Let’s continue our exploration of the difference between appearance and reality. How things appear to us is not the same as how they actually are. For centuries we believed our world was flat, because that’s how it appeared to us, but we were wrong. We eventually had to accept that our world was a globe. We still thought it was static, with sun, moon and stars moving around it. That’s how things appeared to us but, once again, we had to accept we were wrong. Contrary to how it seems, each of us is moving at up to 1,000 miles an hour, as our planet spins on its axis. And the Earth is not at the centre of anything. It’s a microscopic dot lost somewhere in the unimaginable depths of the inconceivable vastnesses of the universe.
That was illusion shattering enough for many of us, especially those of a traditionally religious disposition. But what we now have to come to terms with, is that what appears to be the ‘solid reality’ of our surrounding world, is not what is fundamentally ‘real’. As previous posts pointed out, what appears to be ‘solid matter’, including ourselves, is a manifestation of immaterial energy and associated force fields. What do you see, if you look for the energy field surrounding a magnet? You see nothing. We’ve no idea what energy precisely is, but whatever else it is, it’s invisible, without shape, colour, sound, odour, taste or texture.
How is it, then, that we experience ourselves as ‘real’, in what appears to be a ‘real’ world? From an evolutionary perspective, in order to survive in the actual ‘reality’ in which we live, we have to be able to make sense of it. We can do so, because we’ve evolved as beings with a brain and nervous system that processes incoming data, in its own way. It’s this particular neuronal electro-chemical processing which somehow produces the mental images and experiences that create for us our version of ‘reality’. There’s no way, however, in which our ‘visible and material reality’ can directly and exactly represent anything that’s neither material nor visible.
If you’re thinking this is baloney, watch the attached short video of the TED talk “Do we see reality as it is?” by Donald Hoffman, Professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California. He makes use of the analogy of the computer desktop screen, on which we see images, or icons, our machines have created. One of these might be a blue rectangle, shaped like a folder for storing files. This we find meaningful and helpful, especially if we’re wanting to access information. The icon is not itself an actual folder containing various files. Nor is there such a folder containing files inside the computer. There are only stored binary codes, ‘0’s and ‘1’s, transistors that are ‘on’ or ‘off’, forms of energy that are fundamentally invisible and intangible. The desktop icon, helpfully ‘real’ to us in gaining our requirements, in no way resembles the ‘reality’ of what is actually stored inside the computer.
You and I have no direct access to the world around us, but are entirely dependent on incoming data. The physical processing in our brains, along with the non-physical contribution of our minds, gives rise to a ‘mental desktop’ which gets populated with ‘images’ that enable us to make sense of, and interact with, whatever is around us. These images, however, can only be helpful interpretations, not actual representations. The fundamental Reality in which we find ourselves, and of which we are ourselves a part, cannot in fact be seen, heard, smelt, tasted or touched. So, what does this Ground of all Being ‘look like’ ? Nothing at all !
This is not to say that there is no objective Reality, but it is to say that whatever that Reality is, is beyond our ability to define or describe. This ought to sound the death knell for all kinds of doctrinaire dogmatism. It’s time to rethink materialism, empiricism, and every other ‘ism’. Do you feel the old, well-trodden ground beginning to shift under your feet? Have a listen to Donald Hoffman …