Can you see what I see?

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In the Hollywood Blockbuster The Matrix, Neo finds out that his whole world was a lie. He had been asleep and machines had manipulated his reality. Nothing he experienced was real.

Dreams are interesting because they can be so real, that when you wake, just for a moment reality and dream blend. Which is which?

Reality is a very odd thing when you think about it. How we see things and what we believe about things is so shaped by our beliefs and past that I started wondering if we all had any common reality. What a stupid question eh? It’s like that old chestnut about whether I see colour the same as you see colour. How wide can I apply that. Everyone experiences pain differently we know that. For some people the slightest cut causes them to double over in agony, for other they carry on walking with their arm hanging off; I exaggerate for effect. But you get my point, we all have different tolerance to pain. Maybe that’s because we all feel it differently. Maybe we all experience everything else differently.

Have you ever been hung over? I haven’t but I have been told that everything is super sensitive, light, sound, smell, and your head thumps. Well that’s a pretty good description of a migraine. I also know people who experience super sensitivity to sound and light a lot of the time. If we all experience things differently, that shouldn’t be a surprise. We don’t have a common experience of reality, but a different one.

What about intelligence? What if it’s just a different way that some people’s brains work; faster, sharper. How about spacial skills. I know people who struggle with anything practical and yet they are brilliant intellectually and vice versa. What if it’s just all different ways we experience the world. One person sees everything in physical, practical ways, another in abstract, numerical ways. Most of us are a mixture. Could it be that the relative intelligence and practical skills of people are tied in to the way we each experience reality? Our way of perceiving the world changing our way of interacting with it.

I sometimes find that my brain just seems to stop and go dark. As if everything switches off and goes into idle. That can happen for minutes, hours or days. Other times it runs at great speed and I can’t catch up. I can think fast and clearly. My brain changes day by day, minute by minute, so all I have said above is not a constant.

There’s an old song “Do you see what I see?” It seems to me the answer is no. You see something different, neither better nor worse, just different. Your reality and mine are not the same. As crazy as that sounds. We live in the same world, but we experience it differently. I can try to grasp something of what you experience and you can try to grasp something of what I experience, but you cannot fully understand it. When we look at the life of another human we are seeing it and understanding it as if watching a film or reading a book; second hand and disconnected. Empathy is the ability to understand another’s feelings and experiences, in fact we can only partly grasp them.

I am not saying we should not try and understand others. Nor am I advocating living in a bubble. I do not uphold a selfish life. My only aim is to highlight the difficulty of understanding another. We know that translation from one language to another is hard. Words are always tough to find equivalents for. We just forget that even in our native tongue we can mean different things when we say the same thing. So it is with our experience of reality, others may try to understand. They may feel they have common ground. But there will always be a gap. If we remember that it helps. There is a great frustration when someone says, “I know exactly how you feel.” No one does, often we don’t even know that ourselves. At best we can try to understand each other, be compassionate, caring and kind.

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