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Almost Unreal

What is real and what is not? Good question I think, and one that harks back to long evening – or rather early mornings – in university rooms over cans of cheap lager and tea. I think that in broad terms most of us walk through life in a mix, grounded in one way with what is immovable and fixed but away with the fairies in our own heads. At times, one or the other dominates. Sometimes it is cold reality time – the exhaust fell off the car and no amount of daydreaming is going to fix it (or pay for the inevitable repair bill). Then there are the times when what exists within our heads dominates what is outside, because we want it to, as we delude ourselves that the object of our desire really does love us (tomorrow she’ll change her mind and come around, obviously) or actually that coat you bought on a whim and makes people physically sick when they see it will eventually come into fashion.

The musings on this largely comes from finally catching up – ten years late – with the excellent ‘Life on Mars’, the main pleasure of which (apart from the wonderful creation that is Philip Glenister’s Gene Hunt) I having a good discussion with the Lovely Wife afterwards on what the blessed sakes it was all about and what was real and what was not, and whether in fact the whole point is more that what you perceive as being real is more important than any empirical measure that might exist. You believe that something is real, then, to you at least, it is indeed real.

The fact of the matter is that none of us has the identical view of what is real – we cannot have. We might generally agree on some broad approximations by conscious or unconscious consensus but if you dig into the detail we will eventually disagree. As I am writing this I am wearing a blue T-shirt. I think it is quite a pale, bright, blue. But it is not blue, I am perceiving it as blue, and a shade. My eyes are picking up the light signals and my brain translating those as this specific shade of blue, and therein lies the source of difference. Anyone else seeing this T shirt might pick up the same data (let’s assume our eyesight is equivalent) but that other person is not going to see the same shade of blue. They may not even see it as blue at all, depending on how their brain processes the data. We do not, cannot, have the same view of ‘reality’ and while in the interests of fairness I might say that both of our views of reality might be valid, in the final reckoning they are not. For me, only one reality is valid, and it is the one that my brain has cooked up. The rest of you are deluded, poor things.

In many ways, I would love to see how someone else perceives the world, and to be able to compare world views, but I do not think that is ever possible as it will always be through the filter of my own grey matter that would distort any such input. I would be fascinated to know how those with elements of synaesthesia perceive the world; this is where the perception of sense is different from that seen by the majority; people talk of ‘hearing’ colour or ‘tasting’ music. I have always thought that would be fascinating, and again it all relates to that processing by the brain. But, as I say, I’ll just have to use my imagination.


This week’s soundtrack: ‘Even Better that the Real Thing’ by U2


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