Let’s now take a ‘common sense’ view of our world, with all its sights (drab or colourful) ; its sounds (soothing or raucous) ; its smells (inviting or unpleasant) ; its tastes (sweet or bitter) ; and its textures (soft or unyielding). If you’ve been reading these posts, you’ll know what’s coming next. These ‘appearances’ are all an illusion, and the underlying ‘reality’ is very different.
Our eyes are not windows through which we gaze out on our surroundings. They are receptors, which receive incoming electromagnetic radiation in the form of ‘light’. This is interpreted by way of incredibly complex electrochemical activity in our brains, and the end result experienced by us is colourful mental ‘representations’ of the ‘outside’ world. We tend to forget, however, that electromagnetic radiation is itself colourless. It enters our eyes in different wavelengths, which we experience as different colours. An apple is not, in itself, red. It’s the wavelength of light reflected from it that determines how we experience it. It is we who are the creators of the ‘appearance’ of colour. The world, in ‘reality’, whatever ‘common sense’ makes of this, is colourless.
A large tree crashing to the earth in a forest, doesn’t make a thunderous noise. It causes vibrations in the air. If these reach our ears, they cause related vibrations in the diaphragms in our ears which, as before, are electro-chemically processed and give rise to the mental experience we call ‘sound’. If there are no ears in the forest, there are no sounds. Similarly, smell and taste involve molecules carried through the air to chemoreceptors in the nose and mouth, the signals from which are then processed and interpreted, giving rise to the mental experiences of smell and taste. Molecules themselves, have no smell, and are tasteless (no offence intended). As for touch, the Common Sense? II blog in this series showed how that is also a mental experience, given that the negatively charged electrons in nearby atoms ‘forcibly’ repel each other, and cannot touch.
The sum and substance of all of the above is this – that we live in a world of what we may call subjective ‘appearance’ and objective ‘reality’. Whatever the nature of that ‘outside’ reality is, it has neither colour, sound, smell, taste or texture. In and of itself, we might be tempted to say that it’s utterly and uninterestingly dull and drab. It’s you and I, creative artists that we are, who supply it with a kaleidoscope of colours, a cacophony of sounds, a cornucopia of beautiful scents and inviting tastes, and a conglomeration of various textures. The world of ‘things-as-they-really-are-in-themselves’ must be very different, but the world of ‘appearances’ which our minds create, is a masterpiece in its own right.
Let’s not mistake it for the ‘ultimate reality’, but simply enjoy it for what it is. Let’s celebrate the incredibly creative, imaginative propensity of the human mind. Let’s remember that every human person has one, and try to treat all our fellow beings with mutual value and respect. However and whenever this universe of ours began, and whether it will end in collapse followed by a new ‘big bang’, or in a long, dark, lonely, lingering ‘death’, nothing can alter the fact that, for us, it is awesomely magnificent, terrible and beautiful, destructive and creative, pitiless yet benign. To have been able, for a brief moment, to become aware of this, and to have been allowed to play a small part in it, is surely nothing less than an immense, a priceless, and an unmissable privilege.