All in the Mind: Is Reality Real?

Why the way we experience and interact with the world is entirely mind-made.

Posted Jan 14, 2021

Saltatory conduction is the process through which the brain receives information from the five sense organs, which include the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin. When sense receptors in the sense organs are stimulated, electrochemical impulses travel via a process of neurotransmission from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system. Once received by the central nervous system, these electrochemical messages culminate in the brain where they are transformed into coherent information that can be acted upon.

Saltatory conduction was first identified in 1939 by Japanese born American biophysicist Ichiji Tasaki, and scientific understanding of the process has increased significantly since that time. However, although the mechanisms of this fundamental biological process are well documented, it appears that some important implications of saltatory conduction have been overlooked in the scientific literature—particularly in terms of how it can advance understanding of how we perceive reality.

More specifically, saltatory conduction provides evidence indicating that the reality we perceive and experience on a day-to-day basis is far less real or concrete than collective opinion might suggest. The reason for this is that without exception, our sense of movement, touch, taste, pain, pleasure, sight, sound, and so forth are the product of the brain filtering, transforming, and organising electrochemical information into a working three-dimensional mental construction.

For example, when we look at a tree, what we see is the brain’s interpretation of electrochemical signals that were transmitted by sensory receptors in the eyes. Consequently, our perception of the tree isn’t “direct” but is the end product of a biophysical process involving receiving, transforming, transmitting, and then retransforming information. The same applies if we reach out and touch the tree—we experience the brain’s reconstruction, based on input from electrochemical signals, of how it interprets the tree should feel to the hand.

A good way to understand this principle is to consider how information is processed using Voiceover Internet Protocol that underlies web-based video calling platforms such as Messenger, Skype, and WhatsApp. In such instances, a caller’s camera and microphone capture analogue video and audio signals, which are then compressed and transformed into digital numeric packets. These data packets are then transmitted over a digital network before being decompressed and transformed back to analogue video images and audio sounds by the recipient’s video conferencing system. However, at no point can it be said that the two callers’ interaction with each other is unmodified and direct, as their video call is subject to various stages of data transformation and transportation.

A similar type of “data transformation” process occurs during saltatory conduction such that in reality, we never directly touch, smell, see, hear, or taste sensory phenomena. Consequently, although we have the impression of living in and moving through a physical world, we never truly go anywhere or do anything because at any given time, our experience of life corresponds to the mental projection of the brain. In other words, the manner by which we experience and interact with the world is entirely mind-made—we project a reality and then relate to it entirely within the realm of the mind.

Consider the analogy of a dream whereby the dreamer is invariably under the impression that what they are experiencing is real. For example, when dreaming, individuals can have the sensation of coming or going, pleasure or pain, and fast or slow. In fact, an individual can experience a dream as being real to the extent that it causes them to wake up screaming if the dream is sufficiently frightening. However, although the dream may appear real, in truth it has no material existence and unfolds completely within the expanse of the mind. In a dream, nothing really comes or goes, there is no here or there, no near or far, no up or down, and no fast or slow.

However, it’s not correct to assert that what we experience during dreamt or waking reality is unreal, because regardless of whether a phenomenon or situation exists in material absolute terms or is just a fabrication of the mind, we still undergo an authentic experience. Indeed, the extent to which a given experience is designated as authentic or meaningful is highly subjective and varies according to context and how the mind has been conditioned.

Nevertheless, it appears that as part of some fundamental biological processes such as saltatory conduction, there exists evidence suggesting a need to re-examine the accuracy of certain widely accepted scientific assumptions concerning the underlying nature of mind and matter. Perhaps through fostering a better understanding of the inseparability between mind and matter in this manner, new psychological and technological approaches will emerge that better enable humans to harness resources and benefit from both their psychological and physical world.

References

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2014). Dream or reality? Philosophy Now, 104, 54

Soeng, M. (1995). Heart Sutra: Ancient Buddhist Wisdom in the Light of Quantum Reality. Cumberland: Primary Point Press.

Van Gordon, W., Sapthiang, S., Barrows, P., & Shonin, E. (2020). Understanding and practicing emptiness. Mindfulness, Advance Online Publication, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-020-01586-1

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Dunn, T., Sapthiang, S., Kotera, Y., Garcia-Campayo, J., & Sheffield, D. (2019). Exploring emptiness and its effects on non-attachment, mystical experiences, and psycho-spiritual wellbeing: A quantitative and qualitative study of advanced meditators. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 15, 261-272.

Vogel, H. (2009). Nervous System: Cambridge Illustrated Surgical Pathology. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wireless Research Centre (n.d.). How Voice and Video Call Works? Available from: https://danenet.wicip.org/2019/04/23/how-voice-and-video-call-works/