Meditations on the “Buzz of the Universe”
In his 2005 book The End of Faith, Sam Harris writes the following:
The claims of mystics are neurologically quite astute. No human being has ever experienced an objective world, or even a world at all. You are, at this moment, having a visionary experience. The world that you see and hear is nothing more than a modification of your consciousness, the physical status of which remains a mystery. Your nervous system sections the undifferentiated buzz of the universe into separate channels… [which] are like different spectra of light thrown forth by the prism of the brain. We really are such stuff as dreams are made of.
In other words, everything we think we’re experiencing is nothing more than a simulation, a waking dream, a construct our brains have assembled from only five data streams.
What if, however, we could experience reality objectively, without filters? That is to say, what if we could “see” the world as it must be seen by the Judaic-Christian-Islamic conception of God, who doesn’t have to rely on corporeal eyes, ears, fingers, nose or tongue to gain knowledge of his surroundings? God doesn’t see a sunrise, which is all exterior, all surface. Instead, he sees everything that’s hidden behind the sunrise: the metadata, the coding, the “buzz of the universe.”
Could we humans ever achieve that sublime level of perception? Plenty of recreational drug-users as well as shamans claim to do as much by taking heavy doses of psychotropic hallucinogens or practicing deep meditation. In such a state, the ego melts away and, with it, the senses. The perceiver no longer smells or hears or touches his surroundings, but experiences them. The rise of religions both ancient and modern probably owes much more to shamans’ use of psilocybin mushrooms than the common churchgoing crowd would care to admit.
Is there a more efficient way to experience the buzz?
Perhaps there’s no need for us to. Perhaps we wouldn’t know what to do with so much data, pelting our minds like a never-ending hailstorm. After all, our bodies have evolved over the millennia to exclude all but five data streams. Like an old piece of hardware, we’re plugged in to reality using only these five ports. This simplifies what we can and cannot perceive. Perhaps this simplification once aided our progression as a species. Had we always been able to take in everything, maybe we wouldn’t have given enough attention to essential right-here-right-now tasks like locating a water source or building a fire. Instead, we would have found greater meaning in lying on our hairy backs, marveling (or stymied) by the limitless cosmos chattering all around us.
And that’s about as far as we would have gotten as a species.
But certainly by now we’ve located enough water sources and built enough fires to sustain us while we subject ourselves to the buzzing of the universe. Could we somehow artificially, cybernetically unite these “separate channels,” as Harris calls them, into one — like some top-of-the-line HDMI cable? Many synesthetes, after all, can “taste” colors and “see” music, so we already have the (rarely) natural ability to hotwire our brains’ interpretation of sensory data.
A better question might be: could we somehow artificially remove these channels altogether? It seems as if this would be the only way to truly experience an “objective world.”
For a little fun, check out this aggressively psychedelic video simulating what it’s like to experience the world with synesthesia.