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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


Perhaps you’ve seen the movie. If you haven’t, a few words about the premise are in order. The premise of this picture is that ideas, even fully realized alternate lives can be implanted in our minds in a way that makes it all but impossible to distinguish them from reality.

The subject came to mind when I read an article about consciousness that suggested we are not as conscious as we may think. In fact, the article contended that rather than replaying actual scenes of our past, the human mind builds a construct based on very limited snapshots and inferences sometimes testing them against the responses of others to determine whether they are real.

I am over simplifying this scholarly observation just a bit, but in essence that was the thrust of the article. We are not as focused as we think we are and the article goes on to say that the human mind is designed for distraction. I have to admit I found this article unnerving. Here I thought I was acutely aware of my surrounding and only occasionally day dreamed. After thinking about it over several days, however, I am inclined to agree with the premise. What’s more, I think we all acknowledge this in subtle ways.

Take for instance our concept of dreams. Your high-school textbook on human psychology probably explained them as stories or images our minds create while we are in REM sleep. True enough, but why do we create these stories and do they really have a deeper meaning? The answer is both yes and no. Sometimes dreams reveal our predisposition to things which have occurred or which we hope or fear will occur. Those hopes and fear are real enough, but sometimes we are not consciously aware that we harbor those thoughts. With apologies to Dr. Freud, sometimes dreams are just dreams-storytelling that we do that is apparently akin to what we do when we are awake. We stitch together images and inferences and construct our reality.

Another fun example can be found in literature. The fictional detective, whether an Edwardian Sherlock Holmes or latter-day Miss Marple, share a common trait. They are ‘un-naturally’ observant. They see things we overlook, and deduce from their observations and reason, a different reality than we do. Their reality is sharper, more keenly observed and more soundly constructed on observations about human behavior and motive. Again, we intuit that some people see what we do not and that ability—let’s call it focus, makes it possible for them to see beyond us.

While reading a rather badly written anecdotal book about the Nobel prize winning theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman I was intrigued by his description of a particularly fallow period in his life when he found himself unable to think about the big ideas that he wanted to investigate. I will spare you 30 pages of dilatory prose and cut to the chase. Feynman’s conscious block was the fear that he would fail, that his best work was behind him. In fact, his best work was yet to come. Once he accepted the possibility that he was done, he gave himself permission to just, as he put it, “play”.

In practice what he did was to simply observe what was happening around him, the way a stream of water bent or a plate spun and wobbled, with a particular focus and allow his mind to wander until it returned to a question. Almost always the question was why a certain thing behaved the way it did, and in investigating that question Feynman came up with answers that led to major breakthroughs in our understanding of the physical world. So here we have another example of the way in which conscious observation –focus—leads to insight but only when it is freed from the prison of fear.

These thoughts led me down a familiar path. What is real and what isn’t. I’ve written before that I find the distinction within some boundaries somewhat arbitrary. Even things which we once believed to be scientifically provable have been shown to differ from our understanding in the light of new information. Is reality just a story we have constructed about what we intermittently observe that we have tested against the perceptions of others, or is there a larger truth we have yet to acknowledge?

I confess that I am uncomfortable with facts that rest solely on agreement. History as we know it is filled with conjectures and assertions that are routinely disproven when we come upon new information. Science is the same. Like Feynman, but perhaps less brilliantly, new information must be integrated with what we already know before we confirm our reality or accept an alternate understanding.

With this in mind, here is my challenge. Can we observe with real focus who we are and how we act in the world? I think you already know the answer. We have all seen people who do this as a way of life. Whether they get there through meditation, faith, inner peace, or some other means, we recognize such individuals and we know they are on to something. Let me suggest what sets them apart. They all believe in a higher plane of existence.

I don’t want to confuse things so I am deliberately avoiding the word God. Maybe that does not fit with your understanding. But whether it does or doesn’t my question for you is do you accept that our reality is all there is or that there is something beyond us—perhaps something we can only dream—something that is greater than any of us? If you do my friends than I would submit you have achieved real consciousness.

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