogue akin to Berkeley’s three dialogues in its format, and it starts out with similar arguments to Berkeley in favour of idealism. Along the lines of his claims regarding the primacy of perception in our experience of the world, and the secondary nature of the objects of perception as always inferred entities, never directly encountered in experience. He moves on in later parts of the dialogue to the Kantian style arguments for idealism in relation to space and time. Suggesting that space and time are just constructed through the instruments with which we perceive things, an intuitional form of things, but never a representation of some other independent external things. The end point is the position that external space is shown to not exist and to be contradictory, and that indeed, even any notion of objectivity is an illusion.

My criticism on this last point would be that there is an equivocation and assumption that any notion of objectivity must depend on some external space time framework in which that objectivity can take place. Now, given people with perfect knowledge from their perceiving position, this may logically follow. But, in reality, as in the case of Leibniz’ monads we all view things from different and limited and non-perfect perspectives. What this means is that from such a limited perspective there can always be things “beyond” our perception that we do not comprehend fully. And we can rightfully refer to this domain as in some sense objective. True it is not objective in a neutral sense of being an unchanging framework background. But, of course this has been rightfully rejected ever since the rejection of Newtonian absolute space. Nevertheless, it is objective in the sense that it reaches beyond our perspective. We can point towards something beyond our perspective, and we find patterns in it that we can trust upon as reliable and repeatable. We have to be careful to not commit this “beyond” to some specific modelling of that beyond, for such is an erroneous hypostatisation of our own models of reality, which is the error of external/absolute space, that this book is rightly critical of. But, nevertheless, we cannot close off our perception to that indeterminate beyond, because that is the source of new information to us about a real world. For me, this is the way to combine a key part of idealism, with a key part of realism, without getting stuck in materialist errors of ontological hypostatisations of our own models of reality fallaciously imagined to be “out there”, and without getting trapped in our own subjective self-reflecting mirrors of reality in our perceptions, imagined to be either “in our heads”, in the case of dualism, or nowhere at all and totally placeless and groundless in the case of a pure rational idealism, or “everywhere” in the case of a panpsychism style view.

I think it is critical to maintain our tenuous grip on the connection between self and reality by avoiding these trappings, as the tendency is ever present in our minds and brains as we become more engrained in our ways to become fixed and unchangeable in our outlook, either by a dogmatic belief in some thing out there, or a dogmatic belief in something in yourself. Life and evolving beings remain open to the information around them in some key ways and that is how life stays vibrant and alive in a more than merely mechanical way.

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