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Saturday, February 4, 2017

All Seeing Is Seeing As


I cannot see myself whole, never as you see me, not even in a mirror. I cannot hear myself as you hear me, not even in a recording. None of my senses report myself to myself as you see it, and not everyone sees it as you do. I cannot get outside myself to look. This same limitation exists between humans and the universe, not just that we can’t see all of it, which is obvious, but that we are part of it, and cannot see it but as ourselves. We cannot get outside it to look at it. And if we did get outside, we would not have eyes.

All that we perceive is an illusion: color, texture, sound—make your list—these are manifestations of memory on the machinery of the body. They seem real to us like the sounds a Geiger counter makes in presence of radiation, sounds that radiation does not make, or the low sounds that elephants make to elephants or whales to whales are sounds we’ve never heard, no matter what they tell you. It’s all a kind of representation, the information we get on elephants and whales and stars and planets and our own elbows and the napes of our necks and the smalls of our backs.

All that exists is energy, stored in matter or released into radiating space. We ourselves are only energy. Our senses translate various energies to forms we can use. This is the creative impulse at the very origin of perception. There’s no way around it, and no need to lament. The failure is also the possibility of everything we can try to know. But we must recognize it. All perception is illusion, translation, and there is no “real” way to see. To say God sees the world as it is is to speak the truth by way of metaphor—and not just because God lacks our physical eyes but because “to be seeable” is not a trait of the universe, not a trait of anything. Not even for God.

We eek our way to an enlightenment we can never reach.

Is anything I’ve just said true? Who can say? These speculations rest of upon the unconfirmable foundation of language’s ability to sort out what I have just said cannot be sorted. The best things we can say bump up against self-contraction, self-deconstruction. If my senses cannot tell me what the universe is really like, how can my language? What is the good of reason? Reason leads me here, as far as I can go, uncertain that I’m anywhere at all. Milton’s Satan flies all over creation but never leaves Hell. Flies and flies and flies and never moves.

There is hope—never assurance, ever only speculation, but there is hope. The hope is this: hat certain experiences work in tandem with this best conclusion that can emerge from logical speculation to bump our being against being beyond illusion. It’s just a guess. The experience of art, the experience of nature, the Romantic intimations that Russell laughed at who should have known better. The experience of math to those who really know it, the experiences of these flawed senses, what Nietzsche himself despite his atheism experienced in music, whispers that beyond the illusion is a reality to which we belong. When you hear a succession of notes and you can’t process how they pluck the strings of your being or why mere physical energy would make this possible, you have to choose whether to accept the thing the energy called music is telling you or you have to reject it. And no matter what anyone says, nothing in any discourse or language or discipline can see to tell you which way you should go.

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