Saturday, August 27, 2016

Life, uninterpreted

My wife bites her nails compulsively. The habit is so ingrained that she doesn't even notice when she's doing it. If you point it out to her, she can notice it (most of the time -- sometimes she's so lost in thought that she thinks she's noticing what you're pointing out but is actually not).

We do something similar all the time, by building up a model of reality and living inside it -- without ever noticing it. Reality is presented as a dazzling and bewildering array of colors, textures, sounds, etc. Actually, even "colors, textures, and sounds" are conceptual models; what's presented directly is more fundamental still, but impossible to talk about.

In every moment the mind builds a model to explain it: that there's some objective thing called "physical reality" that we are interacting with from somewhere inside these funny meat vehicles.

This seems like a perfectly sensible thing to do. Clearly we need to build up this model if we're to be functional in the world, and if it happened consciously we wouldn't have enough processing power left to do anything else.

But notice the circular reasoning at work here: we presuppose our model (that we actually are living in an objective physical reality) in order to explain why it would be pointless to stop building the model. Of course it's not useful to spend the time required to step outside our model: worst case, we'd go crazy, and best case, we have some trippy experience of being outside the model even though we're still bound by it.

We never consider the third possibility: that the very cause of this bind is something that we're doing, incessantly and compulsively. It's as though I have locked myself into a box, swallowed the key, and proven conclusively that I am not inside a box.

Anyway, if metaphysics isn't your cup of tea, here's a practical argument to make you consider going there. Being alive is magical. Most of the time we totally overlook this and take it for granted. We take it for granted because our model can explain it (mostly), and anything we explain can't be all that magical.

As we age, this seems to happen more and more. Life can feel totally mundane, drained of the wonder we once felt.

Consider the possibility that it's because of something you're doing, and not something that you're merely a passive victim of.

No comments: