Posted by Roger Mallett Posted on 31 March 2023


Jack Fox-Williams, New Dawn
Waking Times

When I was in secondary school, a teacher showed me an animated optical illusion in which a dancer appears to be spinning in one direction. I was adamant that the dancer was spinning clockwise, while my teacher insisted it was spinning counterclockwise. She then told me that you could change the direction of the dancer by focusing on the feet. I gazed with meditative fixation, and suddenly, to my amazement, the dancer started spinning counterclockwise! My teacher explained that since there are no visual cues for three-dimensional depth, your mind can determine what direction the dancer spins.

At that moment, I realised that reality is a construct of the mind, and we all potentially see the same world differently. I may have put it in less eloquent terms than that (considering I was only a teenager), but there was a fundamental shift in my understanding. The illusion made me realise that the notion of ‘objective truth’ was essentially arbitrary since our subjective beliefs mediate sensory experience.

My teacher and I could have argued for hours, days or weeks as to which direction the dancer was spinning; science couldn’t have proven either of us correct since it was a matter of perception rather than ‘truth’. In ‘reality’, the dancer was spinning in both directions, but since the brain has a natural tendency to classify, categorise and catalogue information in binary terms (up/down, left/right, black/white, clockwise/counterclockwise), the animated optical illusion appears monodirectional.

There are numerous examples of this in our day-to-day lives, like when we fail to appreciate other people’s viewpoints because we perceive the world differently. We believe we are right despite the multiple (if not infinite) interpretations about the nature of reality.

What are Reality Tunnels?

The countercultural guru Timothy Leary coined the term ‘reality-tunnel’ to describe our filtered perceptions of the world. Robert Anton Wilson later developed the concept to describe “pre-composed patterns of thinking which limit and distort the perception of reality by reducing complexity and options.”1 According to Wilson, reality-tunnels shape our phenomenological sense of self, editing out experiences that do not support our beliefs while focusing on those which do.2

An advocate for capitalism, for example, will gather facts to support the view that capitalism is the most effective socioeconomic model, discarding any information that runs contrary to this viewpoint. Similarly, a Marxist will construct arguments based on select information to support the view that communism is the best system, often neglecting evidence that contradicts their position.


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