Whenever I walked into his Des Moines store, Bill Reichardt, haberdasher, state senator and college football star, would ask “How’s everything in Dan’s world?” A perplexing question. I never lived in an exclusive Dan domain or ever thought that my wellbeing might extend beyond my corporeal essence into a wide world of “Dan.”
Or, you hear people say “welcome to my world” with the subtext of “See? See what I have to put up with.” You have no idea.
Then, we have the holding pens of schools, colleges and universities where students are stabled until they are ready to be released into the “real world.”
Consultants and politicians promise “real world” solutions. If I am in the real world, then you must be in a “fake world.”
Where are these multiple worlds: the real world, my world, your world and Wayne’s world?
Who knows? We may all be on the same planet, but we aren’t living in the same world. Even though musical wisdom says “we are the world” and “it’s a small world after all.”
It’s the world as we know it. Or, more precisely, it’s the world as you know it.
Your understanding of the world is fabricated by what your mind does and does not perceive, starting with the fundamental five senses.
Seeing is believing. You have to believe what you see. But, what appears to us as a smooth flow of images, is in fact a series of staccato glimpses interrupted by saccades. The eye jumps from spot to spot leaving a saccade gap five times every second. The world should appear to us like a shaky, handheld home movie with blank spots. However, the mind fills in the gaps based on assumptions, experience and expectations leaving seamless vision. Every second we are creating three to five images to achieve the illusion of perfect visual continuity.
Human senses evolved to identify changes. Note how you are aware of a new smell—fish cooking in the kitchen—but the awareness fades. Our visual system changes the world we see by enhancing object edges to distinguish objects from background—information that presumably evolved to help us see prey and avoid predators.
(Now, we spend so much time thinking about food. But, for millions of years our ancestors spent considerable time thinking about how not to be food.)
Did you know that Wednesdays are orange? My friend, Hathalee Higgs, has synesthesia. For her the days of the week are each a different color. The composer, Linda Robbins Coleman, sees each musical key in a specific color; E flat appears to her as blue-green. Synesthesia is the crossing of neural networks in the brain where a sound is also a color or numbers appear in colors—the number one might be blue while three is green and eight is yellow. Or, a sound triggers a tactile body sensation perhaps in your foot or elbow or even a taste in your mouth.
It’s estimated that one in every 300 to 2000 people have a form of synesthesia, including writer Vladimir Nabokov, composer Olivier Messiaen and the physicist Richard Feynman.
We think of the world entirely by what we evolved to sense. However, we share the planet with animals who see, hear, sense, and smell parts of the world that are beyond our perceptions. Humans see a spectrum from deep red to deep violet. Birds, bees and some fish see ultraviolet (beyond violet) light. A hawk can see the ultraviolet light from trails of urine left by their prey.
We can only smell a slice of the odors of the world. Our 6 million olfactory receptors are negligible compared to the estimated 300 million canine receptors. The canine receptors can detect an estimated 250,000 distinct odors, humans detect around 10,000, which may be our blessing. For a dog, there is not a generic human smell—instead, each individual human emits a distinct odor enabling dogs recognize an individual.
Dogs also hear frequencies around 60,000 hertz, about three times higher than human capacity.
Bats emit and hear ultrasonic pitches (20 kilohertz) which they use to navigate with echolocation, a skill bats share with dolphins. (Blind people can also learn to navigate through echolocation: by tapping a foot or making clicking sounds then interpreting the return sounds.)
Humans evolved to perceive only a portion of the world, as if we had our own corridor of limited sights and sounds. What we see and hear through our limited senses becomes our objective reality—a world that most humans agree exists.
Augmenting our senses through technology, we learned that the world extends beyond our natural perceptions. We agree that visual spectrum extends to ultraviolet and that sound exists way beyond our ability to hear.
Now, technology allows us to inhabit an even more specified world. On the subway or the street, humans bow their heads as if praying to their mobile phones. With the headphones on, a person can be living in a separate world. The sights and sounds of the street are excluded.
“Welcome to my world” used to imply the circle of events, people and trials that seem to orbit one person. Now, you create your own world.
College students from Harvard were asked to develop ideas for “real world” application for an entrepreneurial competition. There were prizes and refreshments. One of the groups proposed reality enhancing glasses. They presented “boring” black and white photos of urban areas, the old reality. Slip on the glasses and suddenly the old reality bursts into vivid colors. The brick building becomes shimmering yellow, the windows become glowing red. Now, the displeasing esthetic of rundown city buildings become a vibrant backdrop for John Lennon’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Do you see signs of poverty and neglect? Or, the radiant joy of flashing color? Why look at dreary reality, when you can splash the world with sunshine? Welcome to my world.
Evolution provided each individual with distinct perspective on the world. Sometimes we can’t agree on what we see. Often, we disagree on interpretation. Through neuroplasticity, each human brain connects, prunes and creates networks based on its experience. Some brains wire to play music or shoot a basketball or refine quadratic equations. In a sense, then, we each have our own sliver of the world.
Now, you can temporarily create your own world, erasing the boundary between physical reality and invented reality.
The reality enhancing glasses—virtual reality over physical reality—block your imagination. Virtual reality is not self-created. Somewhere an unknown game designer gave you entrance to her virtual world. The glasses generate colors proposed by the inventor, not by you.
To be able to see the good, the bad and the ugly is a human skill. Hiding the bad behind a gloss contributes to its growth. To perceive the bad and convert it to something better is human genius.
Welcome to our world.