February 15, 2023
(translation from German assisted by DeepL)

We are embedded in an unfathomably large world, and part of it. For this incomprehensible, but all encompassing, there are many designations – the nameless, Tao, GOD, the Great Spirit,… – which are all obviously meaningless. Of course. I call this big world primary reality, or simply the world, in contrast to my world.

I consciously perceive a tiny slice of this primary reality. One part of it I refer to as “belonging to me” – my body, my feelings, my thoughts. Another part I associate with “environment” – the cat next to me, the house and the mountains over there, the people, the beaming Sun, the whole universe and the complicated Earth of which I “know”.

From perceptions and knowledge an image of the primary reality, my imagination, arises in me.

The imagination has the function of a model- or shadow-world, because it imitates, as it were, the processes in the world. I therefore also call it my world. It is my reality, in which my consciousness “lives”. In fact, my consciousness cannot touch a tree, smell a rose, hug a child. It can only trigger the appropriate actions and determine and interpret the resulting perceptions, along with the changes in my body, my emotions, my active thoughts. Scientifically, one speaks of the “embodied mind”,1Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, 2016: The Embodied Mind – Cognitive Science and Human Experience, revised edition, MIT Press, Cambridge and London. which is an integral part of my developing being.

Superficially, we often equate our imagination with primary reality. But it is not, not by a long shot.

For one thing, the sections represented in our imagination are still much smaller than we usually suppose, because they are limited by the possibilities of our senses and instruments.

But more importantly:

All my primary perceptions are recognized, summarized, and categorized in the context of what I already know.

Usually these are then short sequences of tokens (symbols, words, images,…) pointing to aspects of my existing imagination. Unfathomably deep areas of primary reality thus collapse into short series of tokens pointing to areas of my imagination that best fit my perceptions. This also happens with perceptions of aspects completely alien to me and thus uninterpretable. All of these mappings occur largely unconsciously.

Even more important:

My imagination, my reality, is fundamentally different from primary reality. They belong to different categories.

The primary reality, that is matter and energy with their functions, beyond that perhaps also additional aspects, which we cannot perceive objectively so far.2Materie und Bedeutung My imagination on the other hand, that is thoughts, ideas, memories…, in any case abstract constructs, which are generated and processed by my mind. Moreover, these constructs are not simply mirror images of the respective entities and functions in primary reality, but they are created constructs that reflect observations in the best possible way. Thus, a cup of coffee does not exist in primary reality, not as I imagine it. There exist only the different, partly complicated molecules and minerals of which cup and coffee consist and the interactions between them. In fact, this is not correct either, because the molecules and minerals consist of atoms and their interactions, and physics knows two more levels below that. What finally is the “true” nature of the deepest entities, nobody knows. We only know their manifestations in our observations and their abstract representations in our imagination.

The fact that in the primary reality nothing exists as I imagine it, does not mean that nothing exists there – as some philosophies see it – it only means that it is of a different form.

That there is something, even if I don’t recognize its “true” nature, I feel at the latest when I clumsily tip scalding hot coffee over my leg.

In many areas I can simply ignore the chasms between primary reality and my imagination, again superficially. After all, we all know what is meant by the token “house”, for example. We think it at least. In fact, a closer look quickly opens up a wide field of meanings, from architecture to “my home,” from an anthill to a cathedral, and many more. By adding a few more tokens, however, we can quite quickly define the meaning with any degree of precision. Again, this is how we often think. But again, the deeper difficulty quickly emerges when, for example, I try to grasp “my house” and its also emotional meaning, or even want to communicate it.

These difficulties are well known to all of us, since they are the basis of many misunderstandings and incomprehensions. They also open the door to our immensely complicated and multi-layered communication, from allegories to conscious misunderstanding.

The situation with the token “house” is quite simple, for it is a largely unchanging aspect of primary reality. Moreover, it is mainly in the touchable realm, so I can experience it with my senses and other instruments. For increasingly more difficult aspects, such as those indicated by the tokens “cat”, “human”, “life”, “love”, “God”,…, “nameless”, my imagination becomes increasingly thin and finally useless. I notice this immediately when I put “What is” in front of each of the tokens. While I can still talk about the simpler ones of them quite quickly with other people, I can’t even think about the more difficult ones in a meaningful way.

For the more difficult aspects, mostly from the untouchable world, the tokens – the words, pictures, ideas, … – are only largely empty shells. They can point only to my imagination so far and the more difficult aspects of the primary reality, my imagination cannot grasp even in the beginning.

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    Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, 2016: The Embodied Mind – Cognitive Science and Human Experience, revised edition, MIT Press, Cambridge and London.
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