When it comes to mental “Tom Foolery” and deception, few things can top the Real World. This thought popped into my head last night as I was driving my car back home. The more I thought about it, the more unnerved I felt.
Unless the subject of visual sight and how we see the world comes up in conversation or in a lecture, we don’t think about it. The same indifference applies to hearing, taste, smell, and touch. In most cases, we see or hear something and automatically take note of it and respond reflexively.
The sense of sight is usually used when describing how we gather information about our surroundings. When we look at an object it seems like we are peering through a personal window on the world. Of course, a medical technician, or a scientist understands the process of seeing in a more complex way.
If we viewed our surroundings the way our eyes capture an image, we would feel like everything is upside down. You’ve probably come across a diagram about eyes or cameras that illustrates what happens to light as it passes through a lens and falls upon a surface. This is how eyes capture data.
In short, my eyes capture an image, which is projected upside down, travels as data almost instantaneously to my brain. The brain analyzes and interprets the data and synthesizes it into a mental image. Television and digital photography mimick this process. If you understand the elementary, mechanical nature of those devices, you can realize how our sense of sight operates.
The point is, all the data our senses pick up must be processed indirectly through the mind. Just think about this statement for a few moments. What we experience, is an ongoing illusion pieced together by the mind. How can we ever know anything absolutely, objectively as true and real?
You can imagine how this line of thinking was rather disturbing, last night. I realized my mind was presenting a mental illusion, that I was interpreting as my body sitting inside of a car, hurtling across the surface of a highway at 65 miles an hour. The event of driving my car was an entirely subjective experience. The successful interpretation and translation of this illusion influenced my muscular actions to guide the car safely along the highway and steer it towards my destination. Most of this was accomplished unconsciously. Yikes!
A different way to imagine how you synthesize “reality” inside your head is to utilize the sense of sound. Close your eyes for awhile and concentrate on hearing something in your environment. It doesn’t matter what noise you decide to concentrate on, just hear it. How do you know what it is you’re hearing? Maybe you heard the whirring of an aircraft passing overhead. Without seeing it, how do you know if it is a helicopter, a small, private plane, or a large, jet airplane? You probably know, because you learned through experience or was instructed what the various types of aircraft sound like.
When we experience life, our minds are subconsciously synthesizing a version of our surroundings by analyzing and combining the data received from all of our senses. It is this type of data processing that intel workers are attempting to emulate as they perfect the development of virtual reality devices.
Do you understand how ambiguous the “real world” is? This doesn’t even account for our personal opinions about what we observe and experience. Two people might see the image of a pineapple. One person may begin to want a slice to enjoy. The other person may feel repulsed and disgusted. Nothing about the picture of the pineapple is different except the personal opinion about the image.
Given the subjective nature of the real world, it’s amazing that we can ever think straight.
Take a few moments to think about your own life’s story. What has happened to you? Why do you think you remember some events more vividly than others? Why do you choose to believe that some events have affected you more than other events? How did the behavior of your parents color your perception of life? Do you have siblings or none? What was your school environment like? What sort of religious instruction have you had, if any? Who are your friends and associates; what is their behavior and speech like? Where did you grow up? What do you choose to read, view, and listen to?
How do you believe these aspects have come together to create the “self” you have come to know? Do you know any person on Earth who has gone through precisely, the exact, same set of experiences as you have, in the same order, at the same times, even if you have an identical twin?
You may wish to envision and contemplate these questions over the next day or so. Settle back during some quiet times and think over these things with an open, kind-hearted attitude towards yourself and others. Maybe you’ve done this exercise before? This is still a healthy self-examination to undertake from time to time.
You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn about yourself, other people, and the world around you. No matter how often I’ve practiced this inquiry, insights seem to pop out of nowhere. I usually come across something that helps me live my life.
I have one more exercise, that anybody can perform, to bring one back to the “real world”. One of my teachers passed this along to me several years ago. Don’t just “mentally” follow along. Please, actually, physically do this.
Take a morsel of food, maybe a small bit of fruit. Look at it carefully. Cover it visually in its entirety. Sniff it. Simply experience the sights and aroma of the morsel without giving names to what you observe. For instance, if it’s a small chunk of watermelon, don’t think, “This looks like watermelon.” “This smells like watermelon.” Just look and sniff.
Next, place the morsel inside your mouth. Don’t bite down on it yet. Just hold it. Allow your tongue to explore the taste and texture of the morsel. How does the morsel interact with the roof of your mouth? How does it feel on your lips? Does the morsel make your mouth “water”? Is it hot or cold?
When you’re through examining the whole morsel, bite into it. Is it soft, crunchy, chewy? Does the flavor become more enhanced? Is it more sweet, or salty, or bitter, or bland, or spicy? Pay close attention to how you interface orally with the morsel.
How long can you do this before the desire to swallow becomes urgent? Without analyzing or timing the urge, just pay attention to the sensations. Then go ahead and swallow. How far down the esophagus can you follow it?
Did you learn something about this simple activity? Maybe you also wish to carefully examine a landscape or a single tree or a single leaf by sight and touch? How can you enhance or change whatever you do by such careful examination and attention? Try this exercise, safely, in other contexts. Pay attention to your discoveries.
What really, is the “real world”?
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes John Moore. “Your opinion is your opinion, your perception is your perception–do not confuse them with ‘facts’ or ‘truth’. Wars have been fought and millions have been killed because of the inability of men to understand the idea that everybody has a different viewpoint.”