Reality Forever Beyond My Grasp

I have come to realize—even though I may wish otherwise—I will never grasp more than a sliver of reality.

In a recent post, I noted how our view of reality is fragmented and distorted because we only absorb a small fraction of the infinite sensory inputs we experience at any moment. As a result, everything we know—about ourselves, other people, and the events of our lives—is based on little more than bits and pieces of the world!

Upon further reflection, I now believe our greatest failure is not in misassembling the fragments we experience, it is what we cannot experience that most distorts our perception of what actually exists.

Even in comparison to other members of the species Homo sapiens, my view can be exceedingly narrow. The values, morals, and mores of the culture in which my ideas take root often prevent me from even trying to understand those from a culture with fundamentally different beliefs.

My jealousies, fears, anger, frustrations—even guilt—can blind me to what others might experience.

Metaphors are often the best lens through which to understand, and communicate, experiences. But when the metaphors through which I organize my world are foreign to others, what then?

And while I think of time in linear form—with the past to the left and future to the right—other cultures see time vertically, or even in three dimensions. The frames and structures I use to interpret my experience can cause me to miss your world entirely when you employ alternate lenses.

When I expand my investigation into the stunningly distinct sensory experiences of other species, I come to appreciate there is an immense reality completely invisible to me. Whales communicate over thousands of miles and map the ocean floor with their songs. Bats know the shape and texture of their world through echolocation. Octopus’s eight arms and hundreds of suckers taste, explore, and understand the world through multiple independent brains. Eagles have eyes that can observe a rodent half a mile away. Myriad species distinguish visual ranges beyond what we perceive, such as ultraviolet. Even dogs know a world unimaginable to us through scents interpreted by complex nasal structures.

So, if it’s true that the tapestry I weave, one I believe describes reality, is nothing more than the tiniest sliver of all that exists, what then?

Ethologists have adopted the German word umwelt to denote an organism’s unique sensory world. I need to be aware that, while my own umwelt is an amazing gift, it is no better, and often far more limited, than those of countless other species. They see, hear, taste, and feel things I will never know.

In moments when I believe I have an expansive, inclusive view of the Universe, I must find humility. I need to kneel in wonder and awe when in the presence of every another species knowing their unique, extraordinary understanding of the Universe is forever beyond my grasp.

6 thoughts on “Reality Forever Beyond My Grasp”

  1. This is beautiful and true.I have a love one in the psych ward today and wonder how I could have helped her. Her life has been very hard and just when I thought she had everything figured out-bam! Perception can be wrong. Was I not listening well?
    I believe to understand another we must try to walk in their shoes. But can we do this completely? No, we can only let them know we are here.

    1. Linda, Thank you so much for adding beautifully to my thinking. I am so very sorry for what you are facing, but thankful you are there for those in your life you love.

  2. I know what you mean about our sensory limits. We all should humbly respect the gifts of animals yet we need not feel diminished. Does the ability to hear, smell, see, feel or taste on a high level enhance reality better than a human’s empathic responses to another’s need?
    It is also interesting to think about other cultures and the judgements we make simply because we haven’t stepped into that reality. Usually any time spent traveling, working or playing with others opens that world a crack.
    As one who hasn’t traveled that much, reading has certainly given me a glimpse of the reality others live and confront. (Even science fiction is a great equalizer!)
    Your questions and thoughts are wonderful beginnings to understand our limits and narrow judgements. Keep them coming for we need these gentle nudges to go forth and love one another for the sake of the future.

  3. Barbara A. Kalina

    Today ( not literally today but this phase of my life) I see so much that I should have noted when young and able to expand my vision of the world. I thought I was. I find I was myopic. Your words echo my musings. In today’s world when seemingly so few attempt to see or understand another point of view, I wonder what caused this condition? I recently read, even though we seem intent on destroying ourselves and each other, the world will survive. Nature in some form will last. The realities of which you write will sustain other realities. In the news I see worlds/nations/people that brought the world poetry, art, libraries living diminished in body, spirit, and guidance. Have those abilities been lost due to human capriciousness, myopia of the truly important experiences of life? I wonder if we are on the path that took them from fulfillment of the soul and mind to the diminishment portrayed. And I pray that for my remaining years, I seek to understand another’s reality and the limitations of my own.

  4. Thinking of our limitations via reflection on other species is indeed humbling. Just as humbling is reflection on our limitations vis a vis other human beings. Yes, I need to respect my dog for his abilities that I cannot fully perceive. But more importantly, or at least just as importantly, I need to respect people of other cultures for insights they have that I do not employ or maybe cannot employ. Heck, I even need to respect my next door neighbors for perspectives that their experience enables but mine may not.

    Thanks for adding a bit of philosophy to my day!

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