A Million Different Things, Noon, Meditation #5

Meditation #5 is from the middle section, Noon, in this free serialization of my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man, and concerns itself with how much of reality we ever actually “know”. A full index for the articles so far can be found at: Gift of A Million Different Things

David Stone, Writer

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Pause, as a determined, mindful observer, to appreciate the mechanics that must take place harmoniously as you walk down any street. Your feet initiate a complex set of bone and muscle adjustment to cushion your steps, force changes up through your skeletons and prepare for the next landing. Balancing systems inside your ears work to prevent you from tipping over while your muscles and bones repeat a rhythmic process, involving strength and propulsion, that holds you up and moves you along. When we are in a crowd, an elaborate navigation system in our brains tells us when to slow down, speed up and dodge. Becoming aware of all that is going on as we walk our way through life can by its complexity bring us to a complete halt.

There is detail in nature we’ve never and probably will never see. It’s too small or, sometimes, too large for our senses to pick up or assimilate. Anyone familiar with dog whistles understands that there are ranges of sound we can’t hear. Similarly, there are colors we don’t see and fragrances we don’t detect. We evolved to sense the world around us at a level practical for our well-being, one that keeps us from crashing into objects or falling off cliffs. Widely, if not universally, accepted string theory has it that we are able to see, touch or otherwise assimilate just three of something like ten dimensions. While the others are unknown to us, except in theory and speculation, height, depth and width, anchored by time to make a continuum, are our external guides.

It seems logical that we must be influenced by whatever effects are contained in the others, aware of them or not. Nobody knows exactly why we evolved to recognize a limited range, but it may simply be that that has been enough. Evolution is not in the business of bells and whistles. Our limits might be a sort of blindness. By this I mean that we might be fully involved with every dimension and other elements, but are never aware of them.

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Since our own cells are electromagnetically charged as are the elements in the dimensions we see, maybe the others are not, leaving them invisible or undetectable, but there. If the seven or so other dimensions, whatever they may be, are not electromagnetic, we may not have the equipment to detect them. As we know, blindness never stopped anyone from tripping over a fence, but how would be know if we’d been tripped?

Our brains, in managing awareness, are elaborate and, so far, packed full of mysteries. Our detection equipment, our eyes, our skin, our noses, our ears, capture and send to a centralized processing operation a constant and massive amount of environmental data. Our brains edit out almost all of it, then fashion our vision of a world from what is left. We don’t know if any of the discarded material is retained or processed in some invisible way, but consciously, we form our impressions based on the little we are able to handle. We just don’t have the brain power to consciously manage every bit firing our senses, even understanding that what little we do get comes from a minority of the dimensions available. That we do so well inside shells full of mystery may be the most profound miracle of all. We are early on in our evolution. Someday, we will look back and be wowed over how we got so much done while knowing so little.

A debate continues about whether we all see the same things on the mental screens we know as consciousness and, further, how closely what we do see resembles the world “out there.” (We can skip for now the very valid question of whether there really is an “out there” to consider.) We believe, each of us, that what our brains tell us is “it” is it. Grass is green, and cloudless, daytime skies are blue. We accept the default method developed early in life of assembling, mentally, the world around us. Our view is necessarily abounding with errors, omissions and restrictive value judgments. Making a few conscious revisions in our methods can yield startling results. We know this as “getting out of a rut.”

What we see is not always what we get. Optical illusions happen because we are born with an inventory of templates that inform us about a variety of things after receiving a few pieces of evidence. Other templates are learned or developed. Because of this, for example, we can see a cat in a drawing with only a few suggestive lines in place. Much of what we “know” about the world is accumulated this way.

Advertisers use our shortcuts to inject product impressions, and it’s not just the physical recognition. Our awareness is infused with emotional components related to every object. Our brains make short work of it. “Cat!” we instantly inform ourselves after taking in only the hint of a shape. This works reliably and saves us brainpower for other tasks.

Depending on how we feel about cats, we get a sense of feline independence and respect or another that urges retreat. Cats rarely provoke neutral responses. Tell a stranger you have a cat and see what happens. Few can resist informing us about their feline impressions. The range of answers begins to inform us that, clearly and from the ground up, we see our own variations of the same world. Only stubbornness can hold us to the conclusion that we see the same thing. We’re not even close, much of the time.

What we think we know–and it’s always highly personal–to be reality is a construction from a small percentage of what’s happening around us. It’s salted by our capacity or lack thereof to imagine, advanced speculation and from many prejudicial assumptions with which we are born or we learn as we go through life. Our results can be simple and efficient or elaborately self-indulgent, but is this what makes us fulfilled or, reluctantly employing that overused term, happy? I think it’s not. I think that, somewhere in another part of our brains, we have ideas about what we want, and then, we put together a reality that fits our wishes, using whatever evidence suits us.

There are limits, of course, and fulfillment itself is a tricky term. We can’t walk through trees, but it seems that our inclinations about seeing cups as half-full or half-empty reflect inner wishes. We all know people in similar circumstances who respond in completely different ways to what seems identical realities. It’s easy to blame genes or training or culture, but it’s all really about preference. It’s always about choice, and the big question is how and in what detached space choice happens.