Mountain Metaphor – 1

From the top of a mountain, everything seems clear. It’s easy to see the paths that the rivers take as they wind through the surrounding valleys, the same rivers that we now know carved the very mountain you’re standing on. But what did our view of the world look like before we climbed the mountain and learned how everything worked, when the only world we knew was the valley?

Humans have five senses, two of which necessitate physical contact for perception. Of the remaining three, hearing and smell have weakened so immensely over time as to provide us with only the faintest information about our environment. Vision, our strongest sense, only perceives electromagnetic radiation in the visible light spectrum, about 0.0035% of the total electromagnetic spectrum. We are severely restricted by our ability to only be in one place at a time.
What allows us to change this vantage point? What is it that allows us to climb this towering metaphorical mountain?

Our drive to explore has given us access to incredible technology which allows us to scale the metaphorical ridge.

The creation of spoken language allowed us to communicate our experiences with one another, where before we were limited to vague physical signals. The advent of writing allowed us to hear someone’s story without needing them to be physically present at all. The wide availability of the written word enabled by the invention of the printing press allowed the general public to be educated on an enormous scale. The Internet has revolutionized the amount of information each person is exposed to to a previously unfathomable degree.

The world we inhabit now is vastly different from the one in which we evolved. And it’s all because of the tools we have invented to expand our perception. It is no longer our senses, but our technology that determines the extent of our awareness. It’s incredible to think that our own ingenuity, curiosity, and creativity have driven us to push our limits and explore unheard-of possibilities.

Over millennia, the analytical curiosity which forms the basis for the scientific method has enabled the understanding of the world which has led to the creation of new technologies, the closest thing we have to magic. Between self-driving cars, food-delivery services, and phones that can provide us with images of people across the world at the tap of a finger, it’s easy to forget that the world we live in isn’t the one we’ve always had, nor the world that all humans currently inhabit. Our current understanding of the universe is the equivalent of the summit of the highest mountain ever known on Earth, when a thousand years ago we stood in the valley. And the best part is that there’s so much more to discover!!

Reality is Perception

“Life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock!” – Hannah Montana, 2007.

Our nervous system is what allows us to think, to plan, to make decisions and take action based on our perception of the world. Our brains are able to process massive amounts of data from the universe we inhabit, and the combination of chemical signals and electric potentials allows us to interpret the environment in which we live. Despite the large amount of data we are able to process, we are not directly connected to the universe the way single-celled organisms are, through a simple membrane. Instead, all of our sensory input is organized and processed by specialized areas of our nervous system. There is an absurd amount of information incoming all the time, so a significant portion of our brains are devoted to determining what’s worth processing. We are only consciously aware of the input we attend to. Subsequently, our world view is determined by the input we attend to, which form our observations of the world. The decisions we make are based on our respective interpretations of the world. The images we remember are conjured by our brain, not accurate reproductions of the universe. Since unattended sensory input is not remembered, it cannot factor into our perception of the world, and it therefore cannot have any impact on our decision-making process. Awareness is key because it determines our outlook which determines the actions we take which impact our environment are based on the decisions we make.

The only objective truth we can know is that all we know is what we experience. Everything we know about the world is from induction – we assume it’s true because our experience is all we have. We make assumptions and, if our experience never contradicts these assumptions, we accept these assumptions on lack of counterevidence. This is possible because all the information our consciousness is exposed to is interpreted by our brain.

Information comes in through our five sensory organs: touch, smell, taste, hearing, and seeing. Each is experienced in the sensory cells, then the information is transmitted to nerve cells in the brain. All of the sensory imagery except smell is then processed in the thalamus, a specialized part of the brain. In the cortex of the brain, there are many different areas that process and organize sensory imagery, especially visual and auditory imagery. Our brains alter the incoming information, organizing it to form a worldview. Our belief systems compose our worldview – we see what we think we are going to see. This is why outlook is critical. We process information based on what we attend to.
There are many interesting related psychological phenomena – inattentional blindness is a process whereby people don’t notice something, often something obvious, in their environment because they are busy attending to something else (demonstrated in this video).

Life, which is composed of your personal experience, really is what you make it to be. This is the single most important lesson I’ve learned over the past year, over and over again. I still forget sometimes, but my life is always better when I’m able to remember that I have the power to create the world I inhabit.