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The sun is setting at all times

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During the summer I try to steer my day so that when the sun sets, I’m outside, in a place where there’s nothing blocking the view. Sunsets are always worthwhile.

They’re also always fleeting. During any given rapt sunset experience, there’s always a moment when you realize that its brilliance has peaked and it’s beginning to disappear. Sometimes I arrive at the bridge or at the end of a Westbound street only to realize right away that I’ve missed that peak.

When that happens, at least I can be vicariously happy for the sunset-watchers some distance west of me, whose sunset is just beginning to get brilliant. That fact is a wonderful gift to human beings — the sun is always setting.

Thousands of miles past them, at the same moment, early risers on certain Pacific islands are about to see it rise. The sun is always setting and always rising, always high overhead and always nowhere to be seen. Objectively, this is as true as anything else we know. It is always setting, right now.

We have to acknowledge that truth is relative to the observer. If there were nobody observing the sunset there would be no sunset.

I daydream often about the wild sunsets that must be happening in a gazillion different skies out there in space, from the surfaces of foreign planets. There are trillions of stars, with differening colors and intensities, and each can be seen from different surfaces at different distances, through different atmospheres, over unthinkably exotic landscapes.

But there’s probably nobody there to see most of them, and so they are only really happening in my imagination. A sunset, after all, is an experience. So you need an experiencer, in the right place, for it to exist. You could still say that there are billions of potentially experienceable sunsets out there, but they’re not real until someone is standing there on that strange world, watching a blazing blue and green double sunset slowly dissolving over some mountains.

Science is by far the most helpful institution we have for making sense of our experiences, and for predicting what we might experience next. The way they do it is this: a bunch of different people observe the same phenomena from different angles at different times, and they talk about it and come up with a concept about what those phenomena are when no particular person is looking at them at all. They add all these conclusions together and put it in books, which purport to describe how things really are, regardless of what you may experience them to be personally. 

To us, or to anyone, the universe is really only composed of experiences, or at least it has zero conceivable meaning except for our experiences of it. And so that means that what the universe actually is is dependent on who is out there to have those experiences. Everything we claim to know about it must be based on direct experiences. No amount of data or scientific theory about sunsets contains the truth of what they are. A sunset can only be actually known as a fleeting, subjective experience.

That’s the only reason we have science — to find patterns behind our experiences. These patterns are useful to understand, because they can help us know, for example, whether the upcoming festival is likelier to create a subjective experience of being rained on or subjective experience of being sunburned. We care about such things, because they are experiences, and there’s nothing else we can really care about because that’s all life is.

I think we are in danger of forgetting that scientific knowledge is there to help us understand the probable reasons for our given experiences, and therefore to predict and explain other experiences, rather than tell you what the experience actually is. The scientific process has, for better or worse, helped to create a mental image of the universe (which must be at least slightly different for each of us) that explains the patterns behind all kinds of experiences.

Yet the implication is that it always works the same way, whether you’re looking at it from here or there or not at all. It suggests that truths are absolute, as a rule. We’ve built this thing we call “objectivity” by collecting and organizing a whole bunch of different people’s subjective experiences, and often we imagine that objectivity was there first, and subjectivity is what we call it when a given person glimpses that objective truth. But objectivity is a projection — a complex, changing mental model that was built only from collections of those subjective glimpses, and outside of them we don’t even know what it is we are glimpsing.

We know now that truth is often (or maybe always) relative. Einstein helped us to begin to realize that we shouldn’t be regarding the universe’s apparent truths as absolute (and since then things have gotten even weirder). But we’re still in the habit of imagining that so-called “objective” truths were there first, before we ever witnessed any of it — that the sun doesn’t actually set at all; it’s out there burning openly no matter who you are or where you are. We bow to this model as the real truth, and deem our personal experience (the actual sunset) to be somehow less true — as if the sun doesn’t actually set, that it’s just an illusion, or at least an obscured view of what is really there.

I think that’s backwards. The sunset is real. It is the primary fact, as all experiences are. We pay too little attention to life as it unfolds in real-time around us and too much attention to our thoughts and beliefs about what it really is or really means. What’s more important, how much money you have or how wealthy you experience yourself to be? We all know it is possible for one person to have much more on-paper wealth than another, yet experience themselves to be poor and deprived, while the other feels abundance. These are subjective states, yet they clearly matter more in real life than the objective accounting of physical facts about those respective situations.

The state of the world, for example, is a relative truth. It’s mostly relative to how much news you watch. If you’re a CNN junkie, you live in a more worrisome, dangerous world than I do. You can argue all day that it’s the same world, but all that matters is what world you experience, not what the world is supposed to be like outside your experience.

So zoom in, live from here. Don’t let others tell you what the world is like, because they live in a different world. What matters is how things appear to be, from your perspective. Your quality of your life hinges on your perspective, not the theoretical state of the world, or “objective” assessments of your living situation. I would bet that most or all of your major breakthroughs in life amounted to a shift in perspective, rather than some external thing changing. Perspective shifts can be cultivated — gratitude can be learned, “bad people” can be forgiven, your whole self can change — and this is tantamount to changing the whole world.

Is the sun setting right now? It depends who you are.


Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

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Pete July 8, 2013 at 7:04 am

Good words. I used to be a science-head who saw nothing but “objectivity” and felt a sense of pride in myself when I thought I knew better than others about the way things “really were”. I’m not sure what triggered the change or when, but you’re right; everyone’s world is different and everyone’s world is real.

And that’s an empowering thought. Because while you can’t directly change this “absolute/objective” world, you CAN directly change your own subjective one. And if we all just work on that…

Brenda A. July 8, 2013 at 7:58 am

Beautifully expressed. It helps me to be more understanding of what I have considered to be “wrong beliefs”. Everyone experiences things differently which plays into how each person perceives things. Which explains a lot when you can realize that.

Terri Lynn July 8, 2013 at 8:03 am

An interesting model, from my perspective :)

David July 8, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Glad I watched that… it’s hard to disagree that it’s physically true, I wonder what the implications are.

Terri Lynn July 8, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Wisdom begins with wonder. :)

George Gurdjieff July 9, 2013 at 10:27 am

Nicely said Terri :)

Regarding your post David, interesting isn’t it that we know that it’s the movement of the Earth rather than the Sun that produces sunsets, yet we call it ‘sunset’ rather than ‘earthmove’.

And even knowing this – that the earth moves away from the sun rather than the sun dipping away from the earth – the beauty and majesty of a glorious sunset still touches and inspires artists, poets, lovers, bloggers (!) to put into words the thoughts and emotions that this impression evokes. Perhaps it is that profound natural reflex of gratitude that all of us possess when presented with a reflection of a higher intelligence. What would be the science of bringing ourselves into this state of being continuously?

Beautiful post David. Thank you.

Trish Scott July 8, 2013 at 8:35 am

Yes. I can’t tell you the number of times that first my father then my X and a few other people who presumed to know exactly the way things are, have told me to “FACE REALITY!” I’ve always answered, “Whose reality? Your reality? I don’t think so.”

Men have been saying this to women probably since language began. Throughout most of history we have just shut up and kept our heads down or responded with passive aggression. The 70’s shook all that up a bit so men don’t just come out and say that shit any more – well not to me anyway. But there are still plenty of people, men and women, who presume to have the whole reality thing nailed down. I think they are the most dangerous people alive, along with, of course, being the most ignorant. Unfortunately they are usually the ones who run everything.

Another great post David. I hope everyone reads it!

Trish Scott July 8, 2013 at 8:59 am

I have a short blog post that addresses this business of subjective reality that I’d like to share here. It’s called Just Change Your Mind http://www.trishascott.com/just-change-your-mind/

David July 8, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Thanks to Douglas Harding this is how I see things now (except when I’m totally wrapped up in thinking.) My body, and everything else, is clearly inside my mind, inside my experience.

David July 8, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Yes, exactly. We all live separate realities and our failure to understand that makes interpersonal communication so much harder.

>But there are still plenty of people, men and women, who presume to have the whole reality thing nailed down. I think they are the most dangerous people alive, along with, of course, being the most ignorant. Unfortunately they are usually the ones who run everything.

That’s true and very interesting. I wonder why this kind of closed-mindedness leads people to seek external power over others.

Pete July 9, 2013 at 5:05 am

>That’s true and very interesting. I wonder why this kind of closed-mindedness leads people to seek external power over others.

Maybe because the only way to validate a closed-minded reality is by force – through having others conform to it – since it isn’t really reality. Open-minded people don’t have that same fear driven need because they haven’t mistaken their ‘reality’ as their identity. They learn from new experiences and change their perceptions rather than seeking to validate their existing ones.

Tim July 8, 2013 at 9:31 am

Thank you for this perspective. I’ve been searching for a model to describe what I felt and you expressed it perfectly, so thank you for this.

Kenneth July 8, 2013 at 10:54 am

Wow wow wow! So well written, such wonderful thinking.

Apparently there are as many different worlds as there are observers. Even if we are standing together watching the sunset, your experience may be slightly or completely different than mine. My mind may be preoccupied with all my issues, and it’s less brilliant to me, than to you if you’ve cleared your mind for the full experience of its glory.

I get mad at my kids sometimes (they are full grown) for not budgeting and managing their money correctly. I have to remember that it’s THEIR world, not mine, and what they are doing makes sense in THEIR world, but not mine. So let them live THEIR lives as they wish – it’s the way it’s designed, and it’s OK.

David July 8, 2013 at 5:02 pm

One of the most memorable tips from Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff is “Understand Separate Realities”. Everybody is dealt a different set of experiences, and that means we each build a separate concept of what the world is and how it works. Your ideas simply may not make sense in someone else’s world.

Shikha July 8, 2013 at 11:58 am

This write-up of your yours is one of the synchronous messages I’ve been getting since evening, here in India, David. Thanks a lot for having written it. And thanks for being you! Please keep writing !

kiwano July 8, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Ok, so that’s science and its objectivity explained, but what about the objectivity of mathematics? (I’m genuinely curious–just not enough to work through this question myself before I forget about it entirely).

David July 8, 2013 at 5:00 pm
Trish Scott July 9, 2013 at 9:55 am

Now SEE!!!? I always wanted to have the words to say that! Beautiful. Thank You!

Vilx- July 9, 2013 at 5:07 am

You should take a look at Mathematical Logic. Warning: horribly abstract, dry and difficult to follow. I had one course of it at the University and it was a struggle (even though I’m fairly good at maths). But it does lay the groundwork of what Math is, how it works and WHY it works. In a nutshell though, all mathematical systems are based on some definitions that humans have come up with, and then they just explore what are the consequences of these definitions.

You can, in theory and practice, make a completely pointless math that does not resemble real world in any way (like 2+2=5) and yet still makes total sense and has as many complexities and theorems and whatnotelse as the standard math they teach in school.

The difference is that the basic definitions that the “standard math” is based upon are ones that make a lot of sense in “real life”. Which means that many (MANY) people have compared those definitions with their own, subjective views of the world and have agreed, that that’s how they perceive it. In fact, the only people who don’t agree to them are in mostly found in mental institutions and have a general problem of comprehending what’s going on in the first place.

Which does bring up a rather interesting subject about how “mentally ill” people fit into all this, but that is for another time.

So math is like… the common ground upon which all can agree that this is how they perceive world.

Duff July 8, 2013 at 12:35 pm

There is no question that the subjectivity of our experiences are equally valid ‘realities’ (ie: truths) and we should honor, appreciate and nurture these. Thank you David for helping us to learn to do this consciously.
I have trouble linking this with a quantum mechanics outlook that seems to deny any objective reality. “And so that means that what the universe actually is is dependent on who is out there to have those experiences.”
Perhaps I’m misunderstanding or they’re issues of semantics, but I believe that there is a Reality out there–a true existence of matter (and perhaps an infinite collection of other attributes we are incapable of perceiving) that exists apart from our experience. If we do not experience something, it is not yet a ‘reality’–to our subjective senses. When we do experience it (as in that faroff sunset), it does not just suddenly pop into existence for our pleasure.
The universe is what it is even without us mere mortals. It seems that we continue to fall into the historically common hubris that nothing is as important as the latest incarnation of man.

David July 8, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I tried to leave open the question of whether there is an objective reality at all. Yes, we have experiences, and that’s the only thing that is not up for debate. Whether reality would be the same without observers is a different question though, and what I’m saying is it doesn’t matter, because all we get are experiences.

This isn’t hubris. I’m not saying the universe is all about human beings. But I am arguing that our understanding of whatever is out there is completely constrained to whatever aspects of it we can experience. So if there is anything beyond that, it’s unknowable and therefore meaningless to us, which is for any conceivable human purpose the same as not existing at all.

It Calls Me Onanon July 8, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Physics suggests otherwise. When there is a definite system of interaction, there is a means of postulating what the effect will be and in the observation of what can occur there is meaning. Meaning is not solely subjected to what your personal specification of it to be is and it certainly does not have to be loaded with a rejection of honest intellectual metaphysical thought.

This is what people found fascinating about Einstein – he could postulate consequences in different systems entirely and could prove it through mathematic equation because he knew the complex parameters definitely. He proved that there is an objective reality and to leave it to question is to admit that you, as an individual, don’t understand the facets of reality as a pseduo-intellectual, yet use that ignorance to push your “personal philosophical” agenda. Nobody compared you to Hubris and comparing yourself to an extreme is not a means of validating your argument.

John July 8, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Deep thoughts, very well put together. I agree with you about the whole CNN and news thing. It seems to me that people tend to get really caught up in the tragedies and unjust things they see on T.V. It’s as if there’s always something we should be fearful of, or the “it could happen to you!” mentality. Don’t get me wrong, we should be caring and sensitive to certain issues around the world, but at what is too much media coverage simply too much? I’ve argued this point here: http://www.practicalcivilization.com/the-great-media-hoax/.

Our reality is as real as we wish to make it. Experiencing the joys and tragedies of life in person is something I’ll take every time over some T.V. source telling me what it is like.

It Calls Me Onanon July 8, 2013 at 3:38 pm

“…deem our personal experience (the actual sunset) to be somehow less true — as if the sun doesn’t actually set, that it’s just an illusion, or at least an obscured view of what is really there.”

The real complex acceptance of an objective reality is to factor in everything–people’s subjectivity, their sunsets–but also weigh that against the objective knowledge; that they see the sunset because of every consequential thing that determines that they MUST see the sunset that way. There’s no reason to create a false dichotomy of “we don’t see objectively so subjectivity is what matters.” That’s just over-simplifying reality to meet yourself instead of understanding that you are a part of and are shaped by reality.

Does a tree make a noise if it falls with no one there to hear it?

Yes, yes it does, because there is a physical reality constantly acting and reacting. Your sunsets still have consequence on something even if there is no one there to observe it because the consequence light or wind has when it hits the ground–wherever it is–is occurring. It’s the same concept of how mountains are shaped over a long span of time or how we can tell from tremendous light years away that a star exploded.

“Is the sun setting right now? It depends who you are.”

Yes, the sun is setting now but no, it does not depend on who I am. However, who I am is in fact dependent on the sun setting and I must never forget that. All hail Ra.

It Calls Me Onanon July 8, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Also, you mix up Einstein’s theory to suit your own needs—it wasn’t to think that there are no absolute truths, it was actually more complex than that and even fought against that notion:

“…it still seems to me that even there the specter of the
metaphysical fear has caused some damage. For this fear seems to me, for example, to be the cause for conceiving of the “thing” as a “bundle of qualities,” such that the “qualities” are to be taken from the sensory raw material. Now the fact that two things are said to be one and the same thing, if they coincide in all qualities, forces one to consider the geometrical relations between things as belonging to their qualities. (Otherwise one is forced to look upon the Eiffel Tower in Paris and a New York skyscraper as “the same thing.”)” However, I see no “metaphysical” danger in taking the thing (the object in the sense of physics) as an independent concept into the system together with the proper spatio•temporal structure. In view of these endeavors I am particularly pleased to note that, in the last chapter of the book, it finally turns out that one can, after all, not get along without “metaphysics.” The only thing to which I take exception there is the bad intellectual conscience which shines through between the lines .”

Basically, things outside of our sensory perception are more complex than we initially perceive to be truth–otherwise we would be forced to see them all as “the same thing.” He sees no problem with considering an independent concept within a set system as long as it has the proper structure, i.e. it follows the same strict laws, which he proved to be relative as a development of that initial thought.

David July 8, 2013 at 4:44 pm

All I did was link to Wikipedia’s article on relativity, and I think its relevance is obvious. I did not say Einstein believed there are no absolute truths.

It seems like all you do is try to pick apart my posts. I don’t really know why you come here.

It Calls Me Onanon July 8, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Interesting you mention this. I asked the same question after you alienated me for my behavior and thought that I had no reason to come here since it wasn’t a place for intellectual discussion. However, I am interested in growth and as I mentioned in the past you try to broach the growth topic from a pseudo-intellectual disposition, but moreover from a disposition that claims to want to listen and grow. I come here to discuss your posts and find your actions to be seriously in contradiction, which on a personal level fascinates me. If you didn’t view the concept of “discussion” through a one dimensional prism, you would actually find yourself seizing the opportunity to have a confrontational conversation, which interestingly your next post may open up to. In the end, I concluded that the progression of our interactions has been a stimulating event that one absolutely can draw truths from and that I’ve just got to change my strategy provided the “information” you give off.

It Calls Me Onanon July 8, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Fair enough about the legitimacy of how you represented the Einstein comment, but within the context of how you did reference it, it was used as a means of pushing an agenda that suggested a compartmentalization of the facets of reality. It’s just counter-productive and needs to be substantiated with context.

David July 8, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I don’t think you understand. “Sunset” is a meaningful noun in day-to-day human life. We all know what a sunset is. The physical consequences of sunlight refracting through at atmosphere at a shallow angle cannot meaningfully be called a sunset if there is nobody to witness the visual display it makes in the brain. Those processes require a subjective experience for there to be a sunset at all. All of our theoretical knowledge is derived from such experiences, and anything we can know requires a subject to know it, which constrains what we believe is “out there.” This is important because it means that objectivity can only be extrapolated from subjectivity, and I think we tend to believe it’s the other way around.

It’s the same with noise. No, the tree doesn’t make a noise, unless you are co-opting the fundamental meaning of the word noise to describe the play of scientific understandings that are involved. Noise is an experience. There are vibrations happening out there all the time, they do have consequences in the physical world but they are not noises until they resonate in the eardrums of a sentient creature. That is a particular physical consequence that is required for a vibration to be a noise, if the word noise means what we take it to mean in everyday life.

It Calls Me Onanon July 8, 2013 at 6:44 pm

All true, but what’s the significance of making the delineation between a vibration and a noise when we’re discussing the physical process occurring? It only serves to compartmentalize your experience and justify a human-related phenomenon and stay at rest in subjectivity.

The processes do not need a subjective experience, although I do think that we as humans must be present to “know” the consequence of it on our senses and must therefore speculate the occurrence according to ourselves in addition to the external reality. That being said, I do think that the physical consequences can be referred to as a sunset since a sunset is not uniquely reserved to our senses, though it does appear to us in the distinct way that it does – a sunset then, in the objective sense, is a sunset even with another name. There is a fundamental arrangement of things occurring that can in fact be identified as similar until it is introduced to a different system (a human). In that event, the experience of it is relative and must be concluded as independent/unique.

Understanding that we are an independent system among the physical reality occurring is viewing reality in all its complexity.

Garrett July 8, 2013 at 9:15 pm

It seems to me David is suggesting that not only does the tree not make a sound, but the tree doesn’t fall. I find it difficult to accept that. Granted, “tree” and “sound” and “fall” and “sunset” are all human-created terms/labels, but the things they describe (whatever one calls them, or if they’re nameless) still exist.

It Calls Me Onanon August 3, 2013 at 8:23 pm

His point was that we as humans do not know anything and that outside of the “shape” of the experience our senses enable us to see, there may not be an objective reality at all, meaning that it could exist at some indefinable capacity to us.

So, I don’t think that he meant that a tree doesn’t fall at all, but that there is a distinction in whether reality can be perceived certainly as it is when we’re not present.

However, he misses an integral part of the equation – the part that evidences the dynamic of our existence, our “system” as exact because it is definable; much like a math equation and it is infinite in its collected nature regardless of how our senses perceive it. In fact, our senses are shaped by this system and although our experience is unique in its composition it’s intrinsically tied to the laws of this dimension. We are shaped by the limitations of this form of existence just as we would be shaped by the limitations of another. This is the fact that Einstein saw through to the end and was able to manipulate as further proof of its validity, and this is why the misuse of Einstein’s quote disturbed me so much. Doing that was intellectually dishonest and that’s evidenced by the flaws and fallacies that the originating perspective comes from. Objectivity is the actuality of what is, and if “what is” exists differently, then simply, objectively, it is different.

There can’t be a broad stroke idea, such as “each subjective experience” invalidates “what something certainly exists as”, because the subjectivity itself is shaped by what currently exists and must over-simplify or ignore information through intellectual dishonesty to perpetuate itself in exclusion of the other. Plainly, our subjective experience is just another system shaped by certain physics that have shaped our reality forever.

Max Coleman July 8, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I like the word “intersubjective,” rather than “objective,” to describe the common experiences we share. A lot of science-minded people are worried that our experiences of the world aren’t “real” because they’re colored by our own fallible interpretation. But as you’ve said (and Sam Harris argues), that subjective state is *all that could possibly matter* for us as human beings. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to surmount human limitations (e.g., by challenging cognitive biases). But our focus must always be on the human experience, because that’s what lives are made of.

David July 8, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Great word. Yeah, intersubjectivity is probably the best we can do to understand what happens behind the curtains. A theoretical understanding of what happens backstage is extremely useful, but that does not mean we are seeing it.

>But our focus must always be on the human experience, because that’s what lives are made of.

That’s all I’m really trying to say. What could be more relevant?

DiscoveredJoys July 9, 2013 at 4:10 am

“We have to acknowledge that truth is relative to the observer.”

I don’t think so… but I’d go along with the idea that *meaning* is relative to the observer. After all science is a method used to ensure that the meaning we attach to experiences is coherent with a naturalistic view of the universe (long debate about ‘reality’ skipped over there!).

So yes, the beauty of a sunset is in the eye of the beholder and science has currently little to say about that individual experience. But if the beholder was to say that sunsets are beautiful because the god in his chariot which carries the sun wanted to awe people, then scientists would say that the ‘meaning’ was false.

So yes, the subjective state is all that could possibly matter *to an individual*, but the scientific method tries to ensure that we are not fooling ourselves, not making stuff up, and don’t have 7 billion explanations for sunsets.

claire July 10, 2013 at 6:56 am

interesting discussion going on. … seems similar to whether people are attracted to studying science or something like oil painting. it’s really not a ‘one or the other’ topic is it. :) you can find science fascinating, and also find sunsets etc beautiful.

Keone July 9, 2013 at 5:18 am

David, are you familiar with OS 012?
It is a Global Dialectic Operating System for Planetary Consciousness.


One of the best 5 minute essays I’ve ever read concerning the relative subjective nature of individual truth. The conflict that occurs when personal experiences are not validated universally as being “truth” and therefore become “false” by way of dichotomous thinking/fixed belief system which recognizes only one set of experiences as being “real”. The fact that you experience something personally makes it true for you and it is therefore so…The fact I may have a contradictory and opposing viewpoint means that is true for me. Two paradoxical truths can exist in harmony so long as we can shift our thinking to accommodate a quantum universe in which all experiences can be validated and shared without the dogma of science and religion dictating what those experiences mean.

Vilx- July 9, 2013 at 7:42 am

I don’t think that anyone would object that your experiences are real for you. Nobody questions that you saw/heard/felt what you did. What is under question is what *caused* those experiences. Or at least that’s how it should be.

Vilx- July 9, 2013 at 5:39 am

“Your quality of your life hinges on your perspective, not the theoretical state of the world, or “objective” assessments of your living situation.”

I disagree. Your perspective is also largely influenced by the “theoretical state of the world” and you should not ignore it.

For example, I know that currently Egypt is in an uproar. I’m pretty far away from it and I don’t care much about it. But I do not want to travel there at this time. Even though I’ve never been in a civil war (or war of any kind). Even though I only know about it because of something I saw on TV. But I am quite certain that if I did not take this information about the “theoretical state of the world” into account, I would quite likely get many unpleasant experiences.

cj July 9, 2013 at 9:22 am

David! What a photo, first off. And sunsets hold a special place for me too. They have a calming and larger than life effect on me. A sunset signifies a settling, a time to take stock. I miss most sunsets because we teach late. What a pity. But, when we can share one, we do and usually with a pint. I agree with my entire being that as you suggest, a sunset is an event. I love your thoughts on science too. I always say of science that it may not have ALL the answers, but it does have the ONLY answers. The rest, for me, is simply fun speculation.

shrinivas July 9, 2013 at 12:09 pm

A wonderful post ! Particularly this ” I would bet that most or all of your major breakthroughs in life amounted to a shift in perspective, rather than some external thing changing.”
I request you read ‘ I am That ‘ by Nisargadatt Maharaj.

Edward July 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Love the article! Though I agree with the majority of the content, I disagree (as much as one can disagree with something as intangible as philosophy) with the conclusion. CNN is information. …Like books. …Like science and history. Although the majority of that information, as you’ve pointed out, is likely a melange of generalized experiences (not experiences so much as memories of experiences, which is a whole other thing) into what they present as a “truth”, it’s value as reference point is invaluable. My world experiences are heightened dramatically when I’ve retained some of these “truths” (yeah, enough with the quotation marks) to use as reference points for my own experiences. I’ve never seen the pyramids in Egypt. I’ve been told they’re large and quite spectacular. I therefore have an inkling that if I was ever to make this my own experience by visiting someday, it could be rewarding. If I know several more truths about them before that visit, even if the truths are not my truths or truly objective, I may be able to somehow extend the reward of my own experience at the pyramids by at least having an awareness of those factual constructs.
Anyway, you made my brain hash it out. You’ve probably already read this transcript, but it blew my mind yesterday and permanently changed the way I think about everything:

MouthyGirl July 9, 2013 at 12:36 pm

As always, fabulous post, and the comments are often just as intriguing as the post itself, those above are no exception.

Thank you.

Duška Woods July 9, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Thank you David, brilliant and insightful article on objectivity and subjectivity of our experiences. ‘We see the world as we are’ and not as it is therefore everything is truly personal and subjective. I agree that the news media is giving us a very warped picture of our world. I sometimes say ‘lets turn on CNN and watch some bad news’. It is really pathetic, that there is so much good happening this world and all we hear is doom and gloom. I think that this kind of constant negative reporting desensitize us and is very bad for our personal and collective psyche.
Back to your ‘sun is always setting’, yes it is, thank heavens, and our personal experience of the world around us is the only reliable thing we can go by and trust. I fully agree that many are experiencing life more and more in virtual reality rather then in real life. I am wondering how are we ever to know how the wet sand on our feet feels after the swim in the ocean unless we have experienced it? and yes we have to start living more in the real world of human experiences, after all that is how we progressed to this point on our little fragile planet.

Jorge July 9, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Thanks for sharing. Brilliant!!!

Andrea July 9, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I really enjoyed this post. My brother and I often discuss our childhood’s reality. We shared the same parents, grand parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, events, home, school, etc. but we decribe our reality very differently.
Have you ever seen “What the Bleep Do We Know?” http://www.whatthebleep.com/

Nitya July 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm

What is termed “true” in science is different to what an individual may consider true. Let’s hope that what is true for the aeronautical engineer, is pretty much agreed upon and not more or less what he feels to be true at a particular time, otherwise planes may start to fall from the sky.

Perhaps another word should be invented to cover subjective truth? Yet another word could be used when news events are selected and reported as a true representation of the state of the nation.

It all comes down to semantics, doesn’t it? Unfortunately in the past people forced their private version of the truth on the populace, and anyone with a different perspective or understanding of the information in front of them was burned as a heretic.

What I find interesting, is the methods we use to determine whether something is true or not. What does it take? A gut feeling? An eyewitness account? Weight of numbers? A news report? News reports that all say the same thing? Revelation in a dream? Pronouncements by an authority?

I’ve had this discussion many times and I always find it fascinating.

Tammy R July 9, 2013 at 9:17 pm

“Your quality of life hinges on your perspective.” It’s so small compared to blazing sunsets and your beautiful writing, but I am a hater of matching socks. Well, I was until tonight. Earlier, I was matching socks and decided to sing, “I love matching socks. I love matching socks.” I felt a little love for each pair. Perhaps I should see someone about this.

claire July 11, 2013 at 7:49 am

mmmmaybe. or just talk to your socks about it.

Anja July 10, 2013 at 1:24 am

I agree wholeheartedly! This is a great realization: “I would bet that most or all of your major breakthroughs in life amounted to a shift in perspective, rather than some external thing changing.” Not only is it empowering, it is life-changing, once you realize it. I think however, that shifts in perspective are often the consequence of external things changing. Maybe that should be mentioned.

Jessi Tidwell July 11, 2013 at 12:24 am

How are you so wise to be so young?

Are you Jesus?

You’re totally Jesus.

claire July 11, 2013 at 6:30 am

“when analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process. that is fairly well understood, at least in the arts. Mark Twain’s experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty. something is always killed. but what is less noticed in the arts – something is always created too. and instead of just dwelling on what is killed it’s important also to see what’s created and to see the process as a kind of death-birth continuity that is neither good nor bad, but just is.” – robert m. pirsig.

claire July 11, 2013 at 7:05 am

hello david. especially since you work as an engineer and are a writer as your stated passion, this topic area seems quite apt. … the continued ‘dance’ or ‘negotiation’ between-among these ways of understanding and of focus, both for yourself, and as an example of human capability-capacity. … continue the investigations, and thank you for sharing. :)

Kate Elizabeth July 11, 2013 at 8:51 am

It’s an interesting point to arrive at – when you realise there is no objectivity. Quite liberating, and I think it helps you validate your own subjective experience.

I remember (what I found to be!) a satisfactory answer to the whole ‘If a tree falls in the woods, and no-one is around to hear it…’ question, whilst in a Philosophy class at uni. The tree falls; the fall sends vibrations far and wide. If the vibrations don’t reach an ear, which would convert the vibration to an electrical signal, no sound has evolved. It has the potential for sound…

So I guess what you’re saying is the sun’s rays setting at the end of the day has the potential to be a sunset?

Daniel July 11, 2013 at 11:20 pm

In the past I was very objective in my perspective – and after I had some sort of “awakening” my whole perspective change. Did you have any experiences that caused this perpective change?

Also, a little off topic, but I really love your style of writing. Did you take lessons/read books on how to write or did it come naturally? I daunts me that I can’t seem to produce such beautiful pieces of writing like this, and discourages me altogether!

Sorry if I am asking too many questions.
Thanks David

Justin July 14, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I read this blog post yesterday & it inspired me to go out & watch the sunset last night. It was worth it. Cool tool that I found for figuring out good places to watch it from – http://suncalc.net/

Garrett July 14, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Something can definitely have meaning, significance and be cared about without anyone experiencing its occurrence. Unexperienced environmental changes, for instance, happen that impact humans and other species both directly and indirectly.

Amol July 16, 2013 at 1:38 am

Hi David,

amazing article…I like it very much..it answers many things..subjective is the primary thing..it is real…objectivity sounds great but has less practical sense..

i liked this article so very much..thanks … :-)

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Irene July 16, 2013 at 12:14 pm

This makes me think of the question that goes “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Hoonar July 22, 2013 at 5:48 am

You might be interested in U.G. Krishnamurti’s thoughts (on thoughts) ; most of his conversations are on youtube.

Find your blogs quite reassuring – most of us have a lot more in common about how we feel then we would believe. Keep up the great work!

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