Saturday, May 14, 2011

Everything you know is wrong

Everything that you think you’ve experienced first hand is only virtual. Consider. You enjoy a good meal. Wow! That was the best bibimbap you’ve ever eaten. Well, I’m happy for you. And I wouldn’t want to take anything away from you. But just take a look at what went on.

You experienced that meal through your senses: taste, smell, sight, touch, hearing and so forth. And what are they? They’re generated by receptors of one kind or another that transmit nerve impulses up to your brain, right? Those impulses get decoded. The brain decides what kind of en experience it was. You’re left with a satisfied—satiated?—state of mind. What you’ve paid for, unless you prepared the meal at home, is an interpretation of data. Dollars for a state of mind.

This is what any experience boils down to. You fork out big bucks to attend a concert. Wonderful music booms. Great sounds echo. It’s mostly hearing that’s going on (mixed in these days with all sorts of visuals). Electrical impulses zapping along to the brain. Synapses sparking. The brain reacting. Wasn’t that a great gig? Again, you’ve paid for state of mind.

Poetry will do it. A run along the beach. Arranging photographs in your album. Witnessing the birth of your children. Your dreams, your thoughts, your wishes, your goals. Everything that you experience, even the process of conducting a real-world, honest-to-goodness objective chemistry experiment with test-tubes and Bunsen burners, boils down to impulses shunting around in your brain.

Everything out there reduces down to subjective experience. Everything that we sense equates to neural activity. That must be so by definition—that’s why they’re called ‘senses’. They are our means of perceiving the outside world. And so, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling are in a sense delusional, or at least illusional.

Everything else also: all the other ways I experience life. Everyone that I relate to. The stuff that I own. Every activity that I engage in. How do I really know that I’m walking, cycling or swimming? It could just be what I imagine myself doing; it could be—no, it is—just electrical impulses traveling to and from the muscles concerned. Even my own body may just be a figment of my imagination. Really, all I’ve got to go on is the mirrors and smoke of my eyes.

This brings to mind the old question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound? Really, who's to say that it isn't all just happening inside your head? Draw a ray diagram, inverted and reduced. You visualize the conifer upside down on the screen at the back of your eyeball, upended. But in the real world, is there a tree, a forest? Is there even a real world?

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