Tommy Douglas | tomglo10
New blog. Getting fit as a baby boomer over 50.
3 years ago

How would we know a reality from an illusion?

Feb 26th 2011 at 3:08 PM

Man is the measure of all things: of things that are, that they are; of things that are not, that they are not. –Protagoras

In a previous post I discussed is life an illusion. My concept was that if life is an illusion there is not much we can do about it, since we can only deal with what our senses perceive as reality. Reality is what we can see, hear and feel. We can see a truck, hear it’s horn and when it crashes in to us we can certainly feel it.

When our senses are wrong it can be disconcerting or entertaining depending on the situation. A magician applying his art of illusion can be very entertaining and we can “hardly believe our eyes” if executed properly, with skill. The '”what the hell is that” in the corner of the room, which at the flick of a light switch we see was a trick of the shadow of a coat rack, can be very disconcerting and even spooky.

Ghost hunting reality shows use audio perception to trick your hearing. They use a concept known Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP). A supposed disembodied voice is recorded that can not be heard live during the recording. When they play it back it sort of sounds like a voice, but is unintelligible until they tell you what they think it it is saying, then it is plain as day, right. 

Another example of hearing being mislead  is a montegreen, the term for mishearing words, just as in a song. Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’ has a line “Smoke on the water a fire in the sky” was misheard as “Slow motion Walter fire engine guy” and there is famous Jimi Hendrix “excuse me while I kiss this guy”.

Ultimately no one can be absolutely certain that their perceptions correspond well with an external reality. This can be quite a difficult idea to accept, but it is actually quite a trivial truth about our existence. We take the elements of reason, and what comes to us through our senses, and we construct a model of an external reality. The best model is the one that generates the most successful predictions. Whilst we can never be sure that even the best model corresponds with reality entirely, the better the model the closer it is to reality. So less predictive models tend towards illusion, whereas more predictive models tend towards reality.

As part of our best model of reality we include the existence of other people with whom we can communicate, and who are constructing models of their own. We can therefore compare our models, and if they match then this offers some support for their truth.

So, striving for reality rather than illusion is a gradual process that builds up through predictions confirmed and collaboration between individuals. One never finally reaches reality, but one can at least be always moving in the right direction.

There are invisible forces that shape our reality  We can not see or hear gravity though we can feel it pulling on us and we can demonstrate it by jumping out of a plane (or simply dropping a pencil). We can show the existence of radio waves by turning on our radio.

We measure our existence with a concept called time. Almost everyone has a clock or a watch to measure the passage of time. The way we measure time, though, is the the turning of our planet on it’s axis, and how long it takes to rotate around the sun. In our reality this seems to work, but is time an illusion? Our perception of time , through our senses seems less measureable. Time seems to “drag” when we are at work and to “ fly by” when are doing something fun. When our conscious mind is suspended, as when asleep or in a coma, our perception of time is affected but our time measuring devices tick on. Sometimes we want to change time, either by “turning back the clock” or going ahead to see what happens in the future.

“Reality is merely an illusion,” Einstein once admitted, “albeit a very persistent one.”

What we experience is always 'our' reality, until we find it's illusion.Similar to Plato's allegory of the cave where prisoners only experience the illusions of shadows and therefore it's their reality.

If reality is just an illusion, then we are all stuck in the same one and we had better behave like it is real.

Please to comment
Feb 27th 2011 at 9:57 AM by GTBulmer
Hello, Tommy: Interesting article and perspective. Thanks for posting it. GT :-)

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