Two Different Realities

Food for Thought

While waiting for Chris’ friends to arrive for our dinner at Phayul, we were chatting with a psychotic man on the street. In one sense, psychosis is a linguistic phenomenon where the words create their own reality, like how he interpreted the word “July” to mean “Jew lie,” but this understanding of psychosis must assume there is some immutable reality “out there” that the language merely represents. Somehow we forget that this is only an assumption. In psychosis, this assumption breaks down, so the words slip in every possible direction.

A neurologist friend sent me a video of a cognitive scientist who equates our perception to a computer desktop. A blue icon for a folder doesn’t mean there is a blue folder inside of the computer. The “reality” inside of the computer is nothing like it. It’s a brilliant analogy, but it becomes confusing because what we commonly call “reality” is actually the desktop itself, not what’s in the computer.

The psychotic man is out of touch with “reality” because he is not constrained by the expectations implied in the user interface. The rest of us know how to double-click, drag and drop, enter a text in a box, and so on, because we are in touch with “reality.” Yet, most of us have no idea what’s actually going on inside of the computer box. That is, what we call “reality” is not inside of that box; it’s still squarely within the desktop we are looking at.

Once inside the Tibetan restaurant, we ordered a bunch of different dishes. How we perceive the dinner table is the same as how we perceive the computer desktop. Even though not everyone has had Tibetan momos, fermented duck eggs, or blood sausage, their shapes, colors, and aroma function like icons. It’s only because they are still similar enough to the familiar icons that we know what to do with them. If they looked entirely foreign, we might end up eating the serveware instead of the food.

In this way, “reality” is a cultural construct, or ultimately a human construct, which leads to the question: What is the point of understanding the other “reality” that is presumably “out there” given that to understand is to construct something in our heads?