Change… is the one constant of life. And our reality is changing. True, it is never what it was – but will we appreciate, what it will become? In this essay, I explore the boundaries we set upon it and the ways in which we understand it – and, implicitly, how we can change it. For ourselves, at least, if not for others. It is a journey of sorts. A journey, within.
The Voice of the Dragon
We live in the last, golden days of the Age of Enlightenment. Already the old institutions are crumbling into decay. Slowly, ever so slowly – and ever so inexorably. The world is no longer what it was.
That, of course, is always the case. But the world to come… that world will have little enough of light in it.
In saying this, do I sound just like those doomsday prophets of old? Gaunt madmen who preached the impending apocalypse and the end of the world, gripping the Bible in their bony hands and trying to convince the uncaring multitudes of their visions of doom?
Yes, just like them, indeed… Except for this: I do not preach, and I hold no holy book in my hand. My faith is not one of religion but of humanity. And my scripture is no single text or tome, written by feverish hermits claiming to hear the voice of God, but the tattered and blood-stained history of human civilisation itself.
And what I foresee is not doom, but darkness.
Do you remember the future?
It may be difficult, today, to truly see the world as other than what it is right now. Oh, sure – you can dream of a better future, yes? Even imagine how it may look, with flying cars, free medicine to all, and global warming but a distant threat kept at bay by the boundless resource of human ingenuity.
You can dream…
But can you remember?
How many of you, after all, can remember how life was before the mobile? Before the Internet? The end of the Cold War? Do you recall how it was to look up something? To search for, say, “the history of democracy”? A mere three decades ago, that single question would prompt a small journey down to the local library and a major task searching through the tomes there. Today, we ask Google. Or Siri. Or Alexa. Or any of a growing host of Internet oracles.
Do you remember when those oracles were born? The time before that? Can you close your eyes and truly feel how life was then? … Breathe in the air of yesteryear and caress its rough texture with your fingertips?
If you can, then you will know – as surely as you are breathing now – that those things, which seem utterly natural today? They were, in many cases, the scarcely imagined wonders of the past.
We have a word for that: “progress.”
We deem it inevitable.
And yes, it most likely really is. Barring some truly global, natural or man-made disaster, there is no reason why “progress” should not continue into the far horizon.
Well, no reason at all – except for the scarcity of resources. On Earth.
What is reality?
That question has been the subject of countless hours of thought and philosophical or religious debate. What is it…?
Is it a world comprised of physical matter which we can touch and sense and influence – and which exists due to natural laws we are only now beginning to comprehend?
Or is it an illusion shaped by mystical forces or gods beyond our ken?
Or maybe it is merely a figment of imagination? A dream, perchance, shaped by our minds?
It was in the search for this truth, for the fundamental knowledge of existence, that the philosopher finally declaimed, “Cogito, ergo sum” – I think, therefore I am. And with those words laid the foundation for Western philosophy.
Well, actually what Descartes laid out was the argument, “I doubt, and because I doubt, I must exist.” And so doubt – the fundamental questioning of knowledge and beliefs – became the foundation on which literally all of Western culture and science was built.
What a magnificent concept!
Too bad we have stopped doing that.
The Shape of Reality
“Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view.”— Obi-Wan Kenobi
We live – and therefore we think.
In many ways, the human mind is the crowning achievement of Earthly evolution. It’s still open for debate, of course, whether it will also be the very last achievement of evolution… ever; we’ll see about that. But there is no other, evolutionary feat in the world today which even comes close to exhibiting the power residing within that, which we call the brain.
Still, there are limits to it. Some less obvious than others.
We think… but what do we think? What shapes the world of our thoughts, of our reality?
Beliefs define that world. Conjecture and imagination circumscribe it. Memory lends it colour, smell, touch. And dreams and hopes bring light and life to it. The world, in which we actually live, is the world within the mind.
The world out there – outside of us – is something with which our senses allow us to interact. Our eyes let us see it; our ears let us hear it. We can move around in it and smell, touch, feel it. But the mind is, fundamentally, only a passing stranger in that world; gazing in through the windows of our senses.
Where we really live is – within.
And in there – in your mind – the rules are different.
For one thing, that world does not obey physical laws, such as the material reality does. It obeys the laws of your belief: the world is as you believe it to be. It cannot be otherwise: what you believe the world to be, that is how the world is – for you. Possibly not for anyone else, but definitely for you.
Most of us, for instance, do not believe the Earth to be flat; but some do. Some believe that the Earth was created according to natural laws and phenomena; others believe in an omnipotent Creator. There are even people who think it unimaginably bad of Bill Clinton to lie about having a sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky, while others – err… no, make that pretty much the same people – believe it is completely all right of Donald Trump to lie about absolutely everything.
The human mind is amazingly flexible that way.
A marvellous prison.
You don’t believe me? So… who created those rules, those beliefs which shape your reality? Did you?
Think about it.
The Dimensions of Culture
“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”— Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., American physician, poet & polymath
That you, the flame of consciousness reading these words, where is your reality? Where do you exist? Well, inside the mind, the brain – obviously.
And yet, it literally takes no more than a thought for you to escape that constraint and to roam free – unbound and unfettered – throughout all of that, which you can imagine or remember, feel and think.
When we think we are not limited to that, which we can sense. And the world of our imagination is, quite literally, boundless.
Physical bounds that is.
But mentally, there are boundaries beyond which we do not want to go. There are limits, which we do not want to cross. Realms of thoughts and visions, which we do not want to visit, even in our imagination.
They are the outside. That, which is proscribed. The uncharted space not mapped by the dimensions of our culture. That, which we by upbringing, tradition, laws and rules, belief or religion, indoctrination or marketing, parochial conservatism or sheer mental blindness, has blinkered away from the horizon of our consciousness.
Mostly for good reasons. Because venturing into the outside is neither pleasant nor without consequences.
What you will see there is apt to change you. For better – or for worse.
Going out there is not the hard part though – once you are aware that there is an outside. The hard part comes once you try to get back inside again. Because you will have changed. And humans, as a species, do not take kindly to those who are different…
You don’t believe me? Very well. Let me take you on a trip. Just a short flight of imagination to… somewhere close to the border.
Answer me this – what shapes our reality?
– What we think and feel
– Because the world in which we actually live is the world within the mind.
All right. But that world within, where your thoughts and imagination roam. Where are the limits? What values and beliefs do you hold to be true? What is it you believe you should do, and shouldn’t do? And… why?
Those limits, those values, those beliefs – they are created, taught, instilled into you by your upbringing, your culture, the things you have been taught and told all through your life.
Does that necessarily make them true?
What shapes our reality?
Open your eyes. See.
Are you still the same?
Our reality is defined by what we can think and sense.
Technology has given us a greater reach than ever before. We can visit – both physically and virtually – almost any area on Earth, when and if we should want to.
We have, literally at our fingertips, access to an unprecedented universe of information; more than any human soul of any previous century even dreamed of.
Physically – and even more, virtually – we can roam farther and longer than any time before in all of human history. Experience sights and wonders hitherto impossible – or even unthinkable.
And for a time… For a short, glorious span of years – a mere blink of an eye in the span of human history – we were free.
Free to think. To learn. To imagine. To speak. To let our minds roam and touch – anywhere on Earth. As long as there was a connection to the ever-growing Net.
For a short span of years…