Our Tiny Slice of Reality

Washington D.C. with visual wi-fi

We tend to fall into the trap of assuming that 'reality' consists of what we sense around us via our sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. But of course that is not true: we only 'see' electromagnetic waves in the range from around 430 to 790 THz, we only hear audio waves between roughly 20Hz and 20kHz, and so on. Artist Nickolay Lamm has addressed that assumption in his work by imagining what the National Mall in Washington D.C. would look like if we could see Wi-Fi signals. Lamm consulted with M. Browning Vogel, an astrophysicist and former NASA employee, as well as a map of wireless coverage in the D.C. area, in order to bring some realism to his art, although obviously there has to be some artistic licence in visualising things beyond our brain's capability.

Lamm's artwork brought to mind some quotes by others on the way in which we reduced our concept of 'reality' to only a tiny slice of it. And even when embracing the tools of science, we still perhaps make assumptions about the extent of our discoveries. For instance, as Buckminster Fuller said:

Up to the Twentieth Century, reality was everything humans could touch, smell, see and hear. Since the initial publication of the chart of the electromagnetic spectrum, humans have learned that what they can touch, smell, see, and hear is less than one-millionth of reality.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman uses the German word umwelt (meaning 'environment', or 'surroundings') to describe that tiny slice of reality that we are aware of, but which we often take for the entirety of existence:

Each organism presumably assumes its umwelt to be the entirety of objective reality. Until a child learns that honeybees enjoy ultraviolet signals and rattlesnakes see infrared, it is not obvious that plenty of information is riding on channels to which we have no natural access. In fact, the part of the electromagnetic spectrum visible to us is less than a ten-trillionth of it. Our sensorium is enough to get by in our ecosystem, but no better.

There are two topics that branch off from these thoughts that interest me greatly. First, is the idea of augmentation: humans getting magnets embedded in their fingers so that they can sense magnetic fields, augmented reality apps that might show other parts of the spectrum to us via Google Glass-type hardware, and so on. The other topic is what might lie beyond our current science. For example, theoretical physicist Andrei has pondered the question of whether "consciousness may exist by itself, even in the absence of matter, just like gravitational waves, excitations of space, may exist in the absence of protons and electrons?" Linde compares the manner in which Einstein's discoveries changed forever our assumption of the independence of space, time and matter. "The standard assumption is that consciousness, just like spacetime before the invention of general relativity, plays a secondary, subservient role, being just a function of matter and a tool for the description of the truly existing material world. [But] could it be that consciousness is an equally important part of the consistent picture of our world?"

And this of course relates back to my post of a couple of days ago, with Robert Anton Wilson discussing reality tunnels. Fun topics!

Link: "If We Could See Wi-Fi, Washington, D.C., Would Look Like This"

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Cat Vincent's picture
Member since:
24 April 2008
Last activity:
21 weeks 5 days

The cutting edge - literally - of human augmentation at street level (such as the finger implanted magnets you mention) is known as 'Grinding'. The term comes from the (sadly unfinished) near-future SF comic Doktor Sleepless by Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez.

In the book, there is a thriving community of Grinders who experiment on themselves and willing volunteers with physical enhancement technologies - very much in the spirit of the modern body-modification tattoo-and-piercing subculture, with elements of the Maker movement thrown in.

When the book first launched, Ellis established a website - grinding.be - to carry actual news and commentary on the modern possibilities of this and to make note of other "outbreaks of the future". Grinding.be has actually outlasted the comic book and is still very active, featuring work from such noted writers as Pulitzer-nominee Joshua Ellis (no relation, the man who coined the pessimistic term "Grim Meathook Future") political journalist David Forbes, philosopher Damien Williams and, er, me.

Between grinding.be and the rise of relatively cheap physical add-ons (such as molybdenum magnets small enough to fit in a fingertip), an actual Grinder movement has sprung up. Here's a short documentary on part of the US Grinder (or 'biohacking') scene.

See video

Cat Vincent

Home: catvincent.com
Twitter: @catvincent

alanborky's picture
Member since:
29 January 2009
Last activity:
3 years 22 weeks

Greg the thing about augmentation which worries me's the possibility we already have such abilities or siddhis as they've been called but've been trained to perceive any manifestations of them as signs of mental illness [to this day any standard psychiatric teaching text'll tell you simply believing in telepathy never mind believing you yourself're telepath's a serious indicator of mental instability] and augmentation's unlikely to improve that situation.

Add to that the sudden death of Barnaby Jack as he was about to demonstrate for the umpteenth time how such technology can be hacked and redeployed to murderous ends and suddenly those marvellous eyeball and ear augments which allow us to see the flow of air electricity magnetism etc or hear the sounds of the stars and the solar corona are only allowing us to see what our increasingly totalitarian governments want us to see.

But it's the memory augments and what they'll be able to get up to with them which concerns me most.

A spiritually uplifting heartwarming dream of possible futures open to us though Greg...until I came along.

pov's picture
Member since:
16 July 2013
Last activity:
3 years 10 weeks

Now many think that the known "electromagnetic spectrum" constitutes reality. It also is a miniscule portion of what is. Overall matter is a miniscule portion of reality.

teledyn's picture
Member since:
30 September 2006
Last activity:
41 weeks 5 days

A friend of mine lost his optic nerves out of a childhood brain tumour operation, and people are constantly asking him, "So what do you *see*? Darkness?" and he replies that he doesn't 'see' just as everyone else doesn't 'see' radio waves in the room; there's nothing 'replacing' the sensation of sight, it just isn't there.

emlong's picture
Member since:
18 September 2007
Last activity:
13 hours 46 min

As a producer in the alternative energy field (pun intended)I know darn well that the consensus perception is miniscule and that there is a vast pool of perception out there open to our admittance with a little help and prodding. The Ancients knew this very well indeed. The Moderns know it too, but have allowed the cultures to suppress it in the child rearing stage. An interesting question that has always arisen - how much input can the organism "stand." The current epidemic of elctrosensitivity due to chaotic electropollution demonstrates that the organism has distinct limits as to what it can put up with.
www.orgonia.bigcartel.com