The only thing I ‘learned’ from high school chemistry was how we were taught to imagine electrons, protons and neutrons as clusters of blue and red balls. But in reality, electrons don’t look like balls. They don’t look like anything we can ever imagine because the human brain isn’t equipped with the tools for us to visualize anything subatomic. Our brain and nervous system have evolved to help our bodies navigate and conceptualize the world on the scale on which those bodies walk, talk, eat, sleep and copulate. Having the ability to penetrate the quantum horizon simply isn’t going to give us any advantage.
If we want to cheat ourselves by visualizing an atom as clusters of balls orbiting each other, we could magnify its scale so that the size of an electron becomes equivalent to the size of a basketball. Then by the same scale, the electrons that orbit the nucleus would be 200 miles away. And even if we can penetrate the world of the atom, we would perceive a rock or a piece of wall as full of empty spaces.
When my hand is touching the concrete wall in front of me, I feel that the wall is hard and impenetrable. But there is no perceived physical space between my hand and the wall. You will never touch anything because the wide space between atoms that constitute the wall and your hand are repulsing each other through electrostatic energy and forces.
Matter looks solid, while experiences and mental formations seem continuous because they are construed and organized by the brain in particular ways for us to make sense of the world. Having only 5 senses may be a big handicap. A blind individual’s knowledge of the world is considerably limited by his loss of sight. What if evolution had equipped us to have a 6th sense, or 10, or 100? What might we know and what might we not know?
Our eyes scan the heavens through a narrow slit of the electro-magnetic spectrum. The spectral windows of insects are like ours; except they are slightly shifted up in the cloth of the invisible spectrum. However even with this subtle difference in optical design, insects can detect ultraviolet lights and therefore have a completely different experience of nature.
The neurons and nerves in my brain zap around, churn, and impinge on one another billions of times per second like tiny gears and springs, giving rise to having consciousness of my own consciousness. However, this consciousness as we know and experience is only subjected to the structure and mechanisms of a particular type of brain.
What would reality be like if it is interpreted by the other 6 billion human brains and nervous systems on the planet? And to the billions of other animals that existed in the past, and will exist in the future?
Who are we to think that the universe is designed solely for our existence alone when there are hundreds of billions of stars and planets in our galaxy alone, and hundreds of galaxies in the observable universe. That our universe is just one pocket, one bubble of a much grander cosmos that has other bubbles and other pockets in which the inhabitants in these regions might also think that they constituted the whole universe that was designed for their own purpose and existence?
Have we forgotten the simple notion that the universe is the way we think it is precisely because it is the only kind of universe we can occupy, for if the universe were slightly different from our own, it would contain no human consciousness, and we would not be here to observe it? What if, instead of a human experimenter and observer, the universe is quantified, invested, and recorded by maggots, robots, sharks or Martians? How adequate would their knowledge and notion of Truth be different from the Truth inquired, processed and filtered by the human nervous system? These questions are inherently inconceivable and unanswerable, since contemplating about the possibilities of other systems of knowledge derived from other brains presupposes that we do so with our brains that are wired very differently from the brains of those that we are speculating about.
Human experiences and perceptions are somewhat misleading to the inquiry of the nature of reality as reality in-itself. Looking at the everyday world through our senses is like looking at a picture through a distorted or broken glass bottle, given that the deconstruction of the objective world is in itself an expression of our own subjectivity. Any attempt to recognize and categorize an objective reality is also an estrangement from reality itself. Through consciousness, we fall into a world, like the way Adam and Eve fell into the strange world as original sinners. We too, are strangers in a strange land where all perceptions: what we see, hear, touch, smell, taste, feel and think are in part products of our neural connections, our sex, gender, class, politics, religion, race, language, theoretical and experimental framework, our place and time in the cosmos and so on.
The world is knowable, but only in “principle”. Trying to understand the world can be like peeling back layer after layer of an onion – the ‘Onion of Reality’. We find out that each layer reveals a more surprising, horrifying, unfamiliar, and beautiful layer, and with each layer of the Onion peeled off, the Onion seems more complex and more manipulative until we are left with ever more questions.
But this doesn’t mean that an objective world does not exist. We do know quite a bit about the world we live in, mainly that it is made out of nothing but entities we called particles. These particles behave in waves in fields of force, and everything else is the effects, consequences and the arrangements of these particles and energy.
Over time, some of these particles organized themselves into systems. Some of those systems are composed by carbon-based particles, and some of these atoms combine with hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen and evolved into organic systems. Some organic systems evolved out of the pressure of selection to form what we called ‘life’, and through more mutations and organizations and arrangements from chaos and randomness over time, these organisms become living and breathing. Some of these organisms have neurons, brain and a nervous system, and some of these nervous system-based animals have consciousness, and on top of it all, a few of these organisms have consciousness about their own consciousness and intentionality, goals and desires.
Equipped with consciousness and intentionality, humans use the mind to carve, cleave, cut out packages of fabric of spacetime and squeeze them into our heads for interpretation. The texture of spacetime itself is dark and cold, and the events that take place in its fabric have no conception of a “beginning” or an “end”. But we alternate, juxtapose, categorize, and illuminate each bit and piece of the packages of reality and assemble them into objects and events with propositions that serve our personal agendas, ideologies and political climate. People agree and disagree about what a given situation really is because each of us chop and slice our own packages of spacetime from a different angle, even when every one of us share the same universal fabric, and agree on how matter has moved through space.
Just as an atom, a bowl of rice, a mountain, a star, a galaxy, and everything else in the universe are made out of empty spaces, so is that ‘thing’ in which we call ‘life’.
When we watch a movie, we are seeing still frames after still frames, one different frame after another. And since the human eye cannot distinguish more than 24 frames per second, watching still frames after still frames become fluid and continuous. But what’s between the two still frames? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Half of the film you are watching is made out of empty spaces. Where is the story? Where is the continuous stream of moving images? Certainly not in the film strips that are made out of empty spaces. They are only in your mind.
Like films, everything we perceive in life is made out of empty spaces, since everything we perceive is constantly, moment to moment, flashing in and out of existence in a flux. Our minds manufacture the apparent continuum and fluidity of reality. We fabricate stories of myths about gods and spirits, project emotions, judgments, language, ideology and other mental properties onto the imaginary reel and transmit properties on things that don’t belong to them. We do this in order to fill in and smear out the empty gaps and spaces of reality or any mysteries and questions we have about the world to create more cohesion to a nature we can never fully comprehend. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.
We imagine sailing through life in search of an invisible lighthouse that will guide us to our land of destination as we blind ourselves by being attracted to organized religions, false myths and prophecies, fortune cookies, astrology, and constellation signs. Take constellation signs as an example. The celestial bodies that make up a constellation sign have no linkage or connections or meaningful arrangements in themselves independent of the human mind. There is a story inside our cranium. But such story is non-existent to a celestial body itself. Hell, we do not even know whether these stars even exist at this moment in time, since the light that we see from distant stars and galaxies left them millions of years ago, and for the most distant object that we see, it takes light that much time to reach our retina. It is bizarre to think that the arrangements and positions of planets against the background of sky millions of years ago can have any connection and correlation with the human consciousness or the financial and personal situations of a single macromolecule on such a tiny planet. Yet this is what many of us believe to be true.
With all that’s been said so far, you can already see that my perspective on life is nothing short of nihilistic. I don’t believe in fate or destiny. I don’t think the universe is designed to have a meaning. I don’t believe in the soul. And I don’t believe in destiny or organized religion – the conception that we are put here for a reason or to achieve a purpose, and you don’t end up anywhere when you die either. There isn’t the right time to meet anybody, and nothing happens for a reason.
Everything that makes up the universe since the beginning of time, including light itself are merely the results of billion and billions of lifeless particles colliding and annihilating each other at random and by chance. Reality is made out of chaos, uncertainty, and randomness. Life is made out of random and accidental events after colliding with each other, crossing paths and colliding with other aspects in the life of people who you come to meet by chance.
Most of these events lead to nothing important or significant, so our brains simply ignore the fact that they even took place at all. Some of these collisions echo and ripple into larger schemas, which in turn, give rise to even larger schemas that result in more “significant” events. Our minds organize and conceptualize the schemas and assign meanings to them, but only in retrospect. We do this on a personal level as individuals when we create naive self-referential and self-illusionary narratives about our own lives so we can hold a place and an identity in society. On a larger social scale as we create ideology, religion, and other myths and stories through an anthropic world view to justify our species’ existence, so mankind can have a place and purpose in the Cosmos.
The way I see it, most of what we value and believe in is meaningless and more or less biologically useless. The human brain is a self-conceptualizing, story-telling, meaning-making, pattern seeking organ that makes sense of and gives order and pattern to a senseless, disordered world. The mind tells stories, summarize, and simplify in order to reduce the complexity and the multi-dimensionality of matters that would otherwise traumatize us.
Our mind falls into the causation trap by immediately demanding a cause when we experience an effect. We tend to over interpret and overestimate the cause, or invent a cause that isn’t there. Anything the mind does, it does in retrospect. Any thing we speak of using language is to perform acts according to constitutive rules that presupposes a linguistic system within a certain theory of human institutions that determine institutional “facts” that can be hardly explained in terms of brute facts of nature, but only in terms of the constitutive rules that construct and underlie them. Any interpretations we make, any stories we fabricate, any causes we invent are all done after the fact. We almost never take into the consideration that assumptions of events and the experiences of what we observed to be “true” in the past are ignorant of the notion that anything inspected in retrospect is distorted and overly generalized; and that the more we scrutinize the relationship between cause and effect, the less sense it makes. So it seems fair to say that this formulation tells us how little we can determine and conclude, on the basis of introspections, retrospections, and intuition, about our judgment of nature and the logical categories of our own statements.
Our mind has too many possible ways to interpret past events for our own sakes. As much as we create our memories, our memories create us as we weave and unweave by our own mind. It is mind boggling and eerie to think that the stories to our lives and what makes us who we are is composed of a merely electric phenomenon that is highly fallible, malleable, slippery, and unreliable.
Our memory itself is full of empty spaces and gaps. We are constantly inventing new memories to fill in the gaps of what we don’t recollect. We re-narrate and invent stories of events that happened to us in the past in ways that make what we think of as logical sense after these events have already taken place. Human memory reinvents itself every time we remember something, and we modify that memory based on the context in which we recall it so that every time we remember something we are remembering the last time we remembered the event, and not the original event itself. Our memory system works like word documents on which texts or files are continuously recorded, saved, and edited over the previous saved and edited version, and each time that we retrieve a document, it will always be slightly varied from the previous time that you retrieved it. We can never remember events exactly as the way they occurred, and the further away we are from the actual event, the more distorted and inaccurate our memory is.
All the tricks that the mind plays on us when we are wrapped behind the veil of illusion ultimately give raise to and serve a self-conceptualizing, self-interested, self-referential, and self-illusionary sense of ego that we cherish so dearly. But outside of own egos and self-referential ideologies, most of what we cherish are quite insignificant. On the larger scale, the human society as a whole is anthropic. We want to feel that we are indeed in control over our lives and secure a place for our species in the grand universe so that we can feel better and more significant about our own fragile and insignificant existence. But what we are really doing is making a pathetic attempt to tame the our surroundings and the universe, and it is through the maintenance of this illusionary “selfhood” that we become indispensable and our lives full of suffering…
I think sometimes the more we try to make sense of the senseless reality in order to give meanings to our pointless existence, the more miserable we become. There are times when we are simply unable to keep things from falling apart, when we simply can’t place an order upon the disorder as we reject the capricious and frightening unconsciousness of Nature, in favor of the supposedly controllable and ordered consciousness of culture.
This is when we experience a rupture of the Symbolic order and experiences the inexplicable dimension of the Real – a world where its structure relates to its own inherent impossibilities. And when we experience the Real, even for just a brief moment, our meaning-making system breaks down, we experience brutal external intrusions, as we see through the holes in the veils of human construction-ism and realize a pre-existing traumatic and psychic reality outside of fabricated ideologies.
This is when we experience an existential vacuum, that we are at a loss in place and identity, and that the most basic motivation force in man – the will to meaning, is threatened, and we become frustrated, lonely, and confused. We suspect that there are no values or purposes or eternal truths, and that any sorts of rules governed by society and religions and stories are nothing but mistakes or the results of chance to ultimately embrace nihilism.
Sometimes I think it’s a mistake to wrap ourselves around veils after veils of ideology in order to create constants that occupy the impossibilities of the Real. We cope with this feeling of absurd nonsense, and anxiousness for consolation, context, and sense of fulfillment. The gruesome texture of reality will gradually wear upon the curtains of ideology and the socio-political fabric that are wrapping tightly around you, protecting you from the fertility of the Real. Sometimes the best way for me to alleviate myself from whatever confusions that I may have and transcend the absurdity of life is to tear away the veil of the meaning-making systems and languages of the Symbolic order and come face to face with the nothingness of life that lies outside of the world created by the ideologies – once that is done, everything is permitted.
Embrace the vacuum in life, because only by being apprised of the emptiness in between each juncture of existence can we understand existence itself. Nothingness and fullness are two sides of the same coin. To experience fullness you have to first accept nothingness, because only emptiness can give rise to fullness. Like the way Morpheus said to Neo, “What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world.”, I can’t say what’s laying behind the curtain, because what’s behind the curtain is something that we can know nothing about, except that it is there and we feel its existence from time to time.