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A Snippet

Is our world part of the world?

We know that our perceptions capture only a small part of what there is to know about our environment, and that we only become conscious of even a much smaller part of that small part. Our brain, nervous system, hormones, our whole physical presence, have been honed by evolution to perform optimally with respect to increasing our chances of survival and procreation.  So it is clear that the real world is likely to be quite different from the world we perceive.

The world we perceive is a construct, based on what we perceive and on what we think, and on what our body thinks our needs are.  What is the relationship with the real world?  We usually consider the world we experience to be embedded in the real world, as a smaller part in a whole, as a small dish in a set of nested dishes.  We know that we cannot see objects far away, that we cannot see very well in the dark, and so on, so we presume, as a simplest model, that what we are aware of is just a subset of what there is.

But science already tells us otherwise.  The colors we see are not there, in the world that science holds for real.  There are only electromagnetic waves, and different wavelengths give us the impression of different colors.  In fact, the translation from wavelength to color is quite complicated, and whole volumes have been written by cognitive psychologists about the relations between the phenomenological color circle and the linear degree of freedom of electromagnetic wavelength.  But the fact is, according to science: all the colors we see in the world around us are painted by our mind, as part of the process in which we construct a picture of the world around us, including ourselves.

The solidity of the world, an interpretation that helps us to function efficiently in our daily lives, does not correspond to reality either, as science sees it.  A stone, in all its apparent solidity, is mostly empty space, with more than 99.9% of its mass concentrated in a millionth of a billionth of the space available within a rock, in the nuclei of the atoms that make up the rock.  What makes it seem so solid to us is the fact that light cannot penetrate it, nor can our hand penetrate a rock.  But science has discovered that X rays have no trouble at all, passing through a rock.  And if you take some particles of matter, that constitute our hand, and accelerate them to high energies, they could pass through a rock as well.

So the notion of our seeing only part of the world is not correct.  Yes, we see `a' world, but that world of ours is not just a little local cut-out of `the' world, according to science. Rather, we live in a constructed world, a type of movie or dream that we build up, each moment anew, in order to make sense of the sense impressions that we receive from our environment.

In a very literal sense, we hallucinate both the world and our presence in it -- not in a random way, of course, but in a very precise way, one that is functioning in an almost optimal way with respect to our needs as biological organisms.  But there is no reason to believe that this very efficient outcome of a long process of evolution has much of anything to do with what the world really is like.

What does the world really look like?  It depends.  It depends not only on how you look at the world, which would be a rather misleading way of speaking, as if you could just see the world and then choose an angle from which you look at it.  No, it depends on how you look at the construction you make of the world, and then on how you look at the process of construction and your interpretation of that process.

In short, our sense of presence in the world, according to science, is really quite far removed from the world as it really is.  Two of WoK's main goals are: 1) to acquire a gut feeling of this discrepancy; and 2) to explore ways to find stepping stones, at least, and perhaps even a bridge, in order to cross the gulf that this discrepancy presents us with.

Piet, 4/8/06.

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