Philosophy Friday: Peeking Behind The Curtain Of Reality
The ancient Stoics practised ‘Contemptuous Contemplation’ to actively view their surroundings as they were rather than how they appeared. In this passage from his Meditations, Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius contemptuously contemplates the reality of fine food, wine and robes:
“How good it is when you have roast meat or suchlike foods before you, to impress on your mind that this is the dead body of a fish, this is the dead body of a bird or pig; and again, that the Falernian wine is the mere juice of grapes, and your purple edged robe simply the hair of a sheep soaked in shell-fish blood! … in the same way, our impressions grab actual events and permeate them, so we see them as they really are.”
But, of course, our perceived reality goes deeper than choice foods and clothes: Many supposedly important and fundamental things are entirely made up and exist only in our collective minds: Money, country, property ownership, law and justice. After the zombie apocalypse, that $20 note in your wallet will merely be a colourful piece of paper. It’s not real, like facing a hungry lion on the savannah would be ‘real’. Try offering the lion your credit card or mention your inalienable Human Right not to be eaten and see how that goes. As far as the lion is concerned, the only right you’ve got is to line its stomach.
It’s worth our while to contemptuously contemplate the reality of the modern world and its temptations:
- Do I want to trade my limited time doing work I don’t like simply for the sake of acquiring more money, a collective illusion?
- Is my mobile phone not just a block of glass and metal, sucking up my time with constant, low-value engagement?
- Do I want to purchase that house and commit the next 30 years of my time to pay it off?
Sure, we all must work within the constraints set by our civilised human societies. However, it pays to keep it real and take a peek behind the curtains of our supposed reality from time to time.