I’ve been pondering existence the last few days, and I’ve realized that if the universe is a hallucination, how would I know?
Having visited some incredible worlds only to find that I was dreaming, it’s not too difficult to question reality. I am aware, but what does that mean? In a dream I can live for moments or years in what would be (in “real time”) only seconds. So as you read this on your computer screen, might this all be a construct of an imagination? We might say that talking to other people indicates reality, but we have conversations in “dreams”.
I’ve noticed a distancing from “reality” becoming more common. There are people who have become very good friends over the years that I have never actually touched. Some of my “virtual” friends I have met in person, and some of my “real” friends I only see on the internet these days. The idea of “where am I” becomes difficult to follow when we exist to each other on the internet. The other night my wife and I were on our computers and she asked “where are you?”. She was asking where I was on a page we were both viewing, but at the moment I didn’t take that meaning and said “I’m right here, we’re in the same room”. I was literal, she was virtual.
I recall during the first Gulf War someone telling me that certain aircraft couldn’t be used on a particular mission. He played a video game in which the aircraft in question did not have the required capabilities. Despite my reminders that this was the real world, and that his video game existed in a virtual world with no consequences, he insisted that his specifications were accurate. He trusted the virtual world more than the real world.
I’ve had a couple of encounters such as this, a coworker telling me a building didn’t exist because it wasn’t displayed on his GPS, even though we had been in that building the week before, another telling me that the part he was holding “doesn’t go anywhere in this machine” when he had just removed it from the machine. Slowly I realized that reality requires more imagination than the virtual world.
Above is one of René Magritte’s more famous surrealist paintings. What do you find surreal? (answer at the end of the post)
It takes a fair amount of imagination to deal with reality. The ability to recognize sarcasm and humor requires imagination. The nuances of relationships require imagination. Communicating with other sentient beings requires imagination. Or at least a few smiley faces ;~)
A great character in the television series “Get Smart” was Hymie, a robot. Much like the character “Data” on Star Trek The Next Generation, Hymie had no imagination. When Max said “break the light” meaning “turn off the light”, Hymie crushed the light bulb. Imagination allows us to see beauty in the patterns of light during a sunrise. Imagination makes the clouds which bring rain appear to be elephants playing cricket. Imagination allows us to laugh, and also to cry.
Imagination may be our only measure of existence, while at the same time allowing us to consider that we may not exist. Perhaps the entire universe is a dream, created in a spark as a group of molecules coalesce into a neural synapse in the midst of a great void. Everything that you think has ever existed is simply the false memories of a dream character, who will cease to exist with the next quantum fluctuation.
Reality is what we accept it to be. What we trust it to be. Do we trust our senses, each others senses? Is something valid only because someone we have never met and who may not in fact exist says it’s valid? At some point we need to rely on faith, even if it is only the faith that our “empirical evidence” is not an illusion.
Why is the pipe not a pipe? Can you fill it with tobacco and draw smoke through it? It is only a painting of a pipe.