Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Inner space

Last week Belfry Bat said that he knew people who didn't believe in consciousness.  I can't quite fathom that.  The one thing that I can't deny at all is that I am having experiences.  What my experiences mean, how grounded they are in reality, and what they tell me about my nature are all subject to doubt, but the fact that I'm having them isn't.

No one knows for certain what consciousness is, where it comes from and how it works.  We know we are conscious of things that happen in our brain, but there are some things our brain does (controlling our endocrine system, for instance) that we're not conscious of.  There are some things that exist on our brains only subconsciously that can be brought to the surface later.  We know we're not really conscious when we're asleep, and as for whether consciousness exists after death -- it's not possible to be empirically certain of that.  And why there is this knowledge of being an "I", of being someone who is having experiences .... no scientist has been able to say. 

So for every person there are two possible realities: what is outside of us, and what is inside.  All we know of the outside is what filters through to the inside -- what we sense, and what is constructed into an intelligible reality by the brain.  When I look around my room, my eyes are aware of only color and contrast, but my brain figures out the shape of the room and where each object begins and ends -- something cameras are still learning how to do.  And then another part of my brain puts a name on each thing that I see -- my desk, the wall, my cat.  I have feelings about some of these things, and I'm also aware of feelings that are lingering inside me from other experiences.  I can see my hands on the keyboard, but I can't see my face -- except the side of my nose.  My mind is able to picture what I look like anyway. 

It is not possible to have an objective view of reality, because everything that is perceived is perceived from a certain point of view.  But we can imagine what an objective view would look like -- reconstructing the scene from above, for instance.  Physicists might tell me that my desk is really constructed of atoms, and that my hands aren't really touching my keyboard, but that's just another point of view -- one which is constructed very logically, but one which I'm not capable of directly perceiving.

When I look out on the world, or when I reflect on my memories, or when I theorize about the true nature of the universe, I'm making a duplicate of the universe inside my mind.  Here in my inner world, I have everything from facts about Pluto to memories of my childhood.  My late grandfather lives here, and the house I grew up in, and the heroes of the stories I write.  A holly tree cut down a decade ago is still growing in here.  I have poems and works of art, songs and dreams.  It's a world that I can try to share with others, but all I can do is give them a shape for their own images they're constructing inside their minds -- which won't look exactly like mine. 

I remember being about twelve years old and wishing telepathy were real.  I didn't just want access to someone else's surface thoughts -- I wanted to know everything about another person, and for them to know everything about me.  I've since realized that it would take a lifetime to learn everything about a person, because it took a lifetime for them to become what they are.  I don't even understand myself all the time!  Thinking about my twelve-year-old self is a bit of a mystery -- I don't have a full memory of that time, only scattered recollections (plus some journals and fanfic I no longer enjoy reading).  I know her better than I know anyone else alive -- but I don't know her fully.

There's a Rush song that goes, "We are secrets to each other / Each one's life a novel no one else has read."  It's true -- even if a biographer should seek out every word I said, every letter I wrote, every photograph ever taken of me, they wouldn't be able to capture the whole of my interior reality.  What's more, even if they could, no one would have the time to read it!

Sometimes I might wonder if the inside of other people is at all like the inside of myself.  Perhaps I am the only one who really thinks and feels -- the rest of them are just unconscious automatons, simulations.  Or maybe people of my ethnic group are like me, but others are not.  Or maybe they are somewhat similar, but their experience of, say, the color blue (a mental construct by which we understand certain waves of light) is nothing like mine.

But the situation's really not so grim.  We can speak to each other and exchange information about our inner realities.  While we will never fully understand exactly how another person experiences the color of the ocean, or how they feel when they hear a Mozart sonata, we can say "blue" or "beautiful" and know that they are experiencing a reality like ours.  Sharing with others is one way we check our experience against reality -- I see a mountain, and my friend sees a mountain too, so it can't only be an illusion.

Plato said that these realities must be outside ourselves, and indeed outside this world.  If we all see beauty, Beauty must be out there somewhere.  Another person might say "Since beauty does not exist by itself, it is only an illusion."  I would say, "There are things that exist in all our minds at once, and even if they don't have a separate reality of their own, they have a reality in our inner worlds."  That is, just because beauty does not exist apart from the minds that perceive it does not mean it is not real.  Blue is an experience that could never be explained just by recourse to what wavelengths of light that produce it, but we all know what blue is, as long as we've seen it.  Even if it doesn't look exactly the same to each of us, it is similar enough to give all of our experiences of it a kind of commonality. 

So love is real, and beauty, and goodness, and sadness.  All of these are real, even though they are objects of inner space.  Since they guide the actions of people -- beings who exist on the outside as well as on the inside -- they affect the external reality.  Because we share an idea of goodness, we follow it with our actions and change the world.  Someone's idea of beauty might result in a painting or a sculpture -- something which might perhaps be of no importance to an "objective beholder," if there could be such a thing, but which matters to humans because we all love beauty.

The question which has troubled me for so long is this: is God one of these ideas, a dream (as I put it) of the world-soul, a thought we are all thinking together, something we have created which says something about us and what we all have in common . . . or is God something outside of us, a part of reality, which (if we want to be wise and truthful) we should seek out and strive to conform our images to? 

Either way, it seems undeniable to me that God matters.  Because if it is a name we give to the highest thought we can think, the greatest thing we can imagine, the guide of all ... then the shape we ascribe to him will change the way we act more than anything else could.  And if God is an external reality, he and only he is the true observer of all that we are -- the only person who could truly share our inner space with us, and preserve it after the exterior reality is gone.  That is why I continue to search, even though I can't find anything beyond the most doubtful clues.

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