A Psychological Understanding of Reality
July 15, 2020
In these current days where so many persons want to broadcast that reality is malleable to one’s needs and desires, it’s worth, it seems to me, investigating a possible understanding of reality which is able, if not to convince a reader reading it, only to open his/her mind up to a possibility of more than meets the eye, than in that which is being proffered by our present cultural and social conceptions in which we feel at home as being our commonly given understanding of reality?
I owe to some extent an acknowledgement of debt to Bishop Berkeley’s ‘A New Theory of Vision’ which book at the very least started me off considering on what I am about to say to you.
First a few words about what might be such a thing as reality.
Everyone would say they feel there is reality; many might add - ‘out there’ - a few less include - “and in here” - their heads – and a few whacky people, budding scientists of physics and people who belong to strange esoteric groups might beg to differ and claim reality is “fluid” and/or “subjective” and/or “unknowable” and/or “has many facets” etc etc with other caveats and conditionals thrown in.
Nonetheless for all the standard claim that there is reality remains.
For myself as a Christian I feel that I do leave this question of reality to God. The delvers into the metaphysics of reality, the reasoners and the dividers of words, for me go nowhere, but are caught up in their own nets and springes. Likewise those physicists, among their bunch, who leave behind what is known and what has some evidence and stability for us - especially that understanding which works to allow us to lead our day to day lives with some security and surety – and instead who love to go on Alice in Wonderland field trips.
Today on Radio 4 (2020-07-13) I heard the show ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage”. The talk was of ‘two realities, each equally real” and of an object “existing in two places at once” – both inside and outside of a ‘black hole’ - “two presences – the same object”. And of ‘location in space/time’ – of ourselves, of all and any objects – being not the case, and something only which we are so familiar with that we take it as given and find hard divesting ourselves of this ‘intuition’.
The show was like a game; say like a child given a Mr Potato Head; and a lot of facial attributes for it. The child tries out all sorts of ‘looks’ and absurd faces, and gets delight out of some, and interest and occupation. But it begins and ends as a game – pure messing around as one pleases.
The trouble being that the show is assertive and in its way dogmatical assured about the value of science in determining what might be reality.
Likewise, other interested parties also want to determine, delimit, for others the bounds of reality. For instance, one hears on commercial radio insidious advertisements from government pointing citizens to a government website where is located ‘the real lowdown’ on Coronavirus. One is told – don’t spread the information around that you get from Social Media and from emails and from friends and family – the implication is that this information being spread around is not true and is misinformation. This is the default position for government then.
Similarly what people hear on “The Infinite Monkey Cage”, this programme having the ballast of the BBC and its educational aspirations behind it, plus some names from reputed academic institutions, some of these names famous; having this amount of ‘authority’ would cause many listeners to be happy to receive and recite these patent nonsenses to their acquaintance, and offer these madnesses as being “how it is”
- i.e. as (a part of) “reality”.
The Orwellian aspects of all this closing down are very alarming. In Cardiff today I saw posters of this kind pasted up in the town centre
The closedown in our democracy of certain topics of legitimate discussion; the attempts by government, broadcasters, press, to next-to-force their audiences into channels of belief and information in which they set the agendas; has led us in great part into this morass whereby we are being told like O’Grady ‘do this, do that’, without due care for evidence or for efficacy of the measures
One story in the news yesterday was about how people are losing their immunities that they had built up against Coronavirus by them having beaten off a dose of it. Is this news? Do not all viruses and bacterial infections carry the same downside – that they will mutate and they will become more (or even less sometimes, for humans) virulent? Another pointless senseless scare story to keep the public anxieties racing.
How much nonsense is talked on air and published is astonishing.
For what does it mean to a person reasoning that an object can be in two places at once? Especially when ‘locations’ in spacetime are at the same time being said to be in doubt altogether? And how is a person to interpret ‘two realities – each of them equally real”.
Theologians and clerics are carelessly accused of ‘just bandying about words’ I heard Roy Hattersley, the ex Labour minister say he loved the words of Scripture but that they were just words.
Indeed science is now our Cathedral and our Basilica of faith; and it has gone the way of Medieval Scholasticism now and has become obsessed with its own backside. Since in fact one cannot get one’s head around what reality might be let alone be so foolhardy bold as to posit two realites. One can use descriptors and definitions such as ‘reality is ‘what is the case’’ and so on but they go nowhere in practical useful terms nor have they any explanatory power.
Reality is ubiquitous and immanent everywhere but its nature eludes us every one of us. Who dare claim she or he has the answer? The understanding of what it is and how it works?
The advertisement on the radio telling us what to think and that Big Brother Boris Knows Best – that he and his mercenaries have the exclusive hold on Coronavirus truth is another fearfully scary Orwellian development. It all causes me to ask where is this present social manipulation of us all heading? What might be the punch line? Since everything done today, in commerce and politics especially, has a subtext and an ulterior governing motivation for it being done.
Call me paranoid but the traffic lights on the main road from Newport to Cardiff here are set, and have been set for several months now, since the beginnings of this virus affair, to allow just three vehicles to pass before returning to red. I suspect that either the City Council has merley forgotten to change the lights back to how they were before traffic ceased overnight; or more sinisterly the lights remain as they are and huge queues of traffic pile up before them because in that state they deter persons from using their cars? This may sound mad in me – but the politicians and the administrators who serve them – this is how they think – how they approach what they see as their policy implementations and their problems to be solved. Never do anything directly so that the intent and purpose can be viewed clearly by the people.
Today in the newspaper (The Guardian) there was a story that a large area of land had been set aside in secret by our Westminster government, land nearest the European continent on the coastline of Britain. To be used post Brexit as a massive lorry park when Customs and Excise become hyperactive on imports from/exports to the EU.
The local government in the area knew nothing. Only today has the ‘plan’ been revealed publicly and it had been agreed in secret and costs £750 milion. This is the government pleading it is without money to help residents in care, or to help others in need of welfare and health treatments. Nor to build houses. The government whose leading members offered a promise of £ how many millions per week going to the NHS post Brexit, money being what we shall save from contributions no longer going to the EU?
This money to the NHS is NEVER raised as an issue nor as a (another broken) pledge or anything else, to or by our government. As far as the government ministers etc are concerned, as far as anyone will see any of that money – that boat has sailed.
And there’s no means of holding to account. More and more power is being collected into the hands of the Cabinet, inner sanctum committees, special advisors, and a small coterie of Svengalis at the root of it all.
Our reality in so far as it is determined by our ‘democracy’ and by our ‘social’ interactions, is being closed down severely by these people – and I suspect there is a punch line, a destination, which as the Lorry Park was, we are not yet privy to knowledge of it.
But beyond this little corner of consciousness in which our social and democratic reality struggles to maintain itself, extends a bigger finer area of reality, one better, an enlargement of reality in any meaning of ‘enlargement’ you want to apply.
For instance when we catch a bus or a train we often almost without realising see ourselves as being seated and stationary, and the scenery ‘going past us’ out of the windows as being the moving objects. Even when we are walking in a street sometimes we can find ourselves thinking along similar lines.
The way we use language is ambiguous about this observation. We sometimes say an object is ‘coming up ahead’ or that “the mall has just come into sight” even though most of the time we tend to say ‘I’ll be there in 10 minutes’ or ‘I’m on my way’.
Without doubt, since our body is the centre and locus of our perceptions, from which our senses gather information about the world, it is natural that we should consider in our minds that we are the centre of things and that the world beyond being dispersed and diffuse is ‘outside’ because it is ‘not us’, and as I said ‘out there’.
This sense of one being the centre of things is reinforced by or else maybe is responsible for our early egotisms in our personalities?
It’s worth a diversion here to talk a little about this perception we have, each of us, of being the centre of things; and about how this perception is ‘played with’ and ’manipulated’ with deliberate purpose by persons and entities in the world, particularly in the social, commercial and political worlds.
You’ll recall maybe some of you I wrote about personal pronouns and their use ‘on us’ by persons in authority in our lives who before 1960 were addressed and looked upon by us very much more formally than they encourage us to look upon them these days. Even now my friend who hires young helpers in his IT business in The Philippines, they address him as ‘Sir M’ always, as we al here used to do in far flung days.
There’s an insidious cunning behind this use of personal pronouns in our public lives. One sees it best in the use made of pronouns in advertising and in names of products and services. How many articles are ‘sold’ to us on TV, online, elsewhere, everywhere, by the use of personal pronouns. i-player – the I is not just ‘information’ - YouTube, webuyanycar, because you’re with it, made with you in mind, we care about your health, it goes on all the time everywhere.
Along with this attempt to personalise every communication and so ‘reach’ your inner feelings, comes an avalanche of utterly false solicitude for a person, a consumer, a viewer. Lloyds Bank and the black horses and the ‘there for you’ pitch; LV and their dreadful heart shape symbol (LV being the distinctive letters of the word ‘love’). Tesco and its ‘Mary’s baked beans made with love’, The great rush of false and hyped emotion and ‘feeling’ for NHS workers and in the general public in this ‘terrible’ current situation with the virus – see the poster above here – and the ‘wartime spirit’ and such – all of it is unsubstantiated – the homeless beggars are being turfed out of their hotels in which they were corralled as dangerous bearers of infection, are going back on the streets (where they belong?) and no-one but a few charity organisations are raising an eyebrow. Coronavirus panic did many homeless people a favour giving them some respite in hotel rooms. But like all things seem to do, despite things ‘never being the same again’ they are just slotting back gradually into their normal old sad dreadful runnels, and Boris is telling us to ‘spend spend spend’ and the air is getting dirty again from traffic and birds are singing less in gardens.
Just as the 2008 crash on the markets offered a golden opportunity for making radical good changes for the betterment of all, but the opportunity was squandered and ‘things just came back’ to dismal normal; so too this opportunity to make some radical betterments is again kicked into touch by the people who hold power and money. The only massive ‘opportunist’ action I can think of has been in response to 911 when UK and US allied against Saddam and in 7 days bombed Iraq ‘back into the stone age’ - a nation which had next to nothing to do with the atrocity of 911.
The advertisements are arriving back on our screens for DFS Sales - which never seem to stop – and for cruises with their selling points being ‘the lure of adventure’ to rare parts of the world, but which in fact are herded, directed and antiseptically protected scoots around a few attractions selected for passengers, and especially also for their innocuous insipidity.
Household cleaners are being offered, like Flash which has a selling point that it kills 100% of known germs and bacteria and viruses – including Coronavirus. We are traumatised by a fear of ‘bleeding gums’ to buy x brand toothpaste. Or else a pretty and young female dentist talks to us as if she were our friend saying how she recommends this brush and so on.
Be aware. See how often – almost all the time – you are being approached by advertisers and by many presenters of news and of programmes – as if you were a child – talked down to and spoken to as if there were some impairment in your faculties – and the personal pronouns are used ‘on’ you, seemingly to be kind and sympathetic towards you, but in fact are an invasion of your personal space and an intrusion into your privacy and upon your personal dignity.
The French and German languages carry still their ‘tu’ and ‘du’ for close acquaintances and ‘vous’ and ‘sie’ for more distanced relations and relationships; and this is a very good thing indeed. In our English language the opportunity for unwonted personal intrusion is far easier to approach and maintain, and yet pretend it is for ‘love’ not money.
Note also that news and views commentators will speak to listeners offering them comment that is often nothing else than what is blindinging obviously the case, given say, the UK Foreign Policy or the standpoint of the persons who are the source of the news or information. That is in those cases in which a source is made clear.
And again, statistics are rolled out unquestioningly by their broadcaster purveyors. Never if ever with any or sufficient context for them to make any sense at all. They are facile and are used so as to impress by their sudden shock value, and to be bandied about as ‘government truth’ by all who fail to see, or want us to fail to see, their hollowness.
But reality if one can say anything about it, is far beyond and far better than this cultural petrie jar we are all asked to contain ourselves within, and in which we are even sometimes more than encouraged, even constrained to do what O’Grady says.
I’ve written before several times about magnitude and reality – about how from a sub-molecular perspective the cosmos looks, and possibly is, extremely different to our own 5 foot 10, 140 lbs, bodily perspective. And again how from the perspective of intergalactic space our own 12 foot square kitchens and 6 foot long beds are utterly alien, as is the sub-molecular world to intergalactic space.
Also magnitudes in time severely differ likewise. A nanosecond is the lifespan of some subatomic particles. The earth’s geological history dwarfs the lifespan of a common human. The projected age of the cosmos also dwarfs our human timezones and we cannot easily grasp mentally what these time periods might be (e.g. light years which are distance as well as time measures).
But these are all parts common to the reality we all acknowledge. Nothing which we acknowledge as a human race is alien to our sense of reality.
I have also written on the topic of human authority; on how every person, every one of us set up in any state of authority has ‘feet of clay’; that in human terms only, there is no authority beyond or behind our social and political etc masters and mistresses (is that word allowed these days?). Those masters and mistresses necessarily have to ‘play it by ear’ with ‘ears to the ground’ for their judgements on issues; and their authority is based on this facility and their reputation stands or falls by how well the can listen and interpret what they hear.
But it’s all hit and miss in the end – the only sure - the only and definitive authority – is The Lord God - The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here and with him resides certainty, truth, reality.
For a citizenry to be told that what they access electronically is going to be false, unless they are accessing an authorised version, and one indited imprimatur by government – is a joke. But we have jokers for leaders.
Likewise the references made by our governors to what they call ‘The Science’. Even this so-called ‘The Science’ disagrees with itself – one troupe holding that big-ends of eggs apply and another that little ends are good, much better that big-ends. But our governors persist with calling the disagreements ‘The Science’ – as if it were a monolith which is absolute and all agreed on.
Science is only as good as are scientists, morally, intellectually, practically, veritably – same with every branch of study.
Now imagine that we propose reality to be able to be likened to the surface of a sphere. If you like reductively speaking space-time as a sphere’s surface. Each object, person, hill, sheep, house, on the surface is equidistant from the centre of that sphere. By the distance of the sphere’s radius. Any circumscription of the sphere made around the circumference, which has any object chosen on its surface as the pole of that circumscription, that object chosen will be ‘in the centre at the pole’ of that hemisphere described by the circumscription.
Every object on the surface of such a sphere can have such a circumference drawn and a hemisphere imagined. So that we have a situation wherein every object, person, house, sheep, hill, is able to be, and is to be considered as being, ‘in the centre of things.
Now you might begin to be able to see how psychologically-speaking what we accept as given as reality might be interpreted as, what I can call a little ludicrously, as being sort of ‘hosted’ by us as kind of ‘TV receivers’ or ‘3 D printers’? Each of us in the centre of our little beings hosting each a ‘broadcast’ of reality, which is kind of uniform and singular, and which will show as slightly different on each different ‘TV set’?
The sphere is the arena of reality. Each of us is on a surface point of the sphere. We are ‘wired in’ so as to perceive this surface, each from his or her central viewpoint. Each of us gets slightly different reception and so variant understanding of the surface but in aggregate we all more and less agree on its bounds and norms.
The word ‘nature’ illustrates this conception well. Everyone understands what ‘nature’ is and means. We can all agree on some very broad character for nature. When we come to the ‘small print’ however we are often at odds with one another – over big-ends and small-ends often, although there are some debates which are perhaps valid as debates. Our personal views on what nature is parallels our particular ‘TV reception’ of our view of the surface of the sphere, and this reception differs of course according to whereabouts we are, at what point on the sphere’s surface we are standing.
In olden days it was accepted that the eye sent out a beam by which it ‘saw’ objects – the eyebeam. This is another egocentric belief perhaps? But that is exactly how we experience our eyes seeing things. We do not think, ah, light is entering our eyes and my brain is processing the light’s shades and colours – we see, and we believe we ‘focus’ on a sight, we place something ‘before our mind’s eye’ we actively feel we see rather than us being passive viewers, or even rather than us believing the sense of sight to be at, and up to, the entry to the eye of light passive in its entirety.
This brings me to how we think of ourselves as ‘agencies’ - which is to say we feel we are incarnate flesh and blood prime movers in our own rights – as Sherman Klump says “I’m in control!” In fact we are sure we are and have hardly a shadow of doubt about it – instinctually.
We feel we have access to doing and making and shaping and handling and turning things around and over, in our minds, and by use of our bodies and limbs as well. As John Donne said we are each ‘little universes’. It does seem to me very possible that we are in fact, to put it crudely ‘wired in’ perhaps ‘wirelessly’ to a greater conception and consciousness than our own conditional and limited lives and minds can lay claim to.
Jung taught his idea of a ‘collective unconscious’ but whether as a conceptual projection and a supposed and metaphoric state of affairs, or as a more solid actuality than a mere idea or figure of speech I don’t know. I mean in this description I’ve laid out something more, and something more substantial than an aery ‘perhaps’ in a mind for a fleeting instant.
I have for some years now come to accept the othrthodox Christian belief that God not only created the world and the cosmos and that ‘there was nothing made that was not made by him’ - I also accept the dogma that God sustains his works every nanosecond - every iota of time and place, action, and life and event. God right now is keeping my chair as ’chair’ and my fingers typing as ‘my fingers’. There’s nothing strange about this. You can read it in many prayerbooks, and this assertion has been there to be read in them for millennia.
There is nothing very much concrete so as to be established as affirmative truth about the foundational well-springs of our world, our cosmos, our reality, in terms of empirical observation or in terms of speculations by men and women. There have been various schools of thought and theories on this and that, each with their advocates and followers, big-endians and little-endians.
This is why Biblical revelation, as revelation is meant and given to us in and by The Bible, once allowed as possible by a person, then becomes the only route to truth and certainty - and the explanatory power of such Biblical revelation is absolute and complete
Furthermore ethically-speaking, behaviour and conduct, which are absolutely necessary for a good life (from and for all people) is there also revealed in The Bible, as is also the necessity about how one should, and one is to, try for such things. The two things, conduct and eschatalogical, epistemological, revelation are harmonised in The Gospels, The Old and New Testaments, and cannot be understood by men and women unless conduct and eschatalogical, epistemological, revelation are understood together as being elements in a single whole. God being that single whole.
There then is my “Thought for the day”. Amen. Amen.