The difference between appearance and reality is counter-intuitive, and hard to grasp. If we value integrity, authenticity and actuality – the facts about how things are – we must have the courage to follow Alice down the rabbit hole, and discover how mind-bendingly full of wonders is fundamental reality. We need to let our imaginations free us from the limitations of our sense perceptions.
Let’s again remind ourselves that we, like all else, are made of atoms that are 99.99% ‘empty space’. If we can grasp how almost non-existent they are, we’re more able to take on board the mathematically and experimentally verified findings of quantum physics, that atoms only appear as ‘particles’ when we observe them as blips on computer screens. When they’re not being measured, they don’t behave like ‘particles’, but like spreading out ‘wave forms’. These, however, are ‘probability waves’, indicating where atoms are most likely to appear as ‘particles’ if we detect them. If we’re not looking for them, they could be somewhere, anywhere, in two or more places, or nowhere at all !
If you’re still with me, we’re ready to recall that what’s fundamentally ‘real’ is 99.99% empty space. We must imagine a universal field of energy and associated force fields, full of ‘dimensionless particles’/’probability waves’, that pop in and out of existence in billionths of a second. Scientists call this the “quantum foam”. At the root of things, there’s no ‘solidity’, and no sharp boundaries. When your hand ‘touches’ an apple, it’s like one energy pattern giving way to another.
Let’s again remind ourselves that fundamental reality is immaterial, invisible and intangible, with no colours, shapes, sounds, tastes, smells or texture. Do we now take the point that what we ‘experience’ is in no way the same as what actually ‘is’? What we experience, inside our skulls, is our interpretation of the incoming sense data, and its transformation via our brains’ electro-chemical processing, into the kind of ‘creative’ mental imagery and experiences that enables us to make sense of our world, and function within it.
There’s worse to come. As the philosopher, Emmanuel Kant, pointed out, the concepts of Time and Space belong to the framework our brains/minds use in their construction of what we find meaningful. As has been pointed out, ‘Space’ is what stops everything being in the same place, and ‘Time’ is what stops everything happening at the same moment! That’s a very helpful framework, but as far as fundamental Reality is concerned, there’s no space or time. As an analogy, here on Earth we talk about up and down, north, south, east and west. If we suddenly found ourselves in the vast emptiness of outer space, these terms would no longer have meaning. Like asking what’s north of the north pole, they wouldn’t make any sense.
So let’s say it again. What appears ‘real’ to us, is our own interpretation and construct. The ‘world’ that appears to us, (to borrow the analogy used by Donald Hoffman, Professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California), is like a computer desktop, and the ‘objects’ we ‘see’ on it are the equivalent of images, or icons, on that computer screen. We might see a little blue rectangle in the shape of a folder containing files, which will be very helpful if we need some stored information. But that icon in no way resembles what’s actually inside the computer, which is just as well! What on earth would we make of millions of transistors, fluctuating voltages, and vast amounts of the 1’s and 0’s of binary codes? We’d be utterly, hopelessly lost. Thank god, then, for these ‘icons’ which appear on our mental ‘desktop’ !
Does this matter? Well, does the truth of things matter? I think it reminds us of how much we actually know next to nothing about. Scientific materialists seem often to forget that we know something about only 5% of our universe. 95% is made up of ‘dark’ matter and energy, so called because we’re ‘in the dark’ about it. Religious fundamentalists think they’ve a full, clear, ‘inerrant’ understanding of all we’ll ever need to know, but they’re actually as much ‘in the dark’ as the rest of us.
We live in a very wonderful and breathtaking ‘world’, of which we’ve only a very limited knowledge and understanding. A bit less presumption and dogmatism, and a lot more humility, honesty and “realism”, would go a very long way.