Reality is Not About Us–Philosophy in a Photograph

Sometimes I get very philosophically excited by a picture, but I find it very hard to put my reaction to it into words.  The whole picture is equal to a thousand words kind of thing, but for me, some pictures could generate a hundred thousand words, or even millions. 

Here’s a photo I found and sent to several of my friends.  It’s a dragonfly covered in dew.  Philosophically, I’m fascinated by the idea this reality wasn’t meant just for humans, and reality is experienced by an infinity of minds perceiving it in infinite ways.  This is one of the many reasons why I don’t believe in God.  God is too small of a concept to encompass all of reality.  God is too anthropomorphic, to human self-centered, to be a meaningful hypothesis when you study all of reality.  The reason why I embrace science is because science is a better tool for understanding the truth about reality, even though I know that even science is too puny to do the job completely.  Science just handles big numbers far better than theology.


Our human senses are so limited when it comes to looking at reality.  For example, look at this second photograph of the same image, taken from the photographer’s web site.  This is from Martin Amm Photography, and is color corrected differently.  The first picture had been color saturated to make it more intense.


Now don’t get the idea that the second photograph is the way the dragonfly really looked at the moment the camera snapped the picture.  First off everyone sees things differently, and everyone’s monitor color calibrates differently.  But even back in the reality from which the photo was taken the photographer saw the dragonfly differently from what he photographed, and the birds nearby waiting to eat the dragonfly saw it differently too.  And the insects on the same branch saw the dragonfly completely different too.  There is one huge reality, but all the beings in it see it differently, in an infinite number of ways.

To begin to understand how complex seeing is, and I mean beyond just the tiny window of visual light that humans use, we have to study the electromagnet spectrum.  On a recent PBS NOVA, “Earth From Space” they had a scientist report that if the electromagnet spectrum was measured from New York to Los Angeles, then the part the human eye sees with would be the size of a dime.

Size matters.  Our view of reality is distorted by our size and the size of our senses.  When humans invented the concept of God, our awareness of reality was much smaller, and we pictured God as being the biggest thing we could imagine.  All our cherished concepts, God, heaven, hell, love, hate, justice, good, evil are measured by human scale senses.  As human minds progressed beyond theology into philosophy and then into science, we saw the reality around us expand further and further.  At one time God was the biggest thing we could imagine, and then science gave us the universe, an object whose size is beyond our best imaginations to fathom, but it can be measured.

I use the word “reality” to label everything rather than the word “universe” because scientists are now speculating that our universe might only be one of an infinite number of universes.  When I say “reality” I mean the whole she-bang, and not just the big bang.  When I say the word “God” isn’t a big enough concept to convey reality I’m  not just being an atheist, but I’m making a philosophical statement about numbers, size and reality.

Humans generate ideas constantly, but most of our concepts don’t hold up against reality.  Take the concept of heaven.  Many people believe when they die they will go somewhere else, somewhere beyond reality.  Where is heaven?  How big is it?  How far do we have to go to get there?  How many people are there?  How many animals?  What about plants and insects?  What about intelligent beings from other worlds?  Does the dragonfly above deserve everlasting life too?  Reality is huge, but how big must heaven be?  If everything in this reality gets to live again, how big must heaven be?

By one estimate, over 107 billion people have lived on Earth, and that doesn’t count Neanderthals and earlier forms of hominids.   Is heaven and hell crowded now with all those people?  What about their favorite pets? What about all the billions to come?  Just how big is heaven?  Heaven is described in The Book of Revelation and even given with measurements.  Depending on we interpret the ancient measure, heaven could a large shopping mall about the size of Australia.  Did you know the Bible describes heaven as a building, and living in heaven would be indoors?

See what I mean when I say our concepts about reality are too puny to be realistic.  People who study Zen Buddhism are taught to look at reality without using all their bullshit concepts.  If they say something stupid they are caned about the head and shoulders.  If we had a Zen master walking behind us all day, we’d get whacked in the head constantly.  We’re always bullshitting ourselves.

It’s very hard to use words precisely.  We have so many bogus words.  We have too many words that distort our view of reality because of their anthropomorphism.   I find it helpful to stare at photographs and try to forget the words.  Or just stare at reality and try not to explain what I’m seeing.  But that’s a failure too.  You see, we do have a sixth sense, one that the dragonfly doesn’t have, and that’s language.  We see with words.  Learning to use the correct words, without distorted concepts, is a way to focus our inner sight on reality.  We can see reality, in our limited fashion, but we must wash the bullshit off our eyes first.

Does this begin to show you why I got excited by seeing the photograph of the dragonfly?  I’ve written about a thousand words now.  Tomorrow I could write a different thousand words on meditating on the same photograph.

JWH – 6/27/13

2 thoughts on “Reality is Not About Us–Philosophy in a Photograph”

  1. What you see as evidence against the existence of God, I see as evidence for him. You write very well but it’s hard for me to read. I respect your opinion but suggest that you are guilty of seriously overestimating science and humanity, and even more seriously underestimating God. I think reagrdless of the “evidence”, the bottom line is that I want to believe in God, and you don’t. Thanks for sharing these terrific photographs, and your philosophy.

    1. I can accept that you want to believe in God. I won’t argue with that.

      D.A., I went and checked out your blog, which I found interesting. Your current post about friendship resonated with a book I just finished, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, about a guy and the three friends he grew up with. Unfortunately, the four didn’t stay friends like you and your buddies.

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