Reason for a New Age

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    What you will expect to see here are discussions of politics and tangentially economics. This blog will do its best to present a rational look at the world of today, how the modern world came into place, and the issues that are currently being discussed in the public realm.
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Making it Real

Posted by publius2point0 on 2011/01/15

Let me introduce you to Koro. A spirit, a witch, or unhealthy living may have cursed you and caused your penis to disappear.

Koro can happen to an individual, but it can also happen to whole communities. Sometimes the cure is to drink a potion, other times it’s to execute or banish the woman with different colored eyes who everyone in town knows is a witch.

Now, you would think that before you went and burned a woman alive that you might first check whether or not your penis is actually gone. Personally, I have no reason to think that the men who kill these women don’t look down and check out whether they still have a penis. They are satisfied that they do not, and after the witch is dead, they are certain that it has returned. Of course, if someone who does not believe in Koro should examine one of these men, he will undoubtedly find a penis there from beginning to end.

Most of us think that, as sane people, what we see and experience is reality. But this is not necessarily true.

If, when I am born, my parents place a system of mirrors in front of my eyes so that left becomes right and right left, what will happen is that my brain will accept the feedback that it receives about what is or isn’t the correct way to perceive reality and which limb I should move to interact with an object that I perceive as being on one side. I’ll end up acting just like everyone else and thinking that my visual perception of left and right is the same as everyone else perceives it, even though I am in fact completely reversed.

Point in fact, the image that we see with our eyes comes in upside down. Our perception of “up” is what is actually at the bottom of our vision.

Our brain is a learning device. If it is told to perceive something in a particular way, it may actually do so. If we are told that our penis could disappear, or that we can float if we practice yoga, or that spirits are talking to us, we can perceive these things to be true.

You might still disagree with me on this point, so let me bring up people who are psychotic (i.e. people who have hallucinations). To a person who is hallucinating, he perceives images, sounds, feelings, and smells as real, even though no one else around him does. I think you’ll agree that this is a real illness. As such, you agree that the brain can create and display imagined things in a way that we perceive as real.

As an illness, the problem of psychosis is that you have no control over it. Your brain is making stuff up not because it was trained to, but rather because it’s short circuiting. But there’s no particular reason to think that one can’t consciously achieve the same effect, except on cue and according to direction. It’s just a matter of actually convincing your brain that a certain way of perceiving the world should be registered as “real”.

Why would the brain be capable of such a thing? As demonstrated it needs to be. There’s only so much information that can be encoded into instinct. We have to learn up and down, left and right. We have to learn where to split the color scale into segments. Our brain needs to be able to accept — particularly at a young age — that what those around us tell us is the way to perceive reality is how we should perceive it, because this is the best way to transmit this knowledge. You can encode more information in a fully grown brain than you can in a strand of DNA. Once you have the power of speech, you can begin relaying this information. Once you have the power of reason, you can discover new things to transmit.

But it also means that we are all at danger of perceiving the world wrong. You should question whether your genitalia are really there. You should question whether the food that you are eating tastes good. You should question how many colors there are. The only way to perceive the world that you can say is absolutely correct is if you convince yourself that your perception may well be wrong.

Did you feel a warm, encompassing feeling when you thought of God? Well, is that because there is a God or is it because you were trained as a child to feel a warm, encompassing feeling every time your mind wandered onto the subject of God?

How do we know that the color scale is right? Well because we dissected several human eyeballs and among the non-colorblind found three sensors, each attuned to a particular set of wave lengths. Calling those “red”, “green”, and “blue” may be arbitrary, but we do at least have some reason to think that our shared perception matches with reality. Only by testing things through oblique methodology — divorced from our perceptions — can we even begin to verify reality. And over the course of history, this has almost certainly changed our shared perception many times.

People really believed and perceived that they were missing genitalia. They really believed that the gods had structures standing on top of the clouds, which they ruled out of. At one time, magic was tangible. It wasn’t just something that people talked about happening to others off in some distant land. People physically perceived changes to their own body and to world around them.

You might complain that the world is more boring because we lost this — and I suspect that to be the main reason for the New Age movement, to add magic back into modern life — but the point would remain that perception is not reality. Magic was never real, and yet people were killed for it. The gods were never real, and yet people were killed over religious disputes. Black people were just as capable of learning to read and write, do arithmetic, and study science as anyone else — and yet people were able to convince themselves otherwise for centuries in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

If there’s one thing I can ever hope to do in this world, it’s to convince people to hold off on teaching their children anything as “fact”. As said before, the only truth is that for most things we are just as likely in the wrong. It’s perfectly fine to say that you’re “going in this belief, but are probably wrong” when you teach something to your children.


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