Assortments of Thought

Internal Realities

Posted on: July 9th, 2009

It has been said before that reality may only exist within the mind. Over the centuries, philosophers have even questioned whether there’s a world external to people’s minds at all, or if everything we experience exists solely there. Yet even if we grant that part of reality exists externally to us all, it turns out that a large part of it nonetheless exists only internally, in our minds. In short, we rely on our senses to give us a description of the world, but the description we get is both an extension and limitation of what exists externally. For what gives rise to perceptions such as color and sound exists externally, but the colors and sounds themselves exist only in the mind.

A couple of examples will hopefully make this clearer. First, colors are of course the result of the eye turning light into signals that are then sent to the brain and interpreted as color. Since light comes in many different wavelengths, many different colors are possible. Further, we know different animal species see colors differently than we do; many see less colors, but some, like many birds, see a great deal more. And while it’s currently impossible to know what colors a particular animal species actually sees for certain types of light, we know that they likely aren’t quite the same as what we see. Yet in all cases, the exact same wavelengths of light are being interpreted. Thus, the type of light that exists externally and is thus the same for all animals, becomes any number of different colors once it becomes internal to a particular animal species. And even further, without animals to construct them within their minds, there aren’t any colors at all.

For additional examples, the same can be said for pressure waves and sounds; molecules and smells; molecules and tastes; and molecular movements and temperatures. In all cases, as with light and colors, something presumably exists externally to us all that becomes any number of different things to different animal species once reconstructed internally, in the mind. Thus a very interesting though somewhat mysterious conclusion can be reached. Animals including people rely on their senses to describe the world, yet those senses invariably take objective, external things like light and pressure waves and turn them into subjective things like colors and sounds. Or in other words, by the very act of interpreting the world, animals at once add to it yet simultaneously limit it. They add things to it that don’t exist externally, like colors, but at the same time, they render only one possible version of those things, like one particular color that other animals might see entirely differently. It would seem then, in turn, that external reality is likewise both rather limitless yet limited. It is limitless in that it can’t be imagined without the senses, yet when extended with the senses, it becomes limited in that it’s extended to only one of any number of different possible forms.

Finally, this gets even more complicated in that it applies to far more than just senses as well. As an intelligent animal species, we of course interact with the world through our senses, and through those interactions, we come to perceive existing in certain ways, and we come to hold certain thoughts and feelings about ourselves and the world. Hence our very thoughts and emotions, and feelings of what it is to exist, are but additional extensions yet limitations of the world external to us. Except in this case, they’re far more complex than just colors or sounds, and are thus far more rich and deep than what even other animals experience.

Of course, as fascinating as all this may be, one might ask what the practical aspects of it are. Well, admittedly, at the present time for nearly everyone, it’s more of an interesting topic than anything else. However, it may have at least one crucial practical application; as odd as this may sound on top of what I’ve already said, imagine if we’d contact an intelligent alien species. Per what I’ve discussed, it’s extremely likely they’d perceive a reality in their minds significantly different than the one we do. Hence, while us humans still have a solid commonality no matter how different our individual cultures and values are, it could be a very different case if we met up with aliens. Not only might they perceive the world (or maybe I should say universe now) very differently in terms of colors and such, they could have entirely foreign emotions, and perceptions we simply don’t have of what it is to exist, and vice versa. Thus, if we ever contact an alien race, if we hope to establish any kind of relationship with them, one potential barrier we’ll both have to overcome is coming to understand how the other perceives reality, in light of what I’ve discussed in this post.

So there you have it. In brief, animal species both extend yet simultaneously limit reality by reconstructing objective, external aspects of it subjectively, internally in their minds, and this fact would be of practical significance in communicating with an intelligent alien species. Just remember: everything concluded in this post is based on the presumption that there actually is some part of reality that exists externally to all minds. If it turns out that literally everything exists in minds, or rather in a single mind of some sort, then the conclusions herein, even if not rendered totally incorrect, would nonetheless need to be modified in accordance with the changed underlying presumption. See, it’s extremely difficult if not impossible to come up with answers to philosophical issues such as that raised in this post. Nonetheless, given that with all logic you have to start with a presumption of some sort, for difficult philosophical issues like this, a reasonable presumption might just let you reach some solid conclusions, as mine did in this post.

©2009, D.S. Applemin. All rights reserved.

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