Is there One World or Many?

Jeff Carreira Philosophy 5 Comments

Our spontaneously arising experience of the present moment is a miraculous event that we are constantly in the middle of. In my last couple of posts I described the depth and majesty of all that is contained in our experience of now. Commonly we think of our experience by imagining that we take in raw sense data – pure sensation – and then add understanding and interpretation to it. In this model if we were to strip away all of our understanding and interpretation we would arrive in this present moment as if we were a new-born, in a state of pristinely naked consciousness. Maybe our experience would be reduced to a mass of vibration.

What we actually experience in the present moment is an ordered, sensible world. We don’t just experience differences in color, shape, and feeling. We experience things that can be identified as being separate and that have meaning associated with them. When I see a door it doesn’t arise for me just as a rectangle that I add understanding to after the fact. It arises as a thing-to-be-walked-through, or as a passage-way-to-outside. It arises as a functional something. What it is and what it is used for arise simultaneously without me having to do anything about it. I don’t have to figure out what a door is for. It arises as a door that is for walking through. What it is and what it is used for are both part of the immediate experience of the door as it arises in the present moment.

This may not seem amazing to you, but I think it should. The world arises not only as an objective outside, but as an outside imbued with meaning and significance. It is full of understanding already. It arrives to us already “thick” with meaning as William James put it.

Once you ‘know’ what a door is, you can’t help see it as a door – as a something-to-walk-through. Before you knew what a door was it was just a strange shape. You might walk up to it and feel around it and push and poke at it and have no idea what it was. Then maybe it would pop open and you would walk through it. If you saw enough doors, and better yet if someone kept pointing them out to you, you would eventually internalize the meaning of ‘doorness” (doorness=the state of being a door). From that point on you cannot see a door without experience it as a door – a-something-to-walk-through.

The whole point of this is that as we assimilate more and more meaning into our perception of the world, the world effectively changes for us. This is because the way the world spontaneously arises for us in the present moment is different. We open our eyes to a different world.

At the same time it is also true that it is us that are different. If I meet someone who comes from a different culture that is unfamiliar with doors then we can both walk up to a door and for me it will  show up as a-thing-to-walk-through and for the other it will show up as just a thing – a shape devoid of meaning and significance.

Imagine a person familiar with doors who wakes up in an unfamiliar room. They will momentarily be startled, but they will quickly see the door, walk up to and walk out. Now imagine the same happening to a person who knows nothing about doors. They wake up and be trapped in a room that they can’t get out of.  They will be imprisoned until they stumble upon the doorknob and accidentally turn to find a hole appear in the wall.

From the outside/in perspective we see one room and two different perceptions of the room. It is clear that the room hasn’t changed, but rather that the two individuals have different views of it. From the inside/out perspective we see that each person wakes up in a different world. One is in a room with easy access to the outside, the other in a room in which they are trapped with no way out. They wake up in two different rooms, one with a door and one without. From the inside/out perspective they live wake up in two different worlds.

At this time in history in the western world we give preference to the outside/in – or objective – perspective. We see that perspective as more real and the inside/out or – subjective – perspective is seen as being a distortion of what is really there. This preference has come to us via the massive success of science and its use of the objective perspective to explain and improve the world. William James and the other Pragmatists were challenging this preference. They believed in a ‘real’ world, but they also believed that our perceptions of the ‘real’ world were a ‘real’ part of the ‘real’ world.

About the Author

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira is a mystical philosopher and spiritual guide. He is the author of eleven books on meditation and philosophy. He teaches online programs and leads retreats throughout the world that teach people how to let go of their current perceptual habits so they are free to participate in the creation of a new paradigm. To put it simply, he supports people to live a spiritually inspired life, free from the constraints of fear, worry and self-doubt, and aligned with their own deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
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10 years ago

Well once we “know” what a door is, it becomes a structure and concept that exists inside of us. We “represent” doors inside ourselves. So even when we speak of a door outside of us, we are referring to the “representation” we make. There are different ways our models of the world overlap. Some are cultural, such as when we all “know” a holiday falls on a certain date, or that you extend your hand when you meet someone. Others are intellectual, such as mathematical or philosophical ability. Our representations orient us, in physical reality, social reality, and our inner… Read more »

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

I’m a creature of habit and love to live in my familiar world most of the time. As I’ve grown older, I seem to need that more, not so restless or so easily bored by the usual surroundings, routines, and people.Yet for that reason, I so love traveling, love to have the carpet pulled out from under me and have to figure things out in a new country in that exciting and fun way. Experiencing the mind changes of smoking dope was also like that, tripping is the term used. Then being able to know I have home to return… Read more »

Don Briddell
10 years ago

As an art and science major, creativity begins with jettisoning the what things MEAN and considering them as raw material, yet undefined. Only when the intended meaning is stripped away can reality present itself as a potential. This applies to a work of art as it does to theoretical physics. The problem every time is that we think we know what something is and that knowing closes more doors than it opens.

Kurt Roeloffs
Kurt Roeloffs
10 years ago

Jeff, Nice posting! The line of thought moved like a knife through butter as it demonstrated how interior experience co-creates reality with the objective stuff–if there really is any stuff that is fully independent. And there doesn’t appear to be independent stuff when one takes a close look at the modern physics that replaced the physical sciences that established the view that the outside was independent, reliable and, therefore preferential. And that’s a possible entry for a rebalanced perspective.


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