Naïve Realism: Part One

I’ve spent the day walking throughout the house with my eyes closed. It’s an experiment. My two year old daughter is helping. We are trying to imagine what it is like to be blind.


Well, you see last night we watched a Discovery Channel documentary on unusually gifted people. One man, Esref Armagan, was on for his ability to paint. Why was his ability to paint considered such an unusual gift? You guessed it, Mr. Armagan is blind. Although he was born without eyes, Mr. Armagan can paint the most beautiful scenes, colourful sunset landscapes with birds and trees – and all with the right rules of perspective and shading. How does he do it? We’ll return to that question later, but first back to my experiment.

So I’m walking throughout the house with my eyes closed when I have a rather painful revelation: Don’t walk about your house with your eyes closed unless you have shoes on. This may seem pretty obvious to you. Anyway, here’s something else I realized: When I was walking through the house with my eyes closed, I was not really experiencing the house as a blind person would. When a blindfolded sighted person walks through a room he or she visualizes the room. If the room is familiar, its layout is imagined, couch here, wall there, and so on,........if it is an unknown place, then just a basic space template is imagined, that is: the ground is imagined, an open space is imagined. Then when we feel objects around us, their position relative to us is imagined. None of this type of imagining happens for a person blind from birth.

If you ask a person who has been blind from birth questions related to the experience of space their answers reveal how much we take visual experience for granted. For example if you ask: Does a street sign appear smaller or larger the further away it is? Most blind people have no idea, but incorrectly guess larger for they associate larger with ‘further away’. Of course the further away an object is, the smaller it appears. For a blind person, the 3-dimensional world is not pictured ‘out there’, it is not pictured at all, but rather, it is felt.

So how can Esref Armagan, the blind artist, paint so accurately? How does he know that, for example, objects that are further away should be painted smaller than objects that are up close? “I was taught,” he says. “Not by any formal teacher, but by casual comments by friends and acquaintances.” He confides, “For a long time I figured that if an object was red, its shadow would be red too. But I was told it wasn't." How does he even know about colour? “I know that there's an important visual quality to seen objects called "colour" and that it varies from object to object.” He has memorized that apples are often red, that water is blue, and so on. For Esref, size isn’t a visual experience, but rather a temporal and tactile one. The larger an object is the more time it takes to trace with his hands. That’s how he knows it is large. A blind person learning to paint, and learning to paint well at that, is a remarkable achievement. (I can’t draw at all, so Mr. Armagan’s ability seemed, at first, borderline unbelievable to me. I feel more comfortable believing it now though. I’ve had time to understand how it is possible.)

Anyway, so here is what I’ve learned from my experiment:

I’ve learned that the physical world (universe) doesn’t actually take up any space!

And I’m going to try to convince you of this fact.

I think we mistakenly super-impose our subjective visual experience of depth, height, and width onto our idea of the objective world without knowing it. I don’t think objective space is extended the way we imagine. That is to say, (I’m really trying to make this clear) it doesn’t seem to me that objective reality actually takes up any space.

Huh? Yes you heard me. Space has no size! I mean suppose everybody were blind, would we even consider the possibility that the world took up any space? That just happens to be the particular way our eyes and brains represent objective reality. It doesn’t mean that the world really does take up space.

Maybe if I keep repeating myself again and again you will just start believing it through sheer force of delivery:

The physical world doesn’t actually take up any space!
The physical world doesn’t actually take up any space!
The physical world doesn’t actually take up any space!

Believe me yet? Great. That was easy.

Okay, for those of you who need further convincing let’s continue this next time. I’m getting tired, and the fact that I have to walk up what seems like far too many stairs from the basement to the second floor in order to get into bed is really starting to make me doubt this little revelation about distance being an illusion.


Go to Part Two

Masquerading as One and Many.

I’ve noticed:

Moment to moment experience is strangely elusive. It is both many things pretending to be one, and one thing pretending to be many.

Take for example the experience of colour. When you try to imagine a colour, let's say blue, you may find that the experience of blue consists of both an image and a feeling. It is two things. Associated with the image is a feeling. Perhaps blue feels cool and soothing to you. But no, it is not simply that blue has an associated feeling component to it but rather that the “blue feeling” is an integral part of the experience of blue. That is to say, the experience of blue just isn’t blue when the feeling aspect of the experience is missing. Blue is one thing that has at least two aspects (i.e. an image/feeling). All experiences are like this, especially the experience of being a self. The experience of being a self is both: many things pretending to be one, and one thing pretending to be many.


Watching my daughter play.

What is the meaning of life? As I watch my daughter play it seems so clear. Expression is the meaning of life. What more could life need? Expression in a thousand different forms – experiencing the dance of creation – that is the meaning.

Watch the horses as they run. Deep within them there lies a powerful force, an impulse to run. To not race across the land would cause them pain — so they run. We have that same deep impulse.

Hear the birds as they sing. Deep within them there lies an ancient drive, a yearning to sing. Without such expressive songs they would fall into sorrow — so they sing. We have that same ancient yearning.

Notice the children as they play. Deep within them there lies a creative energy, a spirit that laughs and plays. Without such fantasy they would become sick and lifeless — so they play. We all have that same creative spirit.

See how the trees grow toward the light. Deep within them there lies a strong desire, a longing for the light. Without such growth they would die — so toward the light they move. We have that same great longing.


First Welcome

Today is Tuesday. I am listening to the rain. It is peaceful. I am still now, but earlier I was working -- cleaning.

Is this how peace descends?

The loving Spirit inspires the soul with light.
The enlightened soul embraces the mind with serenity.
The serene mind fills the heart with joy.
The joyful heart endows the body with courage.
The courageous body surrenders to Spirit in love.