Understanding Reality #24 #cong23 #reality
In the end we are all left with the same question. Why must we suffer so much? Perhaps the contradictory nature of our experience of being alive, mirrors the contradictions in humanity itself. The biggest truth that no one tells you is that we humans are co-creators of our lives.
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- We are finite creatures. Our lives are small and we can only experience a small part of what we call reality.
- Our universe is defined by one ultimate way of being – the cosmic speed limit which also happens to be the speed of light.
- Every single, separate thing, including your body and your mind is a manifestation of the resistance to this ultimate way of being.
- The biggest truth that no one tells you is that we humans are co-creators of our lives.
About William O'Connor:
William (Billy) T. O’Connor is Foundation Professor and Director of Teaching and Research in Physiology at the University of Limerick School of Medicine, Ireland. He also holds a position as Visiting Research Scholar at Flinders Medical School, Adelaide, South Australia.
Contacting William O'Connor
By William O’Connor
Understand (verb): to stand in the midst of, in the space among, between.
Reality (noun): from Latin, rēs (thing) and -ālis (suffix for an adjective of relationship).
We are finite creatures. Our lives are small and we can only experience a small part of what we call reality. What is common for us is just a tiny sliver of what actually exists. We can only perceive so much of the electromagnetic spectrum. We can only delve so deep into dimensions of space-time. Common sense applies to that which we can access. But common sense is just that. Common. If total sense is what we want then we should be prepared to accept that what is new or unfamiliar is weird or strange. The history of discovery continues to show us that new aspects of reality are not strange. We are.
We humans are only as intelligent as the knowledge we have to work with. For centuries deep thinkers thought of earth, air, fire and water as the fundamental elements. It was a reductionist idea and nothing was more fundamental that those four elements and you could build everything up from them.
Then, in the mid-1800’s we discovered the periodic table of the elements so while we continued to study Earth (geology), air (meteorology), fire (combustion) and water (hydrology) we became aware that for instance since the Earth is made from many elements, Earth itself was no longer fundamental.
After the periodic table came the modern atomic age including the discovery of the smallest particles namely quarks and leptons – the basis of today’s standard model of physics. So today, we know that while the periodic table is good for chemistry it is no longer fundamental, and for the deeper fundamentals, we have to go to quarks, and leptons, and so on – irreducible representations of matter in space-time. In fact, most scientists assume that space-time is as fundamental as the tiny particles which are embedded within it. In fact, the whole framework of human understanding of the natural world (reality) is based on this idea of space-time.
As we understand it today, the relativity, consistency and symmetry of our universe is defined by one ultimate way of being – the cosmic speed limit – which also happens to be the speed of electromagnetic radiation – and this speed limit is called the speed of light. Thus, the cosmic speed limit is the speed of light, but here’s the thing – it is the speed of causality first. In other words, the speed of light is the maximum speed at which any two parts of the universe can talk to each other. It is the only speed that any massless particle can travel in the cosmos.
In this way, light (photons), gravitational waves and gluons which all have no mass, travel at this maximum possible speed. In fact, and this is important, mass is an impediment to motion. No mass, no impediment. So massless things go as fast as it’s possible to go. In fact, the very existence of mass and the space time in which it is embedded (reality) tells us that this universal speed limit is finite; and what we call reality is just a manifestation of resistance against this one ultimate way of being – the speed of light.
Put another way, the very fabric of reality is woven from blind energy, and we each channel this energy through our (limited) six primary senses of seeing, hearing, touch, taste, smell and pain to construct our own version of reality.
What would happen if the speed of light were infinite? Well, first there would be no matter because it would take infinite energy to make any mass. We would only have massless particles travelling at infinite speed. There would be no space and no time, and no cause or effect, because all locations and times would communicate with each other instantly. The universe would be an infinitesimal here and now.
Just as it is impossible to sell if there is no buyer, what we call reality is the result of a fundamental cosmic transaction between the one ultimate way of being as manifested by the speed of light – condensed into space-time and the matter embedded within it. This finite speed of causality is fundamental to us having space-time and matter – what we call reality – in the first place.
The job of space-time is to separate things from one another. In this way every single, separate thing, including your body and your mind (where you yourself only exist inside your skin) is a manifestation of the resistance to this ultimate way of being.
This might explain the reported energizing and healing effects of the ancient practice of meditation whereby letting-go of body and mind allows us become continuous with this ultimate way of being? It may also explain the action of psychedelics to temporarily dissolve the structure of the self, expanding our senses to create a sense of interconnection with the external. In the same way, the most important thing every person must ask themselves in their search for mental health boils down to just one question, and here it is: What is blocking me from what I need to know?
Reality can be experienced in many ways. Science is one among many, and there are many modes of reality other than science which affect human life. There is the reality we call art. The reality of interpersonal relationships. The reality of politics. The reality of spirituality and religion (personal truth). And many others. Each of us gets to choose the reality or realities we will engage in. However, some realities are more important than others, and few theories trump political reality.
In Japan there is an idea called ‘mono no aware’ (物の哀れ), meaning ‘the deep awareness of things’. It celebrates the melancholy of the passing of life, often seeing more beauty in the fallen leaf than in the one on the branch. Maybe that is what being alive actually holds for each one of us. The sadness in the soul expressed in the beauty of things. In the end we are all left with the same question. Why must we suffer so much? It is too simple to say that we mourn the loss of people in our lives. Perhaps the contradictory nature of our experience of being alive, mirrors the contradictions in humanity itself. Seeking perfections but never finding peace. Having a single-minded focus at the expense of empathy. The lure of freedom but only within the closed confines of what we can know, and to which chance holds the key. To reconcile these contradictions I think we have to look at the other half of our relationship with the reality of our existence. The biggest truth that no one tells you is that we humans are co-creators of our lives. We have to look to ourselves to embrace the ephemeral nature of beauty, and the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life, knowing that none of it can last.