What We Accept As “Normal”

You walk into a coffee shop and approach the counter. The barista carries a large lizard on his shoulder. The lizard looks at you and asks what you’d like. You order a coffee and pay. Next you are seated with your coffee and notice it is a latte. You curse the lizard for his carelessness. Then you wake up. Recalling the dream it is amusing that you simply accepted the presence of the talking lizard as though it were normal.

Recent brain science has shown that the “predictive constructions” our mind goes through in sleep is no different than what it does when we are awake. The only difference is that, in a dream, the constructions are not guided by input from the senses. Nevertheless, we cannot ever really exist in our True environment. We are always living in a dream. When we are awake, we create a dream of reality based on our senses – a reconstruction based on prediction, assumption, and some data. It’s all too much for us to reconstruct strictly from data fast enough to operate. This is why witnesses differ on the details of mutually observed incidents.

A few nights ago I was reading about Jean Baudrillard’s ideas in “Simulacra and Simulation”. He claims that we have replaced genuine reality and meaning for symbols and signs. First symbols are a faithful copy, but next become a perversion of reality. Following that, they pretend to represent something but no longer have an original referent. Eventually, in the 4th stage, the simulation no longer even pretends to stand for anything at all but becomes truth or a new reality in itself (becoming ‘simulacra’). As such, our lives begin to revolve around things completely disparate from reality. Culture and media construct a new reality and understanding of our lives. We have become so saturated with these simulacra that real meaning is lost. Of course, this relates to the role of propaganda, non-events, pop-culture, social media, manufactured narratives, our social and economic systems and values, and our own self deceptions.

I went to sleep and when I awoke this morning I saw, in one huge flood of visions, the relationship between Baudrillard’s simulacra, the Buddha’s Flower Sermon, Lao Tzu’s opening to the Tao Te Ching, the Stoic conception of Zeus as the soul of the cosmos, memetics, why meaning is overrated, the smallness of our attachment to free will, and why mindfulness concentration is a way to glimpse this ‘mind of God'[1]. How to convey this in words is comically difficult to I’ll not try for now.

Suffice it to ask, what if, in our waking dream we operate in daily, the brain functions of the reconstruction are not the only consistency – but the tendency to accept parameters of the construction is also the same when awake? In other words, the things we accept as “normal” or “perfectly reasonable” are just as subject to the reality we are offered as the talking lizard?

One can imagine waking up and describing with amusement to a friend you had a dream where millions of people would ride around in these metal carriages at incredibly high speeds. Huge sums of money and effort were put into building smooth paths all over the country so they could do this. And, only trust in each of their reflexes and attention prevented catastrophic crashes. Not only that, but tens of thousands of people would die every year doing this and everyone just carried on as though it were completely normal and understandable. The two of you might laugh at how crazy the whole thing was and how you simply accepted it as normal because you were in a dream state.

And it’s not just this incidental example. Might we have the same reaction waking up and reflecting on a world where people were allowed to just live and die on the streets homeless? Or, might we in another reality find it incredible to dream of a world where people were hostile to newcomers instead of being happy to have their country and economy grow in size? Or, a friend might ask with a laugh, “…and in this dream you just thought it was completely normal to have to work the majority of all but 2 days of the week?? And some even more? Dreams are so ridiculous!”

The language of ‘waking up’ has often been used to represent transcending assumptions or norms. But I am not making a poetic analogy here. The point is, we are handed a reality when we are born and there must be hordes of things (particularly when it comes to society convention) we simply accept as normal and reasonable, literally for the same reasons and by the same psychological mechanisms we accept the reality we are given in dreams. And, like walking through a dream, we never realize that – through an act of sheet collective will – it could be more different than we ever imagined.


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[1] Here I am speaking of a naturalistic poetic conception of god/s as forces and/or emergent properties of Nature, as conceived by the Stoics for example. Knowing the ‘mind of God’ in this context is akin to what the Buddhists call Prajna or deep insight into the nature of reality.


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