Saturday, February 17, 2007

Reality? Happy Hunting!

It seems to me that there are people who -- because of their personality makeup, shall we say? -- perceive the everyday physical world of sound and color and form and movement around them and take it at face value, while others instinctively question the nature of reality and feel that there is some reality beyond what their five senses present to them. The first says, “This is reality and there’s nothing more”, while the others feel, “There’s an ultimate reality behind this,” and ask “What is reality?”

(In writing this piece I’ve avoided wordiness by calling the first group “Nothing More” and the latter group “Other Realities”.)

To look at what is in front of you and accept it as all there is: Is that a gift or a limitation?

The Other Realities group might ask a question asked in VALIS, by Philip K. Dick, “How many worlds do we exist in simultaneously?”, or “Do we exist simultaneously in more than one time?”, questions which would cause the Nothing More group to smirk.

The Nothing Mores see dreams as “just dreams”, while the other group senses that dreams may have a reality beyond mere imagination. In the morning experiences about which I wrote recently, the dream world definitely seemed more “real” than my everyday world. Which gives rise to the question, in passing, why would a “merely imaginary” world ever seem MORE real than the everyday world? One would think that if there is a single reality, an imagined reality would always seem inferior in quality, less convincing . . . that is, the brain could not manufacture a counterfeit reality which would seem superior to that “objective reality” which is presumably fed to the brain by our five human senses.

To the person who feels “there may be a reality behind this one” the concept of “maya” (“the sense-world of manifold phenomena held in Vedanta to conceal the unity of absolute being”) makes sense because it is seconded by his own feelings, while to the Nothing More the maya notion is a groundless way of unnecessarily complicating things.

The philosopher Bishop George Berkeley asserted that the only real existence of anything is the perception we have of that thing in our mind. When Dr. Johnson was asked how he would refute Bishop Berkeley, he kicked a heavy stone and said rather stupidly, “Thus, I refute him!”

I’ve lost the URL, but I was looking the other day at a website which discussed the concept of virtual reality: “Just what do we mean when we use the term virtual? It generally is applied to something that is not conceived of or perceived as real but yet acts like a real thing. Then what is reality?”

I’ve written in this blog that we might compare our state to a person who becomes so immersed in a virtual reality computer game that she forgets there is anything else. Her 3-D perceptions of the game, and herself as the seeing participant in the game, become reality to her. Without memory of sitting down and hooking up the game apparatus, without memory of herself as a person who is playing a game, she has no means of finding her game reality secondary to a “higher reality”. If someone in the game asks her about “other realities” she might say scornfully, pleased with her down-to-earth common sense, “This is obviously reality, and it’s all there is.” She’s going to be quite surprised when the game ends and the goggles come off.

What if we’re in a similar situation? What if, as Plato says in his “Allegory of the Cave”, we accept as reality what are merely shadows cast by the true reality? What if – as many have said – life is but a dream from which we will wake to reality.

I must quote Robin Williams, who exclaimed in one of his comedy routines, “Reality! What a concept!”

I feel like writing, “Reality is whatever seems real to us at the moment,” but that sounds like cheating. How about: “Reality is whatever seems real to us unless and until a superior reality is shown to exist?”

The fact that I would ask those questions puts me squarely in the Other Realities group and brings me back to the point of this little essay – that there seems to be one type of person who feels that the everyday world of the five sense is obviously the only reality, and another type of person who feels that there is a superior reality behind the one we perceive in the everyday world, and --- who knows? -- perhaps an even more superior reality beyond that one.

Because I like FLIGHTS OF PEGASUS to be personal and spontaneous rather than researched in advance, I don’t know what studies – psychological or epistemological – may have been written on the subject of the two kinds of personalities I’ve discussed . . . but I would like to find out.


  1. Attempting to define reality may be a bit like attempting to define God. Who put us in charge of Reality?
    An animal's size and senses cause that animal to perceive 'reality' quite differently from any human. Even among humans, a baby's reality is very different from that of any adult.

    Why are we so driven to create prisons for everything in the form of definitions? I believe it is an expression of our innate insecurity. I am prey to it as much as any one. In the past, there were moments when I feared becoming lost in 'another reality'.

    There is a drug that is said to 'change reality'. It is called 'ibogaine'. Shamans in Africa have used it for centuries but it has been outlawed in most Western nations, including the United States. Like many powerful organic substances, ibogaine can be fatal if administered carelessly and evidently even under supervision, it can cause a mind-shattering experience.

    Terrifying? Yes, it is extremely frightening but if a person really wanted to experience a different reality or even to rewrite his/her own history, ibogaine evidently has the power to do it. When I read about the drug, it was this that made it particularly fascinating: individuals who took it actually were able to change their own personalities and memories.

    Here is a link to a description of an Ibogaine experience:

    I doubt I have this sort of courage at this point in my life, but I wish I did! It is this sort of courage that separates true shamans from the rest of us.

    Mind you, the 'realities' I have experienced up to now haven't been that bad. There really is no need to reinvent or deconstruct them.

  2. There is only reality, that which i can touch, see, smell, feel .. on the other hand, there is always the String Theory .. heh.

  3. Wonderful post! And so timely since I just finished the book Illusions by Richard Bach.

    And so what is the dream and what is reality? How do we know? Is the dream the real life and the real life the dream? Is it all a dream, an illusion? Is there such a thing as reality, and if there is, what is it...can we define it? I can't remember who it was now, but I remember a story someone told me (was it about Lao Tzu?) where he awakes from a dream that he was a butterfly and asks himself how does he know which is real? Is he a man dreaming he is a butterfly? Or is he a butterfly dreaming he is a man?

  4. I think the everyday reality of our six or more senses is quite enough without the need for some "other reality". It should be clear to all of us that we have more than five senses, though what the extra ones actually are may not be easy to pin down.
    As William Blake said (approximately), "If the doors of perception would be cleansed, everything would be seen as it is, infinite".

    I've tried ganja and also LSD and something which may have been mescaline, I never found out - all back in 71-72. Never bothered since. They just filtered, unfiltered and amplified what was already going on in my brain.

    I think that fantasy, metaphor and credulousness are what build these other realities in our imagination.

    I love this everyday reality and want as much of it as I can whilst I sojourn here on earth.

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  6. Freyashawk, Serenity, Davo, and Yves, thank you for your comments. I always look forward to them. Today my brain seems to be taking a holiday from cogitation and so I'll just express my appreciation.

    If I can't buy this "ibogaine" at Walgreens, who's the ibogaine representive in Nairobi? Actually, I wouldn't take any of it because I prefer not to consume anything that might be fatal.