Relatively Speaking

Uncomfortably Numb
The Interactive Newsletter You Never Asked For

Relatively Speaking

In 1979, PBS aired a special commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of Albert Einstein’s birth. It explained how Einstein’s exploration of relativity was fueled by a vision and a revelation. This led him to stipulate that no observation is relevant unless a point of reference and a frame of reference are established prior to making any observations.

Seems like an unlikely catalyst for a personal epiphany, but that marks the moment I began my own investigation. I planted my metaphorical feet and established my own point of view. I looked at the world through a custom frame of reference and asked my question of life.

Since then, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to share my observations, usually in vain. I understand the fundamental problem, I just haven’t figured out how to solve it yet.

Think of reality (or any portion thereof) as an irregularly-shaped, three-dimensional object. Each of us perceives this object from an ever-changing set of coordinates in the space surrounding the object—our evolving personal perspective. When we discuss our perceptions without considering what Einstein said about the necessity of first establishing the parameters for our respective observations, we are virtually guaranteed to miscommunicate.

Because we didn’t first establish a common point of reference—the place from which we are making our observations—we are most likely perceiving different portions of the irregularly-shaped, three-dimensional object. And because we didn’t establish a common frame of reference—the criteria we utilize when making our observations—we are most likely perceiving different qualities of the object (I may be predisposed to focus on textures, you may be predisposed to focus on colors).

In any case, the perceptual experience is so subjective, and our language is so contextual, it is virtually impossible to put our respective observations into words and have any assurance that we’ve successfully communicated even if we take Einstein’s advice and begin by establishing his fundamental parameters.

Don’t be discouraged, though. We can turn to another great thinker for our inspiration. Virgil said:

They can, because they think they can.

When I find my personal perspective out-of-whack, I try to take Einstein’s advice to heart and climb back onto my own point of reference.

Life had never made much sense to me. Back in ’79, when circumstances enabled me to break through my perceptual logjam, it suddenly began to.

From my own point of view, I looked at the world and asked, “What is real?” My frame of reference was: It’s real, if it seems to be real.

It seems obvious in retrospect, but ignoring what others had told me was so, and looking for myself, was stunning, revealing, breathtaking, amazing.

Since then, using only these childishly simple references, I’ve seen things that dazzle my mind. Of course, much of what I perceive is nonsense to others, so it takes considerable effort to actually believe what I’ve seen. Hanging on to these hard-won observations is quite often a struggle.

What is real?

What a question. What a rush!


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