The Unreality Within #17 #cong23 #reality


Reality is defined by the brains of humans. Brains of humans are the product of a fallible and undirected process of evolution. Here, Brendan cite examples from his own life where the reality of his perceptions were questionable, emphasising the need for communication, collaboration, and rational reflection in the search for the impossible: Objective reality.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Don’t trust your senses.
  2. The brain is incredibly powerful – not always in our favour
  3. In situations where reality is in doubt, find other witnesses and try to avoid conforming your accounts of what happened.
  4. Beware the echo chambre.

About Brendan Caulfield:

A lifelong science fiction nerd, Brendan bounced through the pinball table of life from meaningless job to meaningless job until he found steam workshop facilitation.

Now he finds peace and fulfilment in igniting the spark of curiosity and creativity in young minds.

He loves space-science and engineering, TV and film production-design, computer games, and 3D printing.

If he could wave a magic wand, he’d be a Starfleet officer or a pioneering Mars colonist.

Contacting Brendan Caulfield:

You can connect with Brendan on Twitter or send him an email.



By Brendan Caulfield

Fundamental forces.
Gravity, Electromagnetism, Weak and Strong Nuclear Forces, The Higgs Field, Quantum mechanics…
Elementary particles.
Quarks, leptons, neutrinos, electrons, positrons, photons, muons, gluons…
Atoms and light.
Substances in sheets and knots and ropes.
Substances that react to electron flow with a physical contraction.
Substances that react to electron flow with a chemical release.
Substances that change in chemical reactions.

Substances that combine all these structures and reactions into nerves that transmit impulses to other structures that carry out complex chemical and electrical and physical routines as a result.

Substances that think about these inputs and believe they know what this thing called “REALITY” is.

I am one such substance – or more accurately, I’m a conglomerate of many substances that influence and react with one another according to patterns set down by 4.5 billion years of trial and error.

To believe that I could be unerringly correct in what I interpret as being “real” is arrogant folly. I’m the result of hundreds of thousands of generations of creatures that succeeded to the point of reproduction – but to reach that milestone does not actually require a realistic outlook on my environment.

When I was a kid, I used to imagine my senses were lies – that I was a specimen in a vat being fed false experience so I could be observed and studied by some congregation of superior alien beings just a few feet from me.

Many years later, The Matrix came out, and I realised I wasn’t the only person to experience that suspicion. Years after that, I finally realised that the word “Solipsism” encompassed that feeling: “Maybe I’m the only thing that’s real”.

When I was in the scouts, my entire troop managed to convince ourselves that we had seen the ghost of the groundskeeper of the ancient hostel we were bunking in. A ghost we knew to expect because of the scout leader’s adept ghost story told to us earlier that evening.

My parents and I (and many other cars in a line of traffic that night) witnessed a shape-shifting geometric pattern of glowing, featureless, flat discs hovering low over the traffic on a road through Northern Ireland in the mid-’90s. It shifted from car to car as if scanning the occupants. (despite including this one here, I remain convinced that this occurred as described)

When I was in college, I awoke unable to move one night. I’d had sleep paralysis before – I knew what it was, I knew not to fear it. What was different this time was that a noise in my (locked) room had awoken me. A swishing of fabric.

There was a woman standing behind my computer chair. The swishing noise was this interloper holding some item of my clothing and rubbing it between thumb and forefinger like its presence perplexed her.

She was dressed in a white shirt blouse and a black waistcoat with black slacks, like a hotel staffer. I tried to ask her how she got in through my locked door. All that came out of my still-paralysed mouth was “hssss sss sss”. That caught her attention and she dropped the item in her hand on the floor.

She seemed to hear me, but be unable to recognise any logical source for the sound. She sat on the edge of my bed and searched with her ear for the sound. Despite having turned toward me, her face stayed dark, it was like her hair cast an impossible shadow, or like there was no face in there at all.

As I continued to hiss unintelligible questions at her, she zeroed in on the sound with her ear until she was leaning right over me.
It was at that point that the muscles in my torso woke up, and I sat bolt upright almost involuntarily. I headbutted my way through her head and the woman burst into motes of vapour and dissipated.

I sat there for a few moments contemplating what had happened, observing the room.
She had left an imprint on the bed where she sat.
The item of clothing she dropped on the ground was nowhere to be found.
I examined myself: Cold sweat, heart hammering in my chest. The outward manifestation of fear. Inwardly, I felt calm and curious: Had I really just witnessed a ghost?

I thought on that: This was a new house. My housemates and I were the first occupants after its construction. As far as I was aware, this was farmland prior to the construction of the estate. The woman was dressed like a modern professional woman. None of this fit the usual haunting tropes.

I turned on my computer. I set the power settings to leave the monitor active overnight, opened notepad, set the text size large so it wouldn’t be missed and typed “Ghost-Girl: If you read this, type something here”. In the morning, nothing else had been written.

A few days later, a psych-student friend of mine told me about “Sleep Hypnagogia”, a failure of the wake-up routine where your brain keeps dreaming images into your perceptions while you’re awake. In reading up on it, I found accounts of witch and alien and ghost encounters that often had amazingly coincidental details with my encounter, like seeking the sound and popping into a cloud of vapour when impinged.

I list these events because they are (for the most part) examples of the machinery I use to interrogate and define my reality… failing.

Reality at its most fundamental is inaccessible to us. We cannot taste quarks or witness molecules bonding. Our senses, insofar as they can be trusted, are sensitive to macro-scale events – that which mattered in our evolutionary past. As such we take shortcuts, we generate abstractions and synthesise based on inference.

Reality will therefore, unfortunately, differ depending on who you ask. We have processes and technology to compare and contrast our realities to varying levels of rigour. These range from simple communication at the most primitive, to the Scientific Method at their height.

Somewhere in the middle, sits CongRegation.

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