row. row. row your boat.
keepin' it real?
In today's busy business
world, full of high stakes competition which begin and end in less than
seconds, it has become increasingly easier to take many of the most
basic things in life for granted. Like thinking. In the name of
conserving energy and time we daily disregard a variety of information
and questions which would threaten our otherwise passively comfortable
lives. Mechanistically we bombard ourselves with the stimuli of
culture and toy fetishism to shut out the nagging questions which
plague our understanding of the world within which we live. We have no
true understanding of our cosmos whatsoever due to our inability to
accept that we have no "true" or "real" cosmos to understand. This is
not to say that there is no reality but rather that there is no
possibility of proving one reality over another as our very tools for
collecting data are inherently flawed.
Nietzsche said that, "all credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses" and indeed he was right. Our senses allow us to take in the world around us and process it into information so that it can then be sent to the brain and organized into a coherent experience of what we know as "reality" or to be more specific, our own, internal, subjective experience of reality. However, the perceptions created by the brain hold no basic truth outside of our perception of them. For example color, firstly the color we perceive an object "to be" is in fact the only color that the object is not - as the color perceived is the color reflected by the object, all other colors being absorbed into the object, thus actually comprising it. Additionally, what we understand to be "color" is in fact nothing but variation in the frequencies of light waves, it is our brains which create the "colors" that we perceive. For a quick breakdown of how the eye - brain relationship works and how it helps our mind create meaning check out Tom WujecTed talk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2K6lD6EeGBU) and Neurologist Dr. VS Ramachandran on the mind (http://www.ted.com/talks/vilayanur_ramachandran_on_your_mind.html). Remember, dog's don't see color but can hear a great range of sounds which humans cannot. In the words of Robert Anton Wilson, "you are the magician who makes the grass green." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZj9Qps8H6M) In many ways our tools of perception are little more than an information filtration system, selecting what we need and cutting out what we don't so as to leave us with a comfortable and coherent edition of reality. As I see it, there is only one sense we can even say "exists" and that is the sense of touch - though I will debunk this in a moment, let's pretend I believe it. Your eyes send information to your brain by being touched by light waves, the sounds you hear are nothing more than vibrations touching and moving your ear drums, taste and smell no more than particles of the objet itself touching your taste buds or your smell receivers and touch is direct contact. If only it were still so simple.
The Scientific world has been rocked repeatedly in the last decade as more and more new information about our universe is being brought to light by quantum physicists. I won't attempt to stumble through an explanation of the details of Quantum Theory but suffice it to say that on a quantum level both the viewer and the act of viewing affect the behavior of the particles being viewed, atoms are no more than possibility until viewed, the universe is not made of solid objects - in fact objects never truly come into contact with one another on a sub atomic level but rather matter is comprized mainly of emptiness (score one for Zen) and information can somehow travel faster than the speed of light. There's more and this is a gross summary of what is in fact a great deal of fascinating research. I suggest checking out the film "What the Bleep do we know? Down the rabbit hole" which gives a great overview of much of Quantum Theory and how it has destroyed our basic understanding of "reality." You can find all of it on youtube here; (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSk51Lp-vHU&feature=PlayList&p=B13F881195866370&index=0) I would also recommend cecking out Dr. Michio Kaku who is a leading Quantum Physicists, his website is http://mkaku.org/ and you can find a variety o finterviews, presentations and lectures from him on youtube, ted.com and even for free through the iTunes U section of the iTunes store.
So if we now have the understanding that what we thought our reality was is in fact the one thing it is not - material, solid and readily perceivable - then what now? What is real? Where are we? And what is happening? These are, of course, questions that cannot readily be answered, however, I would like to share some of the theories, ideas and imaginings that I find most interesting.
For the Greeks the cosmos began from Chaos and it is Chaos which was the fundamental nature of reality for them. From this void of pure potential everything that is, was and will be was created. I enjoy this conecpt as it allows for nothing but the continuation of possibility which raises questions of will, imagination and novelty. Terence McKenna used to frequently point out in his talks that Nature seems to favor Novelty and I am inclined to agree, particularly given the rapid advancement of technology in the past few years as pointed out in this Ted talk by Ray Kurzeil (http://www.ted.com/talks/ray_kurzweil_on_how_technology_will_transform_us.html). As I understand it, from and for my perspective, this reality, God, our lives are what we make it and perceive it to be. A good argument for this idea would be the Tibetan Book of the Living and Dead or the Revelation by Hearing / Bardo Thodol, which is worth a read if you haven't read it before. If that tickles your fancy check out the Upanishads as well.
Other extremely interesting concepts of reality include hyperreality and consensus reality. Now, hypperreality is not so much a theory of what reality is so much as it is a theory that we can't possibly know what reality is so long as we are restricted to our current, limited and subjective experience of the world around us or more specifically the inability of the consciousness to distinguish between "reality" and "fanatasy." Consensus reality functions along the same lines with the exception that it hypothesizes that the reality we perceived is not only influenced by our own consciousness and will but by the collective consciousnesses of those within the "reality" or "world" being perceived. Thus, realities and truth are agreed upon and are therefor constantly transforming based on the perceptions within them rather than being static material facts. Nietszche again, "all things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth." We make the perceived world around us, alone and together but certainly not seperate, isolated perhaps but connected in the individual prisons of our subjective experiences.
Yet another theory, and one of my favorites both for creativity and likelyhood is the Dream Argument which asserts that "life is but a dream." A convincing argument when you consider how dificult lucid dreaming can be. For most of us our dreams are either difficult to remember afterwards or impossible to distinguish as false during them. If this were a dream, hwo would you even know? In dreams time is skewed, most of your night is not spent dreaming - a few seconds of a dream can equal minutes or even hours within the dream itself. Now obviously there would be a difference between this big dream of life and our smaller nightly visions but if you couldn't remember the last time you woke up, how would you have any concept of your existence beyond this dream? This always brings a thought to my mind; They say dreams can't bring new information to you they can only rearrange what already exists in your head in a new way. Is not history simply the repetition of archetypical events? Revolutions, wars, ideas, migrations, natural disasters, renaissances, etc? Is not the fundamental understanding of matter that it is neither created nor destroyed, only rearranged? We don't know, do we? The Dream Argument uses our nightly dreaming experience to argue that oru senses cannot be trusted to distinguish between waking and dreaming life and thus we must be highly skeptical about what we perceive at all times. The only this that is for sure, is that nothing is for sure. I don't recomend thinking on that too hard, but it's just a thought to keep in the back of the mind. For a fun and extremely imaginative riff on this idea, check out Waking Life, you can watch it free on google here; http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7583894250854515095&ei=uP5XSt_xDY7YqAPO0dDADw&q=waking+life&hl=en&client=firefox-a
There are many other fascinating theories out there and I encourage everyone to check them out and take some time every now and then to recognize how little we know and how often we take the knowledge we do have for granted, allowing ourselves to get lost in things which we can be almost certain are illusions in one sense or another. In closing I'd like to offer one final take on reality, it's an ancient Hindu concept called "Lila" (that's a pronunciation, obviously it isn't an english word). "Lila" means divine play and is the idea that we are all part of the one, ultimate divine being who has divided itself into the illusion of seperate parts so as to know itself better through the game of existence, of life and death and love. That's my favorite one, for creativity, for love, for inclusiveness, for a lot of reasons. Now I'll leave you with a clip from Ram Das on Awareness (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2K6lD6EeGBU), there's a lot of space in it as it's a clip of him when he is older - post stroke - but it's 100% coherent and he has some wonderful thoughts to share. Aum.
*enjoyable art dealing with the nature of reality; http://www.alexgrey.com/