Illusion vs Reality

Dylan Callens lands cleanly. That would be the headline of a newspaper built with an anagram generator. And although Dylan is a Welsh name meaning god or hero of the sea, he is not particularly fond of large bodies of water. His last name, Callens, might be Gaelic. If it is, his last name means rock. Rocks sink in the sea. Interestingly, he is neither Welsh nor Gaelic, but rather, French and German. The inherent contradictions and internal conflict in his life are obvious.

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Philosopher Rene Descartes was puzzled by his senses.  He knew that sometimes they deceived him.  At some point, we’ve all been deceived by a sound outside or something that we see out of the corner of our eyes.  Descartes, upon noticing this, raised an important question:  if our senses can deceive us sometimes, how do we know that we aren’t being deceived all the time?

I’ve always been intrigued by the question.  How do we know that what we are seeing is real?  Can we know with absolute certainty that what we see is really there?  When I step outside, I believe that what I see is real.  When I talk to someone, I believe that they are responding to me.  But the only real evidence I can say about this experience is that I think it’s really happening.  I believe that there is a world all around me and I’m not just dreaming this up, or being fed some kind of false information by an evil super-genius.

During his meditations, Descartes comes to a point where he thinks he proves that he exists.  He says that no matter what, he is thinking thoughts.  And since he is thinking, he exists in some way.  Even if those thoughts are false, those thoughts are undoubtedly his.  This is the basis for his famous line, I think, therefore I am.

There is also a widely-known thought experiment by Hilary Putnam called “The Brain in a Vat”.  It goes like this:  Imagine that a mad scientist kidnaps you one night while you are sleeping.  He then takes the brain out of your body and places it in a vat with nutrients that keep your brain alive.  He then hooks up a whole bunch of electrodes from a supercomputer to your brain and provides all the sensory data needed to trick your brain into believing that you are experiencing these things for real.

While the thought experiment seems far-fetched, it does pose an interesting question – if things weren’t real, how would you know?  And even if you were able to recognize the world as not being real, what would it matter?  You would have no way to escape the vat.  Your thoughts and actions would be meaningless vat-thoughts and not be real, anyway.

This question about reality is what drove me to create Carl’s world in Interpretation.  I wondered how we, as humans, could be fed false sensory information without ever being aware of it.  If it was possible, I wondered to what degree we would be ready to accept that reality.  I think it’s even more acceptable if the world that is presented to us feels like utopia.

Carl’s utopia is ripped away and instead of doubting it, he doubts the new, miserable existence that is in front of him.  He is in pain, starvation stalks him, and the world is run down.  He yearns for his past life and wants that to be his reality.  Still, he does find hope wherever he can.  Clinging onto those little pieces of hope drives him forward.  He continues to seek answers, only to find that once again, he has been deceived.

At the heart of this deception, he is questioned by an entity about which world people would prefer to live: one of illusive luxury or one that is real but extremely difficult.  While I would want to believe that I’d choose the real world, regardless of how difficult it might be, I’m not so sure.  Because in the end, aren’t we just choosing to believe that the life we are living is real in the first place?  So, why choose hardship, even if it’s the more “real” option.

In novels, the theme of illusion vs. reality has always been one of my favorites.  As a topic in philosophy, I also enjoy exploring it, too.  That’s one of the many reasons that I chose to write Interpretation.  If nothing else, we should look at what is in front of us and question it.  There is always something hidden in reality that will give it more meaning and it’s up to us to discover and seek our own answers.

An Excerpt from Interpretation

Carl closed his eyes and tried to laugh at himself.  Barely a squeak left his mouth.  What was he thinking, trying to enter this godforsaken wasteland by himself with no supplies?  Still on his back, he dreamed about opening a bottle of Ocean Surge.  Wet bubbles danced against his tongue, bathing his taste buds with refreshing fruit-infusion – small bursts of happiness made his lips sing an ode to joy.

But forget that fantasy; sulfur-ridden tap water would be just as good.  Carl knew the taste would not equate, but its effect would invigorate.  Carl smiled, his eyes wide open, staring into the dimming sky, into the nothingness that surrounded him.  Gulp after glorious gulp of imaginary liquid until he couldn’t keep up, showering his face with it until a puddle formed around him.  That puddle turned into an ocean and Carl sank to the bottom, his faint breath weakening further.  The light grew dimmer.  He tried to reach up, to reach out of the depths of his hallucination, but his arms felt too heavy, as if the pressure at this depth couldn’t be overcome.

A shadow hovered over him.  Carl tried to speak to it, but words didn’t make sense.  The shadow spoke back with a meaningless, muffled slur.  Water entered Carl’s mouth, nearly choking him.  Nonetheless, the delicious wet felt so good, like ocean refreshment in every bottle.  That was the slogan, right?  Carl laughed or cried, he couldn’t tell.  For all he knew, he was dead.  The shadow grew, saying something that he couldn’t work his mind around.  Darker. Darker.  Clock, what the hell was that clock song?  Darker. The shadow drew nearer.  Or maybe it was the darkness.  It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born, And was always his treasure and pride… Ah yes, there it is.  But it stopped short – never to go again – When the old man died.  That’s the one.  Darkness.

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