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Don't Let Your Mind Play Tricks On You!

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Posted by Aurino Souza on April 3, 2003 16:32:49 UTC


It's amazing to realize the extent to which we can be fooled by our own misunderstanding of language. Think about this:

The world is filled with objects. Objects have properties, one of which is colour. Often we are interested in talking about the properties of a particular class of objects without having to mention the objects themselves. For instance, instead of saying "green meadows, green trees, and green ocean water give me a feeling of peace", we simply say "green gives me a feeling of peace". There is no need to mention the objects of which green is a property, it's implicitly understood. So the word 'green' changes from being an adjective to becoming a noun for no other reason than to make our sentences shorter. A linguistic short-hand, no more than that.

Ha! but people's minds are idle most of the time so they love to confuse themselves - that gives them something to think about. By raising 'green' to the status of noun, we may be tempted to believe that such a thing as 'green-ness' exists by itself, ***independent of the objects of which it was originally just a property***. See the dangers? Before you realize it, you will be searching the universe, making up the most absurd theories, to explain "the true source of green-ness". Worse, you often end up believing the word 'green' stands for something that exists, when only green objects can exist. By the time that happened you have lost all contact with commonsense but you'll be thinking you're closer to 'enlightenment'. A very sad state of affairs in which much of our civilization finds itself much of the time.

One of the most nonsensical concepts around is 'reality'. Initially the word 'real' had been used to denote 'something which exists independent of your imagination'. So there are imaginary objects and real objects but, just like colour, 'real' and 'imaginary' are adjectives and do not stand for anything which 'exists' - it's only the objects that 'exist', not the adjectives we use to describe them. The failure to understand that simple yet often overlooked detail is behind many of the notorious philosophical debates, such as 'do unicorns exist?'. Now everyone who ever heard of unicorns must know that they exist, otherwise he couldn't have heard of them. The proper way to ask the question is 'are unicorns real', but that question is too trivial and the answer too obvious to be worth of philosophical inquiry, isn't it?

Now imagine the mess when people promote the adjective 'real' to the status of noun: reality! Just like 'green-ness', 'reality' becomes something which is supposed to exist by itself, independent of the existence of anything that can be described as 'real'. And the search begins to discover what is that thing called 'reality', where it comes from, why it exists, and so on and on. You know the story, from Plato to Quantum Mechanics and beyond.

So get a grip on yourself. 'Reality' is not 'real', not anymore than 'green-ness' is 'green'. Don't bother searching for it because you won't find it. And don't bother trying to explain what is behind 'reality' because, if and when you do find the explanation, all that will happen is that you'd be marveling at your own naivete. It's all a practical joke you play on yourself without realizing it.

Focus your thoughts and energy on things that are real: objects, sounds, tastes, smells, feelings, emotions, people. Leave the philosophical nonsense where it belongs: the philosophical waste bin. And make sure you close the lid very tight!

Just a piece of friendly advice... which from my experience tends to backfire. Well, can't say I didn't try.



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