The bar room response to statements like “Some scientists say we know little to nothing about reality” is, “How would we know?”
As an author, I’m very conscious of the reality I create when I write a novel. What the readers see and when they’re allowed to see it via a biased or unbiased character is closely orchestrated.
Author Zadie Smith (Swing Time) said in a recent interview, “People want to control how they are perceived. On Facebook or Instagram, you show others what you want them to see. My experience, though, is there is a lot more going on in the interior. You find out who you are by the things that you do, and it’s not always a pleasant discovery.” In Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut said it this way: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
I “love” novels that claim to be based on true stories. My response is often, “so what?” Looking more closely, I want to ask, “based on whose perception of that purported true story?” Who told the story? Why did they tell it? Which witnesses or historians were the most accurate? How did the author adjust story events and characters to make a more exciting novel?
Police claim eye witness accounts are usually unreliable. Other than lying or supporting one agenda or another, an eye witness seldom sees an entire event. Without knowing it, his brain fashions the probable scenario for the things he missed and then he believes his entire account. And, a lie detector won’t catch the unintentional fabrication. Think of all the eye witnesses to historical events, the things covered on the nightly news, and other “true stories.” What did they see as opposed to their brains’ versions of what they think they saw?
Perhaps evolution’s to blame
According to some scientists, the reality problem is worse than we think it is. Donald Hoffman’s use of evolutionary game theory suggests that that our perception of reality is an illusion. According to his models and research, this happens because our evolution has created us to “see” what aids our fitness and safety more than an accurate picture of what’s in front of us.
“Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be,” Hoffman says.
Many gurus from the often diverse worlds of science and spirituality have long claimed that reality as we generally view it is an illusion, our own dream perhaps, or maybe the universe’s dream, or the result of our brains’ algorithm for converting what is–in actuality–energy into physical stuff.
I have always believed we create our own reality via our thoughts. I can’t prove that any more than I can say whether or not Hoffman is correct or way off course. I’m fairly certain about the truth of Zadie Smith’s view. As a writer, I delight in the chaos and uncertainty of all this, because it makes storytelling such a powerful reality-generating art. Those of us who write novels are very similar to those who are good at spinning yarns around a camp fire with versions that differ from one telling to the next. We see reality as fluid like a mixed drink that one bartender makes one way and another bartender makes another way, often depending on what s/he thinks the customer wants or his/her general mood of the moment.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Snape said, “I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even put a stopper on death.” He did this with potions. Writers bottle truth, brew reality, and manage births and deaths with words. Enjoy it all, but don’t for a moment think it’s anything more than an illusion.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,” FREE on Kindle December 9, 1o, and 11.