Under Construction D

Thoughts and Words; Symbols and Meaning

Your Thoughts and Your Reality

Is there an objective reality? Probably. Can we know what it is? Probably not. Does that mean nothing matters? Certainly not. Whether “your whole world you see around you is just a reflection” or what you see is what you get; whether we live in “The Matrix” or a reality of our own creation, it matters to you and me and to each of us everywhere and everywhen. It matters because finding and/or creating meaning is hard-wired into the core of out being. It is a function of being human … probably a function of being self-aware regardless of species.

If you ask someone (like yourself), “How do you experience your environment?”, you might get answers like:

  • I see with my eyes.
  • I hear with my ears.
  • I smell with my nose.
  • I taste with my tongue.
  • I touch with my hands.

None of that is true. We see, hear, smell, taste, and touch with our brains. Our eyes, ears, noses, tongues, and hands have sensory nerve endings that transmit signals to our brains. Our brains interpret those signals into what we believe to be “objective reality”. but … our brains can be fooled … sometimes very easily.

All is Vanity

Ambiguous images and optical illusions are the most obvious examples of our brains misinterpreting the signals they’re receiving from neural signals.

Look at the illustration at the right.[1] What do you see? At first glance, most people see a human skull (or, at least, the skull of a primate). On closer inspection, we see a woman who is sitting at a dressing table and looking at her image in a mirror.

Our other senses can be fooled too. The chemical senses, taste and smell, work together to produce what we call flavor. Touch and hearing interact to modify our perception of texture. Some people experience synesthesia wherein stimulating one sense produces an involuntary response in another.[2]

End Notes

[1]
The illustration is the 1892 work of C. Allan Gilbert, a well-known illustrator of the late 19th and early 20th Century. In addition to being visually ambiguous, it has an ambiguous title … the pun, “All is Vanity”.

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[2]
Synesthesia can be helpful. I had a friend in college who used sound/color synesthesia to advantage when playing his clarinet. Different notes had different colors. More importantly, he had trained himself to have this ability. Research supports our ability to develop synesthetic connections.

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