The alternative states of consciousness, as well as our necessary superstitions, are produced by the operation of as many psychic grids, each defining its own world, with its own boundaries dividing the possible from the impossible, and each upheld by its own conviction community. In each world, perception follows different laws and behavior develops in different patterns. How are we to know which is the real
world? Which one is true and which ones are illusion?
Is it ever possible to stand in a fully real world and confidently call all other worlds "illusions"? Can we escape illusion and bias in the world where we do stand?
But, more important, do these questions still have any meaning? What do we mean by 'truth'? By 'illusion'? We have set out upon an enterprise whose goal is truth, reality, genuine knowledge of a genuine world. And we have found a multiplicity of worlds, each with a claim to reality within itself and with an appearance of illusion from the point of view of other worlds.
The prototype of truth for the people of our age is science. And even in science now there are those who ask whether there is any final goal "set by nature in advance," a goal of knowledge of the world as it really is, a knowledge of the
truth. William James had said that "the question 'what is the
truth?' is not a real question (being irrelative to all conditions)... The whole notion of the
truth is an abstraction from the fact of truths in the plural." And Thomas Kuhn recently asked again whether it really helps to imagine that there is some one, full, objective, true account of nature and that the proper measure of scientific achievement is the extent to which it brings us closer to this ultimate goal.
Yet, if we do not cling to this conception of our goal in the operation of our cognitive faculties, what is to protect us from the kind of disorientation described by Chang Tsu, who wondered whether he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or perhaps rather a butterfly dreaming he was a man?
Carlos Castaneda has reminded us of that threat in his tale of one's "double" who is "dreamed" with such vividness that it becomes capable of acting in every way to simulate the accepted reality of the self who is dreaming. Carlos had dreamed that he had gone out of his body, which he had seen lying on the ground, and had traveled to his "place of power," another locality. (It seems, from is description, to have been a case of an out-of-body experience which had turned into actual bilocation, with the ability to consider either
location the primary locus of the self.) This puzzled him, and he asked don Juan to explain the nature of the "double." Don Juan replied in effect that the dreaming self and the dreamed self -- the "double" -- are reciprocal realities. What you think is your dreaming self does dream the "double," but it is equally true that the "double" dreams the self. In the radically relativistic perspective of the sorcerer, one perception is as valid as the other.
The Desire for Reality
How shall we respond to this tale of the power of consciousness? Shall we deny it as an illusion -- however complex, vivid, and compelling, saying, with Alexander Lowen, that "until we know what is illusion and what is reality, the former acts with all the force of the latter?" Or shall we consider that it represents an expansion of reality itself, the "illusion" being the belief that such things are not
possible? We might quote T.S. Eliot's line: "Humankind cannot bear very much reality," and note that while even sorcerers, being men, are creatures of thought and, therefore, seek explanations, they are content with more flexible explanations than most of us: they can create a larger reality.
But it is still reality they seek. They are not satisfied to say that what one regards as real is purely subjective and a mere matter of taste, unless they can encompass this subjectivity and exercise of taste within a scheme of how things themselves actually are in some wider sense. No matter how we deform the previous boundaries of our world, no matter what bizarre formulations and exotic experiences we are willing to admit into our world, it is still under the aspect of "reality" that we expect to engage our experience. There is in us an intense desire for reality, probably our basic drive as conscious beings.
The drive toward reality first appears in the exploratory behavior of the infant, who makes many experiments to determine what behaviors in its environment produce satisfactory experiences. Reality consists of sensations, then of sensations matching expectations, then of chains of behaviors, expectations, perceptions, and feelings which are consistent among themselves, and with that special class of behaviors and perceptions which constitute communion with our fellows.
The reality drive is satisfied when its consistency is upheld, and when its sphere of action is enlarged. But the latter condition may imply a conflict with the former. If new material is met with an expectation framed to deal with old material, the expectation may not be fulfilled. The former scheme may be contradicted. It is at this point that one is obliged to ask, "What is real?"
We have observed that we feel most satisfactorily in contact with reality when the information rendered by one set of perceptions fulfills the expectations set up by the information rendered by other sets of perceptions. When our eyes tell us there is a small red ball on the floor before us, and we touch it and we feel a small ball and again see our hand holding the ball which we feel in our hand, then we are reassured that the experience is "real." This assurance is strengthened when we turn aside for a time, but on turning back find that we again see and can touch the red ball.
Even more satisfying is seeing another person touching the ball in a way similar to what we had seen our own hand do, and engaging in a conversation with the other person in which we both use similar words about the ball. Best of all is to participate in a shared experience of the ball in which the other person says and does a few things that are slightly different but still intelligible in terms of our own experience. In this way consistency is uhpeld, yet the sphere of operation of the reality drive is gently enlarged.
This reassures us in two ways: one, that our experience of the ball
is reliable, since the other person experiences it the same way; and two, that our experience of the other person
is reliable and therefore we are not alone, since the other person has similar experiences and can communicate with us about this common material. The behavior of the other person must be partly a repeat of our own behavior in order to validate this behavior, but it must also be partly different, even unexpected, to convince us that the other person is not a product of our imaginationbut an independent existent. The desire for reality is as much a desire not to be alone but to be in a congenial society -- a community which shares similar experiences -- as it is a desire to have ordered and reliable experiences.
The model that we then make in our minds to unify all these mutually consistent experiences is that there is a small red ball, existing in its own right as small, red, and round, independent of our perceptions of it or behaviors toward it. Its unity of being is the foundation for the unity of our perceptions of it, both the unity among my several senses and the unity of my experience with the other person's. The ball is the "object" and our perceptions are the experience of "subjects." It is this model that leads us, in more complex situations, to ask whether what we know "represents the real object" as it is in itself.
What has happened by the time this question is asked is that a transposition has taken place between the given
and the hypothesized
. Originally, the perceptions were the given and the independent existence of an "object" possessing in its own right the qualities perceived was the hypothesis. Now, the object, endowed with its own "reality," is supposed as the given, and the acts of "knowledge" are regarded as hypotheses.
On this supposition, contact with reality is defined to be a conformity of our perceptions to the object's being. And of this we can never be perfectly sure, because we have no way of knowing the object's being except by our perceptions, and it is precisely their faithfulness to the object's being that is in question. Consequently, we remain plagued by doubt and insecurity.
It is interesting to notice that a similar transposition apparently took place in the history of our attempts to represent the world in pictorial art. The earliest cave paintings were often amazingly accurate depictions of the animals observed by the artists. They were concrete recreations of sense experiences. A later age (for instance, Egyptian tomb paintings) introduced abstraction and stylization; the artists' figures indicated the class of form to be represented but not the details characteristic of an individual member of that class. Still later (classical Greece), the abstraction developed idealized detail. The idealization did not depict any actual individual but rather the fantasized perfection of the class of form under consideration. The resuting art work, however, appeared quite concrete and real. It then became the norm
to which individual living persons aspired.
Forgetting that it was itself a human concoction, people accepted the idealization as the standard of beauty, just as they had accepted the hypothesis of an independent existing object possessing definite qualities of its own as the standard of truth. And when their own forms did not match the idealization, they again felt insecure.
We can see from this that our sense of unease about reality is not merely intellectual. Our need to pin down what is real and right is an effort also to allay deep emotional uncertainties. From our earliest days we compare ourselves with the rest of the world, eager to ascertain whether we are as we ought to be, whether we are "right." This is difficult for the child mind, for the differences between adults and juveniles are many and great. If the adult way of being is "normal" -- the "right" way to be, the "real" thing -- then the child way of being is "abnormal," and the child feels insecure. This feeling is vague in the child and is compensated by the reassurance given by parents and by the promise that "growing up" will bring those same features of "normality" and "reality" to the child.
In adolescence, when this promise is expected to be fulfilled, the insecurity becomes acute. Young people anxiously measure their development into maturity against adult models and against one another. The models are norms, conceived as independent "objects," comparison with which is the test of the "rightness/reality" of the individual "subject". This is the psychological and emotional equivalent of the "objectivity" we had learned to practice in more neutral cognitive matters. And again we require that a "community" of some size agree with us in our judgent. When we do not achieve a sufficient degree of congruence with the "object/norm," or do not receive reassurance and support from a sufficiently significant "community," we feel that we are "not right," "abnormal," a "freak."
Leslie Fielder believes that this is why we are so eager to identify extreme forms which we can definitely label as "freaks": in comparison with them
, at least, everyone must acknowledge that we
are normal. It is the emotional counterpart of our need to establish boundaries for the "possible," to be able to point to what is "impossible," or "erroneous." By making such distinctions we feel assured that what we are, or what we experience within our chosen psychic grid, is "right," "correct," and "real." The dissonance between the expectation and the experience is kept within acceptable bounds.
Of course, if new material could be met without any expectation at all, dissonance would not occur, but such an experience would be even more disorienting than any incongruity or contradiction. All experience would then be random, without the order which expectation imposes and which constitutes intelligibility for us. Our drive toward reality is inseparably linked with our drive toward intelligibility and is essentially a drive toward fulfilled expectations.
Doubt is an allowance for the possibility of a perception's not fulfilling an expectation. In extreme cases, it is not knowing what to expect, except to expect to be surprised. Most people find this more or less disquieting, and this is why we make the psychic grids, to prevent too many surprises from reaching our consciousness.
People vary a great deal in their tolerance for surprise and doubt. Everyone likes a certain amount of surprise. It relieves boredom, makes life interesting and pleasant. It is necessary to rescue us from solipsism and convince us of the reality of other beings. But the surprises that we like are the ones that we have already budgeted for by an expectation which leaves open a certain range for the incoming experience. We have not specified our expectation precisely, but we have -- perhaps unconsciously -- set limitations on how far the experience can vary from our accepted norm.
We may pleasantly await seeing what our blind date looks like and be happy to accept a certain range of height, weight, and coloration. But a red eye in the middle of the forehead would probably lie outside th ebounds of our expectation to the point of being extremely disconcerting. Or, as researchers asking when and where a certain event occurred, we may be willing to accept an answer anywhere within a wide range, but to be forced to the conclusion that the categories of "when" and "where" are inapplicable to our event may be more than we can twist our minds around. Interestingly, this degree of surprise does not reassure us of the reality of independent beings besides ourselves but leaves us feeling that our experience is "unreal" and that we are alone.
The extent of the range we set and the degree of generality that our expectations assume account for our variations in tolerance. Those who are most in need of security are happiest in positions to which they cannot admit any alternative; they identify this helplessness, or impossibility of being, doing, or experiencing otherwise, with contact with reality. It is not reality as independent of themselves, or as truth in itself, which they desire. It is reality as stability of their experience that is important to them. If the world-flux becomes too strong, such persons prefer stability to independent reality. Stereotyping is a defense of this kind against what is perceived as the uncontrollable dynamism of the world. When all experiences have been sufficiently abstracted, categorized, reduced to "round numbers," so that they can be handled without having to make innovative and creative adjustments for exceptional cases -- let alone whole new improvisations for every fresh encounter -- then such individuals feel comfortable and at home in their world.
Others, more able to tolerate alternatives and ambiguity, consider that there may be several equally valid ways of interpreting any given experience and are willing to admit the complications of subclasses within their categories, of exceptions to the rules, and even of unsettled questions and apparently hopeless mysteries. They want as much stability as they can have, compatible with respect for the independent truth of nature in itself. Potential conflicts between these two desiderata are forestalled by the assumption that truth will bear witness to itself precisely through our experience of stability: When our world-picture has the highest degree of internal coherence, consistency, simplicity, and reliability as a predictor of future experiences, then, it is argued, it is most apt to be a faithful representation of the independent truth in itself.
A few hardy souls, apparently capable of sustaining what would be to most people severely disorienting uncertainty, suggest that what has been called "reality" is simply a popular fantasy, the kind of experience had by the majority of people. "Para-normal" events, in such wide-sighted eyes, are also "real," although occurring with a lower frequency. "Pre-cognition," for instance, would be the perception of events before they "happen" -- that is, before they are perceived by most of the rest of us!
"Reality," for such a viewer, becomes highly ambiguous, with many alternatives. In fact, some may ask in the end, whether it makes any sense to speak of "reality" as if it were a norm external to and independent of our experience. When what we say a thing is becomes obviously dependent on our own acts of perception and models of conception, then the whole idea of "conformity" between the "thing" and our "idea" of it, as a test for the "truth" of our idea, becomes circular and trivial.
And yet, even these persons -- whose consciousnesses, we might think, are stretched to the utmost -- who are willing to accept not only what everyone else calls "reality" but a great deal of what most people call "unreality," still seek reality. Theirs may be a "super-reality" or "sur-reality," but they seek to give it their own brand of stability by building for it suitable expectations with appropriate ranges of variability so that they will not be surprised beyond their threshold of comfort and intelligibility.
The ranges of tolerance, therefore, always have some limits, the thresholds are finite, the communities are present. "Nearly all human beings," Stephen Spender observed in The God that Failed
, "have an extremely intermittent grasp on reality. Only a few things, which illustrate their own interests and ideas, are real to them. Other things, which are in fact equally real, appear to them as abstractions... Not to think this way demands the most exceptional qualities of judicious-mindedness or of high imaginative uderstanding."
Patrick Heelan comments on "the conception of the human mind as a mirror in which is formed a passive reflection of what is out there in the external world," a conception which leads to the expectation that if, for instance, a theory defines its concepts numerically, then the physical systems to which they refer must have in reality determinate values of these quantities. The insufficiency of this view, he says, lies in its failure to advert to the fact that numbers apply to sensible data which are merely symbols for us
of the concrete reality which they manifest. We have come now -- in physics and parapsychology, at least -- to deal with experiences for which we have not yet found "descriptions" in ordinary familiar images. Speaking of sub-atomic physics, Erwin Shroedinger said, "We can think it, but however we think it, it is wrong; not perhaps quite as meaningless as a 'triangular circle,' but much more so than a 'winged lion'." Loren Eiseley also has remarked: "One can always bravely defend the truth. When contradictory truths multiply one is forced to recognize a certain mockery written into the very fabric of nature. Our eyes would have to possess as many facets as those of an insect to perceive at once the relativity of truth itself."
Up till now we have all been victimized by the naive realism of Newtonian mechanics and thought that we could lay our profane hands on the sacred body of reality. Now we begin to realize that it cannot be done. Pictures, descriptions, models, paradigms, psychic grids, myths, and superstitions, these are our mediators with the real, and the only thing we are fairly sure of is, as James Hart says, that distortion is found in the belief that one has, independently of the mythic world, a knowledge of the "absolute horizon" or "the unconditioned" and that the primary locus of value is to be found in definitively moving beyond the symbolization.
And yet, this very statement lays claim to truth, to valid contact with reality, to a knowledge that the world is so structured that human consciousness must deal with its ultimate being and meaning through the mediation of the myth. And the claimant seeks an audience, a community which will agree with him that it is so. Together, then, he and his community will not be surprised when the myths behave as they have learned to expect myths to behave, nor when people who can deal with reality only by means of myths behave as such people may be expected to behave. In the meta-reality of their acceptance of mediated reality, they will have attained what we all desire when we desire reality -- the intellectual and emotional stability of an ordered experience of the world in which expectations are fulfilled within a tolerable range, and the individual is secured by a consenting community against the threat of existing alone in a random, unintelligible, unsharable world.
The Infinite Intercommunicating Universe
Perhaps we have clarified our question somewhat. We are not actually asking "What is reality?" but "How can I know when I am in contact with reality?" or "How can my drive toward reality be satisfied?" or "How can I feel secure, comfortable -- at home -- in the universe?" The conclusion to our inspection of the evidence and our analysis of it is that we rest from our quest after "reality" when we are operating within a selected system of ideas, feelings, and bahaviors which is a) stable within a certain range of tolerance for surprise and doubt, b) shared by a community, and c) exhibits enough uncontrollability and unpredictability to satisfy us that we are not simply inventing it all and to allow our "contact with reality" to grow by learning.
Condition (c) is obviously in balance with condition (a), for the "range of tolerance" cannot be zero if (c) is to be satisfied, yet cannot be so great as to imperil the stability demanded by (a). The interesting thing is that these "ranges" and the "selected systems" that they qualify vary for individuals and for cultural communities, and that is why we have proposed the model of the psychic grid.
Now we must ask: Is there any ground general to all the possible psychic grids and supportive of these three conditions that identify our quest for reality? In the description of the image for the psychic grid -- the triode electron tube -- the cathode was said to represent the universe itself, whose multitudinous communications were censored by the grid interposed between them and our recieving consciousness, the anode. This universe, which may be said to be indefinitely infinite in its communications within itself, constitutes the ground sustaining the psychic grids and validates the conditions of our quest.
In making such assertions, proposing such images, and framing arguments in their support, we are, of course, only presenting another model
whose function is to organize and give intellectually and emotionally satisfying significance to our experience. Even the explanation of the psychic grids is itself a psychic grid. But, if the argument is correct, this is precisely what we should expect. And, the argument will hold, this does not mean that we are trapped inside our own heads with no way of knowing how it really
is, but rahter that by constructing psychic grids and living in terms of them we are in contact with everything that we can possibly mean by "reality".
To persist in thinking that we mean by "reality" some particular psychic grid, some one definite system of relations among fixed elements of a finite universe, a system to which there is no alternative, a system in relation to which any proposed alternative, would be "false" or "illusory" -- to cling to such a thought is to neglect the evidence of our history. Our consciousness, in its rational and scientific forms and in its emotional and social forms, has not found such a system for any aspect of its experience except the most elementary of its relations with its environment.
On the contrary, our increasing knowledge of how our consciousness operates leads us to believe that the psychic grids will continue to change in the future and that the prospect of finding one final one is neither useful nor faithful to the evidence now before us. In other words, it would be internally inconsistent to suppose that we will eventually find the one correct system in which "things themselves" really are arranged. It is already clear that our consciousness itself is too creatively involved in our experience for us to expect to detach its contribution completely and view a finite arrangement of the world that would be totally independent of the observer. This hope of pure objectivity, or pure passivity, or total helplessness and irresponsibility, is now doomed. Our experience, our "contact with reality," must be a composition of what is independent of us and what we creatively bring to the experience-event.
Is the "reality" part of this composition only the part that is "independent" of us? The question itself is futile, for there is no way of knowing which parts of an experience-event are independent of us and which we have creatively contributed. If there were a way of knowing this, we would have the case of pure objectivity which we have already concluded is impossible.
Then, perhaps, the opposite is true: There is no contribution from a realm "independent" of us; the totality of our experience is our own "creative contribution." How can we say that it is not? We can say that it is not by pointing to our experiences of discomfort, communication, and surprise, or novelty. If we simply created our own experience out of thin air, we would not impose discomfort on ourselves. If each individual invented his own experience, there could be no communication. And even if the whole community in some way managed to construct from nothing a common experience, there would be no accounting for doubt and surprise. Our accumulated experience in the quest for reality leads us to the conclusion that we cannot be purely passive before an independent world, but our analysis of what we mean by "reality" constrains us to hold that neither can we declare that our experience is entirely dependent on our pure invention. To account for our total experience of seeking and finding contact with reality
we must postulate both that there is a common ground beyond our individual and collective manipulations of experience and that our access to it is mediated by our conviction systems, the psychic grids.
In order to be faithful to our experience and to our analysis, what must we affirm of this postulated ground that lies behind the psychic gids? That it is one, that it supports all possibilities, and that it consists of -- or at least includes -- intercommunications which are most fruitfully regarded as continuous processes. Let us consider these points in order.
That the ground of our experience, the universe
as distinguished from the various "worlds" defined by their respective grids, must be postulated as one, is indicated by our very drive toward reality. It is the nature of our own intellectual dynamism to seek to put everything ultimately into a single perspective.
Even when we invent a term such as "pluriverse," our drive toward unity betrays itself by the fact that we hae devised a concept to grasp together our notions of multiplicity. It presupposes that we know enough about the "pluriverse" to know that it is
a "pluriverse," that is, we know that there are various systems of beings different from each other. But we unify them by this, our act of knowing them. They all have at least one quality in common: they are knowable by us as different from one another.
In order to know that things are different, we must be able to compare them with one another. To compare them with one another is to bring both into some common field. Their differences can be known by us only to the degree that each of them is accessible to our mode of knowing. The comparison must take place in our consciousness on a single level of consciousness and in accordance with a single modality of knowing, for the act of comparing is itself a single act. So at the very moment that difference is affirmed, communality is presupposed.
If reality were
a "pluriverse," we would be prevented, by that fact itself, from ever knowing that it was a pluriverse. That which we can know is necessarily a universe. In us the drive toward reality is the drive toward unity in the intelligible order.
The psychic grids, of course, inhibit us in our attempt to experience the entirety of reality as one. They make selections from the totality and blot out the remainder. But, by doing this, they give us a facile and simplified unity that soothes us for the moment. The construction of, and adherence to, a psychic grid is a kind of short-circuiting of our drive toward total reality as one.
But the dynamism of the drive tends to break us out of our present psychic grids and to urge us to construct larger and more flexible ones. We experience our world as incomplete, and our acts of knowledge are efforts to render it complete. But by the time we have experienced a world as "incomplete," we are already living in a greater, "more complete," world, which is experienced as "univeral" compared with the incomplete world's "particularity." Wherever we stand in our intellectual enterprise, then, in our progress toward thorough contact with reality, we experience our known world as universal, as one.
At the same time, because our drive toward reality is dynamic and does actually move us from one grid to another, often from less inclusive to more inclusive grids, we must postulate that the ground of our experience is the ground of all
these grids. And since the drive toward reality is still active and unsatisfied in us, we must postulate that the ground will support any and all grids we may adopt in the future. So far as we can see, there is no limit to the number of grids we may develop, so we must postulate that the ground is potentially, or indefinitely, infinite, that it sustains all possibilities.
We can mean this in two senses. In the first place, our gridmaking is indeterminably infinite. For instance, we may set the boundary between what we will call 'the subject' and what we will call 'the object' wherever we like on a continuous energy-transfer path from the origin of the stimulus to the recognition of being stimulated. We may identify the object as the red apple and the impact of light coming from it on our eyes as the subjective reception of stimulation. Or we may consider the photons striking the retina as object and the retina itself as subject. Or we may regard the entire electro-chemical activity of our brain, set in motion by the impacting photons reflected from the apple, as objective and only our personal conscious experience of seeing as subjective. Thus, even a single experience could potentially admit an infinite set of descriptions.
Or, enlarging our scope to include a set of experiences, we may consider the rules by which we organize these experiences to that they make sense to us. This is the topic studied by Harold Garfinkel and other ethnomethodologists. We cannot list these rules because we cannot exhaustively enumerate them. There are endless ways in which we can arrange even purposely random experiences so that we can say to ourselves that the experience was meaningful. Anyone's lifetime will contain a huge number of such sets of experiences, each set subject to innumerable variations in meaningful organization. But this concerns only the experiences thrust upon us by life in the normal course of events.
If we consider everything that our imagination can produce in the way of objects or experience, ways of organizing them meaningfully, and ways of interpreting our organizations, it is easy to see that we are dealing with an infinitude of infinitudes. The consciousness-cosmos consists of infinite variations and all possibilities.
The second sense in which the ground of our experience may be said to be indeterminably infinite is the sense in which we postulate that the universe itself includes an infinitude of events or intercommunications. Just as we concluded that our drive toward reality will not be satisfied (by our holding) that all our experience is the result of our own manipulations, so we must argue now that the ground of our potentially infinite experience is itself possessed of endless possibilities. The reason why we can, in making our psychic grids, compose an infinite variety of them, is that there is an infinite process in the universe from which to select in making any grid. This is, of course, also the reason why we must have a grid to limit and organize this universe into an manageable world. If the universe itself were limited, there would be no need for a grid, and if it were sufficiently limited, there would be no possibility of multiple grids. But since the grids are selections from a real universe, and the grids are endless, we must postulate that the universe itself is an infinitude of events, intercommunications, and process possibilities.
Even if the "universe" were limited to our brains, the number of possibilities for relaying sensory information is unimaginably high, and the feedback relations that can be developed in different patterns are innumerable. Add to this that each of the stimuli which set off all these multitudinous reactions in the brain is only, as Silvano Arieti says "a little window facing a universe of potentially numberless stimuli." Reality itself must be a continuum of combinations of possibilities which are not perfectly predictable or controllable.
Not predictable and not controllable, the infinite universe -- the ground of our experience -- is the source of equally infinite surprises for us. We concluded earlier that to satisfly our sense of being in contact with reality we must have some experience of surprise, of interacting with something that is not just our own manipulation of the contents of consciousness. We also found that it can be only a modest amount of surprise, because too much will make us feel that our world is random and unintelligible. It is the function of the psychic grid to adjust this amount of allowable surprise so as to produce a satisfactory sense of being in touch with reality. But there is an infinity of ways of doing this, and the real universe, as ground, must support them all. This implies that the only reality which can support all possible grids, each of which allows a tolerable amount of surprise, must itself include an infinity of "surprises." Thus it can never be completely known; no grid can ever capture all of it. It is necessarily open-ended, even indeterminate or improvisational.
When we began this inquiry, we observed that many people feel that they are touch with reality only when they are helpless, when they are so constrained by their experience that they cannot conceive any alternative. Now, the argument suggests, that the reality that must underlie all our configurations of experience, and which we are genuinely contacting even in these fragmentary ways, has to be the home of all possible alternatives. Far from being that to which there is no alternative, it is being postulated by us as the very ground of "alternativeness" as such.
It is not even sufficient to regard it as the sum of all alternatives, as if they were finite and numberable. We must suppose it to be indefinitely open to creative improvisation, so that we can never throw a conceptual boundary around it and say that although there may be numerous alternatives within the universe, to the total universe itself as it now exists there is no alternative.
If any given psychic grid is a selection from real material available in the infinite universe, then that universe must include, as a significant aspect of itself, the sort of thing we find in our psychic grids. But the grids are constructed of events which are interactions. Anything of which we can be conscious is some kind of intercommunication within the relevant field that forms its context. Sometimes the communication is a sensory one in the field of, say, visual stimuli; sometimes it is a verbal one in the field of social relations, or it may be an introspective one in which we commune with ourselves in the field of our memory. If we are experiencing a particular sight, it may acquire meaning for us in terms of its social significance, and finally as framed by all the relevant material in our memory. But all the structural or functional details of this entire system will be apprehended by us as relations, or intercommunications, within the appropriate field or fields.
The real universe, therefore, which is the supportive ground of such a psychic grid, must itself include such intercommunications. But since it is the ground of all possible alternative grids, it must include all possible interrelations. In other words, the universe must be in touch with itself in every possible way. Thus, whenever a particular grid selects a certain set of intercommunications to form its "world," the intercommunications which the members of its corresponding conviction-community will experience are genuine and real intercommunications, actually existing in the infinite intercommunicating universe. They are not fictions, hallucinations, or fantasies. Alternative intercommunications are screened out by the grid in order to fulfill the condition that our sense of reality be satisfied by the experience of having our expectations met, and so the experience is necessarily limited, but it is not for that reason unreal. Nor are the alternative grids, which from this limited point of view are disallowed, for that reason unreal. The infinite universe sustains both any given grid and all its possible alternatives, each of which is a set of intercommunications. The universe itself, then, is a vast, limitless interrelated whole whose "interior life" involves transactions or intercommunications among its innumerable parts, components, aspects, or whatever other term would designate internal differentiae.
This is the model with which we are familiar in modern physics (thus showing that even when we try to engage in speculation to account for the psychic grids we are still only constructing other psychic grids). Werner Heisenberg writes that we no longer view the world as divided into "different groups of objects but into different groups of connections... The world thus appears as a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole."
We think of all information that we obtain via our sensory system as the result of interactions between our bodies and other bodies, by particles or waves impinging upon the material through which we are conscious. We extend this picture of information transfer to the physical operation of the world we observe by supposing that there is an interchange of energy-bearing particles to account for every event. For instance, we now speculate even about the existence of "gravitons," particles carrying the "force" of gravity. In this view, it would be, as Isaac Asimov explains, the "interchange of gravitons between the Moon, the Sun, and the Earth [that] produces the tides and keeps the Moon and Earth in their interlocked orbit about the Sun."
The geological, meteorological, and biological events of our planet are now seen by us as an enormously complex system of interrelated activities in which every event affects every other event and nothing can be considered to be independent or negligible. Ecology, in the short run, and evolution, in the long run, are the frameworks in which we are organizing our observations, our feelings, and our behavior now.
The intercommunications reach not only across space but across time. Later forms are coiled up, implicit, in earlier stages of a system's development. What can be regarded as one single system is therefore greatly enlarged. Douglas E. Harding remarked that the human body is not "a cell-infested skeleton," and the Earth is not "a life-infested rock." No more is the Galaxy an intelligence-infested gas. For the Galaxy to unfold its potential as Earth, as life, as human body, as intelligence, appears to us as the normal development of a single interrelated system.
We are able now to conceive larger and larger complexes as composed of intercommunicating information and energy exchanges. It is a useful image for us of the infinite intercommunicating universe that we postulate as the ground of our experience in the psycic grids. We may think of the universe as a set of messages addressed, as Norbert Weiner suggested, "To Whom It May Concern." Commenting on this, Lawrence LeShan adds that they are opened and read by those who feel that the message concerns them. Literally, we only ask a question or see that one exists, when we are ready to listen to the answer. In this way the various psychic grids are formed by the selection of messages from the infinite supply available in the intercommunicating universe.
Communications may be of different types. We are used to thinking of physical forces as interactions and to visualizing the world as a kind of network of such interactions. We are also accustomed to talking in terms of intercommunications among people. Occasionally, when we are in the company of another person, we notice a kind of energy exchange or a functional feedback. There are people who seem to be able to open us up and make us more creative, more conscious of our own powers. At times it seems almost physical, so that we can be drained of energy when we over-communicate. In any case, various cultures and subcultures have a variety of emotional psychic gris, and they help us adjust this energy flow to the desired level.
Subcultural networks may be especially important to us as the materials we have to communicate become so vast that no one can receive them all. In 1974 sociologist Richard Maisel observed that specialized and personal communication channels were growing much more rapidly than mass media. He proposed that we "begin to think of and study the individual in our society as a communicator having access to a very powerful set of media tools and as a recipient of a wide range of equally enriched communications directed to him by others." This description of the human communication situation is a kind of parable in miniature of our postulation of an infinite intercommunicating universe from which the psychic grids select the specialized and personalized communications that their communities find significant.
The consciousness world we actually live in is our community's psychic grid. But the community itself is a network of interpersonal relations. This is so even if the content
of the psychic grid adopted by a community should stress reserve, impersonal manipulation of material items, non-emotional and unfeeling attitudes toward human beings. And these interpersonal relations are themselves intercommunications existing in the ultimate universe.
To be a person is to be a set of intercommunications with other persons. The particular forms of these relations have alternatives, of course, and the selection of relations in terms of which we experience our relations with out fellows is a psychic grid. But the set of intercommunications makes each of us to be a person at the same time that it constitutes the community, a community defined by, and united by, its shared convictions, which convictions constitute the psychic grid by which it limits and clarifies its "world." In this sense all these come into being simultaneously. Our personal selfhood, our community, our psychic grid, and our "world" are cocreated.
In particular, we should note that the act of knowing itself is an intercommunication. When we perform it, we contact reality, but the reality we contact is the intercommunication between ourselves and something else. This is not disappointing because there is nothing more real than this. Reality consists of intercommunications. What we contact when we contact reality is bound to be an intercommunication. And when the contact is made by the act of knowing, then the intercommunication that is the "object" of our knowledge will have the input of our act of knowing unavoidably built into it. This does not mean that we contaminate everything we touch. This is quite the way things should be, according to the theory proposed here. The universe we contact consists of intercommunications; among these are the acts of knowing of reflexively conscious creatures such as ourselves. It is a peculiarity of these latter intercommunications that they are reflexive: they are aware of themselves. But they cannot detach themselves from the network of intercommunications which constitutes the unity of the universe. We must be a part of that which we know. If we wanted by knowing to be in sure contact with reality, we hereby realize our desire. We could hardly be in any more intimate contact with reality.
Perhaps conviction communities are, with respect to the infinite universe, rather like subcultures in our familiar experience. All beings are actually communicating themselves to all other beings. But each member of a conviction community notices only a selection of these signals. Are we in some hidden sense picking up the unnoticed signals as well? Are we actually connected with all beings in the ultimate universe? Idris Parry puts our vague feelings into words:
The darkness which hides the connection between things...is the source of our...fears...but also the home of the gods. They alone see the connections, the total relevance of everything that happens, that which now comes to us in bits and pieces...in our limited perceptions.
It is admittedly an act of faith, or of postulation, on our part to affirm that there are universal connections, a "total relevance," yet our own drive toward reality seems to oblige us to make it. Certainly many of those who have tried to penetrate that darkness where the gods dwell have made this act of faith, from Hippocrates, who declared that "there is one common flow, one common breathing, all things are in sympathy," to Schopenhauer, who reiterated that "all things encroach on and are adapted to one another."
Schopenhauer allowed for the possibility of different kinds of connection in the universe, some of which would be recognizable in our more familiar grids because they are "objective" and "causal," but some of which would be strange because they are "acausal" and "subjective." What seem to us to be "coincidences" may actually be as lawfully connected chains of events as the causal chains:
Those two kinds of connection exist simultaneously and yet the same event, as a link in two quite different chains, exactly fits them both, in consequence whereof one man's fate is always in keeping with another's, and everyone is the hero of his own drama, but at the same time figures also in that of another. All this, of course, is something that surpasses all our powers of comprehension and can be conceived as possible only by virtue of the most marvelous harmonia praestabilita. On the other hand, would it not be on our part a want of courage to regard it as impossible...?
Many thinkers interested in paranormal phenomena tend to follow this general line of reasoning, suggesting that there are connections in the universe itself which are always present but only rarely break through our customary grids to reach our receiving consciousness. Mental telepathy, emotional congeniality, simultaneous insights and inventions, instinctive reactions to people, places, or situations -- all these interconnections may be, not unaccountable subjective phenomena, but real connections in the real universe that are usually screened out of accepted patterns of rational reality.
Carl Jung was one of those who refused "to commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud." On one occasion he had asked Sigmund Freud for his opinion of extrasensory perception. Freud rejected it and was apparently rebuked by the breakthrough of a "universal connection" whose existence he had failed to recognize! Jung recounts the story:
While Freud was going on this way, I had a curious sensation. It was as if my diaphragm was made of iron and was becoming red-hot -- a glowing vault. And at this moment there was such a loud report in the bookcase, which stood right next to us, that we both started up in alarm, fearing the thing was going to topple over on us. I said to Freud: "There, that is an example of a so-called catalytic exteriorisation phenomenon."
"Oh, come," he exclaimed. "This is sheer bosh."
"It is not," I replied. "You are mistaken, Herr Professor. And to prove my point I now predict that in a moment there will be another loud report!" Sure enough, no sooner had I sad the words than the same detonation went off in the bookcase.
To this day I do not know what gave me that certainty. But I knew beyond all doubt that the report would come again.
Correct behavior within our usual psychic grid would call for us to dismiss this event as either an ordinary natural occurrence (warping due to weather changes and the subconscious memory that usually such noises occur twice, the second warp compensating for the first) or as sheer coincidence. But there are alternatives. Jung himself dubbed such concatenations instances of "synchronicity," another type of universal connection alongside causal connections, characterized by contingence, similarity, or meaning. Together, synchronicity and causality accounted for all the connections in Jung's universe.
Paul Kammerer, who collected "coincidences" very carefully and sought to find some pattern in them other than causal connections, believed that what we call "coincidences" are actually a more general form of universal connection, a special case of which are what we call causal chains. This general connection, Kammerer felt, was probably a universal cyclic process, always lawful, but noticed by us as "coincidence" only when some characteristic of it was at "peak." This made the observed phenomena appear to be random. This is just the reverse of our usual explanation that "coincidences" are in fact random events which interest and attention make to appear connected.
Alan Vaughan is another investigator who is trying to find more general rules of connection in a larger universe. He is exploring the feasibility of regarding precognition and Jung's synchronicity as manifestations of a common connection pattern arising from the universal archetypal patterns of the collective unconscious.
In a letter to J.B. Rhine, Jung described the collective unconscious as a "particular psyche" which "behaves as if it were one
and not as if it were split up into many individuals.... As it is not limited to the person, it is also not limited to the body. It manifests itself therefore not only in human beings but also at the same time in animals and even in physical circumstances." This suggestion is reminiscent of Schopenhauer's account of the unity of the different kinds of connections in the universe in terms of a "great dream that is dreamed by that one entity... the will-to-live... but in such a way that all its persons dream it together." Jung, in his essay, "Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle," acknowledges that Schopenhauer was "godfather to the views I am now developing."
These are only examples -- which we need not endorse -- of how we might begin to think about a universe of unlimited interconnections as the unitary ground of all our experiences, those that fit our more popular grids and those that do not. If we now reimpose the demand for unity on this universe which is a collection of intercommunications, or processes, we feel obliged to postulate that the universe itself is a single process, perhaps an improvising process.
This is not a new idea. In the tradition of Western philosophy, Plato called the universe the zoon
-- Living Being. And Hegel, recognizing that the ultimately real for us must be a living consciousness, called it the Absolute Spirit whose reality is the process it undergoes. Whitehead's "process philosophy" has given rise to a school of philosophers and theologians which holds that nature is "a theatre for the interrelations of activities," in which both the activities and the interrelations are subject to change. Bergson sees the universe driven forward by an elan vital
which improvises as it moves from lower to higher life forms; evolution becomes a creative action, the innovation of life by the life-force. According to Merleau-Ponty, the ontological dimension of the world is constituted by the fact that it is an "open and indefinite unity" or a creative energy, "an inexhaustible reservoir whence things are drawn."
The drawing out of the reservoir, or the superimposition of a psychic grid, is the origination of "things," or even of "events." Our language confuses us. We have been speaking of "interrelationships," which seems to imply that there must be some "beings" prior to the relation. But what we really need to suggest is that the process is primary
, and that what appear to be things are cross-sections of the process, so to speak. It is so difficult for us to think of the reality represented by a verb in any way other than as a modification of what is represented by a noun, that the priority of thing over process nearly always slips in by the back door, even when we explicitly dismiss it. Most of the grids now in use presume the priority of thing over action (or process), and many of the distinctions of possible from impossible and many of our problems may be traced to this presumption.
Alan Watts argues that properties of causality and other popular physical categories are superimposed, all of them depending on the notion that reality is divided into separate events. David Bohm, writing on quantum theory, says that the world cannot be analyzed into distinct parts but is an indivisible unit in which separate parts appear as approximations. Objects, he says, do not have intrinsic properties of their own. "Properties" belong to the system, the set of interactions. John Platt makes explicit the process image by urging that the universe should not be regarded as made up of "things" at all, but of a complex hierarchy of lesser and greater flow patterns in which the "things" are invariant features of the flow.
Stability, invariance, regularity, fixity -- all of these are creations of the psychic grids. Necessary creations, for our sakes, because, as we have seen, we cannot bear very much surprise. We have to select from the universe's creative improvisations certain sets of intercommunications which are reliable enough to enable us to live in a "world" unified by expectations, which are consistently fulfilled within our accepted range of tolerability. Thus, beginning with perception, we arrest the flux of the universe in order to make for ourselves static pictures, "stills" from the videotape of the universe's continuous and infinite movement.
Henry Folse, studying the physical theory of complementarity and its epistemological generalizations, remarks that "in nature as reconstructed in empirical knowledge there appears only a continuous interaction, but in the very description which constitutes this reconstruction an unambiguous distinction between concepts
of subject and object forces the introduction of a falsifying discontinuity
Concepts, and the words which embody them, always have this effect, Eugene Linden points out. Symbolization requires abstraction, or displacement, from the here and now of immediate experience of nature, which is continuous interaction. This would be all right, Linden contends, if we had remembered that working with these abstractions was supposed to be a "surrogate reality, a blackboard in which we might work out strategies for survival," but the surrogate came to distract our attention from the real world and we began to believe more in the discontinuities created by our abstractions than in the immediacy and continuity of the experience in which we were originally living. This is another instance of the "transposition" we discussed earlier between the "given" and the "hypothesized."
But it cannot be avoided, for this belief itself is one of our "strategies for survival," as we use not only perceptions, concepts, and language, but behavior, customs, and emotional attitudes to steady and measure for us the flux and influx of the infinite universe.
No doubt we retain some sense of the immediacy and the continuity of the universal process, and are somehow aware that it is the ground of our consciousness and of our lives. We have perhaps an intuition of it in a prerational way that is then arranged and stabilized by language and behavior. Renate Christensen says, "The intuitive is the prerational, and the inexpressible ground of all that is expressed. In the linguistic act... we intuit a non-linguistic actuality; but... in receiving and expressing it, we [transform it] from the immediately given particular into the conceptually fixated universal."
But these devices, which manipulate the materials supplied by the intercommunicating universe into useful patterns for us, are not total falsehoods or enemies of truth and reality. Our consciousness is framed by them in response to our drive toward reality which demands that we be able to live in a world that is tolerably stable, recognizably "public" (that is, shared by a community), and somewhat open to novelty and the unexpected. To account for the variety of grids we must postulate the infinite intercommunicating universe, but it does not release us from our dependence on the grids. Reality for us is both
the infinite universe in its unity and continuity and
the psychic grids in their multiplicity and sometimes discontinuity.
Is Nobody Ever Wrong?
If we are going to hold that the real universe itself supports all possible alternative psychic grids, then it seems that we will have to hold that even the unlikely interconnections that appear in grids rejected as unreal from the point of view of our usual grid are actually "real." But if ambiguity on the fringes of our particular grid was unsettling, such a postulate as this is positively disorienting. It is understandable that this should provoke a kind of resentment, indignation, even wrath, that apparently nothing is to be declared wrong, false, impossible, or unreal. It brings to our attention once again how dependent our sense of security in our contact with reality is on boudaries established by negation. We are not sure we
have reality unless we can say definitely that claimants to something else are wrong. If criteria for wrongness are not available, everything feels flimsy and uncertain.
Here we need to remember that what we seek is a sense of rest in being in contact with reality, and that we attain this when we live in a world of shared perceptions, language, and behavior that is properly adjusted between stability and surprise. In other words, our sense of reality is precisely a grid-bound sense. It is the psychic grid and its conviction community which give us the sense of being in touch with what is real and right. This is the function of a psychic grid and a conviction community. They enable us to live in a world which makes human sense.
Our problem now is that we are in the second world beyond Eden, where consciousness has to strain even harder to secure its salvation in unity and intelligibility. It was bad enough breaking out of the unreflective bliss of the Garden of Paradise by ingesting the critical fruit of the pairs of opposites: good/evil, right/wrong, true/false, possible/impossible, real/unreal. At least in the first world beyond the Garden, everything could be handled unambiguously in those terms. Now, however, we have rutpured another natal sac, lost the security of what, in retrospect, was itself a kind of Paradise where we always knew what was real, true, and good, to find ourselves in a wilderness without landmarks.
We have had too much experience of sharing the same real and true world with people whose views of what was good differed markedly from ours. We have even had too much experience of sharing the same real world with people whose notions of what is true varied. Perhaps we will have to admit that there may even be differentiations of what is real. And so we postulated the infinite intercommunicating universe to maintain unity at the uttermost ground of reality, and now must ask ourselves: But how shall we actually live among this variety of psychic grids?
Most of the time we don't live among any variety of psychic grids. We live within our own psychic grid. That is what makes it to be a psychic grid. We genuinely perceive the world in its terms and share this perception, together with the language and behavior patterns that are consistent with it, with out community. Altogether, it works. The perceptions do not contradict one another -- or if they do, we learn how to account for them and which ones to believe -- and everyone in our community behaves the same way with respect to them. We all continue to pull on the oar that appears to be broken where it enters the water, and we all perceive that the boat moves.
Within this world, wrongness is fairly clearly definable. If someone protested that the oar was broken and could not move the boat, we would know he was wrong and could bring behavior and perceptions to convince him, by making him feel the oar under the water and by taking it out of the water for him to see. If he continued to argue that when it was in the water it became broken and that his eye was to be believed rather than his hand, we would have a multitude of other examples to persuade him that the general principles of physical objects maintaining their integrity unless interfered with by other forces and of regular and predictable light refraction were stable, universal principles. We might also point out to him that the boat did, in fact, move when propelled by the "broken" oar.
If the protest about the broken oar was made by an inexperienced child, and the child accepted our correction and adjusted his perception-judgment and his behavior accordingly, we would call his protest an "error". He was able to make this error -- and to have it corrected -- because he already shared so much of the rest of our psychic grid with us. He knew about the stability of physical objects, about testing one sense by applying another, and about causality. He also knew to trust the rest of the community. "Errors" can happen only within conviction communities and are made only by persons who otherwise share that community's psychic grid. As Ludwig Wittgenstein says, "In order to make a mistake, a man must already judge in conformity with mankind."
Errors are made and corrected every day. It is the proper business of psychic grids to define errors and to make their correction possible. There is no illusion in this. These errors really are errors -- with respect to the given grid -- and are quite properly corrected by its conviction community.
Saying that they are errors "with respect to the given grid" does not necessarily imply that they might be correct judgments in some other grid. The judgment itself is possible only in this grid because only in this grid are these terms and relations available for making judgments about oars, water, boats, pulling, seeing, feeling, straightness, brokenness, physical integrity, interfering forces, and whatever else is necessary to support the entire system. An alternative grid would not be the one in which oars did not become broken whenever they were put in water but one in which, say, physical integrity had no meaning at all. In it there would be no broken or unbroken oars.
There is really no great problem about error. Errors are fairly readily identified and corrected. The trouble comes when someone begins rearranging the phenomena in different combinations and with different stresses, and then proposes different explanations to account for the patterns thus obtained. This is what happens when there is a "revolution" in scientific paradigms. The new way of seeing is definitely a threat to the established way. When it first appears, therefore, it must be regarded by those who see in the old way as "wrong." But it can happen that a new way will replace an old way. Thomas Kuhn has described at length the conditions for this to happen in science and the stages through which the process passes.
To relate this event to the terms of our analysis, we need only to point out that a new paradigm, or grid, cannot be established -- actually become a way of enabling us to feel securely in touch with reality -- until it demonstrates that it matches expectations to experiences better than its predeessor, can operate as the "public space" for community interaction, and allows for novelty. (These are -- in slightly different words -- the conditions scientists lay down for the adoption of a new theory.) In order to accomplish these ends, it must manifest a way of perceiving, a language, and a way of behaving, all of which can be shared in a community and interact with one another in a consistent and coherent manner. And this is just what a new scientific paradigm does. It frequently invents new instruments which make new "perceptions" possible and directs attention to a new class of observations. A new paradigm usually introduces some new words and some new mathematics. And it presents a new way of behaving in the laboratory or field, a new way of collecting observations, the paradigm experiments. All of these together form a mutually supportive system within which the new ideas make sense -- though they may not make sense in the former system.
Just as one does not truly know a foreign tongue which he is trying to learn until he begins to "think" in it, as distinguished from "translating" from his native tongue, so a set of perception-communication-behavior patterns is not really a psychic grid until a community uses it naturally, spontaneously, effortlessly, unselfconsciously. A psychic grid is that which is taken for granted, not adverted to, in terms of which everything else is perceived, talked about and acted upon.
Our peculiar problem in this second world beyond Eden is that we are aware that there are different psychic grids and we wonder whether any particular grid can ever be said to be "wrong." "Wrong with respect to what?" must be our first question. We long to say "wrong with respect to the way things themselves really are," but we now know that such a statement has very limited meaning, for fully characterized "things themselves" appear only in terms of some psychic grid and "are" in relation to one another only in terms provided by that grid. All our knowing of "how things are" is gained through perceiving and thinking, and both of these activities are clearly governed by our psychic grids. The best we can do is to say "wrong with respect to the conditions necessary for making us feel that we are in touch with reality."
However, we can line up these conditions now in such a way as to show how some psychic grids might indeed be discarded as simply "wrong."
First of all, a psychic grid is wrong if belief in it leads to extinction. The world we observe has to be a world in which we can exist. LSD may make you believe that you can walk through the air. But you can't. You try it and you get killed. Carl Sagan, in his book on the evolution of intelligence, makes a comment that is pertinent here. Having noted that we can imagine a universe with more complex laws than this universe's are observed to be, he remarks that "we do not live in such a universe," and asks, "Why not?" The answer is phrased in a way that is especially interesting to us: "Because all those organisms who perceived their universe as very complex are dead."
Psychic grids that work are not fantasies: they are careful selections from among the real intercommunications that actually take place in the universe. They may have alternatives and some may be superior to others in certain respects; there may even be selections with so little common material as to be almost imcomparable; but unless there is some real basis for them in the ultimate universe, they will not work at all. Sagan goes on to comment that it is not so strange that we could find the universe comprehensible. If we did not find it at least minimally comprehensible, we wouldn't be here.
A reliable principle for testing a psychic grid, therefore, is what we may call the "extinction principle." If a grid leads to death, it is wrong.
Mitigated versions of this principle lead to judgments saying that we cannot walk through walls or the furniture. If we try it, we get hurt and stopped. In general, if an action based on a grid is itself extinguished when an attempt is made to perform it, then that grid is wrong. It does not match the real universe.
It is a detailed application of this general extinction rule that we attempt to make when we gather evidence for our theories or put a hypothesis to the test. We hope to have experience forcibly prevent us from holding an incorrect grid. But the more elaborate the question, the more ambiguous the answer. Once we depart from the elementary level where the answer comes in the form of death, injury, or the cessation of action, the situation rapidly becomes complicated, with the theories implicated in the observations and tests themselves. This is why we have to make a more detailed set of tests for grid viability, which are bound up with community viability.
For a grid to funciton successfully as a framework in which we feel ourselves in contact with reality, it must not only help its community to survive in the fundamental sense of this term, but should help its community to survive as a conviction community
. If the community breaks up, drifts away, or is gradually decimated by the conversion to other grids, the perception-behavior patterns of the original grid cannot continue to function as contacts with reality.
The conditions for feeling in touch with reality which we outlined before, then, must be understood as being subject to judgment in terms of the viability of the community in which the grid under consideration is actually used. If this grid does not enable this conviction community to remain alive as a conviction
community, then it is "wrong." If it does not provide sufficient stability in the matching of experiences to expectations, or sufficient access to novelty, or if it does not adequately unite the community in a common perception-language-behavior system, it is a failure as a psychic grid.
We should notice the temptation here to protest that it might not be the grid that is wrong but the community. This temptation must be countered by the recollection that there is no way to test whether the grid is "real" or not other than by whether it fulfills these conditions of supporting a conviction community that can actually live by it, physically, intellectually, and emotionally.
This is not to say that what we must settle for, instead of authentic knowledge of reality, is this vague criterion of community viability, but rather to say that, if we analyze it, we find that conviction community viability is what we have always, at bottom, meant by knowledge of reality.
We had thought that we meant submission to a totally separate independent object, but his view is only a myth for accounting for
our experience of common language and behavior systems sustaining stable perception patterns. The traditional view of the goal of knowledge is itself another case of the transposition of given and hypothesized. What is given is our experience of the viable conviction community. What had been hypothesized was the independent existence of a separate objective and fixed-characteristic universe. The goal of knowledge was then taken to be replication in our minds of the characteristics of that universe. It is the same turn-about that we discussed in terms of the history of art, where we came to desire to be beautiful like an idealized statue which itself was a projection from abstractions of original concrete observations. But if we adhere directly to the primary given, we can say that the goal of knowledge is life in a satisfactory conviction community.
And now we must mention two other important features of this community which help us to determine whether grids are "wrong," although they do not have the same force as the conditions already discussed. These features appear when the question of "hallucination" arises.
"Hallucination" is a perception not shared by other perceivers with whom the subject is then in communion. It is, with respect to that community, "unreal." And indeed, a perceptual habit does not enable us to feel satisfactorily in touch with reality when it has no community to sustain it. We must constantly remember that our own reality as persons is dependent upon our remaining in communion with other persons.
Consider, for instance, "childhood hallucination," the invisible companions, talking animals, and colored auras not infrequently perceived by children. Joseph Pearce, relying on data collected by James Peterson in his work on non-ordinary perception in children, makes a case for children losing the ability to have perceptions that are not confirmed by their significant community, their parents. Peterson had asked children to draw colored pictures. Some of the ones done by the seven-year-olds showed odd colors around things (similar to what we could call "auras"). He showed these drawings to the older children and asked them if they had ever seen such things. Some of them replied that they had but did not do so any more. "Caused too much trouble," they are reported to have said. The seven-year-olds themselves testified that when they told their parents about seeing colors around things, the colors around the parents changed to red!
Pearce's analysis of this account shows how important are the community and the community bonds of perception-language-behavior. A child has a spontaneous perception, he suggests, and asks the parent for a name to go with it. If the parent shares the perception, a name is provided, the parent evinces approval, the bond between parent and child is strengthened. Having this kind of perception has been sanctioned, and the child will repeat it. If, on the other hand, the parent does not share the perception to which the child is trying to draw attention, the parent will manifest confusion, disbelief, and possible irritation or censure. No proper name will be given for the experience, though some negatively charged word may be used, such as "just imagination" or "lie." That perception has been disapproved by the parent, and the child will tend not to have it again. "Selective attention" will emphasize those perceptions that bring pleasure, approval, and strengthening of the community bond, while "selective inattention" will neglect those perceptions that would bring discomfort, disapproval and a sense of alienation.
"Hallucination", of course, is always a term used by a non-perceiver of the pereption in question. If the community of non-perceivers is more numerous or more powerful or of higher status than the community of perceivers, it will probably prevail. But the perceiver may have such a vivid, though unexpected, experience that he will insist on it for quite a long time although he has no one else to support him.
If there are a number of perceivers and they have all had a vivid experience in terms of which they can now communicate with one another and behave, they are apt to succeed in maintaining their sense of the reality of their perception even against a more numerous and materially more powerful non-perceiving community. How long this will last will depend on the extent to which the disputed perception can be made the basis for a whole set of now expected
perceptions, language events, and behaviors which will be internally harmonious and externally advantageous, or at least not incompatible with life for the perceivers.
And here we meet the last two conditions for the success of a psychic grid as a medium through which we feel securely in contact with reality, even in the face of competing grids. If the disputed perception can not only be built up into a viable psychic grid for the original perceivers, but the community can grow by teaching or otherwise extending its perceptions to non-perceivers, then it will become increasingly difficult for non-perceivers to dismiss it as "hallucination." If the perception in question cannot be extended to any non-perceiver in any way, then the non-perceiving community is justified in ranking it as "hallucination."
The final condition is that the disputed perception itself be a community phenomemon in which an individual perceiver interacts at the time of perception
with other perceivers in a common language and behavior context which includes both recognition of stability and response to novelty. A drug-using community, for instance, which extends its perception to an outsider by proffering the particular chemical which will induce a specific perception -- say, of flying -- would not qualify, because the perception itself is not shared at the time of perceiving and does not enable a community to share stability and novelty. The drugged individual perceives himself flying but does not perceive others flying nor perceive them behaving toward him as if he is flying, nor in general share a behavior space with them in which they can act on one another in terms of their flying perceptions, and in which they can all, while flying, meet unexpected phenomena which they perceive and deal with in a common way.
A psychic grid which makes us feel fully in touch with the real universe is one in which an intricate network of cross-references among perceptions, language, behavior, and response to the unexpected must all meet a satisfactory standard of consistencey and coherence, which standard is determined by the viability of the corresponding conviction community.
Our conclusion, then, is that there are criteria by which individual judgments may be in "error" within their proper grids, and criteria by which whole psychic grids may be found to be "wrong" in the sense that they are incompatible with life.
Grids in Collision
However, a good many questions remain. The last two conditions in particular seem to provoke counter-examples. Some American Indian cultures, for instance, have
erected viable conviction communities on their shared drug experiences. Individuals do not actually share perceptions at the time of perception, but they share their memories of these perceptions afterwards and they share all the experiences peripheral to the drug-induced experience itself -- the preparation for it, the memory of it, the adjustment of the rest of life to it, and so on.
The Senoi dream culture would be another dubious case. Dreams are private, but the way the Senoi integrate their dreams into their waking life is quite public, and again a whole culture has been built in terms of this shared experience.
Both of these instances are cases of conviction communities which can extend their "hallucinatory" experience to outsiders by making the experience possible and by teaching how to deal with it. They fail to meet only the last condition, that the perception be shared at the time of perceiving.
There are other (claimed) examples of "hallucinations" that apparently are
shared at the time of perceiving and even allow the percipients to react to unexpected changes in the object perceived. The children who saw the lady in the sky at Pontmain, France, in 1871, although in different parts of the crowd at the time, reported the same developments in the vision, which included the appearance of letters that gradually spelled out sentences. The couple in Charles Tart's experiment, who hypnotized one another and then shared an adventure in an imaginary land (and were even joined by a third person who wandered in while the experiment was in progress), would seem to be another instance. And we have any number of reports of shared dreams. But these experiences do not found communities with an on-going life based on the shared perceptions. They are simply odd events left hanging outside the grids we ordinarily live in, unless they can be assimilated into an already existing grid, as the Lady of Pontmain could be placed in the grid of the Catholic faith of that community.
This brings up another type of counter-example. What shall we say about the conviction communities which are based not on shared perceptions but on faith? The Christian community, for instance, while it shares many convictions about the meaning and destiny of life, about life-styles and moral values, and has evolved social and even political systems to unite its members, accounts for its history in terms of perceptions of the Risen Christ which, though shared at the time, could not be extended to newcomers, as required by our condition. The report
of the apparitions could be extended, and newcomers could be taken into the community by acquiring faith
in the report
, but the original perception itself could not be extended. The same is true of all other communities based on revelations.
All these, obviously, are cases of disputed "contact with reality." Those who have had the experience -- either the perception itself or faith in the report -- feel that they are
in touch with reality, while those who have not had the experience refuse to recognize it as real because they cannot share that world, and a real world ought to be a sharable world. We have worlds -- and their grids -- in collision.
This is where we realize that we may be obliged to admit a diversity of realities, or at least degrees of contact with reality, or special realities superimposed on the general reality. By our criteria for "feeling in touch with reality," a "real" world should indeed be a sharable world. But sharable to what extent? We have said, sharable to the extent that it can support a conviction community that actually lives and survives as a conviction community. Now, of course, the larger the community is, the more common the perceptions are, and the more readily the common perceptions can be extended to newcomers, then the more secure will be the "feeling of being in touch with reality." But vividness of perception and intimacy within the community may compensate for lack of numerical extension and produce a deeply rooted commitment to the grid that has high survival value. Intellectual insight may also produce conviction that stands firm against an opposing community. Galileo is the classic example.
Looking back, it is easy for us to pick out the "real" beliefs from the "errors." We simply compare them with what we believe now. But at the time of
Galileo, how would the average citizen have known how to adjust his world-grid? We may urge that all anyone had to do was look
a bit in order to follow Galileo's argument. But in a community that suspected that a person's senses could be bewitched to give false testimony and that was dubious about reason when it conflicted with the faith prescribed by authority, was this really possible? Before a method -- looking and reasoning -- for resolving disputes about reaity can be applied, there has to be agreement on the method
itself and on the presuppositions
of the method -- that the senses in conjunction and in community may be trusted and that reasoning in community may be trusted.
But presuppositions are always accepted by faith -- or by assumption -- or without question -- or unconsciously. To the extent that they are
subject to criticism or doubt, the method based on them will be insecure, and the conclusion produced by application of the method will be even less sure. The only way to secure this whole structure and enterprise is by the agreement of the community.
Modern science has tried very hard to refine a method which will deliver us from depndence on "majority opinion" in the determination of what is real or true. Its whole intent has been to provide us with security in knowing other than
by survival of the most popular belief system. And it has certainly succeeded in freeing us from the grosser forms of mob rule.
But there is no method, no matter how complicated by strict and pure mathematical reasoning and overwhelmed by repeatable empirical tests, that can escape reliance on the community altogether. It is only the community that can convince us that repeatability and logical rigor are themelves canons of validity. No matter what arguments we may advance for the method and even for the presuppositions of the method, what we are ultimately dependent on is some commonality among human consciousnesses that enables us to pursue this intellectual work together. Without that we are not able to be intellectual persons, exercising our intellectual faculties. Knowledge, before being an interface of person and universe, is an interpersonal activity.
There are grid collisions even in science and the issue is resolved in the end by the survival of the successful community. The successful community always claims that its theory survived because it was proved to be right, but that is not exactly what happens when one scientific paradigm gives place to another. What happens is that one living community replaces another: by winning converts through its success in achieving what the scientific community in general values -- discovering puzzles in nature and solving them, measuring accurately, predicting, imaging the world in esthetically satisfying ways; by taking over the means of communication in published materials; by pre-empting the young in teaching; and by waiting for the unconverted to die. It is the satisfactory quality of life in this successful community that is the determining factor in its survival.
If two communities -- scientific, social, religious, or whatever -- with different grids are both producing satisfactory lives for their members, it will be difficult for one of them to convert the other. Nevertheless, the drive toward unity that is characteristic of our intellectual appetite will usually motivate one or both communities to attempt this feat. Historically, such conversions have often taken the form of physical subjugation and enforced changing of language, religion, economic and social patterns, and so on. Whenever such a conversion takes place, it means that the people converted not only have to learn a new pattern for relating their experiences and expectations, but almost always that they have to give up some of their experiences and begin to have new ones. This is the part that makes the whole event seem "unreal." If someone from the American mainstream were to join the Senoi, for instance, he would have to take his dreams seriously as a part of reality on an equal footing with waking experience. Or if someone from a Voodoo or other hexing community were to join the American mainstream, he would be obliged to abandon his experience of being subject to the spells. He would have to regard such things as "unreal."
As long as competing communities can agree on the phenomena themselves, on their experiences, they have some ground for comparing their expectation sets, language and behavior patterns, and arriving at a mutually agreed judgment of which is better. A useful criterion here is comprehensiveness. If one community can show that its grid includes everything that is experienced and valued in the other community, plus additional material, then it may be able to convert the other community.
But when a community has a set of experiences, well coordinated with expectation, language and behavior, shared by the whole community in a consistent and coherent way, which are not present in another community, then the two communities have lost their common ground for judgment and can only battle one another. The battle is not necessarily physical; it can be economic or social or psychological. Religious and political struggles provide plenty of familiar examples.
History, which will be written by the victor, will show that the surviving community was "right," and this conviction will remain part of the experience of reality of that community unless and until some sub-community resurrects the grid of the vanquished and, by living in it -- at least vicariously -- is able to raise seriously the question of whether there might not be, after all, some truth in it.
Grid collision is a result of our drive toward unity, which is essential to our sense of being in contact with reality. Yet the various grids seem, in themselves, to have valid claims to being authentic mediators of the real universe to their conviction communities. How do we reconcile these two points? We do it by recognizing that there are many psychic grids and there is one infinite universe, and that our way of being conscious is to be in touch with the universe through the mediation of a grid.
The drive toward unity is satisfied by the realization that the universe itself is one and that it is this one universe which we truly know through our grid. It is not necessary to insist on a single grid in order to satisfy the drive toward unity inherent in our intellectual nature. The grid gives us authentic reality, but since it does not give us all of reality or the only possible arrangement of the real, it cannot claim to be the only true grid. Even its convinced members must reconcile themselves to the admission that other grids are possible, valid, and equally authentic mediators of the same universe to their respective communities. The infinite universe, experienced through the psychic grids, the one and the many together, is what is real.