Another Look at Reality

In my last post I floated the idea that even if we were able to somehow travel back in time and communicate freely with people from a bygone age, there would only – at best – be certain aspects of shared experience.  This, I argued, is because ‘truth’ or what we term ‘reality’ is a subjective interplay between a person’s mind, brain and the objects and events that form to produce each person’s perceived world.

‘Aha,’ you may say, “If that were the case, how would you and I share a common view of a scene before us?  Even a short discussion would prove that our vision of what lay around us was identical.  We could even take photographs to demonstrate it!’

Well certainly we citizens of the 21st century share a common perception of the objects and events around us.  Perceptive reality has strong links to social cohesion and the ‘training’ we were given in infancy. 

Fantasy, Fairy Tale Forest, Girl, ForestOur culture has a slightly strange take on sharing our World View with new arrivals.  A rich mythic tradition is passed on to our children – Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, giants, goblins, elves and trolls appear in huge numbers of their storybooks and the bedtime tales we share with them.  Talking animals and fabulous beasts abound.  Then, as the children mature, these wonders are, one by one, consigned to a scrapheap of untruths.  Those stories, they are told, were ‘just pretend’.  Now they are expected to cast away such childish delights and focus on a world that can be seen, prodded and proved to be ‘real’. 

“So are dinosaurs real?” asks the confused child. “What about dragons?  What about Father Christmas…?  Why did you lie to me?”

Parents and carers struggle to justify their actions.  They are doing as their parents did.  They are rearing their young in the way our society dictates.  Once they reach the age of 7 or 8, even the child who knows she once saw fairies in the garden or glimpsed a fiery dragon from her window has put such things aside and conformed to the accepted and shared idea of how reality looks and feels.  Mostly.

Stonehenge, England, Uk, MonumentOf course there are still different perceptions within our common perceptual framework.  If we imagine a hypothetical twenty people standing and regarding Stonehenge in the 2020s, all would probably be in agreement as to the size and bulk of the stones, the green of the grass, the colour of the sky, strength of the wind and sound of the passing traffic on the A303.

One observer, though, might be hugely excited at the sight of a military aircraft flying over the scene – an aspect of the experience missed totally by others.

Another of the people might be high on a hallucinogenic drug or have what is currently called a ‘mental illness’.  That person might be seeing quite different colours strobing and wheeling around the stones and hearing sounds or voices the rest of the observers would not be aware of.

A third might be a synesthete.  He or she might be tasting or smelling the colours and textures in a manner quite alien to the rest.

Perhaps two or three members of the group might have psychic sensitivities which allowed them to see spots of bright light or hazy halos surrounding certain stones or perhaps glowing crystals buried deep beneath the ground.  They might even perceive shadowy figures from other times.

Winter, Snow, Landscape, Trees, SnowfallAs is the custom in our age, more or less all these visitors would take out their phones and photograph the scene before them.  If they then compared the results, all the images would show the grass, the stones, the path and so forth, yet some would include mysterious orbs or thin coloured arcs of light.  Depending on their personal World Views, these would be variously interpreted as aliens, angelic beings, reflections of light from mundane sources or pieces of dust on the camera lens.  Each, of course, would be entirely correct, according to their World View.

I would further suggest that if the group of 20 people were standing around Stonehenge in c2500BC, their perception of what lay before them would be markedly different to that of the 21st century visitors.  Their common take on ‘reality’ would link to their shared prior experience and social conditioning and their society almost certainly perceived the world around them in markedly different ways, with senses responding to stimuli in a manner that we could not grasp.

Clearly, I have no way of demonstrating this.  Those ancient people standing on a wind-blasted plain in southern England left us no written record or clues as to what was going through their minds and how their world looked to them.  They simply, for their own reasons, created a massive structure that survived into our age.

Fortunately for the curious among us, not all World Views are as poorly recorded.  Next time I’d like to take you to a culture that has been meticulously documented by its people, in a language we can read and understand.  In certain ways it is markedly similar to our own, but in others quite, quite incomprehensible.

The Illusion of Ordinary Life

Audience, Chairs, Show, Hall, AuditoriumI wanted to tell you about my weekend.

That simple intention has taken me on a brief but fascinating journey this morning, so I’ll probably end up telling you about that, too.

Let me start by saying that both the weekend and this morning’s journey have involved little more than sitting in a chair.  As we all know, huge and wondrous journeys can be experienced that way.  We sit in chairs and watch screens, read books, listen to speakers, and new worlds open up.  Then – for the majority of us, at least – the desire to move beyond this vicarious existence kicks in, and we feel the need to head away from the chair and to once again immerse ourselves in ‘ordinary life’.

Ancient, Art, Cemetery, EnglandI’ve spent two solid days sitting in a darkened hall at a conference, listening to a glittering array of speakers – academics, field archaeologists, explorers and the odd metaphysician, all immersed in the study of ancient megalithic sites.  They had devoted huge portions of their lives to the meticulous observation and measurement of structures, carvings and rows of standing stones and now they had gathered to share their discoveries with us.

Flower Of Life, Spiritual, TrippyAgain and again we watched aerial images upon which intricate patterns of geometry had been superimposed.  The golden mean, perfectly dissected circles and squares, Pythagorean triangles and Platonic solids hung ethereally above and within structures created – who knows how? – in times at least as far distant from Pythagoras and Plato as those gentlemen are from us.  We were shown how only by building at that exact latitude could this or that angle exactly mirror the one created by the sun, the moon or some other significant heavenly body with the Earth at a given time.  We marvelled at the accuracy, the deliberation, the sheer effort made by our ancestors to achieve this perfection, only now clear to us thanks to the devotion and vision of the researchers, aided by Google Earth, drones and sophisticated software programs.

I was hunting for a title for this post, and found it in the name of a fine art card I’d purchased at the conference – a sublime piece of artwork by one of the speakers, Nicholas Cope RCA.  I’d love to reproduce it here, but didn’t gain permission, so please momentarily click on The artwork to take a look.

This beautiful image sums up the content of the conference I’ve been discussing here rather well.  However it was the title which intrigued me even more.  It encompassed an idea that had been tugging at my consciousness – just beyond reach of words – throughout the weekend.  ‘Where does the idea come from?’ I asked myself.  That led to this morning’s journey.

Image result for rene guenonI typed ‘The Illusion of Ordinary Life’ into the search engine and found myself reading an article by V Susan Ferguson, based on the work of one René Guénon.

Yes!

I’d never heard of him until today, yet here was this French Catholic, turned Sufi, metaphysical intellectual, writing back in the 1940s and encapsulating the very idea that had been nagging at me:

We are devoted to measuring the endless surfaces of what we imagine to be solid matter.

The full article (well worth reading) can be found here.  I suspect I’ll be getting better acquainted with Monsieur Guénon over the coming weeks.

You see there were hints – tiny subtle numinous ones – throughout the weekend nudging me towards that utterly obvious idea.

There was the speaker who marvelled that many of his measurements of an ancient artefact came out at an exact, and significant, number of centimetres. (Did the ancients use centimetres??)  There was the story recounted by one of my companions of a sarcophagus in Egypt which – she’d been there and experienced it – despite being solid granite was an exact fit for everyone in their party who lay inside it, from a guy 6ft 5 tall to a lady of barely 5ft and all in between.  There was a symbologist who  showed a dizzying array of connections between words and symbols from widely different cultures and time-frames which could be meshed together to create a perfect whole, with each element adding greatly to the gestalt so formed.
“What’s real,” this lady told the audience, with a knowing smile, “is the space between the forms.”

Cpu, Processor, Electronics, ComputerSo, if I can tear myself away from the magical information technology that seamlessly brings me together with concepts, images and ideas from other times and places via electromagnetic waves in the aether, I’ll head off to the garden, to ground myself in the ‘ordinary world’ – the sensory feedback that is integral to my physical experience.  As I do so, though, I won’t fall into the trap of pondering the wonders I’ve been shown in the past two days in terms of physicality alone.

We have far more gnosis available to us, far more ways of connecting to the Ancients and their megaliths than with software, tape measure and protractor.  Just as the archaeologist’s meticulous drawing of a ground plan gives us only a limited idea of the 3D structure, so that physical structure, as we perceive it in terms of length, width and height, gives only the smallest hint of its full conception and significance.  For that we have to relinquish our addiction to the illusion of the physical and move into realms that are not governed by time and space; move into realms more like the ones we connect with on our computers, yet very different.