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  • Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. ~ Philip K. Dick

    Could be my jones talking, but I keep getting the sense that reality just isn't what it used to be. Does that also occur to you? Without getting all metaphysical, by reality I mean the impressions of the world that impinge on our senses. Basically, it's what you see is what you get extended to all sensory modalities, commonly known as sight, sound, touch, taste and smell—and that sixth thing. There may be an objective reality out there that feeds data to those modalities, but science tells us that—at both the quantum and the human level—it's all astonishingly subjective. One could say, as Gertrude Stein did about LA, "there's no there there"—until we stare there.

    For broad swaths of individuals—including me—that keep getting wider, much of our reality is virtual, absorbed through digital displays. Through them, we experience not life, but content. And because the electronic infosphere provides essentially infinite content—all of it at least once removed—the more we attend to it, the more it displaces and replaces primary experience with filtered, vicarious impressions. Our screens come with astigmatisms that warp our sense of reality.

    Reality, of course, isn't static. If it were, we'd be living in three dimensions instead of many. By definition, it has to change, something even anti-evolutionists can agree on. But change isn't a constant either. It keeps coming faster, if only because as more beings populate the planet, they generate more interactions, and each one has the potential to cause change. Too bad for we the perceivers, because the flood of near-instantaneous information about all these goings-on has the potential to enervate us if we try to keep up.

    The sea changes my grandparents had to absorb—automobiles, telephones, radio, television, air travel, splitting the atom, the great depression, two world wars and the cold war, to name a few—eventually got taken for granted, even by them. But today's cult of innovation demands that the way we do everything must change and do so as quickly as possible. I guess that shows we're an adaptable species, but is all this churn necessary?

    Sooner or later all this innovation bumps into limits. Limits to growth, to change, to adaptation, limits which, when exceeded, lead to depletion, chaos, and collapse. Not so much engineering limits as environmental and human ones. Limits that lead us to distraction, alienation, and fatigue. Limits that the content dancing on our screens tends to pretend aren't there or brushes aside. Limits that also lead to biases and biases that lead to inaction.

    Peering through our electronic keyholes we see tableaus that others have set for us. Not only do we pick and choose what keyholes to gaze into, we tend to focus on only certain objects in those scenes, conspiring with content providers to construct realities that become more and more private, unique, and skewed. It's no wonder there's scant and diminishing agreement on what to do about the major challenges of our time, or even what they are.

    And so, we're left with a paradox: the more information that's available to us and the more it's filtered and massaged for us, the less it presents a coherent reality. I call this the subjective split. It splits our views of the world into a myopic mosaic of messages and motivations, the unity of existence into atoms of perception, cause from effect, and us apart. The only remedy I can think of is to come together, unmediated, to assemble what's missing from those pictures and decide what to do about it if we don't like what we see. With humility, compassion, and care, knowing that reality is what we make of it. Let's try innovating some of that.

    @image: Blow Your Mind, CC copyright Camilo Rueda López

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