Philosophy for our times

Incisive articles on cutting edge ideas

news

Fantasy and Reality

Saturday 26th September
Germs and atoms are as much a fantasy to Amazonian tribes as their demons are for us.
| Dean of Arts and Sciences at Bentley University, anthropologist best-known for multiple decades spent with the Piraha people in the Amazon.

fantasy anad reality

One morning in 1981, while I was living among the Pirahãs, near the mouth of the Maici River, in the center of the Amazonian rain forest, I was awakened by the sounds of people yelling and crying. I had been researching the Pirahã language and culture now for some four years, so I spoke the language reasonably well. The yells tore me from my pleasa...

One morning in 1981, while I was living among the Pirahãs, near the mouth of the Maici River, in the center of the Amazonian rain forest, I was awakened by the sounds of people yelling and crying. I had been researching the Pirahã language and culture now for some four years, so I spoke the language reasonably well. The yells tore me from my pleasant liminal state between sleep and alertness. I rose, slipped on my gym shorts and flip-flops and ventured outside to see what was going on.

Some twenty Pirahã men, women, and children, their numbers growing by the second, were gesticulating and yelling, some crying in fear, at a spot on the bank across the river. I asked what they were pointing at. A man looked at me incredulously, demanding "Don't you see it? It is a kaoáíbogi ('fastmouth' – a jungle entity separate from humans but like them in many ways). I looked again. And again. I asked again. The response was "The fast-mouth is there right now!"

In the thirty-five years that have ensued since that tropical morning, I have come to realise the power of culture to affect our perceptions. As we develop cognitively and physically in a particular context, our apperceptions – physical and mental experiences that affect our development – also develop. Our senses, memories, values, knowledge structures, and social roles are shaped both by those apperceptions and by our conversations with those around us – people for the most part who share most of these shaping experiences and development with us.

Fantasy and reality then become the labels we attach to our experiences. For the Pirahãs nature provides clues to the presence of entities that are not quite like human beings. For many westerners, these entities, such as the kaoáíbogi, are fictions, akin to ghosts or vampires or fairies – nice stories, but unreal. But for others, coming from different apperceptional histories and varied cultures (knowledge structures, social roles, and values ranked in importance), there is no reason not to attribute reality to glimpses, interpretations, hallucinations, dreams, and so on.

Let's say that you wanted to prove to someone from a nonwestern culture who believes in fairies that in fact fairies do not exist. How would you do that? You might ask if they had ever seen one. They would answer yes. You might ask if they had ever touched one. They might say yes, based on something that touched them in the dark. You might ask if they could show you one. Well, the Pirahãs would say that they showed me one that morning.

Culture and dark matter of the mind are responsible for the interpretation of our perceptions. Dark matter is any knowledge we have of how to do things or about things (factual knowledge and procedural knowledge) that is unspoken in normal circumstances, such as why we like certain foods, or how to ride a bike, or why we may think it is offensive to chew food with our mouths open, etc. Some of it cannot be spoken, such as how to write a novel very well, as opposed to just how to write a novel. We acquire this dark matter by talking and living in society.

Culture on the other hand is a network of abstractions – our various social roles, knowledge structures, and our values. Culture working with dark matter defines our expectations, our reality, and our fantasies. For example, Pirahã classify their environment along the following lines:

 Piraha tree

 

They allow for the existence of bloodless creatures, human-like entities that lack blood and have distinct characteristics. But this is not fantasy to them.

Likewise there are many religions whose line dividing fantasy from reality is unlike the lines of scientists and others. Was that man healed by that priest's prayer? To some, it is clear that prayer has power. To others the power is only psychological. Reality and fantasy is a psycho-cultural dichotomy. The dichotomy itself will appear as reality to some and fantasy to others.

Read More:
Watch More:

Related articles

Join the conversation

Sign in to post comments or join now (only takes a moment). Don't have an account? Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or Google to get started:

binra on 04/10/2015 8:52am

Denial of sight - of full consciousness - operates by the designation of invalidating force to specific aspects, facets of forms of intent and expression. Invalidating force itself operates through self-doubt and division, as guilt, as fear, terror and rage and the range of 'negative' emotions' that are 'negative' by nature of rising from a negative shadow of a positively asserted self-image of concept.
The split off and denied consciousness implicitly operates as shadow power or hidden power. Few see it as more than a disturbing thoughts that they seek to escape asap, and unseen is unchecked and in our midst - in a great variety of ways. But 'modern' man would insist this a psychological issue and not otherwise 'real'. For the designation of an 'external' physical reality is itself a defence against relationship with a sense of consciousness that is untrustworthy, deceitful and terrifying. That this state is dis-integrity calling for healing is not apparent to the split off fragmented 'consciousness' that is coercively controlling the experience of its reality by the survival instinct operating through a misidentification.
Many traditional peoples and indeed very young and some who are not as psychically shielded, experience and participate in a greater or more inclusive consciousness of the Movement of Being that Is Life (prior to the imposed and asserted model of self and world that filters a distorted perception of it). So much that is considered Real is based on a fantasy of self-concept, and much that is denied and invalidated as fantasy is Real - but of a multidimensionality that the limited, linear and controlling concept cannot tolerate without revisiting its own imprint of separative identity. Hence many facets of his own lost consciousness first appear demonic and much of what appears protective reinforces a caged and trapped sense of self that operates blindly against the whole and of course against its own true good.
Just as explorers risked their lives in opening up a greater world to awareness than a local cultural reality allowed, so within consciousness are the taboos of ancienterrors being recognized as 'local reality' and expanded or explored beyond. Not least because space and time are closing in on Earth in ways that cannot be long survived without radically fresh perspective.

Mind & Reason on iai tv
Most viewed
Articles
Debates
Talks
  • Bold Text
    Example: [b]Bold[/b]
  • Italic Text
    Example: [i]Italics[/i]
  • Underlined Text
    Example: [u]Underlined[/u]
  • Struck-out Text
    Example: [s]Struck-out[/s]
  • Colored text
    Example: [color=blue]blue text[/color]
  • Alignment
    Example: [align=right]right aligned[/align]
  • Code Block
    Unformatted code block
    Example: [code]Code block[/code]
  • Email link
    Create link to an email address
    Example: [email]you@yoursite.com[/email]
  • Email link
    Create link to an email address
    Example: [email=you@yoursite.com]Email[/email]
  • Unordered list
    Unordered list
    Example: [ulist][*]unordered item 1[/ulist]
  • Image
    Show an image in your post
    Example: [img]http://www.website.com/image.jpg[/img]
  • Website link
    Link to another website or URL
    Example: [url]http://www.website.com/[/url]
  • Website link
    Link to another website or URL
    Example: [url=http://www.website.com/]Website[/url]
Sign up for free now for unlimited access to all articles on iai news, as well as our entire library of debates, talks and courses.

You have read 4 articles on iai.news. To read more than 6 per month you need to join iai+. Joining iai+ is free and gives you free unlimited access to iai.tv and iai.news.
Sign up to iai+ now, it only takes a minute.
You have reached your monthly limit of articles. Sign up for free to continue exploring the ideas behind the headlines. You’ll also get access to our entire library of debates, talks and courses.

iai donation
iai donation
iai donation
Why sign up for the iai?
  • Discover new ideas
    Free and unlimited access to hundreds of hours of debates, talks and articles from the world's leading minds, as well as courses that rival top academic institutions.
  • Have your say
    Join the iai community and engage in conversation and debate around the issues that matter.
  • Hear it first
    Be the first to hear about our video releases, articles and tickets to our upcoming events.
Sign me up