Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What's in your head...

I have been thinking and pondering lately about the definition of truth… that which corresponds to reality.  There is reality- that which is… or perhaps that which exists or maybe that which is real. The thing which corresponds to reality is an idea. It may exist on paper as a book, an essay or even just a note. It could be a movie or a song. It is something that refers to something outside itself. It is judged to be true if it accurately lines up with the reality that it describes or speaks of. A simple example would be the a book describing the earth as flat.. The earth is not flat- it is round. The flat earth book would be false. The round earth book would be true.  

But what about an idea or a thought?  Imagine that there is nothing written or recorded- there is just a thought.  The thought itself is real. It is a real thought. The thing which is thought, however, may or may not correspond to reality. It gets a bit confusing or at least it does to me. It is true that the thought is in your head, but the thought is your (or my) head may not be true.

Sometimes the thought in your head may be more accurately be described as an idea. It may not be true- that is it may not accurately describe reality, but perhaps it could… Think of an inventor. Many people imagined that people could fly. In Greek mythology, Icarus was said to have used wings created from feathers and wax made for him by his father which allowed him to  fly. Other unnamed people dreamed and thought of flying. In 1783 the first flight of man via a hot air balloon took place in France. Later in 1903 the Wright brothers took their idea of a flying machine and made it more than an idea in their heads.

So it seems that sometimes there are true thoughts or ideas which exist in your head, but are not yet manifested outside your head. Back to the definition of truth… that which corresponds to reality, sometimes our thoughts and ideas correspond to reality, but that reality has not yet manifested itself. Orville Wright said “If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance.”  

So the truth and reality thing gets just a little messy. Truth corresponds to reality. Reality is that which is. But sometimes reality is out there to be discovered or invented.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Matrix

My last entry was about reality and how we perceive what is around us. We filter whatever is around us by way of our senses. Sometimes our senses may not work properly which may limit what we perceive. As for me, my eyes are not what they used to be. I have to wear glasses to see things at a distance and then I have to take them off to see things close up. I mentioned in my last entry that I ran across some deaf people. Their ears just don’t work, which means they don’t experience the vibrations in the air that we call sound.  And sometimes all the senses may work just fine, but something in the mind just does not work right- the signals get there and the person just can not properly interpret what comes through.

One of my favorite movies is The Matrix. This is a story which challenges to viewer to judge just what really is real. If you have not seen it, the setting is sometime in the future. Machines went to war with the humans. The machines won. The machines grow humans in pods which are stacked into great towers. The humans live their entire existence in these pods and are hooked by various cables in such a way to provide power for the machines. In order to keep the humans docile the brains of the humans are connected via a vast computer network (aka the Matrix) and fed sensory input. The humans don’t know where they are!  They assume they are living in a normal world living normal lives sometime around the end of the 20th century.

Reality is fed to them. They think they are seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and feeling. They are doing none of this. They are being fed signals through a cable stuck in the back of their skull while they lie dormant in a vat of fluid and provide power to their captors.  

It is only a story, but it is a story which challenges our view of reality and what is real. We assume that our senses are sending us good info. We assume that our brain is able to properly deal with what our five senses send it.  I don’t think I’m in a pod providing kilowatts to my machine overlords. I think I’m setting at a table drinking coffee and typing on my computer and pondering what is real. I suppose I could be mistaken…. I hope not.

The point is that which we take as real sometimes isn’t. The Matrix is a recent attempt to challenge us to judge reality more critically, but there have been others. A few thousand years earlier Plato recorded Socrates’ story of prisoners in a cave which also challenges our views of reality.

In Plato’s version of the Matrix Socrates describes a group of people- actually prisoners- who are chained in a cave. They are positioned in such a way that they can only look forward. There is a fire behind them which causes shadows to be cast on the wall in front of them. They will see shadows of people going by and see shadows of the things that they carry go by. All they see is shadows. And I almost forgot to mention- they have been chained here in the cave their entire lives. Thus in their mind the shadows of what they see is for them reality. In the story a single prisoner escapes. He is able to leave the cave and see the real world. He sees actual people and trees and animals. He is amazed at how different the real world is from the shadow world he once took as reality. This prisoner makes his way back to the cave and tries to tell the other prisoners about the real world. It turns out to be a hard sell for the other prisoners. They just can not conceive of what is being told to them.  To quote Morpheus  from the Matrix, “Unfortunately one can not be told of the matrix, one has to see it for himself.”

The point of Plato’s allegory of the cave is that there is something more real than that which we see with our eyes. Reality is what it is. Its what’s out there and it seems that our five senses limit us and do not allow us to fully know all that there is. More on this in a later entry...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


In previous entries I said truth is that which corresponds to reality. There is more that can be said of that, but for now I want to look at what is reality. What is reality? Reality is that which is. In Exodus 3 God speaks to Moses. Moses asks God what is his name. God replies, “I Am”. He is. Reality is that which is. This is really not hard to understand or even confusing. It is just when asking the question, “what is reality?”, it seems like the answer should be more complicated. The concept of reality is not complicated, but how we figure out “that which is” sometime is. The complicated part is sometimes we have trouble figuring out what is real.

Perception is the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment.All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs. (

The environment around us is filtered through our senses. I look out the window and I see a maple tree. The tree is real. It is a part of the vast landscape of reality we call the universe. The tree is real, however, the existence of the tree is separate from my perception of the tree. If there were no window for me to look out of the tree would still be there. The degree to which my senses are able to perceive determine how that I can experience reality. For example, I am setting in a McDonalds as I write this. Just a little earlier I  noticed two people a few tables over from me who were deaf. At least it is my perception that they were deaf. I am led to believe that because they appeared to be speaking to each other by way of sign language. There was a lot going on in McDonalds which they were not able to experience or be aware of. Now as I set here there are very few people in the dining room, but there is a lot of drive up business. There is a constant beeping behind the counter and there is the chatter of the employees behind the counter and there is the traffic noise outside. At this particular time they are not missing much at all, but the point is the real things in our world which cause the air to  vibrate which thus causes our ear drums to vibrate which then sends a signal to our brain which we interpret as sound is a particular slice of reality that a deaf person does not experience. Of course the deaf person compensates for lack of hearing in other ways, but the point is there is something out there which they are missing.

Reality is what it is, but a proper interpretation of reality is necessary in order to make sense what we experience. I say this because we often misunderstand. Here is a simple example. I  have lots of books at home. They live on shelves. I was visiting a rather interesting man a few years ago who I used to live down the street from. I noticed he had a lot of books on shelves as well. However, after looking just a little closer I noticed that he actually had no books at all. He had painted books on his wall to appear to be books. That was not all.. he had also painted what appeared to be windows over looking a beautiful beach. At first glance it looked real. He was rather elderly and had painted his walls years ago. It was just a little faded, but I expect that when it was new it looked even more real.

What’s the point? His painting fooled me. I thought he had a wall full of books, but it  was actually only paint on the wall. There was reality- painted books and there is what I perceived- real books. Reality and perception did not match up. My mis-understanding of the books did not last long. The illusion was only good enough to last a few seconds- a close look revealed the deception. Sometimes, however, we may  misunderstand what is real for a long time- maybe our entire life.

That’s all I have time for now. More on this a little later...