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Observations placeholder

Devereux, Paul - What is reality?



Type of Spiritual Experience

Invisible input - wisdom

Number of hallucinations: 1


A description of the experience

From Paul’s blog

I’d become acutely aware that the human mind-brain could mould perceptions in any way it liked. This epiphany had dawned on me almost twenty years previously, when, during an LSD session, someone had brought out a handkerchief which I immediately saw as a dead dove. The person was holding it by the corner and I saw in totally accurate and convincing detail, down to its feathers, the bird being held by its beak. Somehow, the creative elements of my visual faculty had transformed the already suggestive folds of the handkerchief. I understood from that point on that perception is a moveable feast.

But what does this mean? Can we really know the real?

As Oliver Sacks points out in passing, our perception of normal everyday reality is a hugely complex affair. Many processes have to be brought seamlessly together from various parts of the brain to give us a stable view of the world (a view that is heavily moderated by the worldview of the culture we are in). All the time, every single moment of perception, except in dreams and hallucinations when our sensory faculties are let off the leash.

The same brain processes within the darkness of our skulls that are used to create our view of consensus reality are involved in the creation of dreams (especially lucid dreams) and, more so, hallucinations. Let’s take one step further: could our consensus reality be our culture’s shared hallucination?

Some philosophers have suggested that culture could be seen as a hallucination, and at a basic level, physicists now debate whether or not matter is linked to and affected by consciousness in some mysterious way – the “observer effect” for instance – and there are various scientific notions flying around that question the nature and status of matter and our perception of it.

Much earlier, the poet Coleridge said: “For all we see, hear, feel and touch, the substance is and must be in ourselves”.

We have the modern movie myth of the Matrix, in which the protagonists are entrapped in a virtual reality – even the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom reckons there is a twenty-percent chance that we are in a computerised world created by other entities, perhaps post-humans living in the future

And from ages past, various religions have exhorted us to perceive everyday reality as being illusory – most notably, perhaps, in the largely Hindu doctrine of Maya (a Sanskrit term literally meaning, “not that”). Of course, sceptics say: “Okay, go out there and walk in front of a bus – bet you’ll get killed or mangled”. Well of course I would, locked into the same reality as the bus! (True adepts of magickal processes can, to some degree, pick the lock of that stubborn, stuck-in-the-groove reality.)

The source of the experience

Devereux, Paul

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps