Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran, with 191 world thinkers, at the Annual Question Center 2012
2012 : WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION?
"We Are Dreaming Machines That Construct Virtual Models Of The Real World"
The most beautiful and elegant explanation should be as strong and overwhelming as a brick smashing your head; it should break your life in two. For instance, as a result of that explanation, you should realize that even if you are dreaming your brain is active doing what he does best: creating models of reality or, in fact, creating the reality where you live in.
Descartes was aware of this fact and that's why he concluded "I think, therefore I am", cogito ergo sum. You can think of yourself as walking on a park, but this could be just a vivid dream. Therefore, it's not possible to conclude anything about your existence based on the apparent fact of walking. However, if you are really walking on a park, or dreaming, you are thinking, therefore existing. Dreaming is so similar to waking, that you can't trust any sensory information as proof of your existence. You can only trust the fact of thinking or, in contemporary words, the fact that your brain is active.
Dreaming and waking are similar cognitive states, as Rodolfo Llinás says in his masterpiece "I of the vortex". The only difference is that while dreaming, your brain is not perceiving or representing the external reality, it is emulating it and providing self-generated inputs.
The explanation is also shocking in its consequence. While waking we are also dreaming, concludes Llinás: "The waking state is a dreamlike state (…) guided and shaped by the senses, whereas regular dreaming does not involve the senses at all".
In both cases our brain generates models of reality.
With this explanation very few entities—the brain and the matter of reality—are enough to remind us how we create what is usually defined as "reality": "The only reality that exists for us is already a virtual one (…). We are basically dreaming machines that construct virtual models of the real world", says Llinás.
This is not only a beautiful explanation because of the poetic fact that reality is self-generated while dreaming, and partially generated while waking. Is there anything more beautiful than understanding how to create reality?
This is not only an elegant explanation because it shows our minuscule and entirely representative place in the ontological and physical reality, in the huge amount of matter defined as universe.
This explanation is overwhelming in practical terms because as a philosopher and social scientist, I cannot explain the physical or the social reality without considering that we live and move in a model of reality. Including the representational, creative and even ontological role of the brain, is a naturalization project usually omitted as a result of hyper-positivism and scientific fragmentation. From Descartes to Llinás, form the understanding of galaxies to the understanding of crime, this explanation should be relevant in most scientific enterprises.