Shaping reality

Written by: Kian Ellis

Once upon a time, René Descartes, a 17th century French philosopher, found himself searching for a phrase that could not be doubted. The phrase he came up with was “cogito ergo sum” which means “I think, therefore I am.” This phrase could not be doubted because something that doesn’t exist can not ponder its own existence. And while the main purpose of this phrase might simply be to speak with utter confidence, to me the logic behind it makes some heavy implications.

The largest of these implications is the idea that we are the only things we can prove to exist. Everything you experience is made up of a series of signals sent to and interpreted by your brain. And as phenomena, like dreams and hallucinations show us, these signals are not always rooted in reality. This being the case, we really have no way to know for certain what, if anything, truly exists (except for ourselves).

So what does this mean for the individuals who need to believe in reality in order to maintain some semblance of sanity? There is only one option: faith. Faith in reality. Despite the remote possibility that your consciousness has simply manufactured every experience you’ve ever had, we must have faith that those experiences were real and that the universe we perceived them in is real. We have to have faith that those we love exist and that the giant space rock we’re standing on is real. Some people have to have faith in God or a creator. Some people have to have faith that there is good in everyone. While we may not all have faith in the same things, it still rings true that without faith reality is meaningless and uncertain. In this way, one might even say that our own individual realities are defined entirely by our own personal faith.

This all might sound ridiculous, scary, or maybe just a little depressing, but what else could it mean? Could there be something positive drawn from this somewhat gloomy and uncertain rationale?

This is how I choose to think about it: our reality is defined by our faith in what’s real, and we choose what we have faith in, therefore we essentially choose our own reality. Of course, we can’t simply decide that anything that bothers us doesn’t exist—that would be unhealthy and unsustainable—but we can decide how those things affect us. By shaping your own reality you are making an effort to choose how you perceive the world.

This can by done in an infinite variety of ways, some more practical than others, but there is one way in which I personally try to actively shape my perception. I try to see beauty in unlikely places. The world is full of beauty in so many places that are less obvious than the mountains or the stars. For example, here is a haiku about some roadkill we drove past a few days ago:

Furry putrescence
A vulture gags happily
Death imbued with life

These short lines highlight the often forgotten flourish of life that follows death. This is but a tiny example of beauty found in an otherwise ugly or detestable place. I have found many more examples of such beauty all throughout the Bike Adventure and I hope that this inspires you to see beauty in more unlikely places. After all, if it’s possible that nothing exists in the first place, why not chose to believe in a beautiful reality?

Posted in 2017 San Francisco to Savannah and tagged , , , .