The old adage “What you see is what you get” is not at all what we see nor what we get. As human beings, we have senses that detect light, sound, pressure, smell, taste, etc. But these senses are limited in what they can detect. For example, our hearing can detect sounds from about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. But some sounds extend into the infrasonic regions below 20 Hz to .001 Hz. These low sounds are made by earthquakes, tsunamis, and African elephants for example. We can’t hear them, but we can sometimes feel them on our skin. They can produce a “creepy” feeling of foreboding. Above 20,000 Hz and extending as high as 200 MHz (200,000,000 Hz) there is ultrasound. It is used for sonograms to look at the development of a human fetus and is the province of bats, dolphins, and whales. So we hear about 10% of the sound that is there to hear. This is probably a good thing. Imagine what our environment would sound like if we heard the echolocation transmissions of bats and the communications of insects! Talk about being driven crazy by sound. On the other hand, what could music sound like at these higher frequencies? Celestial sounds?
Well, one can create a similar analysis for light and the eyes. We see but a small fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. What else is out there for us to see? What would the night sky look like if we could see in the x-ray region of light?
All of the signals from these band limited (a technical term meaning that our senses-really transducers-operate over a limited range) senses come into the brain and are coded in such a way that we can detect our environment. Then the brain does something truly marvelous: it “projects” the sum of all of these inputs so that we perceive our environment as outside of us rather than inside where the action is really taking place.
And then we have the audacity to create language to explain that projection and communicate it to other humans. So, through consensus reality, we all agree what a mountain is and further the metaphoric implications of mountain such as something that describes an obstacle to get over. If we go back to the origin of the metaphor we come to photons impinging on a retina, being encoded and sent to the brain, firing neurons that create a neural network that we interpret as an obstacle. It’s a wonder we can communicate at all!
But this illusion has its redeeming qualities. As suggested above, it allows us to limit the information we get from the environment (we are not mesmerized by the droning of bees), which allows us to focus our attention so that we can move about that environment, and it allows us to have enough brain capacity left over to invent philosophy, science, art, etc. The revelation is that everything is always in perfect order. The bandwidth of our senses are perfectly matched to the information handling capacity of our brains. And there is enough brain left over to create intuition, to problem solve, and to invent.
Which brings me to consciousness. Maybe this is too big a jump, but beyond senses, brains, and perception there is this other sense of who we are in the cosmos. That we are more than the synapses and neural nets. That we are perhaps the creators of what we are trying to analyze. That we are the pattern from which we were created and that we are really moving back to that place from which we descended into our projection. It told you it was a big jump.