Do we really experience reality? Think about it. Where does our personal concept of reality really exist? We think that we are in touch with our surroundings through our senses. That is of course true — up to a point. Without minds that have been honed by years of experience turning nerve and neural signals (generated by our thought processes and our five senses whenever these capture external stimuli; i.e., light, vibration, texture, etc.) into mental constructs, there would be no experience as we, well, experience it now. Indeed, our minds piece together mental models of the world based on how it interprets data, and we “experience” those models as proxies of the real world.
In actual fact, the real first-hand world is an alien one. The “real world” that lies just outside our senses is a chaotic jumble of electromagnetic radiation, physical oscillations, and chemical processes. Our eyes take in only a narrow band of the ambient radiation, the part of it we call “visible light”; our ears collect vibrations within the range of 20,000 Hz to 20 Hz, what we call the “audible range”. And as far as touching and tasting goes, well, we are pretty much aware of what we can and cannot (or rather should and should not) touch and taste.
Our “world” as we experience it is no more than a construct of our minds. The world is out there, of course. But we experience it through our mind’s simulations which are based on a very tiny subset of the total range of signals that blanket this world. Anyone who’s experienced vivid dreams knows only too well how exceedingly easy it is for us to lose touch of what is real. Our mind can quite easily make us believe what it wants us to believe — and indeed it does, both during and after our waking hours.
Scary, isn’t it?
It is precisely this scariness that makes a whole genre of movies that includes such seminal hits as Total Recall, The Matrix, and Inception resonate across cultures. These films in their different brilliant styles remind us of how precariously tethered our minds are to “reality”.
Perhaps it is because our brains are such finely-tuned instruments of self-delusion that we find keeping ourselves in touch with reality such a conscious effort. Often we spend an entire lifetime constructing a belief system around ourselves then progressively cocoon ourselves within its comfy confines. Perhaps we so pride ourselves in how carefully-crafted these belief systems are that our internal conversations get less and less anchored on external input and more and more looped into what these beliefs tell us from the inside.
Consider that for most of the history of modern humans, people deferred to beliefs as the fixed given and their own observations as the variable. If one’s belief is that there are elves and fairies, then one is most likely inclined to “see” (or perceive) elves and fairies in their surroundings every now and then. Such people see “miracles” where there is only an explainable natural process and “answered prayers” where there is only a statistically probable (or at least possible) event.
The dawn of the scientific method which occurred relatively recently (after tens of thousands of years of the earlier) reversed all that. With the advent of science came the relegation of beliefs (now known as theories and hypotheses) to being the variables of the thinking equation and the results of observation and experimentation as the constants. For many of the most educated among us today, theories stand as sound for as long as the empirical evidence supports it — a way of thinking that is largely alien to the vast majority of human beings who have ever lived.
Application of the scientific method need not be confined to laboratories or the halls of technical and scientific institutes. The Method can be applied even to one’s personal life by routinely asking one’s self:
Am I applying sound beliefs when regarding my world, my actions, and my relationships with other people?
Perhaps the day we more consciously start applying a bit of empiricism in the way we conduct our personal affairs is the day we become a truly enlightened and insightful people. Perhaps it is time that we test for soundness the beliefs that we live by.
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