Home > Uncategorized > Feeling Real in the World of Sense

Feeling Real in the World of Sense

We have this idea, these days, that there is a real world outside of us which exists. It exists not because we experience it, but because it’s ‘just there’. The simple existence it has is thought to be absolutely real, but absolutely meaningless and unconscious. It is almost unanimously assumed that there was nobody home in the universe at all before living organisms were born on Earth (or maybe other life-friendly planets).

We also have the idea that there is an unreal world inside of us. We feel a sandwich in our hand, but really it is a vast collection of microscopic molecules and living cells, suspended in an even more vast expanse of emptiness. We see a sky above, but really it is a paper thin layer of gas clinging to the planet. Our sun, just another point of light in the oblivion of astronomical emptiness.

In this view, our perception is thought to mediate, to represent a real world that we can’t understand into an unreal experience that we can understand. The psyche is a transformer, turning meaningless reality into meaningful illusion.

Of course, this presents a bit of a problem when confronted with the fact that when we act on our illusions in the world, sometimes we know what we are doing. Sometimes we actually seem to know more than the illusion is showing us, and we are able to make changes in the real world, using only our illusion to guide us. How might that work exactly?

To my mind, the most plausible way that it can work is if the real world is not entirely meaningless and the illusions of our representations are not entirely illusion. The overlap between the two, is, what I would call sense. The overlap between the two I would call realism. That internal sense which agrees consistently with external conditions, and those external conditions which feel consistent with our internal expectations.

Where they don’t overlap, we get sense but not realism. Theory for the sake of theory. Empirical data which cannot be interpreted in way that we can conceive of (like a particle-wave or dark energy). These make sense in either a subjectively meaningful way or an objectively useful way, but not both.

The more I think about this worldview of an unconscious universe that is hogging all of the reality, and conscious illusion that is hogging all of the meaning, the more absurd it seems and the more it reminds me of the distribution of wealth, technology, and happiness in the world (hint: The happiness isn’t concentrated at the top with the money and tech). What an appropriately perverse worldview during such a perversely unbalanced phase of the Earth’s anthropological experiment.

If we can crack the door an inch and see that sense may not have been born anew with blue-green algae a billion years ago, but has been here all along. In the celestial blooms of nebula and the rattling molecular chains. Events. Happening everywhere. Peaceful places, violent times. Everywhere. Not just in our heads. Not an incomprehensible rock hard nothingness tagged and bagged inexplicably by nerve cells for an audience of one who is really a none.

Without that pre-biotic sense, you have 12.7 billion years of mathematical potentials, accumulating and discharging force in silent obscurity. Invisible and without any association with any human image you might have. A universe without a memory, without a here and now. A universe which, at it’s microcosmic level, cannot tell the difference between something and nothing, as it has no feeling, no awareness to know what those things might be.

Imagine instead a world that is as meaningful as you are, and a life as real and persistent in the cosmos as a galaxy. After all, it is only consciousness that makes a galaxy seem large and slow. Without the sense of perspective and scale, all 12.7 billion years before life goes by as an instant or an eternity. There was nobody there to tell the difference. We are here now to tell the difference, and that is what is real for us. That is the only reality that means anything to us. It makes sense and it’s how we make sense. Adding skeptical inquiry to our naive realism only gives us more of what we had before. If our senses are an illusion, then our judgements about our senses only amplify the illusion. If, on the other hand, we can make sense of the world, then we have only begun to scratch the surface of how such a thing is possible.

  1. Robert S. Powell
    May 22, 2012 at 4:19 am

    This is perfect. (Well, I am a bit confused by your twin sentences in the fifth paragraph making it first appear to this reader that both sense and realism overlap equally and statically, which isn’t so). Anyway, your vision is getting clearer and clearer. I have been trying to describe the same feeling that you describe so succintly and beautifully for thrity years! This post should go down in evolutionary history! 😀

    • May 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm

      Thanks Robert! I noticed that gaffe too actually but left it in in case it made more sense than I first thought, hah. Maybe I’ll fix it now. I wish I knew what I was supposed to do with this information. I guess blogging about it is the plan for now.

      • Robert S. Powell
        May 22, 2012 at 8:33 pm

        It rings so true and you seem content to let it evolve into the culture on its own. Why not? According to your (our?) synthesis/model, we only need to be mindful and steer a bit…sort of like sailing? The steersman only needs to balance the tiller. He lets the wind do the work. Of course that way is anthema to power boaters!

        They’re in a hurry. They steer with their engines 🙂

        Sometimes, I think that a series of bumper stickers is the best way to communicate my insights (“Consciousness is the Spirit of Evolution?)” Then again, if your synthesis is as true as we both feel it is, maybe blogging is the best way to go. That’s where the action is, for sure. I think Things are changing too fast for a book that isn’t derived from a blog.

  2. Robert S. Powell
    May 22, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I know one thing; I would sure enjoy reading your blog on my Kindle while flying to the next stressful engagement with reality. The Kindle demographic would respond to your thoughts, I think. Also, I can imagine your blog becoming required reading among budding philosophers on college campuses. I would contact a publisher and ask him or her what to do. You need an agent. So, I guess the question for now is how to get your blog to prospective agents?

    • May 22, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks, Robert. I’m actually doing a live radio show here locally next week (http://psychtalkradio.com/), after that, yeah I need to figure out what the next move is…or else just find myself making it, haha. I started a meetup group (http://www.meetup.com/Science-of-Consciousness/) also that I am planning the second meeting for, but I’m looking for all of the help/collaboration that I can get. I even have some friends who have offered, but it’s hard I think these days to get any traction on doing anything that isn’t already in motion.

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