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Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Illusion of Individual Reality

It is a popular belief in the Western World, in our academic centers, in our books on “self” that every individual dwells in their own unique “reality,” that each of us possesses our own distinct “truth,” justifying our adherence to individuated sets of absolutes.

There is a school of thought associated with this world-view, in academics it is Logical Positivism, it is the promotion of philosophical relativism.

It is a problem.

The school of Logical Positivism gave us the classic philosophical trope:

“If a tree falls in the woods and there is no-one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Suggesting that the answer is unknowable, because it is unverifiable.  

This is false: trees do fall in the woods, and when the do they obey the laws of physics, they make noise. It does not matter if there is a person present to see it, the tree and the forest are their own witness.  

These positivistic and relativistic notions, come to us out of a worldview known as mind-body-dualism. There are many philosophical traditions rooted in mind-body-dualism, most of which do not go so far as to promote the conclusions of the positivists and the relativists. Nevertheless, the position that the positivists and the relativists have arrived at is the logical end of dualistic bias.

The dualistic worldview has been more corrosive and corrupting than any other set of beliefs that have been disseminated through the world, because it divorces the individual first from their own self, then from their neighbor and ultimately the world.

Dualistic thinking is ancient, it is rooted in preliterate assumptions concerning the nature of reality. Its primary proponents in the literary tradition of Western Philosophy are Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, from the 6th through the 4th century before the common era; followed by Plotinus in the 3rd century C.E., who was the greatest synthesizer of their thought, and who transmitted it to the Christianity through the writing of Saint Augustine of Hippo, in the century C.E..

The tradition of mind-body-dualism entered the enlightenment, and the so-called age of reason without challenge into the modern world through the work of Descartes, Kant and Hume by way of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor of the Church, the Patron Saint of Philosophy in the 13th century, and through the entire structure of the Catholic University system.

All of the aforementioned thinkers were essentially dualists.

As I have said, dualistic thinking is a problem, not merely because it does not accurately represent reality, which it purports to do, therefore distorting our point of view.

Dualistic thinking is a manifestation of grievous selfishness, self-centeredness, and this is dangerous.

Dualism is harbored in our culture by people who do not want to accept responsibility for themselves or their relationships.

They fear to be incriminated by their own actions, or to take responsibility for their faults.

Dualism establishes the paradigm of “otherness.”

When we see ourselves as separate from one another, as dwelling in our own unique reality, as possessing our own unassailable truth, then we do not see others as a part of ourselves (which all people are, as we are of them), as sharing in the same experience, we do not see our relationship with them as a part of what makes us who we are, and this is the cause of great suffering in the world.

When we separate our experience from the experience of our sisters and brothers we establish the foundation for indifference and find opportunities to act for what we think is in our “self-interest,” through the denial of the legitimacy and rights of the other.

When we view others as objects, when we view them as competitors rather than co-operators and co-creators, when we see them as “things” with a destiny that is different from our own, when we cling to the notion that we have our reality, our own truth, we systematically invalidate own, and through this process we justify our crimes against them.

We victimize them, and ourselves in this way.

When we are blinded by the illusion of individual reality, then we have destroyed the basic bond that ties humanity together, and we have obfuscated the bond that links us to God, the creator of the universe, the sustainer of all that is.

While it is true that we each perceive the universe, reality in different ways, nevertheless, it is the same universe that we are perceiving. The distinctions in our perceptions only manifest themselves according to the differences in our points of view.

Our point of view will always be different, but our common experience will always be the same.

We are one.