Phenomenalism – Try Saying That 5 Times Fast.

Now you’ve exercised your tongue into trying to say the word, I’m here today to try to wrap our heads around the thought – provoking concept of Phenomenalism.

  • N.B. (1) – I’ve not extensively researched this for some essay, it is just something that I thought of one day and it turned out to be an actual theory so this is a learning session for us all – expect Wikipedia references throughout. 
  • N.B. (2) – This post is going to be a practice run for a magazine article that I will be writing on the same topic. So if for some reason, you read both, don’t be offended or shocked by my shameless self-plagiarism.  
  • N.B. (3) – For the sake of saving time and effort for all parties, the word ‘phenomenalism’ will be replaced with the abbreviation ‘P/A’. I’m not lazy, I’m just being thoughtful towards my audience as well as avoiding spelling words with more than 5 syllables.

Right, let’s get started.

It begins with me playing a custom game of Call of Duty. This usually involves me mowing down waves of empty-headed AI opponents for however long it takes until the fun of doing so begins to fade. As my hunting session eventually reached the stage of pure tedium, and my enemies had been struck with every bullet of every weapon I could find, I went into a setting known as Spectator Mode. Basically this allows the player to fly around the map to see it from different angles. However, I use this feature to fly outside of the map to parts of it that normal players are restricted from accessing – devilish, I know. Anyway, one example is a map designed as part of a derelict city. There are dozens of new buildings and roads that are laid out to explore yet and it’s all hidden to players, as if they don’t even exist until you fly up to them.

This got me thinking, what if our world is like this? What if anything we can’t see doesn’t actually exist? Think abeyeout it – you can’t prove that they do, except when you see them, when you perceive them as part of reality. What if when we close our eyes, the world around us ceases to exist? We can’t prove that it does as we can’t see it. This also brings in the idea of a higher being at work. What if like in a video game, none of the real world actually exists until you see it, when the computer coding tells the exterior stimuli (like buildings, trees, and even other people) to appear and interact with us in the way that we expect them to. Think about it, the game designers of realistic open world games like Grand Theft Auto or Sims aren’t going to programme characters to be walking backwards or to have extendable necks. They aren’t going to programme a skyscraper to grow wings and fly off into the virtual sunset. It doesn’t fit expectations of reality and therefore becomes fantasy or fiction. The buildings stay still and are mainly used for aesthetic purposes, and even the characters only turn up when told or are written into part of the storyline. Apart from this, they don’t even exist. This could be the same with the ‘real’ people in our lives. They may not exist until some divine designer programmes them to behave and act in the way we expect them to; when we visually perceive them as they are inserted into our storyline.

But then I had a thought, a confounding realisation – ‘things’ must exist because we can smell them, hear them, they make an indirect effect on our lives. On the other hand what if this divine designer just keeps these other sensory stimuli active so that our world still makes sense?

For example, if you were at a park, chances are you may be able to hear the sounds of children playing, people socializing, dogs barking, birds singing. If you were to then close your eyes and all you heard was the crashing of ocean waves or the echoing chant of Tibetan Monks from atop a mountain, that wouldn’t make sense and reality would be distorted. You’d expect to hear all of the previously stated wouldn’t you? Because that’s what we have learned to expect from such exterior objects and past experiences. Plus it doesn’t make sense…

In the hope that I wasn’t going insane, I explored the internet for any published theories on similar concepts from people with similarly bohemian minds. Thankfully, I was met with pages upon pages on George Berkeley, the Father of P/A

P/A is the theory that no physical object can be justified in saying that they exist in themselves except only as perceptual phenomena placed in time and space.

(I.e – Nothing and no one can,with absolute certainty, state they exist except as things that can be seen.)

Like my divine designer analogy, Berkeley claimed that some omniscient deity perceives all objects and stimuli at any one time (much like Spectator Mode) and this is what may or may not keep all objects existing . He never stated if this deity controls and manipulates these objects to maintain a constant reality, unlike in my analogy.

Either way, it’s only food for thought. Whether we exist or not is not something that I will not go to the edges of the earth to find out. I’m enjoying this life whether it is ‘real’ or not. As long as it keeps going like usual with no weird sensory mishaps, I’ll be fine. I don’t care whether the light stays on in the fridge as long as the fridge does its job. And if my life is just a storyline for some avid gamer out there, then if you’re listening…

You should have spent your money on a better game.

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