What is Reality?
We were taught in school that reality is the outer world of matter and form.
Sir Isaac Newton saw the universe as a giant machine that operated with the precision of a fine clock. The role of science is to understand how this clock works and to help humanity live in harmony with the natural order to life. Science and society lived comfortably with this picture of reality for about three centuries. Then Einstein came along.
In his great work The Theory of Relativity, Einstein developed a proof that the smallest particle of matter—this would be the basic building block for everything—could also exist as a wave.
A particle would be solid. With the right equipment, a tiny particle could be viewed by the human eye. But if this same particle became a wave, it would no longer be visible. It could never be seen by the human eye.
If particles and waves are the same, then matter and emptiness are two aspects of the same thing. (Got that?)
Emptiness would always hold the potential for becoming matter. Matter would always hold the potential for becoming nothing.
When particles are waves, they make up the empty spaces of the universe. When they are particles, they make up the celestial bodies in an otherwise empty universe.
This raises a tantalizing question: what causes a wave to become a particle? And what causes a particle to become a wave?
Quantum Physics set out to answer this question. First, they had to come up with a technique for observing particles. Once they could observe particles, they could gather data on the relationship between particles and waves. How often, and under what circumstances, does a wave become a particle? How often, and under what circumstances, does a particle revert back into a wave?
Scientists came up a way to observe these particles (we will skip the gory details). Scientists figured that if they could make observations, they could learn more about the relationship between particles and waves. There was just one thing: they could see a particle, but a wave would be invisible. If they made an observation and saw nothing, they would infer the presence of a wave.
This is what scientists wanted to know: when they made a series of observations, how often would they see a particle and how often would they see nothing (i.e. a wave).
But scientists were not prepared for what they actually saw.
Scientists were expecting some random pattern of particles/waves. They wondered if they could make sense out of random patterns. But they did not observe a random pattern. Every time they made an observation, they saw a particle. Every time!
This could not be a random result. Something was causing waves to solidify into particles. But what could that something be? Researchers had designed their experiment to prevent any outside forces from influencing their results. There could be no extraneous force that could account for what they saw.
This left only one very uncomfortable conclusion: it was the act of observation itself that had created the results. Reluctantly, scientists were forced to conclude: we changed waves into particles by the very act of observing the wave/particle.
How does this work?
The only explanation the scientists could come up with was that, during the experiment, they held an expectation that they might observe a particle. Their expectation of what they might see somehow created what they actually did see.
The anticipation of a particle somehow caused a wave to become solid.
This result turned modern science on its head. For years science has been telling us that the outer world is a fixed reality. Now we get data that suggests that the outer world exists because we believe it is real and we expect to see it.
The old adage that seeing is believing is backwards. The way it actually works is that believing becomes seeing.
The research from Quantum Physics tells us that we do not look out upon a fixed outer reality around us. We create collectively the existence of this outer world by our belief that this world is real.
Every morning around the world, humanity wakes up expecting to see the same outer world they have always seen. And every morning that is exactly what they see. The outer world is exactly the way we expect it to be. Day in and day out we have this experience of seeing the same outer world around us. Our belief that the outer world is fixed reality is reinforced daily.
In a way this is comforting to us. We bond with this outer world. We do not see the whole world of course. We see just the small portion where we live. The small portion we see on a daily basis we think of as our home; this is the place where we experience life, raise our children, conduct our spiritual ceremonies. This place is special to us.
The continual re-creation of this world on a daily basis gives us the sense of a permanency which actually does not exist. What does exist is our inner expectation that the outer world is always there for us.
Human consciousness is much more than just a passive observer of outer reality. It is actually the catalyst that gives rise to—and perpetuates— the world of matter and form.
We have to shift our thinking away from the idea the reality is a thing and realize that reality is experience. Specifically, it is the moment-to-moment experience of being alive in a body.
Reality Is the Flow of Life
Is there a fixed reality anywhere? The short answer is no.
Is anything real? Yes, but we have to shift our understanding of what reality is.
Reality is not some fixed, unchanging point in space (as Sir Isaac Newton believed.)
Reality is experience. Reality is the flow of life.
Modern science today realizes that the line separating objective reality and subjective reality may not exist. Objective reality and subjective reality may be two aspects of just one reality.
Is Reality a Thing or an Experience?
Amos Trvesky, an Israeli psychologist who studied the way the human mind works, helps to explain how the mind creates our reality.
Trvesky called reality a floating cloud of possibilities that can move in any direction in ways small or large.
Life is a continual flow of experience. Life does not experience a fixed reality. Life experiences a flow of consciousness.
Life is like a flowing stream. We never step into the same stream twice. What is flowing? Consciousness.
Our human mind is uncomfortable with this dynamic nature of reality. It wants more certainty. It wants more structure.
To ease this discomfort, the mind imposes a sense of structure and order over the dynamic flow of life. The mind recognizes something in one moment and holds onto that recognition as if it were a fixed reality.
The mind fails to see that what is before it has already changed into something else.
It is like taking a stop-action photograph. Suddenly a moment in time, like a race horse galloping down a track, becomes frozen forever. What was real in the moment that the photo was taken becomes unreal seconds later. But we look at the photograph and think of it as reality.
We want to create a certainty where none exists. The fixed-frame becomes a lens through which we look at the flow of life. When we do this, we fail to see the reality is actually around us in this moment.
Permanence, continuity, certainty are all mental constructs which our mind superimposes over the flow of life. The past is always behind us. The future is always in front of us. Neither has any reality now.
The reality of the moment moves on. Life is movement. Life is flow. And if we want to be in touch with that flow, we have to flow with it.
The outer world only exists as a construct of the mind. We have beliefs about the way the world is and what it looks and sounds like.
As we gaze outwards with our eyes, we see the world that we are picturing in our mind.
The Neuroscientist Anil Seth calls this process “hallucinating reality”. Reality occurs when we all agree on what that hallucination looks like.
Our experience of the outer world is the product of how our brain processes perceptual input from our outer environment. Our brain takes in this data, processes it along the lines of what it already believes or expects to find, and then creates an image of “reality”. But this experience of the outer world only exists in the brain. There is no outer world that is independent of the operation of the brain. The outer world is a projection of our inner beliefs and expectations, just as Plato described in his allegory of the cave.
Our beliefs about the outer world create the experience of living in that very same world.
This does not make that world unreal. But it does make it a different kind of reality than what we learned about in school.
The Transcendent and Reality.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with Transcendence, or maybe you have figured it out.
In Sir Isaac Newton’s model of the universe as a great ticking clock, there is no place for an experience of the Transcendent. That big ol’ clock out there cannot explain the kind of experiences people have described after ingesting psilocybin.
This leaves Newtonian scientists with three choices:
- ignore these experiences and pretend they never happened (yep)
- accept these experiences and re-examine their model of reality (nope)
- pathologize these experiences and claim they is dangerous or deranged. (of course)
With Newtonian Physics we are stuck in a cul-de-sac. It is a you-can’t-get-there-from-here situation. Their model of reality cannot explain the full range of human experience. Their solution is simple: claim the model is valid and our experience is flawed.
The Transcendent is like a messenger that brings good news. Hey folks, it announces: here is an experience to open your eyes (and your mind) about the possibilities for what you might experience if you break out of your box of outer world only reality.
Here is an example of what kind of experiences it might bring:
- you walk through a forest and suddenly you become one with the trees;
- you start reading another person’s thoughts;
- you have a sense of being in two locations at the same time;
- a voice talks to you but no one is around;
- you feel a pressure in your heart when you are confronted by a choice of actions.
- the world disappears and you find yourself looking into a great, empty chasm;
None of these experiences can be explained in our traditional theory of reality. It is as if we are receiving a wake-up call telling us there is much more to the experience of being alive than what we have encountered. This is good news.
The drug revolution of the 1960’s opened up a window to unheard of possibilities. It was more far-reaching than either the civil rights movement or the Viet Nam war. The other two movements were more immediate in their focus. They challenged our politics and mores but not our reality. The drug revolution, on the other hand, came out of nowhere. It opened avenues of exploration that still remain largely unexplored today.