Ways of "knowing"

Illusion of Reality, by Vijaybhai Kochar, Hyderabad, India
Illusion of Reality, by Vijaybhai Kochar, Hyderabad, India

Pretend, for a moment, that the Internet represents reality — the universe, all that exists and ever will exist. No one knows exactly what the Internet really looks like. How the Internet appears to any given user depends on the physical properties of the computer he or she uses to access it. A user who has only viewed the Internet through a monochrome computer that just displays text does not even have the concept of an Internet with graphics and colors. To him or her, “reality” is black and white and full of words. If this user never comes into contact with someone who views the Internet through a graphics-capable computer, the concept of graphics will never be known to him or her. Infact, he or she would never even know they aren’t seeing the “full” reality.

Likewise, any theory this monochrome, text-only user develops about the Internet (“reality”) will certainy not be the entire story, because he or she is unware that the story is incomplete. There is nothing in the monochrome, text-only user’s reality that matches the experience of the graphic user’s reality.

Descartes Mind-Body Diagram - Source - Wikimedia Commons
Descartes Mind-Body Diagram - Source - Wikimedia Commons

This exercise is designed to serve as a (crude) analogy to our own situations as humans trying to figure out the meaning of our existence in what we call “reality.” It seems as though we have it figured out, that the information we gather through our eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin is full and complete — but is it? How much of the full picture do our senses give us? Are we like the graphical Internet user, who sees all the bells and whistles? Or are we like the monochrome, text-only Internet user whose sees only black and white; text and no images? How much, if any, information in reality are we missing because we lack a sensory organ to detect it?

As humans, it’s easy for us to apply human characteristics and perspectives on almost anything we encounter, and place human labels on every function that other organisms have that are similar to ours. But we must remember that we, like the monochrome, text-only Internet user, may be limited in our view of the world. Everything that we know (or think we know) could actually be false, incorrect and outlandish, because we may not be not getting the whole story. Will we ever get the full story? Are we even meant to know the full story? Only time will tell…

“Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one.” – Albert Einstein


  1. Didn’t we have some discussions about this on the boards at one point? About how, for the most part, what you see as reality is not necessarily THE reality? I think it’s all very interesting because we don’t even see the full light spectrum with our naked eyes, and our hearing and sense of smell isn’t as good as that of other animals. Some animals do that echolocation thing, and that can tell us a lot about an object. Interesting posts! This is why I miss the boards so much, it was so fun to talk about this stuff with you guys. 🙁

  2. I miss the boards, too, Roslyn. Maybe we will open them up again in the future sometime, or at least start private group blog or LJ. I invite discussion on these posts in the meantime! 😀 Yeah, so much of how we see the world does depend on our physical make-up…even our heights make a (small) but perceptible difference! Some animals have hundreds of eyes, some have none, and each configuration provides a different view of reality. Who is to say that one view of reality is more correct than another? How do we know which view is more correct? How do we know if ANY view is correct? How do we know that there is even such a THING as reality???

  3. Hi, remember me?! It’s Jori, “pinkgum” from the forums. I haven’t been on here in ages! I’m doing well, just finished my freshman year of college, 3 more to go, whew! 😀 OK, that’s all, I know I’m off topic. I just wanted to make one comment on the post — since we know humans are without a doubt the most successful species, doesn’t that imply that our way of viewing reality is closest to the real thing? Food for thought, anyways!!

  4. Jori!!!! Yay!! 😀 Thanx so much 4 your comment! How have you been? I can’t believe you guys are rising sophomores in college…makes me feel that much older. But congrats though, I know it’s a good feeling to have the first year over with.

    Re your comment — no offense, but I think you are missing the point…the point is that we can only judge what we know as “reality” from a HUMAN perspective, and a HUMAN perspective only. So far, we can’t step outside of the human perspective. So we can’t know for SURE if our way of viewing things is “correct.” Just because we are more evolved than other animals when it comes to sentience does not necessarily mean that we’re more “correct.” Nature just happened to work in our favor…at least, in terms of our brain development. Physically humans are actually quite lacking in comparison to our fellow Earthlings.

    P.S. How do you guys like the Monster ID feature? if you don’t have a gravatar, you get a monster ID. It’s new with WordPress 2.6.

  5. Hey Michelle! I see what you’re trying to say, but I still disagree, sorry. 😀 I don’t know why people always try to downplay humans and our amazing abilities…we don’t need to be SO humble, you know? The fact of the matter is, we haven’t found any other life anywhere in the universe as intelligent as us (except for God of course), and we probably never will. I strongly believe…KNOW…that we were put here for a reason, and a higher purpose. Sometimes we just have to turn on our faith and trust that what God shows us every day is the truth.

    Oh and I really love the monster thingy…how does it work??? 😀 😀 And how do I get an avatar by my name? I don’t see anywhere to sign up!

  6. “Sometimes we just have to turn on our faith and trust that what God shows us every day is the truth.”

    one tiny problem – not everyone believes in your god, if they believe in one at all. god doesn’t hold up here.

    to get an avatar go to gravatar.com and sign up. pretty self-explanatory from there.

  7. Brendan, most people do believe in God…so that says something right there. 🙂

    I’ll try out the gravatar site, thanks for the link. But I don’t want to lose my monster, lol.

  8. Jori — did you figure out Gravatar? 🙂 A lot of people believing in something does not make it any more real than if only 1 person believed in it. For example: millions of children believe in Santa, but does that make him real? Likewise, I’m sure thousands of people believed in Hercules and Zeus back in the day…but many today would say those Gods didn’t exist…

  9. That makes me wonder — are there people out there today who really and truly believe in the Greek & Roman Gods? 😀

  10. Michelle, in response to your comment — when I say a lot of people believe in something, it sort of gives it more weight because it signifies that most people collectively feel some kind of inkling that there’s something out there higher than us. We all know we’re not in charge of everything, God is, and most people sense that…so it makes a lot of sense to believe that God is real and active in our lives. Hopefully that clears it up!

    As for Santa Claus, we know he isn’t real because we have evidence that he was created by humans. Same with Zeus and all the other ancient mythological deities.

  11. But people really did believe in Zeus (and some still do today). I won’t go as far as to say that there isn’t *some* kind of higher power. But the way I see it, we don’t really have enough evidence to describe the true nature of this higher power.

    Also, we are all human, so like other species of animals, we will have some shared traits within our species.

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