reply to post by Hopup Dave
Do we actually see the world as it really is or do we see something that does not actually exist?
What we see is the world as it appears to the human organism.
Other organisms--such as a bat, as in the famous essay
by Thomas Nagel--perceive a
different world. These perceptions will differ radically from ours; a bat lives in a world in which sound occupies the perceptually dominant place
given in ours to light, while a duckbill platypus inhabits a world of electromyographic stimuli we cannot visualize even by analogy.
In all cases, what is perceived is reality. Moreover, it is always the same
It is of no value to ask whether the world we perceive is real, or an illusion. It is, in a sense, both. It is an illusion in that it is a
projection--a projection of quantum fluctuations giving rise to what we call matter, a projection of the interaction of physical forces we have no
means of perceiving except by proxy, i.e. by perceiving their effects. No living being--at least, none that we know of--is capable of perceiving the
true ground of physical reality. It may not be meaningful even to speak of such a thing.
But just because our view of the world is a projection, it does not mean that it is unreal: the projection is just the way reality happens to manifest
itself to us
. If we had evolved differently, we would probably perceive it differently, but what we perceived would be just as real, for it
would be the same reality.
In the last four hundred years or so, we have learned to augment our sensory apparatus through technology. Formerly, we could only perceive that
narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum known as visible light; now we have access to all of it. Moreover, the resolution of our electromagnetic
sensors has increased to the point where we can now look, through them, at individual atoms. We have gained the ability, through our telescopes, to
look back into the deep past and see what happened there. We have, indeed, refined our perceptual technologies to the point where they now return to
us information that seems at times to cast doubt on the projection of reality we, as human beings, have evolved to have: thus we enter the paradoxical
world of quantum mechanics. But quantum mechanics does not describe some separate reality; it is the same reality as always, merely viewed at a degree
of resolution so extreme that the human sensorium and brain can no longer make sense of the data in the ordinary way.
You've spoken here and there of yogic worldviews and philosophy. I am South Asian; Hinduism and Buddhism are part of the cultural milieu in which I
grew up and have lived most of my life. I know a lot of yogis, gurus, masters of vipassana
meditation and the like. There is no denying that
Eastern philosophers have achieved many insights into the nature of reality, but--speaking as someone acquainted with both schools--no more, in the
end, than Western philosophers and scientists have. East or West, it all comes down to the same, eternal question: does mind precede matter, or the
other way round? Lacking the tools of science, there was really no way any philosopher could address this question except by thinking about it. And
just by thinking about it, some came to one conclusion and some to the other.
Westerners tend to think of Eastern philosophy as mystical; in truth, mysticism is a Western, not an Eastern phenomenon. Think of Confucius, or even
more so of Lao-tzu: they were practical men who discouraged their followers from fruitless spiritual questing. Think above all of the Buddha, who
would have no truck with gods or heavens or alternate realities, for whom the words 'mind' and 'self' were, ultimately, meaningless, and for whom
the only goal worth striving for was complete extinction of consciousness. The Buddha was not a mystic, though many Westerners, interpreting his ideas
through the filters of their own culture, think he was.
From Plato onward, Western philosophy remained bogged down in the unthinking acceptance of mind (human or Divine) as the ground of all reality; it was
not until the seventeenth century that empiricism arose to free the mired pantechnicon and set it rolling again, this time along a useful path. It is
no coincidence that empiricism and science emerged at the same time, any more than it was happenstance that empiricist philosophers like John Locke
moved in the same circles as pioneers of modern science like Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton.
The world as we see it is, for human beings, the only world there is. Nothing could be more real.
[edit on 10/12/09 by Astyanax]