This installment, …And Night is the second in the final section of my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man. It’s concerned with the strange, maybe imaginary, border between our internal and external realities.
A Million Different Things: …And Night, Meditation #2
It’s possible, then, that everything in the universe is within our immediate reach. It’s possible even that everything is stored, inventoried, categorized, even created inside that container of bone we call a skull or connected nearby.
It’s widely accepted among scientists, although just as widely unknown among everyone else, that no experiment has ever proved that there is an objective world outside our senses.
Everything we “know” to be exists only because our senses say so, and our brains assemble and digest a world from the information received.
We compile reality in our minds and accept without proof that the information we have about it comes from somewhere out there. No advantage is inherent in determining that this is fact or fiction. No one can prove it, either way.
Moreover, no one can show that you and I or any other individuals see the same things in the same way or even similarly. What I see as blue may look like something completely different to you. It’s all subjective.
The greatest challenge to the possibility of there being nothing out there is that, without an external world, we must either connect with each other on some other plane or face the even more bizarre possibility that we are all figments of our own imaginations or even just a single imagination with everything, including the kitchen sink, in it.
Because so many actions seem to occur at a distance, especially while we are not participating, I’ve ruled out the latter. I’m confident, however, that we do connect in ways that are not external. These may not be the only ways, but I have accepted them as virtually proven. We have a lot more to learn, and by the time we get to some of it, the conclusions will be stranger than this by today’s standards.
Deepak Chopra provided an interesting example in his book about life after death. Chopra discussed phenomena observed in individuals known as idiot savants. Idiot savants are born with mental capacities so limited that, normally, they require lifelong support just to survive.
Learning to tie their shoes or to dress themselves can present insurmountable challenges. Yet, there are well-documented cases in which these individuals have been observed to play a Mozart sonata with no prior training after a first hearing. They capture and recall every note and play them back without, apparently, any special awareness.
Other idiot savants, a set of twins I remember reading about, were able to solve advanced mathematical challenges, such as instantly reporting on which day of the week any future date might fall, even though they could not count to ten or spell their own names.
These are among the most startling phenomena ever recorded, so startling that mainstream science generally disregards them as inexplicable. If the same skills were found in a person otherwise considered to be normal, we’d call that person a genius.
When he or she is an idiot savant, a learned idiot, how can we explain it? Nothing within their capabilities as we know them makes it possible to do what they do. The skill, it seems, must come from someplace other than their insufficient brains, most likely somewhere outside. Embedded memory from another incarnation might somehow have been released.
A skill not interfered with by complex mental practices may grow in ways that aren’t possible for a normal individual. The extreme isolation of one who is severely retarded might be an extraordinary fertilizer for innate talents. To sustain limits on what science will accept, most would insist on an explanation that doesn’t require leaving or reaching outside of an individual’s skull.
The idea of external access, information passing in and out of individual brains to mingle among independently shared pools of knowing is anathema, weird and an irrational invention of the New Age, according to established standards.
So, discard intuition as the feed we get from something apart from our most evident selves. And let’s also say that we are not able to transfer information between individuals or groups in any nonphysical way. Accept also that we can’t influence matter at a distance.
We can’t reach across the vastness of space, like an electron, and instantly change a condition in some distant corner of the universe. Toss in a capitulation to the insistence that idiot savants must have an internal, undiscovered skills that allows them to play Mozart at a level few of us would achieve after a decade of practice.
Eventually, defenses will have us accepting so many negatives that a truly scientific approach, which must be open to be valid, has been abandoned. Science begins to seem at certain junctures to cosset belief systems as closed as religions, as dependent on assumptions and prejudice. It may seem even more rigidly so, since science, not religion, is charged with asking new questions and honestly trying to answer them.
Science’s shortcomings in these matters turn out to be a pair of its major strengths: reliance on the revelations secured through reductionism and on measurement.
In reductionism, science has found ways to take apart such things as viruses and interstellar gases to reveal secrets in a practical way. A reductionist approach to understanding the influenza epidemic of 1918 rapidly lead to discoveries about causes that, then, brought vaccines that saved millions of lives.
Without measurement, we would still be tied to the superstitions of the past, of an Earth inducing a sun, no, an entire universe to circle around it. Measurement proved that our planet is an insignificant clump of dirt and rock in a magnificent cosmos.
Hard to believe, these days, that people were once killed and tortured because they trusted measurement as a guide to truth or even suggested the possibility.
Both of these methods of discovery have weaknesses that can make science seem, well, ignorant. Reductionism, by definition, can never be inclusive of the broader plane of reality.
When a researcher, for instance, explores the protein shell surrounding the DNA of a virus, observing and drawing conclusions from discrete parts, he or she cannot include external elements with which the virus is intimately associated in a real world outside the lab.
An illusion is created that each part is the thing itself, not the holistic total, and the thing becomes an isolated factor in a falsely stable world. In reality, nothing at all, anywhere or at any time, is isolated. Everything connects, everything interacts, and in exploring an isolated element, we must be observing at best a distorted and incomplete example.
The trouble with measurement is even simpler. Some things are too large, too small or too odd to be measured. In some situations, we don’t even know what it is we are hoping to measure or by what standard. Among modern scientists, the raw conclusion is that, if we can’t measure something by observation, it doesn’t exist, except in a theory that posits necessary factors to complete a larger theory. Much of the quantum world is like that.
Tiny bits of proposed elements or potential matter have never been seen under any conditions, neutrinos being the most frequently cited example. The situation of superstrings gets even worse.
However, when it suits the a priori assumptions of science, we accept theory as fact generally. When it’s otherwise and especially when it gets labeled “New Age,” it’s tossed aside. That leaves only fringe speculators and others outside science to consider idiosyncratic possibilities and to imagine unimaginable frontiers.
Let’s face it. For some of us, imagining and digesting new ideas is the best part. We can run our own experiments without restrictive oversight, just to see what happens. We aren’t bound by the politics of government funding or university rivalries.
We can, as Buddhists always have, look within ourselves for truth. Our discoveries may be at least as real as the claims of scientists insisting they know what’s out there, and frankly, I think we have more fun.
Here’s why: we are free.
This starts the final section …And Night of my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man. It’s concerned with realities invisible in our three-dimensional world and how we experience it.