I was standing in the street the other day outside the shop, taking a break as I do from the monotony inside and the opportunity to stretch my legs walking a few paces this way and then returning the other. I gaze about me idly, taking in the movement and assessing the passers-by as potential customers. My mind wanders. Then as I turned about on one of my small laps I spotted lumbering my way a tall man dressed haphazardly, both in combination and effect – tracksuit pants with business shirt and a padded jacket, the hem of the shirt trailing on one side. From the first glance it was clear in the slightly awkward gait and the immobile expression on his face that this man wasn’t quite right.
Standing there with nothing to do here was something my mind could latch upon. I watched him come close and then go by. I found questions arising in me as if for the first time. I had no notion of the particular ailment the man suffered from. Possibly he had some kind of medical condition that required supervision, or else had suffered a serious injury at some point; maybe he lacked the conventional intellect to manage his affairs as the rest of us strive to.
I realised I knew little of these things, but very quickly my own mind slipped past that salient point. I felt consumed by curiosity. I had looked into the vacant but troubled countenance of the man as if I could discern something there. It felt as if it was the first time I had ever done that; as if, like most people I expect, I had fallen into the habit of unseeing those on the peripheries of society.
I went back inside and all of that seemed, in that moment, of secondary consideration. Looking into the man’s face I wondered what went on in his mind. Conditioned as I am to look upon the world with my own eyes and to sort and sift through it with my busy mind, this was something I had rarely thought twice about. There is a certain narcissism in being clever.
Now though, I wondered, fascinated that I had never pondered this before and fascinated by the mystery of the answer. Which was it? Was the world so complex to him that it baffled? Or instead so simple as to seem transparent? What troubled his mind? When he looked upon things I do what did he see different to me? And why? Was the world a place of glittering colour and movement, or something drab and monotone? Or something just in between?
I could not imagine. I couldn’t imagine in much the same way you can’t imagine being someone else. This is my reality. To realise that there might be other realities is confounding.
Reality is an illusion in any case. I watched something recently which had a profound effect upon my thinking. It was about vision, how we see things differently from the animals because of the differences in our eyes. We see in different colours it turns out because the family dog can views things in colour spectrums not available to us. I look upon a flower and see something bright and distinctly colourful; Rigby, my dog, looks upon it and sees something of the same shape but presented in different colours.
That’s fascinating in itself, but the real revelation is that seeing, in fact, is not believing. We look upon things that are actually representations of reality – a true thing than can be seen in many different ways according to the prism of our biology. That raises the question as to what reality is, or even truth. Does reality exist in the sense we have defined it? What is the true version? Or is ‘truth’ no more than another perspective?
As you can see, it raises some mind-bending conundrums.
In these pages I have documented loosely my sense of truth and reality. This is the world I see and consider. These are the environs within which I operate and have come to believe constitute a reality I respond to subjectively but which exists in fact. As I’ve always presumed it to be in any case.
I have intelligence and the ability to analyse and assess, but that doesn’t make my reality more true than anyone else’s. My reality, or my world, is made more complex by that ability in all likelihood, and probably enriches it in sundry different ways. Is what I see or experience more true than anyone else’s? No. Just different, just as the man in the street experiences a reality I could never conceive of, but as true to him as it is to me (there’s that slippery word: truth).
Reality is personal. We each have a perception of reality we take to be authentic. In fact almost all of our ‘reality’ is perspective. The only true thing is science, the rules that govern our existence. A thing called true reality doesn’t exist.