In Doubt, Delight: Part 1: Chapter 2: The Useful Hallucination

“A pragmatist is concerned with results, not reality.”

-Nick Herbert “Quantum Reality”

The trouble with the truth is that it is strange.  It is strange that we exist, it is strange that we are conscious, and it is strange that there is a universe of billions and billions of worlds suspended just above our heads.  But the strangest truth about the truth is that it could be strange at all, it is quite literally the only thing that should be boringly commonplace.  So why then is the truth so much stranger than fiction?  Perhaps it is because we do not know this reality as well as we boast.  Perhaps, reality is not where we reside at all. 

We all feel it deep within ourselves, in our most quiet and honest moments.  That there is something so unreal about this world, something superficial about this reality. That one surreptitious day we might just pierce through the cloak covering our eyes and fall out into a much broader space.  But this feeling is buried within us by the mundanities of the “real world.”  A commute to work or a string of emails will free us from thinking too deeply.  We get lost in the every day and muffle that quiet voice that hints at something more.  But every once in a while, we do find ourselves unchained by the hypnosis of life; whether by state of mind or forced perspective, in these moments we are in wonder of the world we inhabit and manifest every day.  In these moments, the truth we all unconsciously believe hits us right between the eyes.

Every day of your life you are flying through space on a whirling rock in an infinite darkness that’s only protection against the cosmic shooting gallery is a thin layer of atmosphere and an invisible electromagnetic field.  This is the reality of our world, but most often, it is not our personal reality.  That is to say, that these truths are far from the front of our consciousness and almost drift away into lore and legend drowned out by more immediate needs and concerns.  We are a pragmatic people, and if it does not affect our daily lives, we can forget a truth until we are dramatically confronted by its ramifications.  This pragmatic lens is how our minds shift reality into a more manageable form, and its mental filters are what cause us to be shocked at the actual truths of reality.  This is because our minds are not programmed to see reality; they are programmed to proliferate and to survive.  And while having a grasp of reality does help you survive and reproduce most of the time; sometimes, it does not.  It is in these moments that our personal realities can drift away from truth.

Truth v. Pragmatism:

In the long run, most of us would agree that understanding and living in truth is the best approach, but that does not mean lies are useless.  A lie is much more than an arbitrary push from the devil towards sin, it is a tool that humanity has adapted.  The rule of law may be to never lie no matter the situation, but we all would apply different rules to the Jews trying to conceal their identity in Nazi Germany or an actor playing a role on the stage.  Like anything, lies are situational and more complex than a black-and-white interpretation.  A critic might suggest that this implies moral relativism, but the truth is that not all lies are equal: some are evil, some are trivial, and others are downright necessary.  A strict coherence to the law is troublesome because there are always exceptions and extraneous circumstances.  This is why, in America, we have a grand jury and why Christianity evolved from a strict law-abiding religion to one that instead judges the heart above all.  There seems to be some truth above, “thou shall not lie;” something more comprehensive we all can feel deep down.  This truth does not feel relativistic, it feels resolute, it feels intrinsic.

Yes, lies can be useful.  However, the strangest type of lie is the kind we tell ourselves.  These lies too are a part of that pragmatic lens, like bandages covering up emotional wounds or reflexes to avoid repercussion.  For example, when a person convinces themselves that they don’t care about their former love in an attempt to temper the damage of a breakup, this is a self-defense mechanism.  It is an attempt to reshape reality within the boundaries of the mind in order to better survive the pain, but it is not a true depiction of that person’s world, and quite often, not dealing with the underlying reality can have long-term repercussions.  On the other hand, we all must know someone who is overly confident and attempting to shape their mentality and image to convince everyone, including themselves, that they are capable and formidable.  This mental trick is actually quite beneficial to a person in today’s society as confidence is often rewarded tenfold compared to competence.  This often can be catastrophic to those blindly following, but, for the individual, it could be argued as a net gain.  In fact, this type of confidence has taken some into the highest positions of power on the planet.  Confidence is reassuring to the masses and the person themselves; we all subconsciously desire a confident leader (most of the time because it is an indicator of competence but not always).  

Another example might be an individual’s perception that all things work together for good in the end.  This idea may give people assurances and peace of mind, but its validity is so far unproven.  Some who have their heart broken never find the right person to fill that void, some who lose their job never go on to start their own successful business, and sometimes bad things just happen for almost no reason at all.  It is then our choice to either make the best of it or not.  And perhaps, believing that it happened for a reason at least gives us some hope and acceptance of our fate as we move on even if it is not proven to be true.  Or perhaps, in the opinion of some, by believing it we make it true.  We may have been told differently as children, but in the real world, the strategy of lying, even to yourself, can be useful.  

Believing in something that is not true can be beneficial?  Well, that would depend on what you value as success.  If you judge success by evolutionary standards, then lies can be very beneficial for survival and reproduction.  Many people throughout history have been persecuted for believing in truth over cultural norms.  For most of history, it was much safer to just follow along with the herd and chant the responses the culture demanded in order to stay alive, find a mate, and reproduce.  During the Salem witch trials, it was much better for your survival to be a witch hunter than a sane person speaking out.  Similarly, it was better for survival to go along with the Nazi fascism than to rebel against the evil of the Third Reich as a German citizen.  Lies can help us survive; we are as much a social species as one that pursues truth, if not more.  These lies may be blatantly evil and even those who followed may have done so only out of fear, but others did so almost unknowingly of the evil they were pursuing.  This should cause us to pause and question what lies we unknowingly or willingly believe that shift our reality from truth.  And furthermore, if some lies we believe are pragmatic, should the truth still be pursued? 

The problem with this question is that if you believe in a lie, you would inherently be blinded to its deception.  And so, in our minds, we may already think we are living in the truth.  If we do not occasionally doubt our beliefs, we will never give them an honest assessment.  But once we find ourselves to be believing in a beneficial lie, should we then stop believing?  Do we care about truth or pragmatism?  The answer may be different for each faced with the decision.  Some may want to wipe their memories and be put back into the matrix.  For others, the truth must come first.  Without the truth, we will never gain understanding and we will never progress.  We all have heard that “the truth will set you free;” that you would better understand and adapt to your world if you see it without the rose-tinted glasses.   The training wheels must come off for us to make great strides.  Although, it is quite difficult to take those first steps into the unknown.  

Many philosophers have said that even if God is not real, it is better for humanity to believe in a higher power; that this belief holds us accountable for our actions and gives us reason to be “good” people.  Some may say that this is reason enough to believe in God.   Whether a belief in God actually makes you a better person in reality is debatable, we all know “bad” believers and “good” atheists.  For atheists, this could be compared to a belief in karma, a common belief that ensures friendly behavior in groups.  But what happens when someone who believes in karma or a benevolent God is confronted with an instance of bad things happening to “good” people.  These situations happen quite frequently.  In fact, statistically, bad things happen to all people arbitrarily.  In these confronting moments, the pragmatic lens is stripped away a bit and we are forced to confront the truth.  For some, this is a very painful experience as the world they built their life upon is stripped away and they become lost.  The world is not fair, and the sooner we all come to terms with that, the better we can navigate its trials.  

Many psychologists have found that their patients make the most progress when they uncover the hidden lie they tell themselves every day and replace it with a truth.  For example, when a person is dealing with self-esteem issues, most often the lie they tell themselves deep down is that they are worthless.  But once they confront that lie and realize their worth, they can become confident again and learn to value themselves.  In order for real progress, lasting progress, we must pursue truth.  This pursuit of truth may not always be pragmatic in the short term, but on the scale of generations, it has always proven to be the most noble and highest aim.  An individual may be able to live with that pragmatic lens covering their eyes in gleeful ignorance, but to be a part of humanity’s pursuit of truth, the lens must be stripped away for reality to come into focus.  This can be quite a difficult task, and not as simple as one might think.  

But the pragmatic lens goes much deeper than bias and false perceptions.  Truth is quite a strange thing indeed.  You cannot fully escape your pragmatic lens, it is built into your biology and your mind.  All of your experiences are simply a useful hallucination. 

Slaves to our Synapses:

Our mind is our only means for examining the world, and, while it does its best to represent reality, what we experience always hides behind its filter.  The entire universe might as well be squished between your ears; every burning star and every spinning galaxy, because there is no known means to prove that you are experiencing anything beyond your mind at all.   

Sight is the most primal part of this hallucination. In scientific terms, it is a mental process that creates an internal map in order for you to navigate the external world.  It is important to understand that this map only exists in your mind, the outside world does not actually “look” like your mental representation.  The map is based on information inputted from your surroundings, but it is not the actual world.  Even one simple optical illusion can expose our most coveted sense as lacking.  Sight is, quite frankly, a hallucination hidden in plain sight.  Lucky for us, it is a very useful hallucination, albeit imperfect.

 What would the actual world look like?  Well, that question is difficult because it is also based on our sense of sight.  How do you describe colors to a blind man?  In nature, what truly exists is a chaotic sea of electromagnetic waves bouncing off objects in all directions and our eyes can only detect about 0.0035% of the waves that we know to exist; one small sliver of reality.  Moreover, as humans, we only have receptors for three different wavelengths of light.  On the other end of the biological spectrum is the Pistol Shrimp, which can detect 16 different wavelengths; meaning that they can see colors that we literally could not even imagine.  But, of course, all colors are simply a product of imagination in the first place.  They are internalized mental tags that our minds use to distinguish different materials; color is only in your mind.  (A trait most commonly attributed to an evolutionary development to distinguish fruit from trees and predators or prey in a natural background.)  In fact, the entire 3D image you are seeing right now is only in your head.  This is a strange truth, but it is understanding this truth that allowed us to extend our mind’s ability to sense the electromagnetic field.  For progress, both scientifically and psychologically, we must uncover the truth at the core.

We now have devices that can detect all sorts of wavelengths of electromagnetism.  Radio waves send out signals to eager listeners across the world and beyond, infrared waves allow us to remotely operate devices, our understanding of UV waves led to inventions to protect our skin and our eyes, and eventually, our understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum led us to discover the age of the universe itself.  All of this from invisible light that our distant ancestors would have laughed away as madness, but fortunately somewhere along the line we doubted our very vision.

Still believe that you see with your eyes?  May I present Daniel Kish, who may seem like a normal man making some strange noises while he rides his bike down the street; however, Daniel has no eyes.  Cancer had crippled his eyesight and after only 13 months of his young life, he had them surgically removed.  Unwavered, Daniel tapped into a form of sight that has only been used by a few species other than homo sapiens, such as bats and dolphins.  We know this method of vision as echolocation.  Those strange noises he makes as he rides his bike are actually precise tongue clicks that bounce off the objects in his environment and return to his ears unveiling a depth of information.  Using MRI imaging, the brain of Daniel and many others that employ this clicking echolocation has shown activity in the visual cortex.  These people may detect sound waves instead of light, but even the renowned biologist, Richard Dawkins, has postulated that the brains of echolocators would still use colors as mental tags.  As strange it may seem, we no longer need to explain color to a blind person; although, the meaning behind these colors would be different.  The mind has simply rewired its inputs to form a 3D image of the world from the available information.  Reminding us that we too are forming a world in our minds every day; a product of the preoccupying illusion we so often regard as reality.  Down the rabbit hole, we go.


Time too is a product of that illusion created only by our minds; trapped forever in the forward position inherent by their very design.  Albert Einstein once remarked, “The distinction between the future, present, and the past is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”  The truth is that we are always living slightly in the past; 13 milliseconds at the very least according to a recent MIT study testing the response time of human brains to visual cues.  That 13 milliseconds is the time it takes for your eyes to convert the energy from a light wave into a neural signal and be registered by your brain.  Additional studies have suggested that the familiar experience of Deja vu is a product of this delay.  Your unconscious mind theoretically can register a stimulus before your conscious mind is able to comprehend it; thus causing you to believe you had experienced it before.

But again, the useful illusion goes much deeper.  The very construct of our minds warps our perspective of time.  Why do we form memories of the past and not the future?  Well for one, we strictly define the future as something we do not yet have memories of yet and the past as something that we do.  That may sound too simple of an explanation, but it is also quite foundational.  Because we are stuck in the dimensions of this world, we have conceptual limitations.  Our experiences convince us that there is a coherent timeline of events and that time is steadily moving forward.  However, this is simply because our minds are only programmed to work in that direction.  This programming is based on physical laws no doubt, like the law of entropy (disorder increases over time) or perhaps something much more foundational.  Perhaps, cause and effect is a law all of its own.  Perhaps, we are overthinking it.  However, mathematically, there is no reason why time has to go only one direction at all.  To a creature outside of time, they would not recognize our universe moving in any one direction at all.  Einstein may have been one of those creatures because he thought of time as a reel of film with each frame as one frozen moment out of a multitude.  Is the character in a flipbook moving or is his motion simply an illusion of change?  Could time and life for that matter be this illusion of change deceiving all of us?

“Time is an illusion and life is the magician.”

 – Doctor Who

Science may tell us so, in fact, they even came up with an interval between the frames of time.  It is referred to as Planck time, the smallest unit of time relevant to our existence.  More specifically, it is a number derived from the dimensional constants of our universe to represent a number so small that anything happening on a smaller scale would be insignificant.  And Planck time has a counterpart referred to as Planck distance which is the smallest significant size in the universe.  So, not only do you live in a flipbook, but it is also pixelated.  

Since the universe seems to be made up of discrete bits of matter, space, and time, and since the universe seems to have had a beginning and is thus finite; at least the observable universe; this means that the universe is programmable.  Meaning that if a computer was powerful enough, it could stimulate all of existence.  Perhaps we live in one of these simulated universes and not the real one. (We are the Sims article)

This theory suggests that since the universe is observably finite and has defined units, it could be simulated by a powerful enough computer. Thus, it may be possible that we live in a virtually simulated world.  In fact, if the universe is programmable, then it is infinitely more likely that we live in a simulation than the “real world”.  To better understand why, imagine that someone in the far future of the “real world” is able to create a powerful enough computer to simulate the entire universe.  One can then imagine that, within that simulation, eventually a simulated person would be able to create another simulation within the simulation.  And then a person within this even deeper simulation could make another simulation.  This would then go on and on until there were an infinite amount of simulated universes, but only one real one. (unless this infinite loop would crash the computer generating the simulations)  This is how the number of simulated worlds would be infinitely greater than the one real one.  The implications of this are incredible.  Also fitting into the model is that simulations can be run in forwards or reverse, something in common with our physical laws of nature.  

Looking at the reel of time as a whole, there is no reason why it must go in only one direction.  To a Christian, this would be how we might imagine God views time; all of history as one complete work.  However; for us mere mortals, time feels progressive and rigid because we are limited by our minds and the laws that govern them.  We may think we see reality, and in some sense we do, but the truth is that we see only one small sliver of existence in our daily lives.  Too often we think of our minds as some ethereal body apart from nature.  But while we have progressed to a level of consciousness that is aware of its own existence, we have not ascended past the limitations of physical existence.  This is no small feat, but we have not yet seen the whole picture.

However, some strange effects of time we have been able to observe.  Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity describe how time itself can be relative, meaning it moves at different speeds in different places.  For the effect to be noticeable, it takes either a large gravitation field or a large amount of speed, but with enough of either, time could be slowed, sped up, or even halted to a stand still.  Now we would not notice the change because our minds, our bodies, and our thoughts would also be sped up or slowed down by what scientists refer to as “time dilation.”  But, we can notice this effect when comparing different regions of space that have very different space-time properties.  Typically, nothing on Earth can go fast enough nor is there a dense enough object to cause a gravitational field to drastically affect time locally.  However, in modern life, we rely on an understanding of time dilation every time we get in our car and turn on our GPS.   Time moves faster for an orbiting satellite far above the Earth than it does down here on the surface.  This is because the mass of the Earth slightly slows down time, and since the satellite is much further away from the Earth than we are, time moves a little quicker up in space.  Mathematically calibrating for this difference when triangulating coordinates is what keeps our GPS maps from drifting miles off course every day.  If we did not account for this strange truth, our GPS would direct us off of the road and into a ditch every time we turned it on.  

This is not a parlor trick or some technological malfunction.  Time itself is moving at a different pace for a satellite.  It is a small difference, but it adds up.  Russian astronaut, Sergei Aveyev, knows this effect more than anyone; albeit a small amount as well.  Sergei is the world’s greatest time traveler as he has spent 747 days in orbit above the Earth.  As a result, he has aged 0.02 seconds less than the rest of us here on Earth.  To Sergei, we are all living 0.02 seconds in the future.

This is all due to the fact that time is relative, and it makes both none and perfect sense.  Einstein discovered something that at first seemed simple but had the strangest implications; that your physical reference frame influences your reality.  And it was true!  For us, time has always crept forward without changing pace; a steady march towards some unknown end.  The effects of relativity are too small at our scale to even notice.  But in some of the most extreme environments in our universe, like close to the speed of light or near a black hole, the effects are drastic.  

So many before Einstein were absolutely certain that time was static, but only because Einstein was not afraid of the strangeness of the truth that he was able to see further.  He did not limit himself to his human perspective, but instead thought on a much grander scale; something very difficult for those of us preoccupied with our specific lives.  There is a much larger universe out there; it would be a shame for us to never leave the comfort of our homes in search of truths that hide in the great beyond.  

By | 2024-06-18T19:05:59-07:00 June 18th, 2024|Featured|0 Comments

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