By David Halpin
In his book Prometheus Rising, Robert Anton Wilson writes about each individual perceiving the world in a different way based upon factors such as upbringing, environment and subconscious biases, as well as seeking out points of view and circumstances that support a particular outlook. He called these individualistic interpretations ‘reality tunnels’.
This is summed up in a quote from an interview1 with Jeffrey Elliot when Wilson says:
The consequences of this philosophical conclusion are staggering: not only are we shaping our own reality, but we can do nothing except experience the world in our own personal way.
But could there also be another kind of filtering at work? Apart from the psychological construction might we also have our entire perception of the world filtered by our brains in order to interact with it in the first place?
Many philosophers have certainly thought so. William James and Henri Bergson famously advocated the theory that we are incapable of processing the true scope of ‘reality’ so our brains only allow us to perceive a small amount of information otherwise we would be overwhelmed by the sheer influx of signals and stimulation.
Aldous Huxley used the term ‘mind at largedoo’ to convey this idea and wrote about it in his books The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell.
Huxley believed that psychedelic drugs could enable a person to, for a short time, experience the larger reality and connectedness of all things. Indeed, Huxley was famously given mescaline by his wife on his deathbed in order to possibly facilitate his consciousness joining with his ‘mind at large’.
The astrophysicist, Bernard Haisch, explains this by saying, “In Huxley’s interpretation, mescaline simply puts a crack in your mental filter that allows perceptions that are normally excluded to flood in."2
But what might these excluded perceptions be? What exists outside of what we call reality? After all, the human experience is always determined by the tiny sliver of electromagnetic waves that we are capable of processing. Anything outside of that is beyond our biological capabilities to transmute into the electrical and chemical signals that our brain interprets.
It is worth reflecting upon that even within this narrow scope of what a human brain can process, each individual brain contains more synapses than there are stars in the Milky Way.3
And yet what this proves is only that each human being is biologically incapable of having the same examination, the same interpretation of the outer world than anyone else. The brain is receiving signals which create an image of external reality based upon its own range and limitations. What we are experiencing, then, is a simulation of what is outside of ourselves.
Writing in her seminal work, Mysticism, the philosopher Evelyn Underhill remarks that: “It is immediately apparent, however, that this sense-world, this seemingly real external universe-though it may be useful and valid in other respects-cannot be the external world, but only the self’s projected picture of it.”
She continues: “It is a work of art, not a scientific fact; and, whilst it may well possess the profound significance proper to great works of art, is dangerous if treated as a subject of analysis.”4
The discrepancies in experience of creatures sharing the same planet are worth comparing. For example, bees and other insects can perceive ultra violet light. This light is emitted by plants, often in patterns, in order to facilitate pollination. Some birds use ultra violet markings on their plumage in order to display sexual availability.5
There are also occasions when human beings experience what is called synaesthesia. This is when a signal on one sensory pathway triggers a reflexive response in another cognitive region and might result in a sound being experienced as a color, or a scent being experienced as music.
An interesting aside is that the artist of E.A. Waite’s Tarot deck, Pamela Colman Smyth, experienced synaesthesia and wrote extensively about this strange combining of sensory input facilitated her unique vision and ability to perceive the world of imagination and art in a wholly personal way.6
But where does this leave us? Do we fall back upon solipsism, whereby we believe that our own mind is certain to exist and everything outside of ourselves is our own creation?
Or, do we accept that there is another reality beyond our perception, as Huxley and Underhill maintained and that at certain moments, when we become unrestrained by our biology and physical bodies we interact and reconnect with?
In contemporary science, the quantum view of reality is that it is the observer that makes the world real. A recent experiment by a team from The Australian National University has proved that reality doesn’t exist until it is measured.7
Ultimately, there are two potential possibilities that stand out: that we can somehow use our physical senses to transcend our limitations and ascend to ‘higher worlds’ as Rudolf Steiner believed, for example, or, that we are forever trapped within the confines of our own minds while alive and that reality will always be a dim, shadowed recreation of something existing on a scale unimaginable to us.
But, perhaps another consideration can be gleaned in a quote8 from the psychologist, Carl Jung which combines both the holographic nature of the quantum and the unknowable expansive beyond.
Jung’s words, in this instance, tell us that we are capable of touching the eternal because infinity is not a place outside of us but instead is a part of what we always were and is with us as long as we can keep imagining it.
1Elliott, Jeffrey. "Robert Anton Wilson: Searching For Cosmic Intelligence".
2Haisch, Bernard. The God Theory: Universes, Zero-Point Fields, and What's Behind It All.
3Moore, Elizabeth Armstrong. "Human brain has more switches than all computers on Earth". http://www.cnet.com/news/human-brain-has-more-switches-than-all-computers-on-earth/
4>Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism. Part One: The Mystic Fact. Ch1. The Point of Departure. 5Cuthill, Innes C (1997). "Ultraviolet vision in birds". In Peter J.B. Slater. Advances in the Study of Behavior 29. Oxford, England: Academic Press. p. 161.
6MacDonald, M. Irwin. "The fairy faith and pictured music of Pamela Colman Smith". http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/DLDecArts/DLDecArts-idx?type=article&did=DLDECARTS.HDV23N01.I0008&id=DLDecArts.hdv23n01&isize=M
7"Reality Doesn’t Exist Until We Measure It, Quantum Experiment Confirms". http://www.sciencealert.com/reality-doesn-t-exist-until-we-measure-it-quantum-experiment-confirms
8Carl Jung on the Tibetan book of the dead cw 11, p857