Monday, March 8, 2010

Where Is The Real World?

Enchantment - Dorit Braun

I have been reading a book by the American founder of the Humanistic Psychology movement and father of client - centred therapy, Carl Rogers. This post is based on a chapter in his book - A WAY  OF BEING.

I am sure you have seen this cliche scene in a movie - someone suddenly sits bolt upright in bed with a wild eyed look in their eyes. Its always either a moment of terror or a Eureka moment. Well that scene is a metaphor for a sudden mental realisation that dawned on me. Let me explain:

A dear friend of mine commented on a blog I had written on this Blogspot. He took apart my convoluted logic regarding my subject of 'Common Sense'. He slayed my incisive repartee, my stupendous intelligence (always modestly alluded to by me of course), my huge instinctive,  inspired logic which in a very spare 4 million words I had outlined a momentous epochial idea that I felt would surely change the course of human history and win me a Nobel Prize - and he contradicted my thesis with just nine words.

He said: "Common sense tells us that the world is flat".

He is Wright of course: And when we put to one side our "Common Sense" and re-examine some of the perceptions given to us by our five senses we are left with the question: Where or what exactly constitutes reality?

The fact is "common sense" can give us a false idea about many things. As I lie in the cockpit of my small yacht in some safe anchorage and stare up at the high wheeling sideral light of the stars for hours at a time and watch the Milky Way slowly rotate around me I could let 'common sense' tell me that the whole cosmos has me at its centre. Yet the fact is we are all on board spaceship earth that is hurtling through space at 108,000 kilometers (67,000 miles) an hour.

If my ego and sensibilities have been rocked by not being at the very centre of the universe, 'common sense' tries again and tells me that as I lie on deck viewing the stars surely I can be sure of the reality that the deck beneath me is solid and unmoving except for the gentle sleepy rocking of a happy yacht in a safe harbour. Wrong again! The deck of the yacht is indeed at the Macro level stable and solid, but its underlying reality at the Micro level is extraordinarily different, i.e:

A yachts deck is made of atoms. The extraodinary fact about the atom is that not only is the atoms core (which is made up of protons and neutrons) in constant motion but the electrons that surround an atoms core are a great distance from that core - If we made a scale model of an atom with the nucleus of the atom (protons and neutrons) the size of say a small soccer ball - the orbit of the first electron in this scale model would be nearly 11 miles (17.5 km) from the nucleus - the atom is almost 99.9%  free space. Does common sense come to my aid in developing a complete picture of the true nature of reality? I don't think so.

If we shift to the interpersonal world  looking for some reassurance that our common sense deductions regarding those around us can be relied on we are again in for some more surprises.
Carl Rogers states: "But at least in the interpersonal world, I know my family and friends; this knowledge is surely a solid basis on which I can act. But then my memories trip me up. One needs only the simple occasion of a softly facilitated encounter group, where permission is given to express oneself, to discover how shaky our interpersonal knowledge is. Individuals have discovered in their closest friends and family members great realms of hidden feelings. There are previously unknown fears, feelings of inadequacy, suppressed rages and resentments, bizarre sexual desires and fantasies, hidden pools of hopes and dreams, of joys and dreads, of creative urges and unbidden loves. This reality, too, seems unsure, and full of unknowns."

If we shift again to the individual self and tell ourselves, "well at least I know who I am" again we come up against some perplexing questions. What is this "I" that resides within us all? Descartes stated that "I think therefore I am" i.e identifying the "I" with thinking - but the Buhddists talk of their experience when the thinking is stilled until it is no more - the "I" still remains. What is the reality of the "I" - the behaviourists will tell us that we are nothing but the sum of stimulus inputs and conditioned responses, while others will point to the experiences of dreams, visions, hallucinatory experience, meditation experiences, near death experience, separate realities, out of body experiences and various other states of altered conciousness which beg questions about what consitutes the 'real world' or at least question our knowledge of where the boundaries lie.

What is commonly agreed (or imposed)  to be "reality" as a tribe / community /  society / culture  can have grave consequences for those that might disagree with the common "world view" - Copernicus and Galileo are the classic examples of those who looked deeper into the nature of things and upon expressing  a different point of view were declared heretics for their trouble. The history of much of human culture is a history of the torture and killing of those who deviate from the group, tribe or cultural perception of what constiutes the agreed religious or philosophical reality and certainty.

Carl Rodgers conclusion regarding all of this is to say:  "I, and many others, have come to a new realization. It is this: The only reality I can possibly know is the world as I percieve and experience it at this moment. The only reality you can possibly know is the world as you percieve and experience it at this moment. And the only certainty is that those percieved realities are different. There are as many "real worlds" as there are people!...."

My conclusion is that these ideas and questions regarding the nature of reality mean that I must try and not rush to judgements regarding ideas - wait, watch, dig deeper if possible - I must try and suspend my judgement regarding attitudes and opinions that may differ from my own - Be open to new experiences and hold off the human need to catergorise, pigeonhole, analyse and confirm. Enjoy the wheeling stars, the wind in my hair and in my sail, enjoy the human experiences of friendship and love, and if unable to fully explain what it all means, then be happy with no explanation for the moment, defer any judgements, be happy in the moment with the  partial answers - and until some inspiration from deep within me awakens some sort of understanding and /or answer, just call the things, ideas and dreams that are bigger than myself by the names they have always been called - wonder, mystery, magic, numinousness, enchantment and love.



Dan Gurney said...

Wonderful post here, Pal. You tackle a big topic. With apologies from going on and on, I would like to offer two comments:

First, as a Buddhist, I would say among the central themes in Buddhism is the idea of "no self."

Buddhists emphasize the idea of non-self along with impermanence and unsatisfactoriness of life (dukkha). These three points are made again and again and yet again in the Buddhist canon: there is no self to be found. This central idea of no-self is among the points that set the Buddha's teachings apart from other teachers from his time and day in India 2500 years ago.

Second, your post called to mind strongly the 41st chapter of the taoteching (this translation by Red Pine):


when superior people hear of the Way
they follow it with devotion
when average people hear of the Way
they wonder if it exists
when inferior people hear of the Way
they laugh out loud
if they didn't laugh out loud
it wouldn't be the Way
hence these sayings arose
the brightest path seems dark
the path leading forward seems backward
the smoothest path seems rough
the highest virtue low
the whitest white pitch-black
the greatest virtue wanting
the staunchest virtue timid
the truest truth uncertain
the perfect square without corners
the perfect tool without uses
the perfect sound hushed
the perfect image without form
for the Tao is hidden and nameless
but because it's the Tao
it knows how to start and how to finish


One of my teachers said, "If it isn't paradoxical, it isn't true."

As you suggest, the world is jammed with mystery, magic, wonder, and love.

Alden Smith said...

You don't have to apologize for "going on" as you say - Your replies always indicate that you have read and understood what I have been trying to say - I am honoured by that, your inclination to reply and the ideas you express.

Amongst much of what you wrote I like this bit: [One of my teachers said, "If it isn't paradoxical, it isn't true."]

The older I get the more I see great hidden depths, shades of grey, (not just amongst the hair of my peers) and great paradox.

Thanks for the Red Pine translation, I like it very, very much.

Delwyn said...

Hi Alden

thank you for this post and the quote from Rogers which I will save.

I loved your summary and have to agree that it is just fine to bask in the not fact its a bloody relief...

someone else said that there are only a few tasks in life - oh Erich From I think, and one was to become secure in insecurity, and to find a sense of stability in chaos which is life....

Maybe school teachers have a need to know...

PS. Did Carl Rogers have difficulty with spelling?

Happy days

Alden Smith said...

"PS. Did Carl Rogers have difficulty with spelling?"
LOL LOL - first thankyou for your comments - as for the spelling I can't for the life of me find the spell checker on this new revamped Blog Posting thingie, any tips as to where it is? - dummies like me who are also bad spellers need spell checkers when writing almost as much as we need oxygen.

Alden Smith said...

Delwyn, aka 'The eternal school teacher' - I figured out what you are talking about - it should be perceive NOT percieve - the problem is NOT Carl Rodgers, its mine - call it lost in translation or some such thing - It's an interesting observation of yours and I could actually write a blog about it. --- When I was at school I learnt the rhyme ['I' before 'E' except after 'C' or when it sounds 'A'] and yet I nearly Always get the I and the E around the wrong way - its a sort of hard wired spelling perversity of mine for which I have only one word - Bugger - (which is spelt correctly I just looked in the dictionary)

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Alden... When I write longer posts like the one you've written here, I often compose the piece in a word processor. All the writing tools, like spell checker, thesaurus, dictionary, etc. are there in the word processor. It's a friendlier and more familiar writing environment for me.

Then I just select and copy the text onto the clipboard and paste what I've written into the Blogger window.

One more thing. I thought of you and this post today when I clicked on Stream Source's post (there's a link on my blog) titled Where Buddhism and Science Meet. It's a 10 minute video and I'm sure you'll like it.

Synchronicity galore on this topic today.

On another topic... isn't it summer/fall down there? How come so few sailing posts??

Ben Bongers said...

Wauw what a blog!
Looking at the first part of your conclusion: you have to be a saint or an ignorant child to be able to do that.
Or is it a target that men will never achieve but will guide your life?
Being a mortal I rely on the words you used from wonder to love.

Alden Smith said...

Ben, I don't think you have to be god like to embrace the first part of my conclusion - I think that as we grow older we know from life experience to not rush to judgement as quickly as we once did when we were younger and thought we knew everything (and as well thought we were immortal [that's why we took so many silly risks, how godlike in our thinking is that?]).
As we get older I think we naturally see shades of grey where we once saw black and white, we do of course still make judgements but hopefully they are more considered and carefully expressed.

VenDr said...

Perhaps you are describing here Fowler's notion of a move from stage 4 to stage 5 faith which, says Fowler, happens at about.... oh.... let's see now.... my age. And yours.

Alden Smith said...

Kelvin, yes you are Wright again. I looked up the chapter in Fowlers book 'Stage 5 Conjunctive Faith' and it expands on, in a more eloquent way, my conclusion in this Blog posting. You always were a clever little bugger - small wonder they made you a Bishop :-)

H.Caulfield said...

loved the conclusion. It really came alive