Musing on my notion of M-space and N-space, I found myself wondering which philosophical tradition it would fit most closely. The obvious choice might be Plato, with his famous image of reality as shadows on the wall of a cave. But I think the best match is probably the metaphysics of Immanuel Kant.
Now, I am certainly no expert on Kant. And I know that his philosophy is notoriously complex and difficult to decipher. It's always possible that I am misunderstanding his position. Nevertheless, based on descriptions and excerpts that I found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I think the Kantian metaphysics, in its "two-worlds" interpretation, aligns pretty closely with the N-space/M-space idea.
Here is how the encyclopedia describes Kant's view:
Perhaps the central and most controversial thesis of the Critique of Pure Reason is that human beings experience only appearances, not things in themselves; and that space and time are only subjective forms of human intuition that would not subsist in themselves if one were to abstract from all subjective conditions of human intuition. Kant calls this thesis transcendental idealism….
The sensible world, or the world of appearances, is constructed by the human mind from a combination of sensory matter that we receive passively and a priori forms that are supplied by our cognitive faculties….
If “we can cognize of things a priori only what we ourselves have put into them,” then we cannot have a priori knowledge about things whose existence and nature are entirely independent of the human mind, which Kant calls things in themselves. In his words: “[F]rom this deduction of our faculty of cognizing a priori [...] there emerges a very strange result [...], namely that with this faculty we can never get beyond the boundaries of possible experience, [...and] that such cognition reaches appearances only, leaving the thing in itself as something actual for itself but uncognized by us.”
It is simple enough to rewrite the above in terms of the ideas we've been discussing on this blog:
Human beings experience only M-space (mental space), not N-space (the information matrix); space and time are only subjective forms of human perception operating in M-space and would not subsist in themselves if one were to abstract from all subjective conditions of human experience, i.e., if one were to get outside M-space and access N-space directly.
M-space, or the world of appearances, is constructed by the human mind out of pure information rendered or modeled into "objects" by means of consciousness.
We cannot have direct knowledge of N-space, or "things in themselves." N-space is something actual but uncognized by us.
Kant wrote of "the objects, or what is the same thing, the experience in which alone they can be cognized (as given objects)." This profound statement encapsulates the often overlooked fact that all experience is subjective experience, and that what we call "physical things" are ultimately sensory images in our field of awareness - images in M-space.
Kant also wrote:
We have therefore wanted to say that all our intuition is nothing but the representation of appearance; that the things that we intuit are not in themselves what we intuit them to be, nor are their relations so constituted in themselves as they appear to us; and that if we remove our own subject or even only the subjective constitution of the senses in general, then all constitution, all relations of objects in space and time, indeed space and time themselves would disappear, and as appearances they cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the case with objects in themselves and abstracted from all this receptivity of our sensibility remains entirely unknown to us. We are acquainted with nothing except our way of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us, and which therefore does not necessarily pertain to every being, though to be sure it pertains to every human being.
Which could be translated as:
All our perceptual awareness is nothing but the rendering of objects in M-space. The things we perceive are not in themselves – i.e., in N-space – what we perceive them to be, nor are their relations so constituted in N-space as they appear to us in M-space. If we could remove our awareness, i.e., get outside of M-space altogether, then all relations of objects in space and time, indeed space and time themselves, would disappear, as would all appearances – all sensory images – since such appearances cannot exist in themselves, but only in our field of awareness. What these objects ultimately consist of when abstracted from consciousness is entirely unknown to us. We are acquainted with nothing except our way of perceiving them in our own M-space, which is peculiar to our mode of consciousness, and which therefore does not necessarily pertain to every being, though it surely pertains to every human being.
Below is the encyclopedia's summary of Kant's view (in the two-worlds interpretation), with my comments in brackets and bold font:
Things in themselves [the informational properties of N-space], on this interpretation, are absolutely real in the sense that they would exist and have whatever properties they have even if no human beings were around to perceive them. Appearances, on the other hand, are not absolutely real in that sense, because their existence and properties depend on human perceivers [whose consciousness renders them as objects in M-space]. Moreover, whenever appearances do exist, in some sense they exist in the mind of human perceivers [i.e., in M-space]. So appearances are mental entities or mental representations. This, coupled with the claim that we experience only appearances, makes transcendental idealism a form of phenomenalism on this interpretation, because it reduces the objects of experience to mental representations. All of our experiences – all of our perceptions of objects and events in space, even those objects and events themselves, and all non-spatial but still temporal thoughts and feelings – fall into the class of appearances that exist in the mind of human perceivers. These appearances cut us off entirely from the reality of things in themselves, which are non-spatial and non-temporal [all experience takes place in M-space, or more precisely, experience simply is M-space, so we cannot experience anything outside it]. Yet Kant's theory, on this interpretation, nevertheless requires that things in themselves [N-space information and information processing] exist, because they must transmit to us the sensory data from which we construct appearances. In principle we cannot know how things in themselves affect our senses [we cannot get outside M-space to examine N-space], because our experience and knowledge is limited to the world of appearances constructed by and in the mind [our experience and knowledge are limited to M-space]. Things in themselves are therefore a sort of theoretical posit [N-space cannot be proved, only posited], whose existence and role are required by the theory but are not directly verifiable.
The article also makes this important point:
Kant denies that appearances are unreal: they are just as real as things in themselves but are in a different metaphysical class.
Similarly, it is not that M-space is unreal; it is real for us. But it is not ultimately real; it is not the ground of being. M-space and N-space are qualitatively different; they are in "different metaphysical classes."
The Stanford Encyclopedia article also brings up an objection to Kantian metaphysics:
But if there is no space, time, change, or causation in the realm of things in themselves, then how can things in themselves affect us? … It seems, rather, to be incoherent that things in themselves could affect us at all if they are not in space or time.
Conceivably the M-space/N-space idea could supply an answer, or at least a lead to an answer, to this objection.
First (and apparently contrary to Kant), there would have to be change in N-space, because the information is continually processed. This does not necessarily mean there is "time" as we understand it. By definition, N-space is outside the parameters of what we understand as space, time, and causation, because it is outside of M-space, which is the only environment we know.
Second, things that are outside of space and time as we understand them could still affect us - if they provide the data that our consciousness renders or models into space-time objects and events. By analogy, a computer program is a very different thing from the experience of playing a video game. The program is nothing but ones and zeros, while the virtual-reality environment of the game is full of color and texture and movement and action. Yet the program gives rise to the virtual environment in which the game is played.
To somebody who knew nothing about computers, it would be highly counterintuitive to think that the colorful world on the screen was produced by number-crunching strings of binary code. But this is in fact the case. Similarly, it is highly counterintuitive to think that our experience of reality is being modeled by our consciousness from moment to moment, out of data that arise from a nonphysical source. Still, it just might be true.