Friday, December 02, 2005

the biggest question of them all - by Owen

What is Reality?

How do we know things are really Real? Is everyone's "reality" different, or do we all experience the same objective reality? In short: is Reality subjective (all in our heads), or is it objective (independent of our heads)? Is reality what is written in this or that book, or is it the world around us? Every other question, in one way or another, rests on this one... depends, critically, on the answer.

Philosophers have argued about it (and still do). Children and adolescents argue about it. Grownups get mixed up about it all the time... and yet, the question has been answered!

Answer: Reality is not subjective, or objective: it is interactive. Cognitive scientists have discovered that human brains create the reality they experience, but do so based on the physiology of the bodies they inhabit and on the interactions of these bodies with the Real World. That is, the reality we experience is created by our bodies, but it is created based on interactions with the outside world.

Take colour for example: There is no colour in the outside world. There is light in the outside world, but light is really something called electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation, including x-rays and radiowaves, is colourless. So there is no colour in the outside world. But, then again, without electromagnetic radiation from the outside world there is no colour in our heads either. For colour to be created, we need light and we need eyes and brains.

It works like this:

If radiation is of a certain kind, having wavelengths within 400nm to 700nm (very very small wavelegths), then we can see it, and we call it light. The light hits photosensitive chemicals in cells in our eyes, which triggers nerve signals, which are interpreted by circuits in the visual systems of our brains, which do some fancy work and BAM!: a rose looks red!. Without eyes and brains, there's no colour. Without electromagnetic radiation, there's no colour. Together, electromagnetic radiation, photochemicals, and electric impulses along nerve cells and within brain circuits create the amazing experience of colour.

There, now you can relax. You are living safely in a world that has existence independent of your state of mind. The earth is really there beneath your feet. Flowers are blooming somewhere, and your best friend really is only a phone call away...

AND YET:, keep in mind that the way you experience the world depends on your physiology (how your senses work) and your state of mind (whether you are drunk, stoned, sober, tired, angry, psychotic, bored, sexually aroused, etc. etc). Roses look red because of your physiology. If your eyes don't work, then red doesn't exist for you. But the rose will still exist! It'll just be a textural rose (as you touch it) and an olfactory rose (as you smell it).


Post a Comment

<< Home