Episode One: The Reality of Reality

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There's something out of balance in the world.

It's not new. In fact, it's as old as we are, but I think something in us is changing. Modern technology, travel, and communication is helping us see and understand the world in new ways.

The new is clashing with the old. Our world is shrinking, and we're bumping into more different ideas and beliefs. This can be unsettling, and the fear and anger that sometimes erupts doesn't have anywhere to go, and so it comes out as political and religious conflict, extremism, and all manner of unproductive tribalism.

It feels like we're constantly at war now, where both the prize and the casualty is the truth. We fight with ourselves, with fight with each other, and more and more we find ourselves even fighting with reality itself, or even just trying to find it.

What we believe, and how that influences us, matters deeply and profoundly, because these beliefs define us. They define the human experience. We're not fully human without them, but we can't find a way to agree, and these conflicts are killing us with wars, disease, and hate.

Sadly, this isn't new.

But something is different.

We're learning more about ourselves. We're learning more about our world, and we're learning more about each other.

We're thrust into a strange division where, through television and the Internet, we see both our similarities and the differences. Their religions and governments can feel strange, perhaps threatening, to us, but their smiles and their stories are so familiar.

Different cultures across the globe are watching each other and we wonder, how can their truth be so different from mine?

We used to only know about or own village, our land. This world-roaming is somewhat of a new sensation for us, and our instinct is often to hold onto what we know, and to hold more tightly onto our own truths.

There's a missing piece of the puzzle here, and that's what this series is about.

It feels like a great kept secret, almost like some great revelation of a new spiritual awakening.

But really, there is no secret to this puzzle piece. You already know all about it.

But it can be difficult to see because of how much energy goes into convincing you to hide it from yourself and to deny the obvious.

But when you do see it, new worlds open up, and familiar worlds come into a different focus.

Something very precious has been taken from us, leaving us hollow and thirsty, chasing shadows in the whispering wind, clinging to empty promises and hope that vanish like a dream as we awaken.

Why would anyone try to hide this beautiful truth, or try to convince you to deny something so obvious?

The answer is simple.

If they can name it and claim it, they can sell your own soul back to you at whatever price they want to charge.

Our cultures are like boats on a river of time. Our beliefs are the rudders, and if you understand how the rudder is moved, you can steer the great ship of civilization.

What a culture believes defines the rules about what is acceptable or punishable. It defines how we manage disputes, and who gets to decide those. It defines, to a great extent, who wins and who loses. Sometimes who lives and who dies.

Who is it that controls the rudders of our world?

Because we grow up in one culture, the rules that we know seem, not just true, but obvious, inevitable.

So when we see other cultures, similar in someways, but different in others, we might wonder, how could this be? How could people think that way? Act that way? Believe that way?

It comes down to this very simple idea.

Reality is fluid.

We're taught to think in absolutes, and of course, a large and important part of reality does act that way. The physical world of atoms and energy is our consistent background.

But for humans, this is not the only reality. Much of what makes up what we think of as the real world could be very different. This is the part of our experience that comes, not from physics and chemistry, but from language and imagination.

There is nothing about the physical world that directs us to divide a day into twenty four units. Why not a metric day with a hundred hours of about fourteen minutes each?

And why is a minute as long as it is, or a second?

We live in an imagined world. Rules, morals, money, all of the aspects of our lives that can only be expressed with words and shared understanding are fluid. If we all understand that Saturday and Sunday are days that are structurally and fundamentally different from Monday through Friday, then this becomes part of the fixed reality of our culture as much as any physical law. But if we all decided instead to have a nine day week, with a three-day weekend or a hundred hour day, then this too would feel just as solid.

Understanding that this collection of cultural habits is a variable, and not a constant, is important.

It is also important to understand how variable it is, and how these variables can be changed.

If one person decides to live a nine-day week, that person would be out of step with everyone else. It's not much of a variable. But if everyone decides set all clocks forward or backward one hour at a predefined moment, then the person not doing that is out of step.

And so, at the level of an entire culture, these things can be variable. Different cultures can choose different rules, and even within a single culture, rules will change over time.

For many people, the choices of their culture seem firmly tethered to a deeper reality. We expect that the rules we follow are an expression of our nature and so could not be changed in any fundamental way. We know that we should discourage theft and murder and lies, because they would disrupt any society.

But the ways that we can chose to organize our lives within these basic constraints are as countless as the ways that we could divide our days or combine them into weeks.

Cultural truths can become so powerful that they can even eclipse or replace truths about the world that we can actually see for ourselves.

How could there ever be any argument about the shape or the age of the world, when all you have to do is look at it?

Constants can become variable and variables can become constants, and it is all controlled with the rudder that we call belief.

Understanding which part of our realities are fixed and which are fluid is a large part of the key to understanding our history, our world today, and the many ways that we could unlock the vast potential hidden within us all, individually, as part of our nation, and as part of the people of Earth.

The other part of that key is language.

Without words we could not have laws. We would not be able to express the complicated interactions necessary to organize, manage, protect, and advance our cultures.

With language, we can negotiate. We can discuss where each family will plant, and when we will harvest. We can teach these things to our children, and they become the rules of our village. They could have been different, but once established they become law, part of the fixed reality of that village.

It's like the story of a mother and daughter preparing a roast.

The mother cuts the roast in half and places the halves into two separate pans in the over. The daughter asks, why do we cut the roast like that? The mother says, that's just how I learned.

So they ask grandma, and she says, well I don't know. That's just part of the recipe. We always do it that way.

Next they ask great grandma why cutting the roast is important. How does it affect the cooking, the flavor? She says, what are you talking about?

I cut it because it didn't fit in the pan.

Our laws and heritage become a part of us. History moves through us. We are the medium and the makers of history. We cut the roast because we cut the roast. Saturday and Sunday are the weekend, because they are the weekend. Or is Sunday the beginning of the next week? It depends on what the village has chosen.

This is all part of the wonderful and intimate world of humanity. We don't need to know why we shouldn't eat the little black berries on a purple stem, we just know that they're taboo. We don't eat those. We don't touch that. We don't look there. We don't ask those kinds of questions.

Sometimes these rules are important to keep us alive, but sometimes those rules are there because the pan was too small.

How can we know the difference between what is superstition and what is necessary?

Most of the time we don't need to know the difference, especially if we never leave our village. We follow the rules, because that's what we do, and being part of the village means learning and understanding. We need to know when to bow, or when to shake hands. We need to know which side of the road to drive on, or which parts of our bodies must be covered and when, or how long to put someone in the stockade for milking another man's cow.

Once the rules became more complicated than what not to eat, we had to start writing them down. These laws became the sacred covenant, the blueprint of how we would live together.

In a complex society such as we live in today, we have lawyers whose job is not to produce or to build or make anything, but to stand as experts of the law. We have judges, and we still come together in juries to consider what to do with rule-breakers. Our laws today are so complicated that we select certain people, though the consent of others, by voting, to be the keepers and the writers and the masters of the law.

The very fact that we can erase one law and write another points to how flexible and fluid our world, our reality, actually is. When we can, by simple declaration, add an hour to this day and take an hour from that one, or change whether smoking marijuana is a crime, or that it's OK for anyone to sit anywhere on a bus, we see that the rules that define us can be stretched and pulled, and if we're not careful, they can be twisted or turned inside out.

Because with law, we don't always know what is superstition and what is necessary. And if you are a master of the law, or of the beliefs from which the laws grow, you can be the carpenter that builds new realities.

But before lawyers, before science, back when the world was smaller and more dangerous, we still came together to build societies. We still had rules. Laws. Ideas about the world, all built on language.

There have always been berries that we should not eat, places we should not go.

Religious laws, however, are different from our secular laws, because religious laws, we are told, come from god, while social laws are written by the people.

Now that we can look around the world and see the history and the customs of different cultures, we see different religions and very different beliefs, not unlike how we see different rules and laws. Not unlike how we have different languages and different words for the same idea.

When we understand our own laws to be sacred, granted by god as right and inevitable, it's can be quite unsettling to see that there is even such a thing as other religions.

This is one of the great mysteries and one of the great challenges of religion.

How could there be different beliefs if there is only one god? Why would there ever be a different type of belief? How could there be?

They must be wrong, we say, because I know that I am right. I know that our laws are good, because they are obvious. They are the inevitable expression of our nature, and they are granted to us by god.

How could that ever be different?

And yet, like other realities that we know and live in, there is an answer to this mystery, and it is one that we already know, but we are taught to not see.

Our stories are full of magic and wonder. What would it be like, we imagine, to fly, or to be able to wave a magic wand and turn a pumpkin into a carriage. What if we could change our status, or find our love, or vanquish the dragon? What if we could reach into the mysterious sinews of reality itself and bend it to our will? This is the thing of miracles, of supernatural - of the beyond.

We are always taught magic is a thing for silly children to believe in or maybe something real, but mysterious and only for the gods themselves. Who are we to pull the levers of the world, to tinker with reality itself?

But we already know that there are two types of reality. There's physical reality, which we can learn about and participate in, but which we can't fundamentally change; and then there's cultural reality, which we are taught to think of as being just as solid as the ground itself, or even more so. Who are we to challenge the premise of our society? How could we ever change Thursday, or create a different type of money, or learn to fly?

We are taught that the power to change the world is mythical, something beyond us. We are taught that we can't do this, because that power ultimately lies in a source that is outside of us.

And yet, by our nature, by our civilization, we know that much of what makes up our reality is fluid, and if we know how how to move the rudder, reality can be changed. But that's what we're not supposed to know, because those who do this, and who have mastered the mechanism of this type of magic, can control those who don't know this.

Those who steer the rudder can find or build their own realities. Maybe you can't add another day to the week, but maybe you can turn your Tuesday into a weekend.

But whatever we do, it is time for us all to understand what is going on.

There's something out of balance in the world.

What's happening is that we are starting to awaken, to understand the differences between the variables and the constants of our world. We are beginning to understand what reality is, how it works, and how people can be different from us and still be so much like us. We are beginning to see what is possible if we can imagine it.

And so we have all of these ideas, these histories, these different cultural realities, these different values, that for various reasons, don't want to change. Many people who benefit from or are comforted by the ways that they have always known, are fighting to be the ones who define the truth.

We are living through countless magical wars, where wizards and warriors are fighting so that you will live in the reality that they choose, to follow their god, or their party, or just to buy their shampoo.

There is no end to the debates, the arguments, or even the wars, that are fought between different holders of different truths. Reds states. Blue states. Religious. Atheist. Protestant. Catholic. Sunni. Shia. Dodgers. Yankees.

We seem to be stuck, time and again, with the idea that there can be, there must be, only one truth. It's like arguing whether the English word or the French word or the Korean word for turnip is the right one. It can only be right within your own language.

But because we grow up in one culture, one language, these feel right to us. It's easy to forget that other people in other places are just as comfortable with their beliefs and their languages as we are with ours.

Until we understand the reality of our realities and the beliefs about our beliefs, this will remain a mystery.

There are those who hold the rudder of our beliefs. We trust that they are good, and are somehow smarter and wiser than we are, and that they are guiding the rudder to steer us toward safety.

But what if this isn't always true. What if beliefs, our most sacred truths were selected, or perhaps even invented, not to keep us well, but to keep us quite, or obedient, or afraid, or separated and weak?

When the great wizards of our age tell us that other truths are wrong because ours are right, when they tell us that anyone who thinks or speaks or believes differently, is trying to hurt you or diminish you somehow, we begin to understand what it is that is out of balance in the world.