Alice in Wonderland and the journey of self-discovery

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” Alice, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland[i].

Some have interpreted the book, Alice in Wonderland, as an allegory for man’s journey to Christ or enlightenment or self-discovery. There are many passages in the book, such as the one above, that are both playful and profound. Initially, in my journey, I was like Alice, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” I began to entertain the possibility that perhaps there is more to reality than “meets the eye”, or that which meets the eye is not real. The insight of the Vedic sages that the world is an illusion or Maya might be worth investigating further, I thought.

Maya is often misunderstood to mean that the world of our senses does not exist, the correct interpretation, though, is that the world is not as it appears. Dr. Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth century distinguished English writer, is said to have refuted the idea that the world is an illusion by kicking a stone, and exclaiming “I refute it thus”[ii]. The idea that the “real” world is an illusion is hard for many to accept. But, it is a fact that there is more to the world than our senses are able to perceive.

For example, visible light is only a small segment of the full spectrum of light. The full spectrum of light or electromagnetic spectrum is the range of all frequencies of radiation from low frequency radio waves to the very high frequency gamma rays. The human eye only responds to the visible light components which lie between infrared and ultraviolet radiation. Clearly, there is more to reality than meets the eye.

In my search for Reality, I read and reread theories in physics from Newtonian mechanics to Einstein’s relativity to Niels Bohr’s quantum physics. I was looking at theories in physics not as an explainer of how things worked, but as a revealer of truth. I read books such as The Hole in the Universe by science writer K.C. Cole[iii] and The Elegant Universe by physicist Brian Greene[iv], alongside, Seat of the Soul[v] by Gary Zukav and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle[vi]. The threads from science and eastern wisdom were beginning to weave together into an understanding of a “new reality”. The new reality that was emerging for me was more like the world of Alice than the world that my senses perceive. What seems real is not, and what is not, is.

Noting is as it appears. Light is not just light; matter is mostly empty space; space is curved; time is relative. All true, but not how we perceive any of it. Our eyes respond only to the visible spectrum of light, we hear only a limited range of sounds, between 20Hz and 20KHz, dogs by contrast hear up to 65KHz and bats can hear between 1Hz and 200KHZ. Our perception of what exists is proscribed by the limitations of our sense organs. Thus, there is more to reality than our senses are able to perceive.

The picture of reality that physicists paint is beyond our ability to perceive it, it is a reality in which everything is connected to everything else; space and time are one; particles buzz in and out of existence; there are massive black holes; solid objects are mostly empty spaces; ten dimensional spaces, particles are waves too; uncertainty abounds; etc. While the physicists’ view of reality is beyond the pale of our senses, but at least our intellect can comprehend this reality, the reality that the Vedic sages speak of is one that is beyond the reach of even our intellect. The Vedic view of Reality is that it is Turiya[vii] or the fourth state of existence beyond the waking, sleeping and dreaming states. This state is beyond our senses and our intellect. Indian sages and other mystics are known to have the ability to go in and out of this state of being.

I had come to accept that nothing is as it appears, that Reality hides behind appearances. How do you explain to someone that life is an illusion?

This I believe:

  1. Life is an illusion in that that there is more to existence than our senses are able to detect. The most meaningful work that we can do in life is to discover for ourselves this plane of existence.

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