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A series of articles written by Pastor Kurt Denmark, designed to inspire us to question everything, one question at a time.
Keep Questioning Everything!
~1st Thessalonians 5:21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.
Can Anyone Really See Anything?
I would like you to try something. Don’t worry this will be easy. I want you to take a good look around. Notice wherever you look there is so much to see, and all the more the closer you look; such exquisite detail in every square inch, every ‘pixel’ (if you will) your eyes look upon. You may be in a museum looking at beautiful paintings hanging on a rugged red brick wall. Notice, between the bricks, those little cracks in the mortar showing age and character like some wrinkles on the face of a distinguished older gentleman. Look back now at the canvas hanging there, smeared with globs of vivid brush strokes, the signature marks of a long-gone artist, left behind for the world to remember them by.
Or, you may find yourself in the great outdoors, breathing in cool morning air, leaned back against a tall, firmly founded tree’s trunk; staring up at a white cloudy sky through the dancing of its still attached, red and yellow, early autumn leaves blowing about above. Maybe you are reading this while relaxing at the beach under clear blue skies; couched on sandy golden seashores, waves foaming between your toes. Regardless, wherever you are amidst the many things to see, I want you now to focus just a bit more. If you could please, now only pick out ONE of the objects that surround you.…Go on; whatever you’d like. Now… focus on that one thing. Give yourself a moment here……….. I want you now, while looking at that object, to ask yourself a crazy question. Ask yourself “In what way does that thing I am looking at now, truly exist?” Further, “Does it exist at all?”
Before you think me either ignorant, unintelligent, silly, or all the aforementioned, be assured I am by no means the first to consider this. In fact, far more intelligent people than either you or I have done just that. In this simple question is a sentiment that philosophical, religious and scientific mankind has pondered from earth’s earliest ages, echoing through time into the modern age with the rise of various modern scientific disciplines, especially Quantum Physics. Over the course of the first half of the twentieth century, brilliant scientists, like Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein, and Erwin Schrödinger to name just a few, began to work out groundbreaking theories, which lead them to questions just as, if not more, peculiar.
The investigation of the nature of the observable universe has yielded quite shocking scientific conclusions. These are reflected in quotes like, “reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” ~Albert Einstein. Niels Bohr is also on record stating, “Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.” Max Planck once said, “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clearheaded science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about the atoms this much: There is no matter as such!” Yes, from Plato to Einstein, even to this day, the most gifted intellects, philosophers, scientists, engineers and theologians alike, are on record wrestling mind-bending questions just like the one I had you pose to yourself earlier. So, please keep in mind, that to ponder such things doesn’t make you ignorant, stupid or silly. To the contrary, the quotes above serve to illustrate how not shying away from such “silly questions” only puts you in the company of geniuses. And so, again, let us, like so many before, ask, “What exactly are we seeing, when we, being a part of this world, look around at any other part of it?” As we begin to examine this interesting question together, let us stop to consider one particular characteristic of our environment, which we all, whether we have working eyes or not, could not live without- Light.
So, what is light, really?
Webster’s Dictionary defines light as A) Something that makes things visible or affords illumination. B) Luminous energy/radiant energy/electromagnetic radiation to which the organs of sight react, ranging in wavelength from about 400 to 700 nanometers and propagated at a speed of 186,282 miles per second, considered variously as a wave, corpuscular, or quantum phenomenon. Note the part of the definition: “quantum phenomenon”. Remembering that for later articles coming your way, as I share a few thoughts on light now that you will find interesting.
All of the colors that exist in this earthly realm are contained within the white light (sunlight) spectrum. All colors of light combined together make white light.
When something appears a certain color to your eyes, it is not because that thing IS that color that you are seeing. As light hits an object, that object absorbs all of the colors within light EXCEPT the color that the object appears to be. That color you are seeing, is the color in the light spectrum that gets reflected away from the object to your eyes. Some have said, “In a way, it’s almost like the thing you are seeing is every color except the one color you see when you look at it.” Although that’s an interesting way to communicate the phenomenon, that still does not do it justice. Any of the things you see don’t actually possess any of the colors they appear to be. Everything you perceive as color exists not in the things you see, but in the light those things reflect.
Our impression of color is subject to the way our eyes and/or brain processes light. In some cases, people see some colors, but cannot see others. In some cases, it is reported that people see colors differently than most others; different hues and shades than another may see looking at the same object. A totally color-blind person cannot see colors at all. The ability of an observer to see the colors in light “correctly”, or at all, is in the ability of the brain of the observer.
Our ability to see anything at all is not the result of our eye’s ability to see those ‘things’ but to see light. In fact, it could be said that we do not actually see any ‘thing’ at all. What we really see is not the thing we are looking at, but it is merely the shapes of light that have reflected off of that thing to our eyes. In the most literal sense, we have no idea what anything really looks like. Light, like paint, color-coats everything around us. It is light alone that is reflected into our eyes as the various geometric shapes of every visible material thing in the world. We see no material thing, only light.
When we see something, we aren’t actually seeing it at the exact moment that we are looking at it. We see everything on a fraction of a second delay. Yes, there is a very small amount of time between when light hits and reflects off of an object and when it travels to enter our eyes. There is also a delay between the moment that light hits our eyes and the moment our eyes convert that light into data and send that data to our brain to be processed by our brain’s vision center (occipital lobe). We do not have the ability to see now. We are always seeing slightly into the past.
The image that you are examining when you look at something is really only a reproduction. You’re not seeing the “real McCoy”. I’m afraid this is yet another way it’s true that you don’t actually see what you’re looking at. I know…I know… this all sounds crazy. This one takes a little longer to contemplate. But, take a moment and ponder what I’m saying. We are, all of us, only really seeing with our “mind’s-eye”. Our visual cortex (mind’s eye) takes the data sent from our eyes and converts it into a mental image. We accept that these mental images accurately represent what the things around us look like, but we don’t really know. All we can see are mental images, mental reproductions. Again, you aren’t seeing the thing in front of you. Your brain is only recreating within your mind a reproduction of whatever object your eyes are focused on. When you “SEE”, examining details of anything in front of you, you are only really thinking. “Seeing” is really no more than thinking.
Considering the above, what do you think? Do we really see anything at all? Please add your thoughts to the discussion below!
Ok, so you may be asking yourself “Who the heck cares? What does it really matter anyway? Colors are colors. I see what I see, and I get along just fine without thinking about all this mind-bending stuff.” If that is what you are asking, I get it. It’s definitely easier to go through life without questioning anything, much less questioning EVERYTHING. If that’s you, I’ll give you an out here. You might not be interested in articles designed to cause you to question everything. You might not be the kind of person who ponders the point of life. But, if you are ready to face questions like “Is there more to life?” – “Can life possibly be about more than what we can sense with these mere 5 senses?” – “Is there more to life than just to work, eat, be entertained, sleep, repeat, die?” – “Is there more to life than this material world?” – “Could there possibly be some unseen reality that is far more real than anything we are currently able to materially sense?” If you ponder such things… hang in there. Big ideas like the one I’m ultimately trying to communicate take time to develop. So, be patient. We’re going somewhere with this series of articles. Somewhere BIG! Somewhere eye-opening… Somewhere LIFE CHANGING! Look for more article to come! Until then, remember: Keep questioning everything! 1st Thessalonians 5:21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.
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