Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Versions of Reality

I: Kings of Reality

Everyone has their personal version of reality and everyone believes theirs is not only the best version, but the only one that really counts.

These versions of reality are cobbled together (usually in early adulthood) from what we see, hear, and read. The data gathered does not determine our version of reality, however; rather it’s our still-forming version of reality that dictates which items of data we choose to retain, to patch together our version of reality. The reason is that our version of reality is actually dependent on our physical, emotional, psychological imprinting as infants, and has little or nothing to do with conscious processes.

It never seems to occur to us, for example, that our version of reality is built up from material that comes directly from other people’s versions of reality (the books we read, people we respect, and so forth). Another way of saying this: our idea of objective reality arises from our agreement to agree that, if enough different subjective realities are patched together, this somehow constitutes “objective” reality. But logically, the reverse is the case: the more external points of view our version of reality draws upon, the more subjective it becomes.

We cling to our version of reality as if our life depends upon it. Maybe it does. Yet we know that any version of reality is incomplete, and never can be complete. Our insistence that it is “truth” is like the “suspension of disbelief” we perform while watching a movie—we trick ourselves in order to forget what we know, so that we can believe what we want to believe.

The way we view the world defines who we think we are, our constructed identity. We cannot see ourselves from the outside, except through the eyes of another.

We agree the sky is blue without ever wondering if we are seeing the same color, knowing only that we have agreed to give it the name “blue.” We cannot ever know what color the other is seeing, so it’s irrelevant to us. And yet, we still insist that others agree with us on the blueness of the sky.

We all desperately need others to agree with our version of reality, even while we insist that we are special and unique. Really, we want to uphold a version of reality in which we are King and everyone else will slavishly agree with us: a world of Yes-people. Boring and hellish as this would be, it’s the only version of reality in which we’d have complete control and therefore feel totally safe.

II: Reality as Defense System

We like people who see things the way we do. At the same time, we want the people we already like to see things that way too. We experience disturbance, anxiety, if we encounter people whom we admire who don’t agree with our view of things. Either we have to ignore the dissonance this creates or decide we don’t admire these people after all (or at least, not that particular aspect of them). A third option is to rethink our version of reality. This is the hardest path. Does anyone ever really upturn their version of reality in a way that is meaningful? It is akin to identity-suicide.

Our versions of reality are our defense systems, our armor, against an incomprehensible, and probably hostile, Universe. It began as a necessary survival response to those first childhood experiences, the ones which presented the original threat to our well-being, so shaping the identity-armor that was later fully consolidated as a version of reality.

Parents are the first to override our sense of reality by telling us that monsters do not exist and that our invisible friends are imaginary, that we are not hungry when we say we are, and so forth. Parents use their children as the supreme opportunity to strengthen and fortify their own versions of reality: by “recruiting” others to uphold it. Imposition of beliefs on others is the most effective way to assert and build up our identities. Since it is done to us from day one, we quickly learn to do it ourselves.

As children, we have two choices if we wish to maintain our well-being: either we must create a version of reality opposed to the one being imposed upon us; or, we create one that is compatible with it, in imitation of it. Either way, the result is the same: we have created a version of reality—a structured identity—as a direct reaction to, and against, the versions of reality that oppress and imprint us as infants.

III: : Worldview Warfare (weltanschauungskrieg)

Back to the central question: why do we care what anyone else believes?

We are looking for allies, most of all in our illusions. Complicity in denial. The rejection of conspiracy “theory” (a telling term, since it is often as fact-based as anything in the consensus realm) perhaps stems from our unconscious awareness that we are all conspiring, all of the time, to keep ourselves in the dark about this one, all-consuming fact: that we are the authors of our own beliefs.

“We are greater artists than we know.” Nietzsche.

Friendship is opposition. When worldviews, versions of reality, go to war, the potential for breakthrough is great.

When something or someone confronts our belief systems head-on, and we cannot simply dismiss or ignore it, we either have to let go of those beliefs, or watch them collapse, taking our precious identity-armor with them. A very real kind of death ensues.

Every version of reality is equally essential, equally “real,” to us; yet at the same time, it is equally constricting and oppressive, like heavy armor that protects us from events that have already happened, and that prevents us from being able to move freely through our present environment. All belief that is invested in personally, which includes disbelief, is a form of slavery, because we are obliged to constantly distort our perceptions and actions in order to stay within the comfortable confines of that belief.

What we believe to be real becomes real. We forget that we chose to believe a version of reality because we had to. It was a necessary illusion.

To challenge another’s version of reality should not be done lightly or for the wrong reasons. At the very least, it is extremely bad manners. At worst, it is offensive action.

On the other hand, if we question or deny the assertion of another, we validate it and make it stronger. We confirm that it is sufficiently threatening to our version of reality to need refuting. The moment we do so, we betray our own uncertainty.

1 comment:

slö said...