Everybody has a different idea about what reality is really like. Religions, philosophies, mystical teachings, belief systems -- the only thing universally agreed upon is that something is real.
Yet what if every experience of reality, including every conception of reality, leads us in a direction that isn't real?
Like many people, I have a fondness for "Holy fuck!!!" movies. (Example: The Sixth Sense)
I call them that because this is what I say when the ending is so shocking, so upside down from what has come before, so mind-blowing, that the cozy world of understanding that I've created inside my brain is blown to bits.
My bet -- and naturally this is all it is, an intuitive hunch -- is that if humans are capable of comprehending ultimate reality, the realization would turn out to be a lot more like a wild Holy fuck!!! than a calm As I suspected.
I termed this "something else entirely" in a "You're religious, but are you right?" post. Lots of belief systems assert that final truth is mysterious, ineffable, beyond words, incapable of being captured by human cognition.
Yet I don't get from them that disorienting, yet strangely exhilarating, feeling that a genuine something else entirely experience blasts into my psyche.
The following excerpt from Thomas Metzinger's "The Ego Tunnel" had that quality for me. Of course, I'm me and you're you. (Or so it seems...) So you might yawn at what elicits a Wow! from me.
This is good writing. And good philosophizing. Metzinger's eliminative phenomenalism seemingly is akin, if not identical, to other similar notions in Eastern and Western philosophies.
But the way he expressed himself here gave me a fresh Holy fuck!!! experience of the notion that pure consciousness is all there is.
Which means that Is could be what really is.
Excerpt from "The Ego Tunnel," by Thomas Metzinger (pp. 146-148)
Imagine that while in the dream tunnel, you suddenly become lucid and find yourself at a major interdisciplinary conference, where dream scientists and dream philosophers are discussing the future of consciousness:
This response is greeted with laughter, and you notice, too, that colleagues at other tables are grinning and turning their heads in your direction. "All of this is happening in my brain!" you insist. "I own the hardware, and you are all just simulated dream characters in a simulated environment, processed and created by my central nervous system. It would be easy for me..."
Here, more laughter interrupts you -- roars of laughter. A young PhD student arrogantly starts explaining the basic assumptions about the nature of reality shared by this particular scientific community.
No such things as brains or physical objects ever existed. The contents of consciousness are all there is. So all phenomenal selves are equal. There is no such thing as an individual "tunnel" in which one self-model represents the true subject of experience and all other person-models are just dream figures.
The strange philosophical concept this dream community of scientists has developed as their background assumption is known as eliminative phenomenalism.
As the slightly overambitious PhD student explains: "Eliminative phenomenalism is the thesis that physics and the neuroscientific image of man constitute a radically false theory, a theory so fundamentally defective that both the principles and the ontology of that theory will eventually be displaced, rather than smoothly reduced, by a completed science of pure consciousness."
All reality, accordingly, is phenomenal reality. The only way you can drop out of this reality is by making the grandiose (but fundamentally false) assumption that there actually is an outside world and that you are the subject -- that is, the experiencer -- of this phenomenal reality, that there actually is a consciousness tunnel (a wormhole, as they ironically call it), and that it is your own tunnel.
By entertaining this belief, however, you would suddenly become unreal and turn into something even less than a mere dream figure yourself: a possible person -- exactly what your opponent claimed at the beginning of the discussion.
"Listen, guys," you say, in a slightly irritated voice, "I can demonstrate to you that this is my consciousness tunnel, because I can end this state, and your very existence, at any point in time. A well-known technique for terminating lucid dreams is to hold one's hands up in front of one's eyes and fix one's visual attention on them.
If I do this, it will interrupt the rapid eye movements in my physical body and thus end the dream state in my physical brain. I will wake up in the Waking Tunnel. You will simply cease to exist. Do you want me to show you?"
You note that your tone of voice sounds triumphant, but you also note that the amusement in the eyes of the other scientists and philosophers has changed to pity. The arrogant PhD student blurts out again:
"But don't you see that simply falling back into what you call 'waking up' doesn't prove anything to anybody? You must demonstrate the truth of your ontological assumptions to this scientific community, on this level of reality. You cannot decide the question by simply degrading yourself to a virtual person and disappearing from our level. By waking up, you will learn nothing new. And you cannot prove anything at all -- certainly not to us, but not to yourself, either. If you want to humiliate yourself by vanishing into your waking wormhole, then just go ahead. But the serious pursuit of consciousness research and of philosophical theory of science is something entirely different!"
How would you react? If I had not made the right decision at this point, I might never have finished this book. But enough tunnel epistemology for now.