Thursday, April 4, 2013

Like Watching a 3D Movie Without Glasses

Recently I gave the following quick synopsis of the theory of universal insanity to a new acquaintance: “Most of us think we perceive reality directly and accurately. But we don’t. What we see is an individual mind-generated reality, heavily distorted by our beliefs and assumptions. We confuse our subjective opinions with objective facts. We’re all deluded about what is real, and this is why we’re all insane.”

I could see that he found this a dubious proposition, and I was pretty sure it was because he was convinced that he was perceiving reality directly and accurately.

It occurred to me that the analogy of a 3D movie could help to illustrate the concept of universal insanity. When a 3D movie is being made, two cameras film simultaneously from slightly separated positions. The final film superimposes the offset perspectives. When you wear polarizing glasses those two images are separated and delivered to the appropriate eye, and you perceive the illusion of three-dimensions on a flat movie screen. But when you look at the film without glasses, it’s blurry, like it’s out of focus. If you watch it too long it’s disorientating and nauseating.

The more clearly an organism perceives objective physical reality, the better its survival chances. For example, when we are trekking through the jungle, if we can’t distinguish the crouching tiger from the obscuring foliage we’re dead. Humans are the product of over three billion years of evolution on this planet, and our ability to construct an effective model of physical reality in our minds is quite remarkable.

But there is another reality built in our minds, a subjective reality, and this doesn’t match physical objective reality exactly. It is offset from physical reality by a certain amount, depending upon the content of our personal subjective beliefs. This offset causes dissonance in our minds, analogous to the way the 3D picture causes nausea. This dissonance is our delusional insanity, and the more our subjective reality is offset from objective reality, the more insane we are.

As 3D films show, it doesn’t take much offset to create an uncomfortable distortion. This is why it can be hard for us “normal” people to grasp our insanity, because our everyday actions appear to prove that we are in touch with objective reality. We can navigate our cars through rush hour traffic, handle the demands of our job, shop for groceries, cook dinner, bathe the kids—all this seems to indicate that we are accurately perceiving objective reality. But accompanying these actions are the distortions caused by our subjective reality: we’re unhappy, or anxious, or depressed, or wish we could be doing something else.

We have all been programmed to think this internal dissonance is completely normal. It’s “normal” if by that word you mean what most people live with every day. It’s also “normal” in the sense of being an evolutionary inevitability. But this dissonance is exactly what we mean here by universal insanity. We confuse our subjective reality with objective reality, and when life doesn’t go the way our subjective reality thinks it should we feel anger, anxiety, or depression.

Recognizing my insanity means I stop trying to impose my subjective beliefs on objective reality. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a subjective point-of-view, it means I eliminate a lot of the dissonance—conflicts, disappointments, worries, problems—in my life.