This will never become a book.

2012 May 4 Friday

Sensing the Unseen

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 16:01

A simple observation by a minor character on a recent episode of House got me to thinking:  If science will accept the existence of a boson based only on the indirect observation of its effect on its surroundings, why not demons or ghosts?  Which is more real: the invisible which has physical properties or the visible which does not?

Of course not everyone can see ghosts or demons or angels, but those who do will swear to their real existence.  The issue is whether science can accept any reality beyond the measurable and physical.  We are creatures of consciousness, and as such our reality must surely encompass the world which is inside our minds.

Is a rainbow real?  There is nothing physical hovering in the air where we perceive a rainbow to be, only raindrops or mist.  When a prism breaks up sunlight and projects its component wavelengths onto a wall, the only physical object there is the wall.  Two people could stand next to one another looking at a patch of lawn when the sprinklers come on, and only one of them might be in the perfect position to see a rainbow.  No matter how much pointing he did, he cannot make the other person see something which isn’t really there.  Perhaps ghosts are like that, and it’s a matter of being in the exact right spot at the exact right time, with the added difficulty that a ghost is a projection onto the wall of a person’s mind.  Science has no tools to capture data from that vantage point.

Science deals with the material world, the physical, and it has claimed jurisdiction over words like “real” and “visible” to describe what it can measure.  A light meter can capture the rays from the sun as they would appear to your eye as a picture on your retina.  When someone says they saw a ghost, they are using a broader meaning for what is visible to them.  They don’t care whether or not the ghost appeared on the back of their eyeballs, because they experienced it as mental imagery, just as we experience all of the world around us.  We use the word “visible” and “real” to refer to the end result of the sensory input that reaches our minds.

Science accepts that certain people “see” numbers as colors. They have a name for that condition (synesthesia) but not a verb for what they are doing.  It’s “all in their head” in a literal sense of the words, as it is not in the eyeballs, yet it is not dismissed as being imaginary.  The verb “to see” is inadequate here, but we have no other word for how we experience sights that the eyes do not see.  No machine exists to capture how the mind forms our internal pictures.  So why would science accept that one person “sees” numbers as having extra properties like color, but reject the concept that another person “sees” a building as having extra properties like residual spiritual energy?

If we had another verb for “extra-sight”, could we stop arguing about whether or not the things that people can “extra-see” are real?  Or do we also need another word for “extra-real” reality?

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