The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

Perception vs. Reality


It is almost impossible to see the world around us and not think of it as being “out there” and our minds as “in here.”  I am a person and that thing over there is a tree.  I can see it, smell it, I can cook the leaves into tea and taste it; I can touch it and when the wind blows I can hear the leaves rustle.  All of my senses tell me that I am looking at a tree.

What really happens:

The leaves are green.  Or are they?  Most of the photons are being absorbed by the leaf, except those with a wavelength of about 510 nm.  Those are bouncing off the leaf and some of this radiation reaches our eyes, which can only detect a very, very narrow slice of the electromagnetic spectrum between 400 and 700 nanometers.  The rest of the radiation bouncing off the leaf is outside of the visible spectrum and effectively doesn’t exist for us.

There is no such thing as a green photon; the different colors are nothing more than minute differences in the wavelengths of the photons.  The color green (or any color we can see) occurs solely within the mind and is nothing more than an imagined representation of a specific wavelength of photon radiation.  Green is not a part of any objective reality, as we understand it.

Put another way, without consciousness, there is no green.

Similarly, smell is nothing more than airborne molecules triggering sensors in our noses, taste is molecules in our mouth, and hearing is nothing more than changes in air pressure.

The sensations that we experience are, in fact, interpretations of stimuli that we receive, not the stimuli themselves.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the sensation of touch.  We think that we are touching something solid, but atoms have negatively charged electrons in their outer shell.  When the negatively charged electrons in my fingertip come close enough to the negatively charged electrons in the leaf, they repel each other.  That sensation is touch.  The truth though, is that we never actually touched anything.   The atoms themselves are quite empty.  Think of a fly sitting on the fifty-yard line of a football field in an empty stadium.  That’s how empty atoms are.

In fact, if it weren’t for the electrons repelling each other, the leaf, which seems so real to us wouldn’t exist for us.  We could not touch it; our hand would pass right through; we could not see it; not enough photons would bounce off for our eyes to detect radiation, nor would we hear it rustle nor taste or smell it for the same reasons:  there would be too little interaction for any sensation of any kind to take place.

If we were actually solid in the way we think of solid things, we would weigh more than the earth and our gravitational field would be strong enough to affect the sun’s orbit.  So it’s probably a good thing that we’re not actually solid.

It all seems so solid and so dense, but the true nature of what we experience “out there” is that it’s almost all empty space.  Neutrinos, which are very small particles even by subatomic standards and are not repelled by electron fields, can and do pass through the entire earth without hitting anything.  That’s how empty it all is.  The real world isn’t that much different from the vacuum of space.  Every physical experience we have ever had is the result of electromagnetic forces.

The spoon is not real.

The amazing thing about all of this is that the reality we experience is there because we have created it in our minds.   All of it, everything around us, has the color, sound, taste, smell and feel it does because our conscious minds have constructed a picture -in our minds- of what we are experiencing.  A complex bundle of molecules exerting a negative electromagnetic force around itself only becomes a spoon (or a rock) when a conscious mind perceives it as such.  There is no objective reality that makes this thing a spoon. (or a rock.)

What I have described to you is not New Age stuff, nor Indian mysticism.  It’s what basic science has learned about reality.

Where this becomes important in our discussion of consciousness is when we grasp from this that it is impossible for any two people to see the exact same reality.  Since reality is happening in our minds, each of us can literally only see what we can imagine.  To put this another way, we have no way of knowing if everyone sees the color green in exactly the same way we do and in fact, that’s actually impossible.  Our eyes and our brains are not exactly the same as everyone else’s and therefore, the color green is going to be slightly different for everyone.

To put this yet another way, our perception IS our reality.  Even if you are hallucinating translucent pink unicorns galloping over rainbows made of rose petals that are singing songs from ABBA, this is as real for you as the carpet you’re sprawled out on, face down and the unmarked bottle of pills in your hand.  Both realities are being created in your head, with the only difference being that one of them can potentially be a shared experience and the other cannot.  That’s the only difference between an hallucination and reality.

If everyone hallucinated pink unicorns, they would be considered real because there is no objective reality to tell us otherwise.  It’s something to think about next time you watch the Matrix.  The Spoon is not Real.

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2 comments on “Perception vs. Reality

  1. Debby
    May 16, 2011

    “we have no way of knowing if everyone sees the color green in exactly the same way we do and in fact, that’s actually impossible.”

    I’ve had this same thought since I was 5 years old. My mind goes back in time, funny thing…

    I just found your blog last night and I’ve been reading through it. I’ve been having a continuous series of “Ah-ha!” moments, lights going on, bells ringing, etc. A lot is falling into place very quickly for me. So, thank you very much for starting this blog – I look forward to site updates.

    Debby

  2. Don Salmon
    April 7, 2011

    Hi,

    This is a very important topic, and unfortunately, i don’t have time to respond in full at the moment. Craig, I encourage you and your readers to investigate this further – I think this is potentially a far more powerful challenge to materialism than psi or NDE research.

    I’d like to offer a friendly challenge, and encourage others to take it up – it’s a bit of a mistake in the logic of your piece and i’ll try to answer it more fully in another post. but for now i’ll say this – Robert Lanza, who writes often on this topic for the Huffington Post, Peter Russell, and a number of others make the same mistake. Alan Wallace, in his “Hidden Dimensions”, chapter 5, and Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up, in his chapter on emptiness, gives what I think is the correct version.

    here’s a hint: “fields”, “energy”, “matter”, “space” “time” “protons” etc are all abstract concepts. (this is true of “brain” and “body” as well; but that’s a bit more difficult to get). they are entirely derived from our actual experience of the world, and then used as explanations for what happens in our experience. Wallace (along with others, like Paul Brunton, Samuel Avery, Anthony Damiani, etc) make a very strong case for the idea that it’s perfectly possible to do science without the idea of a purely material, dead, non intelligent world existing entirely apart from consciousness (and for those who are philosophically inclined, this doesn’t necessarily call for what is conventionally known as the philosophy of “idealism” Asian philosophy has dozens of alternatives which i think are much better than most of the idealist philsoophers of the last several centuries)

    more soon!

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