“The border between the Real and the Unreal is not fixed, but just marks the last place where rival gangs of shamans fought each other to a standstill.”
–Robert Anton Wilson
This is a series of three articles/mini-essays on the possible subjective nature of Reality, and how such a condition may cause any number of problems.
You may disagree with some my assessments here, which is fine; after all, they are only a few of what is an infinite number of valid possibilities. Or not.
I. Reality Tunnels, Religion, and You
“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
In 2015, the Christian groups One Million Moms and the American Family Association protested FOX’s then-upcoming television show Lucifer because, well, The Devil.
Said One Million Moms:
“The program previews mischaracterize Satan, departs from true biblical teachings about him, and inaccurately portrays the beliefs of the Christian faith. By choosing to air this show, FOX is disrespecting Christianity and mocking the Bible.”
The name “Lucifer” means “The Morning Star”—specifically, Venus. As we read in the Bible, Isaiah 14:12, regarding The Dark One:
“How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!”
And you know who else was specifically referred-to as “The Morning Star” in the Bible?
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
So here we have both Jesus Christ and Satan/Lucifer (and they aren’t exactly the same thing, but that’s a whole ‘nuther post) called the same name in the Bible: Morning Star. That might not sound like a big deal to you…but if you are basing your entire worldview and philosophy on a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible, it is.
Now, the above quote from Revelation 22:16 has inspired quite the bit of lively discussion from Christian apologists online, who are POSITIVE that what the Bible *really* meant was that:
“Only Jesus’ light is self-existent. Satan may be a bright morning star, but he is only a poor imitation of the one true bright morning star, Jesus Christ, the light of the world.”
And what Biblical evidence do they use to come to this conclusion?
They don’t really have anything. But, as in the case of many such discrepancies and contradictions, they are “pretty sure” that this is what the Bible meant.
From my Evangelical Christian days, I learned that being “pretty sure” is not a “Biblical” conclusion. EVERYTHING must be found in the actual Bible itself.
So what we can conclude from all this is that One Million Moms were ignorant and close-minded.
According to the Reality Tunnel of One Million Moms, Lucifer really exists—exists, in an unambiguous way, as the Prince of Darkness who helps cause all the misery in the world, and is the Sworn Enemy of Jesus Christ.
(You feel me so far?)
According to the Reality Tunnel of One Million Moms, FOX was absolutely committing a sin by running this television show. And it was their sworn duty, as Concerned Christian Moms, to get the show off the air.
Further: according to the Reality Tunnel of hardline Christians, the Bible is the infallible word of God. Every single line in the Bible is “supposed” to be there. I have even read very thorough, frankly metaphysical explanations as to why the other books and documents (the so-called “Gnostic Gospels”) were left out of the Bible. I have read very thorough explanations as to why the fossil record is the way it is. And if you yourself happen to currently be in that very same Reality Tunnel, IT WILL ALL MAKE SENSE TO YOU!
It will make sense to you intellectually. It will make sense to you spiritually. It will make complete sense. No matter how fucked-up you—the “present” you—formerly thought it was.
“Reality Tunnel” is a concept author Robert Anton Wilson borrowed from Timothy Leary and expanded upon. It’s the idea that we interpret what we know of the world…that we might think it is objective, but it is only one of countless points of view:
“…there is no vantage point from which real reality can be seen, we are all looking from the point of our own reality tunnels. And when we begin to realize that we are all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels, we find it is much easier to understand where other people are coming from. Or, the ones who don’t have the same reality tunnels as us do not seem ignorant or deliberately perverse or lying or hypnotized by some mad ideology. They just have a different reality tunnel, and every reality tunnel might tell us something interesting about our world, if we are willing to listen.”
We all, by necessity, live in Reality Tunnels. Our senses—sight, hearing, etc.—only pick up a small fraction of the entire world as it really is. Our senses have to be limited in order to filter out this massive amount of sensory input. But we never quite see all of the world objectively as it really is. We can’t. Thus our minds—out of necessity, so we are not reduced to a quivering and shouting pile of insanity—”edits” things.
The “edited” version of reality—the one we live with day-to-day—helps make up our Reality Tunnel.
Other factors that determine our Reality Tunnel are our memories of experiences, which assist us in decision-making and judgments. These memories, by their very nature, have to be subjective. There might be others who corroborate your memories of past events. But the core essence of Memory—as with the Reality Tunnel itself—is subjective.
Because the final arbiter of your reality—the landing strip & processing center of said sensory inputs—is you.
And this subjectivity goes down even to the quantum level, where the observer and the system being observed seem to be linked: the actions of the observer having an impact on the observed, rather than the observed existing in a fixed, completely objective and “true” form.
If this is all giving you a cognitive-dissonance headache, you can better understand why many people opt for a simpler, cut-and-dry Reality Tunnel within which to dwell, preferably one with a lot of friends who think the same way they do & thus reaffirm the “truthiness” of said Reality Tunnel.
One such Reality Tunnel is that of a realm where Lucifer really exists and there are Good Guys and Bad Guys and a clear code of Goodness and a clear-cut reward in Heaven when you die.
Now, you try to argue with such a Believer and are frustrated by how “stupid” they are! Because you have the “right” Reality Tunnel—the one that you share with your peer group and admired thinkers—and they have the “wrong” one. Meanwhile, they are thinking the exact same thing about you! They think you are a complete dickhead and (plus) going straight to Hell to be sodomized repeatedly with Satan’s trident.
Who is right?
You can do a Pew Research poll, or gather a panel of experts, or run experiments, or do any number of things. But in the very, very, very end…it’s still up to you.
Now, you may say:
“THAT IS PREPOSTEROUS!!!!!! #1, clearly there is no real Lucifer or God, we are both intelligent people here and what I think you’re really doing is just trolling (to be honest). #2, if everybody thought that ultimate reality was subjective…then all sorts of crazy people and sociopaths and psychopaths and dolphin-fuckers would just do everything they wanted! And society would just break down and people would just start eating each other!”
To which I would answer:
#1: I probably am trolling.
#2: I believe that all sorts of crazy people and sociopaths and psychopaths and dolphin-fuckers are doing what they want to, regardless. For example, a psychopath is very adept at embracing his or her particular Reality Tunnel. So is a cult member. And these persons may very likely have much less of a feeling of existential ennui and agony as you and I.
And so how can a person ensconced in a more “fundamentalist” Reality Tunnel finally See The Light, “Kimmy-Schmidt”-like, of your enlightened Worldview?
My belief is: there is no way you can convince such a person through logic or “evidence.” You can only convince them through the mechanism of a “religious” revelation.
That’s it. So if you are an atheist and you want to convert religious people to your point of view, you will need to appeal to that same center of the brain that gets their rocks off on religious experiences.
Now, some atheist spokespersons are quite charismatic, and have indeed built devoted followings using (subconsciously, I’m sure) just this methodology.
It’s still trading one Reality Tunnel for another.
Some Reality Tunnels may seem kinder than others, some more progressive, some most definitely smarter and less destructive—but still they are Reality Tunnels, choices, versions of a reality.
At least…that’s according to my Reality Tunnel. I may be wrong.
II. Crisis On Infinite Realities
I now direct you to this discussion between R.U. Sirius of Mondo 2000 fame, and Douglas Rushkoff—entitled, “Operation Mindfuck Was Too Successful.” And they touch upon something here that I have been thinking a lot about lately: that irony seems to be dead, and that some of the memes and colorful theories (some invented from whole cloth simply as a method for fermenting chaos) seem to be “coming to life.”
An offshoot of this is that there seems to now be multiple realities, “infinite realities,” swarming through the general population; the same bottle of Coke is simultaneously half full, half empty, and also boasting a logo that had mysteriously changed sometime after the Large Hadron Collider was first activated.
And per that last example, the so-called Mandela Effect is a perfect example of this. The wider implication of this theory is that individuals are experiencing/remembering their own versions of reality—and concretizing that by saying they have literally “slipped” onto an alternate Earth in which that reality is altered: Why did I spell that logo that way?–> because that is how it was actually spelled on the original Earth I inhabited. I did not “misremember” anything. I am literally operating in a different reality, per science we probably haven’t even discovered yet.
That may sound like a kind of ridiculous notion: but then take it up a few levels to the idea of “fake news.” People now have completely different “versions” of the news. And history. And the way people are “supposed” to live. And so on. (the “Kaazam/Shazam” conundrum pales in comparison)
And so in this discussion, Sirius refers in frustration to “psychedelic people believing in bizarre stuff”:
“I found it benign and amusing in the past, but it’s one of the consequences of the psychedelic revolution that I find far more irritating and consequential now.
Hippie culture is a folk culture. It’s pre-scientific and memes spread and take over fast. Suddenly everybody knows that the Rothchilds own everything and that there’s a magical hugging lady on tour.”
“I remember you and I bonded again 20 years later, shortly after 9/11, when some of the more extreme conspiracy theories were going around. We both took a lot of heat for not buying into them. I wrote a piece where I was arguing these were disinformants spreading these stories because they’re trying to keep us from seeing the simple basic truth of what had happened, which is horrible enough.
And it feels like 9/11 and the acceleration of conspiracy theory that it spawned, combined with the internet and the ability to connect anything to anything else, has yielded this bizarre world of ontological relativism that we’re in today where people can be so easily manipulated and drawn into these rabbit holes of false truths.”
This then goes further into a discussion of these memes/theories being possibly purposely generated as disinformation for the use of nefarious ends.
“If you follow some of the ideological discourse from people who are really influential in Russia, it’s postmodernism and Operation Mindfuck in the service of amoral raw power and political strategy. I know secondhand that there are people in Putin’s mindtrust who have read their Leary and their Discordianism and so forth and they are following a chaos strategy for disrupting the American consensus… or however you want to phrase the collapsing neoliberal order. And not collapsing towards a good end.”
Now, the original Operation Mindfuck was (as far as I know) not a nefarious project at all, but rather a playful experiment developed by Robert Anton Wilson and Kerry Thornley in the late 1960s, part of the Discordian philosophy/”religion.” And it was basically about challenging people’s notions of consensus reality through art, pranks, and what-have-you.
And it’s just a “game.” Only: it also seems to be a form of chaos magick. It seems to have a power to it, even if that was totally not your intention. And Wilson dedicates a large portion of his classic 1977 book The Cosmic Trigger I to a series of bizarre events in which stuff that had been “made up” in Discordianism and Operation Mindfuck sort of “came true”—and if not objectively “came true,” then certainly was strongly believed by others to the point of “virtually” being true.
Flashforward to today, and I’m hardly the first person to notice that Operation Mindfuck has become somewhat “weaponized.” That Operation Mindfuck might be one of the most potent influencers of world events today (was this possibly the fabled “Nooscope” the Russians were supposedly in possession of?)
Now, how can this all be “countered?” Do we have to “whittle down” the multiple realities to get back to some “core” foundations? And is this not the plot to the famous 1985 comic book mini-series Crisis On Infinite Earths?–> that of these countless multiple versions of Earth being decimated by the arbiter of the “correct” version, the Anti-Monitor?
We can automatically see the pitfalls of this approach—in order to do this, someone’s subjective view of reality has to be christened as the consensus reality.
Whose will it be?
Last night I was listening to a podcast with a person whose work I’ve found occasionally thought-provoking in the past—even though his ideas are pretty much on the fringe (you know, unlike mine). He declared on this podcast that not only did he now believe Sandy Hook was completely “fake,” but he also suspects most of the key events from the last century were as well—that they were “Hollywood”-type productions using actors
That seems like a pretty big leap to make. How could someone think this way? And what, if anything, is to be “done” about that? That’s what I’d like to discuss here.
Let us start not with history books, but with the individual:
Every person gauges reality using a set of subjective instruments—the senses, the brain, neurons, past memories/schemas, etc. These are subjective instruments. Every person’s interpretation of reality is going to be, even in a somewhat homogenous-thinking society, a little bit different than everyone else’s.
In many past societies, a sort of “consensus reality” was agreed-upon by the tribe to make sure everyone was more or less on the same page. If you deviated from that consensus reality, you might be ostracized or even killed. These draconian measures were put in place, in part, because deep down the Powers That Be understood that a “true” reality was probably a lot more subjective than the objective stuff they were pushing.
(in some of these societies there were allowed shaman-types to navigate any possible perturbations within the consensus reality, and to deal with the individual reality dilemmas of certain individuals in a more or less humane way. We do not have nearly enough of these shaman-types in our present society, and whoa-boy we really really need them now!)
But thanks to champions of individual rights—champions of the concept that the individual’s Will (read: subjective reality) is the most important thing—we have, over the last hundred years especially, enjoyed a multiplicity of different realities. Which leads us to the present day, where a gentleman can profess the belief—on a public forum, yet—that many of the important events during recent American history were probably illusions acted out by paid performers.
Now, it would be very “nice” if the vision of a Will-driven utopia—a “Free To Be You And Me” type of utopia—could be realized where only the opinions that you agree with (that you deem rational and backed up by data and interpretations of data that you feel are objective) were allowed to exist.
That would be very nice, but that is not what you signed up for.
For we go back to the individual, whose experience of Reality can only be, in the end, subjective (as is all of ours):
And this individual is convinced that Sandy Hook was a “hoax.” That is their conception of reality, based on everything their senses, their brain, their neurons, their past memories/schemas, and so on have interpreted.
Now if this person hooks up with other people who believe the same thing…this belief, in a sense, becomes even stronger. In terms of esoteric thought (which might not square away with your subjective view of reality), these beliefs might even have a stronger “reality” now because they are shared.
And this idea of shared belief being made “realer” might scare the absolute fuck out of you—and make you say: “we need to get the consensus, baseline reality back, fucking pronto right now!”
Now, we can do that—we (the tribe, the peer group, the nation, the society) can bring back a consensus reality that is enforceable through a number of means (probably more humane than killing, but possibly involving censorship, jail time, enforced meds, and etc.).
In fact, I think some variation of this is actually going to happen (or at least will be attempted) in the future, as a “pendulum” reaction to the current situation in the United States.
But once we do that—once we install the “consensus” reality, the One True Reality, the reality that we claim to have proof is the objective reality—we are no longer championing the Romantic idea of following the individual Will.
Now, we may fool ourselves into believing that we are still these madcap whimsical types—we may build an “acceptable” parameter of alternate interpretations of reality into our Consensus Reality, and then claim anything outside of that is just “evil and sick,” plain and simple. But we are still elevating a subjective reality as the Reality.
Please do not consider all I have written as any sort of “endorsement” of Sandy Hook trutherism or whatnot. While I write on a number of conspiracy topics, I tend not to be a literalist regarding the vast majority of them; rather, I see many as metaphysical/metaphorical “symptoms” and “artifacts” of something that I’m not even sure we as humans are able to define yet. (that’s just my subjective opinion, based on my senses, my brain, neurons, memories, schemas, and so on)
But as I hear these louder and louder calls for censorship and censure coming from otherwise “free-thinking” circles…I am not sure what they really want to do, here. I “get” that certain rhetoric can occasionally stir up hatred violence, and that we need to be mindful of that. Believe me, I’ve been on the crappy end of that equation, and I get it.
However—the moment we “install” a subjective Consensus Reality as the reality, and become “Reality Police”…
…well fuck, maybe it is necessary at some point, but then we have to admit that the entire “do what thou wilt” free-wheeling liberal experiment was sort of a “failure.”
Then we have to admit that we were not the sort of “hip folks” we thought we were, the Firebrands, the “cool cats,” the rebels, and so on.
Then we might have to admit that in some sense, the mentality of the tribe with their dogmatic Consensus Reality had a “purpose” to it.
Which brings us, paradoxically, to the very same conclusion many of the conspiracy theorists (some tending to be more on the Right of the ideological spectrum) have.
***The only other way out of this, it seems to me, is to master a sort of “playful,” plastic, paradoxical attitude towards the idea of multiple and shifting realities (plus a dollop of strong personal ethics).***
*********But will a society en masse ever DO this?*********
Or will it just be a handful of enterprising, reality-tripping individuals? As perhaps…it has always been.