The Silent Dark Universe: Perceptions are not necessarily a road to reality

When we attempt to understand the world in which we live, it may come as a shocking surprise, but the fact is that what we perceive as true may be very different from what is actually true. [The simplest example of our misperception of reality is the following. Wiggle your toes. Feel them moving in your shoes. Really? Toes have no brain that can “feel.” You feel your toes in your brain. The nerve cells in your toes send the signal to your brain where you “feel” – perceive –  the motion. The power of that perception is so great that it convinces you that you are feeling your toes in your toes, almost two meters away. Our total perception of reality, in all of its forms, takes place in our brains, even though the brain convinces you that you feel your toes in your shoes and your hat on your head. Beware of perceptions; not all are a measure of reality.]

What for me is the most shocking of misperceptions is that what we hear as sound and see as light, the sensual perceptions of these two always present phenomena, do not exist anywhere in the physical universe. As hard as it is to accept, our universe is totally black without any hint of what we see as light and totally silent without any hint of what we hear as sound. This seems absolutely ridiculous but it is absolutely true.

The air around us is filled with what we call light waves, technically electromagnetic radiation. But those light waves are not light in themselves. If those light waves were light than the air through which they travel would be glowing and quite obviously it is not glowing. The sun or a light bulb or a Kindle emits radiations that we call light waves, but only when those electromagnetic radiations, those “light waves,” interact with the neurons, the nerve cells, in our eyes and visual cortex do we perceive what we experience as light. But totally obviously, there is no light in my brain. The biochemistry of the brain is well-studied but that biochemistry by itself is not light. We are told by neurologists that our brains interpret the radiation-induced bio-chemistry as the sensation of light. But there is no clue as to how or where that interpretation occurs. The brain and the universe are pitch black even when we are squinting at the bright light of the sun. If it were not, then all the space and air through which those “light waves” travel would be glowing.

The same bizarre misperception is true for sound. In the entire physical universe there is nothing that resembles sound, whether the notes of a symphony, the sound of a voice, the noise of a street. It is often asked that if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one present, does it make any sound? Let the forest be filled with people and still there will be no sound.

Nowhere in the physical universe is there what experience as sound, not inside our heads and not outside our heads. The world, the entire universe is silent. I clap my hands. That clap makes the molecules of air around my hands move. They bounce next to adjacent molecules of air and that chain reaction takes place, moves across the room until vibrating molecules of air reach your eardrums. At that point the biochemistry of hearing takes over and you become conscious of the sensation of sounds. But nowhere in your body or brain is there even a hint of sound. Your brain, like the universe, is silent.

If the “sound waves” were sound then the air between my lips or my hands and your ears would be booming and clearly the air is not booming.  Light waves do not make the air glow with light and sound waves do not make the air rumble with sound. I say these words and I know that what I say is true but to embrace that emotionally is almost impossible for me.

We live our lives surrounded by what we perceive as light and sound, the most common and constant stimuli that our bodies’ senses receive, and yet how these absolutely central constant stimuli surface to our conscious perception remains a complete puzzle. We know the chemistry of sound in the auditory cortex of the brain as it processes the information we receive from “sound” waves. We know the chemistry of light and sight as the visual cortex of the brain processes the information we receive as “light” waves.  But the chemistry is not the sensation, not the perception of light and sound.  Plainly the chemistry underlies that perception but how does it break free and surface to become our conscious awareness of light and sound. That is the puzzle.

The well-springs of our consciousness is such a riddle that Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University was moved to write in Scientific American “[D]ispite zillions of us [neurologists] slaving away at the subject, we still don’t know squat about how the brain works.”

Even though the universe is without what we perceive as light and hear as sound, it is clear that visual and auditory consciousness at varying levels exists across most of the animal kingdom. We know this because animals react to changes in what they must be experiencing as the sensation of light as vision and the sensation of sound as hearing. The only animal that we can ask the questions: do you see light or hear sound, is us humans. And we reply with a yes, even though those perceived sensations are nowhere. So perhaps it is best that we cannot ask the other animals. They would likely give us the same false answer. It may be that all animals have this same delusion of there actually being in the physical universe and in their brains glowing light and rumbling sound.

The silent black universe is not speculation. It is fact, and, it cries out for explanation.