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August 22, 2013 at 2:00 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Going Mental: Losing Track of the Physical World

By Jeff from SLN More Blogs by This Author

There is no physical, only mental: Everything is conceptual.

The first time I heard this, I couldn’t believe it. Obviously, this world exists: I can see, hear, touch, smell, and (if I’m willing) taste the world around me. The idea that the physical world isn’t there is preposterous! Until you consider the idea that your view of the world depends upon the reliability of your senses.

I should probably take this back to the basics…

Jeff's crash course in Western philosophy

Way back, there was this Greek guy named Plato who wrote the Allegory of the Cave. In the allegory, Plato explained that a person’s knowledge comes through experience. In other words, we only know what we see. So, if someone were to describe, say, a horse to you (long neck, flowing tail, hooves), you still wouldn’t know what one felt like or sounded like.

The Cave

(DISCLAIMER: This is just what you need to know to understand for what I’m talking about; there’s MUCH more to it if you read it.)

Plato had a student named Aristotle. Among other hobbies, such as physical science, Aristotle advanced logic and the use of a scientific process to solve problems. For the sake of my query today, let’s just appreciate the fact that he added an analytical step to process the information we receive from the world in order to arrive at the knowledge we have.

Hang in there, there’s one last step. 

Then, in walks George Barkley. He’s no Greek, but he knows their ideas, and he says it’s all in the head. Can you dig it? With all this mental stuff going on, you don’t even need a physical world… but that isn’t to say everything you know doesn’t exist, it just isn’t physical. All in the mind.

How can there not be a physical world?

It might help to think of The Matrix. Remember when Mopheus tells Neo that everything that he’s ever known is a lie and he has been born into a prison he “cannot smell or taste or touch?” You know, right before Neo takes the red pill so that he can see the real world and wakes up to get flushed out of the apricot jelly he’s been living in. In the matrix, Neo would have all the right sensations of the real world - the taste of an apple or the feeling of shoes on his feet - and these would have fooled his mind; there wasn’t really an apple or shoes, because his body was in the apricot jelly.

What does that mean for us? Are we in apricot jelly too?

Unlikely. Berkley wasn’t trying to say we’re mind slaves, or even that my couch doesn’t exist, just that the mental perception of my couch is what is real to me. My eyes tell me that the couch is brown and my rump tells me it’s soft. My mind puts this information together to form my idea of my couch, which makes my idea the real thing, not necessarily the things that gave me that idea.

Apricot Jelly

So, to wrap that in a bow, everything comes to me through my senses, which I then interpret. But this gets my mind going a little bit further…

What is out there that I don’t have the senses to perceive? Berkley might be onto something in the idea that what is real to me is only what I can know about, but that might not even be the whole story. What if there were things to this world that I can’t know about because I can’t sense them?

This step might be where trust comes in. Berkley believed that God was the driving force behind the human race having aligned perceptions of the world. However, it seems this type of thinking seems to demonstrate that there could be something else, something outside of our perception, better than what that extra element is. I suppose the best you can do is look for evidence in the world around you, physical or not.

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