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Our Assumptions are Grafitti

The poet Wallace Stevens wrote, cryptically, that “reality is not what it is. It consists of the many realities that it can be made into.” In a similar apparently nonsensical vein, the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty opined that “The world and I are within one another.” Jesus was also an absurdist. According to Mark 11, he told his disciples “If anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”

Despite what some scientists may believe, we see the world neither directly nor completely. Instead, our experience is a meeting ground of the world and ourselves (who are part of the world...) Our biology interprets stimuli. A certain wavelength of light, for example, mystically becomes the color red. Our mind imposes concepts onto what we see. Where modern scientists see causation, for example, some tribal cultures have seen correspondences.

Our experience is always a “take” on reality.

The scientific take is based on what the conventional five senses of people with PhDs can consistently measure. It’s a useful take. I like my computer and the electricity that powers it. But when it comes to ultimate reality, Science has no legs to stand on. It has, instead, unprovable assumptions - like causation or that the objective and subjective are separate. And these assumptions rule things out.

What does this all have to do with you? Only as much as you want it to. I see it as an invitation to question an assumption. Or even two of them. It could be a boundary you’ve imposed on reality, like “That’s a chair.” What if it’s fourteen pieces of wood instead?

Or it could be a restriction like one I’ve imposed on myself - “I need to be nice and ‘humble’ all the time or no one will like me.”

Any amount of consciously questioning habitual assumptions helps newness and vitality enter our lives. And in the words of philosopher George Santayana, “Knowledge of what is possible is the beginning of happiness.”


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I explore these ideas and more in a soon-to-be-released essay collection, How to Believe in Science and also in Something Beyond. If you'd like to be notified when the book is available, send me a note at

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