Memories and Reality
Memories, if the brain was incapable of memory, we theoretically could not proceed with life. Imagine you grow up a normal life and you are now 18 and at that point you lose all memory and the ability to remember things. You could be sitting and think "i need a drink, my mouth is dry" but you would forget to get up and go pour a drink, so what do you do? write it down so u can read it back over and over until u get that drink. But hold on....if u have lost all memory, you would be able to remember how to write, or talk, or even walk. You will be "reborn" to the state of a baby and you wouldn't be able to even sit up. Without memory the world would stand still. Nothing would ever have been invented because there would have been no background knowledge of any subject or the problem, we'd still be in the prehistoric ages. Reality would be different.
How do we know what anything really is or where it came from and what we did the day before? Our brain tells us that, "I woke up yesterday at 11am, I went out that night, I got drunk, I ate a kipper." We know its true because we remember it, that's how it happened. But how do we know what physically we did the day before? Our brain "remembers" and electrically stored it as a memory. How do we know our brain didnt perceieve things differently and it was stored differently as to what really happened? We can only presume that everything we remember.....is that of exactly the way things happened.
Just imagine that you become shipwrecked and you eventually reach a small desert island. You find the island is occupied by one other person who himself was shipwrecked some time previously. He is from Japan, you are from the UK. You do not speak the same language, but by using signs and gestures you are eventually able to converse. To pass the time, your new friend whose name is Lee, describes his home and family. He points to a brown tree trunk and says that is the colour of his wife's eyes. He points to your red shorts and tells you that is the colour of his car, and so on. After a time you have built up a picture in your mind of Lee's home and family. Eventually you are both rescued and you promise Lee that you will visit him in Japan.
The day arrives and you visit Lee as promised. You are not at all surprised to find that Lee's wife does indeed have brown eyes, Lee's car is red, and so on. By the power of language Lee was able to communicate all these colours to you. By using the tree, your shorts, and all the other items available, you had handy 'colour charts' that you could both relate to. You have a pleasant stay and then return home, confident in the ability of one person being able to accurately describe colour to another.
What you never knew was that Lee was colour blind, he could only see in monochrome. Every colour to him was either black, white or a shade of grey. Lee was not even aware that he was colour blind, he thought that the shade of grey he saw your shorts to be was exactly the same shade of grey that you saw them to be. So in reality, you had no idea of the colours that Lee was trying to describe to you that he had in his mind. What does this tell us?
It tells us about perception. Perception is simply how we, as individuals, translate the information our senses relay to our brain about the external world.
How I perceive it however is known only to me. The text colour of this page is to me a shade of yellow. I have absolutely no idea of how you perceive it, none whatsoever, even though you would also describe it as yellow. You may be colour blind and see it as a shade of, what I would describe as, grey. On the other hand you may have 'perfect' eyesight, but your brain may perceive it to be a shade darker, or a shade lighter, or as something completely different, compared to how I perceive it to be. There is no reason at all why our brains should all perceive the same things the same way. Our experiences of life differ, our first experience of a particular object, how it is 'translated' and 'catalogued' by our brain, is unique to us.
There is absolutely no possible way for us to communicate to one another how we each perceive the world. My world, the one that my brain has processed from the input from my five senses, is in all probability very different to your world. We can both look at a red rose for instance and agree that it is a red rose, but that's just putting a handy label on an object, it does not convey anything at all about our perception of it.
So what exactly is reality?
Reality is the actual physical universe that we exist in. The universe is the way it is regardless of how we perceive it to be. See Is there more than our five senses? A truth is a truth, it doesn't require that you believe it is true to be so. Perception, however, is how we as individuals, translate that reality into information that we can use in order to relate to the external world. In other words, we all have our own personal version of reality that we carry around in our heads, and are totally unable to relate to any other persons version of reality, or them to ours. But it doesn't change reality.
Sad isn't it, that I will never know how my wife perceives the dozen red roses I give her on our wedding anniversary, to her they may be what I would describe as yellow. I wonder what they smell like to her? Does she hear the Atlantic rollers crashing onto the beach the same way that I do? or Beethoven's Fifth? When I hold her hand, how does it feel to her? I will never know. We can never know what anyone else in the world is feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling or tasting
What test can we apply to determine if our reality really is reality? One way is to compare it with what we know to be an illusion, our dreams.
How do we know our dreams are an illusion? Because we compare them to what we call reality!
When dreaming we are not generally aware that we are dreaming, although on occasion we are. But when we awaken we always realise that we were dreaming, we realise that it wasn't real. We realise that nothing in our dream could actually hurt us, but does this mean it wasn't real? It seemed very real while we were dreaming it. They were real experiences taking place within our brain, the same brain that processes our all experiences, our only contact with the world around us. Dreams are so real to our brain - to us - that they can cause our heart rate to double, our blood pressure to rise, make us break out in a sweat, physically lash out against 'attackers', get out of breath and even make us scream - every physical reaction you would expect in real life. If our brain is experiencing it, and our bodies responding to it, doesn't that, for us, make it real? However, it comes back to what I said before, our dreams can't hurt us, only reality can. When our dream attacker hits us we do not have any injuries when we awaken. Why? Our bodies physically respond to our dreams, why not to what is inflicted upon it in our dreams? The answer is of course that as we were not 'really' hit we did not suffer any 'real' injuries, we only imagined that we did. From this we are able to deduce it was just a dream and not reality. If it were reality we would bear the injuries.
How else can we tell when we were dreaming? Very often by reflecting upon the events of the dream we can see how events were not logical, that impossible things happened. Thus when we awake and recall flying unaided through the air, leaping tall buildings in a single bound etc, we know that it was a dream and not a real event that happened yesterday. We can use common sense and logic to determine the obvious, to differentiate between dreams and reality. Dreams do not have the restraints of the physical laws of nature, follow the principle of cause and effect, and are not required to make any sense.
But suppose this reality is just an illusion that only appears to be reality. After all, we think our dreams are real until we wake up. Could there be another - higher - level of consciousness that is 'the' reality? What test can we apply to prove or disprove this idea? The answer is that we cannot test this reality, we wouldn't know it wasn't the real thing until we 'woke up', as it were, and reached the real reality and were thus able to make the comparison.
How about death? Could death be the gateway to the next level of consciousness, to the next level of reality? Could death be a kind of awakening? Is death the moment when we finally wake up to the truth? Wake up to the real world? This is becoming eerily close to how many religions describe death. Could this be the answer then?
Could what we are experiencing now be only one level of reality, of which there is another - higher level - the gateway to which is death? Could death be not the end of life, but the true beginning?