Friday, March 5, 2010
Owen Barfield wrote a book called, "Saving the Appearances." It addressed the construction of reality as as an individual and collective process. Even now we're in the throes of reassessing 'reality' in the continuing scientific revolution of the 21st century. What Owen Barfield said is that a child perceives an amorphous collection of stimuli and eventually organizes that information based on the guidance of his or her parents and culture. Piaget, the French genius, studing the operational process of children's learned described the changing reality perception eventually moving from the concrete to abstract thinking.
Later in the studies of physics Heisenberg and others showed that reality was more abstract indeed than concrete with a major blurring between the observer and the observed. Einstein's relativity theory addressed specifically the influence of perception on reality describing the perception of time as perceived by a passenger on a train versus the man on the platform. The differences in perception lead to a realization of the true uniqueness of each individual and the old eastern adage of reality being an elephant misperceived by a collection of blindfolded men stood around the elephant and asked to describe what they experience from that perspective.
Augustine the Saint spoke to the idea of time as being something too often assumed. And finally thrugh the eyes of psychiatry is altered specifically along the lines of what Martin Buber would call the I and it or I and thou lines. If I am afraid I experience reality one way, if I am unafraid I experience it differently. Daniel Gardner addresses the biology of the experience extremely well in his brilliant book, Science of Fear.
A psychiatric classic was "Denial of Death.", addressing the fear of dying and the ways in which individually and collectively we live the illusion of immortality. The greatest "reality" is the very concept of life and death. This is long likened to the dream and awake cycle of the individual. Yet individually we live as if "immortal" in more ways than one and culturally we collectively deny death and even exist collectively as if we are immortal.
I have awoken today and like Descartes I am accepting that I exist because I think and as Yahweh said to Moses, I am. Yet the mystery of the other, especially beyond today is indeed a 'construct'. The collective 'psychosis" is that the 'past" is somehow agreed on despite the increasing evidence of the limits of individual memory and the tendency of history to redefine the 'past' for it's own purposes. Ask any individual details about the day before today and there will soon be discrepancies even in those who claim 'photographic memories'. The 'corruption' of the computer programs, viruses and such, reflect the true understanding of science today as to the human brain, the computer being an imitation of the cognitive processes of brain with the hope of one day constructing an even better computer from organic materials. Is there not something more 'factual' about death, despite our denial than there is about life which in it's constant apparent changes is illusive as the butterfly of song?
As for tomorrow, it's always an illusion. Everyone knows of individuals who died 'instantly', 'spontaneously' or 'unexpectedly'. But as has already been noted "death" is usually "unexpected' though it may well be one of the most expected events of existence.
So waking I have a collection of memories which define myself to me as well as a collection of relationships with the 'other' or 'thou' which define my relationship with 'reality'. Indeed the very language suggest that I,myself, this construct of self, may be more 'unreal' than 'reality' the "Other" of Martin Buber.
Words such as "facts" take on a different meaning then to the 'scientist'than the 'lay person'. Facts is a historic 'term' which the old continue to use through habit and lack of awareness of the profound shift in reality from the static to the dynamic. Indeed when asked the 'facts' I recently was shocked by the realization that the individual asking such a question was historic. It's like those media types who say 'tell me what the meaning of string theory is in one sentence'. Clearly they don't grasp that one scientist speaking to another might be able to summarize it but that the limits of knowledge are experiential and internal combustion or gravity is not a 'sound bite' .
Indeed there are those who believe that 'reality' is the world of the dream and death, that this 'experience' so brief and inconsequential is minuscule relative to the 'potential' of true reality. Indeed if I lived as if today was my only day I might well not go to work today. The sense of true time is limited by the construct of 'one day' and 'one day at a time'.
If God is to me the only true 'fact' then 'facts' is a very difficult proposition which I have to assume that someone asking such a question wants indeed a child's answer to the question or one historically bound by 19th century scientific principles.
Daily I address the concept of 'reality' and 'perception' in my office where I treat drug addiction which alters the brains capacity to experience anything marginally considered 'factual' but more importantly I am forever in relationships dealing with the perceptual sense of time that individuals bring to any equation as well as their sense of life and death, spoken or unspoken. If one asks me for 'facts' I am aware that they by the nature of that question are quite possibly in terror for their life denying death and desperately clinging to the 'reality ' of their particular construct, individually and culturally.
Life is dynamic. This too shall pass. "I am the bubble, make me the sea" the mystic chants alone on a hill.
And today I have hope and hope alters reality, profoundly.