Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I can't believe my eyes

I was fifteen.  I had recently gone through a breakup, and had gone to bed quite upset.  I had a nightmare that night that I don't recall fully, but it involved standing in the middle of the freeway.  I woke up from this nightmare in a cold sweat, and with a full bladder.  I got out of bed, and made my way to the bathroom.  When I reached my bedroom door, though, I had a hunch to turn around, and look back at my bed.  There was somebody laying in my bed!  I took a step closer, and recognized the sleeping figure as myself.

I woke up then, abruptly, still in bed, bladder still full, and a bit more flustered than I had been the first time I thought I had awoken.  When I went back to bed, after going to the bathroom, I was certain that I'd had what I now know is called an out-of-body experience.  When I woke up the next morning, I wasn't so sure.

It was just a matter of which direction you approached the experience from.  I eventually decided that I didn't see why that had to be the explanation.  As far as the evidence concerned, it was a toss-up between an OBE and a vivid waking dream.  So, why choose OBE?  I couldn't think of a single reason to.

A few years later, I read the autobiographical Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman for the first time.  In a later chapter of the book physicist Richard Feynman gains access to a sensory deprivation chamber, where he experiences what I'm sure some would describe as out-of-body experiences, and it filled me with respect that he consistently referred to the experiences as hallucinations.

Let me tell you why.

We humans have a big problem, that leaves us making the wrong conclusions a little too often.  While many of us don't believe it until we see it, most of us do, when we see it, believe it.  We trust our senses, and we trust our memories, but like keeping friends who are drug addicts, we are misplacing our trust.

Something that you'll read in a lot of books on extra-sensory perception applies here.  What we humans see is not necessarily what's there.  Not just because of the narrow frequency band our eyes pick up, but because of how our brain handles these photons.  All of us, as humans, notice things selectively, based on what's been important in the past.  Three people can look at the exact same scene, and come away with three different descriptions, based on their past experiences, current mood, and beliefs about life.  I'm not going to bog you down with examples, because I'm sure you've been in at least one argument with someone about what seemed, to the both of you, to be the most obvious thing.

So that's why I respect someone who's able to doubt their own senses.  There is, of course, a threshold where such a practice becomes unreasonable, but it is necessary if you're interested in getting to the bottom of something, rather than just being led around by what you expected to see in the first place.

So, did I dream it?  The conclusion that I came to was entirely a choice of my own, and isn't evidence of anything but my own beliefs, which aren't a mystery in the first place.

Thanks for reading.

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