I was about 6 years old, I used to wonder if other people saw the color red the same as I did? We all called it “red,” but were we all seeing the same thing? This question bothered me a lot, but since no one could give me an answer back then, I stopped asking.
Flash forward six decades: I’m sitting at my desk, looking at a pen. (Even in the digital age, for some writers this isn’t so strange.) Anyway, I started to wonder: What does my pen look like to an ant? Or to a bat?
Ants and Bats
Well, most ants can detect movement and light, but they can’t see clearly. (It’s like having low pixel count.) And bats “see” through echolocation: by sound that’s reflected back, they determine distance and direction.
Each experience is accurate in its own way, but ultimately subjective, dependent on context, or, who’s doing the seeing. So, the question: What does the pen or the color red look like – to anything or to anyone else but me – is actually quite complex.
Parable of the Elephant
Consider the parable about the six blind men and the elephant. each man’s conclusion about the elephant’s nature is limited by his experience. That’s because each man touched a different part of this new creature.
The first man touched the trunk and said, “The elephant is like a snake.” The second touched the ear and said, “It’s like a fan.” The third touched the tusk and said, “No, the elephant is like a spear.” The fourth man touched the elephant’s leg and declared, “This animal is like a tree trunk.” The fifth man touched the body and said, “It’s like a wall.” Finally, the sixth man touched the tail and concluded, “No, the elephant is like a rope.”
Is It Real?
Each answer is “correct” but is incomplete and subjective. On a more fundamental level, the question is this: Is the elephant they describe real? In this case, it’s easy to say no.
So back to the color red: Objectively, it has a wavelength of 650 nanometers, but this doesn’t tell me whether we’re seeing the same thing. Well, it’s as real as the red looks gray to a red-green color-blind person. As for the pen, I see one thing, the bat another and the ant yet another. Our perceptions are all different. So, what’s real?
A “Reality” That’s Constant
Is there a capital “R” REALITY? A REALITY that’s constant from person to person, time to time, creature to creature, culture to culture? Is there a way to know what is ?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Finding that Reality isn’t easy, though.
Just like the blind men couldn’t experience a real elephant, what we think is reality is not REALITY. To know what REALITY is, we have to understand our own REAL Nature; and this understanding comes from an internal journey. For most of us, the first step of the journey ironically consists of sitting – as in sitting meditation. It’s up to each of us to take that first step.