Monday, May 28, 2012

As I see it . . .

Here's a question that's been bothering me, one that preoccupied Einstein.  May I share it with you?
What is reality?  And can our view of reality ever be anything other than subjective?

Strictly speaking, I suppose that those are two questions, but they came to mind recently when I was expecting a friend to tea.  Two hours before her arrival, looking at my flat with the eyes of one who is expecting a visitor, it looked completely different from the familiar home I'd viewed a minute previously.  All at once I noticed the untidiness.  All at once I was aware of the dust on the shelves.  All at once my much-loved home looked badly in need of some attention before being considered in any way worthy of the discriminating guest who would soon be ringing the door bell.

The reality changed from that of a comfortable home to that of a dusty, untidy flat.  I set to work to improve matters.  What the reality was to my visitor, who arrived a little tired and preoccupied, I'll never know.  She probably noticed little more than the waiting chair, and the steaming cup of tea.

A similar switch in perspective can occur if you are taken into the countryside and shown a beautiful view.  You relax, let your vision wander, listen to the birdsong . . . life feels good.  Then you are told by you companion that a new road is planned to cut through the view you are admiring.  You are, in fact, standing on what will be the verge of a busy motorway.  The view hasn't changed, but suddenly it shines in a totally different light.  What is the reality?

To muddle things even further, did you realise that we have acquired a European focus?
This was brought home to me when a Japanese friend came to visit.  We looked at the same things, but there was no doubt that we saw them differently . . . to be more precise, we 'looked' at them differently.
The Western eye focuses quickly on what it consider to be the important aspect of the scene, it looks at specific points.  Were a Westerner to look at the Mona Lisa, he or she would probably focus on the smile, or on the eyes, paying little attention to the background or any folds in the clothing.  A person from Japan, on the other hand, would, my friend told me, see the picture indiscriminately and in its entirety.  This same difference occurs in thought processes.  Whereas we in the West are highly subjective in our views and judgements, the Japanese it appears tend to have a more communal viewpoint.
My Japanese friend and I don't disagree, we just look out at the world from our two different perspectives . . . we look at two different worlds.  Our choice of words gives us away:
"As I see it . . . " we say, and "From my  point of view . . . ".

Are you getting confused?  So am I!
Let's turn from the confusion of reality to the certainty of what is real.

Here, at long last, we can find a foothold in the shifting sand.  There's no argument as to what is real.
It cannot be defined, but we know it when we see it.  We recognise the truth in a voice, the light in an eye, the beauty in a flower.

Let's look at that plaque on the wall:
"What is real," it tell us,  "is not the external form but the essence itself".

I'm willing to settle for that . . .  if you are.