Philosophy Degenerates into Dark Madness

Reality depends on one’s perspective. Summer runs from June through August for me. But for someone in Australia, summer starts is December through February. Both are real, but my reality’s context is sharply different from an Australian’s.

The physical differences between those two realities are easy to understand because the context in which those realities exist is easy to measure. The same cannot always be said for other realities. For instance, the viewpoints (the realities) of progressives and conservatives seem to be worlds apart, yet the contexts within which those viewpoints exist may seem to be identical. But, like the seasons in the northern versus southern hemisphere, their contexts are radically different. Unlike the contexts of the seasons, though, the contexts of one’s sociopolitical stance appear to be identical. Only by digging deeper is it possible to understand that contexts shift when seen through lenses formed by different surfaces of a prism. I could go on, attempting to explain how progressives and conservatives see the same world through different lenses, but I won’t. That’s been done enough by a sufficient number of people; suffice it to say psychology and socialization effectively “bend light” to produce different visions of the world. Instead, I’ll dwell on other contextual matters that color reality.

Let’s assume two people live on a long, narrow lake that is situated so that one end is east and the other end is west. The person who lives on the west end of the lake never takes his kayak out into the water because, he says, the sun’s glare blinds him.  The person on the east side of the lake takes his kayak out at first light and paddles halfway across the length of the lake, turning around just about the time the glare becomes tolerable as he heads back east.

We might assume the person who lives on the east end of the lake is simply more energetic and more inclined to enjoy the outdoors. But if we consider the matter more closely, we might come to realize that, if the person who lives on the western shore were to attempt to head east when the glare becomes tolerable, he might be able to paddle only a short distance before he would have to turn around, or else paddle home in darkness.

We might not consider, in our assessment of the situation, that the person who lives on the west end of the lake struggles with senesthesia, which causes him to taste the color of the waning light as he paddles homeward. To him, the dim grey and pink sky tastes like licorice, to which he is allergic. If he were to be paddling toward home and taste licorice, he might have dangerous reaction, causing him to puff up like a water balloon. The weight of the water balloon could cause his kayak to tip and capsize. The man can’t swim, especially when puffed up like a water balloon, so he would drown. And then how would we feel?

On the other hand, there’s a certain spirituality about melding with one’s environment in the way our water-logged drowning victim merged with his lake. For as written and content-edited in the Zen version of Genesis 3:19: “for water thou art, and unto water shalt thou return.” Robert Heinlein knew the future of water when he declared it sacred in Stranger in a Strange Land. Whether his Martian reverence for water was a prediction of the scarcity of water on earth I may never know, but I’ll always believe it was so.

Actually, the substitution of “water” for “dust” in the above Biblical misquote may be inextricably linked to Heinlein’s depiction of a future in which dust and water are, in effect, both real and symbolic antonyms. I think I’ll write my dissertation on the manner in which the relationship between dust and water provides the canvas upon which both the Bible and Stranger in a Strange Land were written.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this diatribe of madness, reality depends on one’s perspective. And in almost every case, reality is a reflection of the context within which experience plays out. Deep, deep, deep. As deep as the ocean is wet.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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