Tag Archive | "reality"

The Subjectivity of Objective Reality

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We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, consumed by self.  Quite obviously, we are always in our own company and, therefore, cannot help but place ourselves first in our own worlds.  It is inescapable.  The world at large, or macro-world, is an amalgam of the billions of individual, or micro-worlds, of which it is comprised.

The English poet, John Donne, stated “No man is an island…”  And yet, in a sense, every person is an island – not in terms of complete independence from others, but rather in terms of total dependence upon self.  Nowhere is that dependence more critical than in the area of perception, for through perception we view, order, and generally make sense of the macro-world and micro-worlds surrounding our own.

The data from which our perceptions are formed is gleaned via the senses, the five portals for data recovery about which we all learned in elementary school, as well as that indefinable sixth sense that we intuitively understand ourselves to possess.  While data encompassing images and messages of infinite variety exists in the macro-world, we each depend upon our micro-world for its processing.

For those of us fortunate enough to have sight and the ability to distinguish color, we all have the capacity to see and identify the color “red.”  How “red” looks to anyone other than myself, however, is a complete mystery to me – likewise, all images, sounds, and other stimuli.  As evidence that images appear different to different people, I ask a simple question.  Have you ever seen a house painted a particular color and wondered to yourself how anyone could possibly consider it to be appealing?

If true of images, it is likely accurate that all external stimuli are defined by the perceptions of individuals.  Is not “beauty in the eye of the beholder?”   And so, the macro-world, far from being objective reality, is simply an extension of the individual micro-world that observes and perceives it.

Of course, it well may be that the perceptions of many or most individuals are either the same or substantially similar.  In that case, the macro-world, or portions of it, would represent a consensus of reality rather than an objective reality.

Since subjectivity seems to rule all micro-worlds as well as the macro-world constructs of each, can we truly know anyone or anything objectively?  If so, in the lyrics popularized by the band Chicago, “does anyone really know what time it is?”

And, do you see the baby in the picture atop this article? 

Altered States

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Consciousness is what separates mankind from most of the animal kingdom.  The consciousness of ourselves and the world around us shapes who we become as individuals, cultures, and societies.  What is referred to as the normative state of consciousness manifests the real world perceptions of most people who would be classified as sane (although one wonders if any two people share the exact same perception of reality).  So-called “higher” states of consciousness can be achieved through meditation, prayer, yoga, sensory deprivation, or the introduction of pharmaceutical agents.  Whether or not the “reality” manifested by such altered states is real or imagined is a matter of debate.

Early man learned how to alter his state of consciousness via activities like those mentioned above as well as consumption of various naturally-occurring substances, whether that consumption be by eating, smoking, or inhaling.  These substances, often found in the leaves of plants or bark of trees, were often used for medicinal as well as state-of-consciousness-altering purposes.  Many primitive cultures who have been studied and about whom we know a good deal have used such mind-altering substances as a part of their religious worship and ritual.  Amerindian cultures are known to have used the powerful hallucinogenic brew “Ayahuasca” from ingredients found in various species of Acacia trees and a bush “Peganum harmala.”  Such substances, which we would refer to as drugs, have been used by ancient civilization to establish contact with higher realms of spirituality and even the Divine.

It has long been speculated that older religions such a Hinduism and Zoroastrianism used drugs as part of their religious experience.  And it has been speculated that Judaism and even Christianity have a psychoactive component to their religious experiences.  In the March 2008 issue of “Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology Consciousness and Culture,” Benny Shanon, a Professor of Psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, published “Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis” – an article theorizing that the ancient Israelite religion was partially based and associated with the use of mind-altering plants.

He suggests that perhaps Moses was “higher” than the altitude at which he found himself when he experienced God’s presence in the “burning bush” and on Mount Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments.  Indeed, he speculates that the Israelites as a people may all have been in a pharmacologically-altered state when Moses initially presented them with the sacred tablets.  Further, he proposes that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil at the heart of the Genesis narrative regarding Man’s fall from grace may have had psychoactive properties, opening the eyes of Adam and Eve to new “realities” when its fruit had been consumed.  In these and other sacred writings as well as in the plant life indigenous to that area, Shanon finds evidence that mind-altering plants may have had a significant impact on the development of belief systems that a large portion of the world’s population holds sacred.

The question of the impact of consciousness on reality remains.  Does an altered state of consciousness manifest a “higher” truth or a “false” one?  Can Man only achieve true spirituality or experience the Divine by altering his consciousness and, therefore, his reality?  Or, does the normative state of consciousness manifest the only “true” reality?  Is there any reality without consciousness?  Is reality fixed or is it relative?

These and a myriad of other questions defy definitive answers.  One thing, however, is true.  If you alter your state of consciousness, you will change your personal experience of “reality.”  Perhaps, that is all that really matters.

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