Life as a virtual experience

The world in which human beings emerged once was entirely natural. Fire, one of the primal elements to which beings were exposed, provided heat, safety and transformed other natural substances. Along with water, air and earth, people had all they needed to survive and thrive within a system that has given rise to uncountable living things for millions of years. Curious and inventive, people used natural objects to make tools of stone, wood and bone.

Were it not for the inventive human mind, the evolution of the natural world would have taken its own course, but the character of the human mind is unique, and human technology has uniquely altered the natural world. More and more, we inhabit a world created in the mind of man, and less and less the natural world. If one defines the natural world as the original physical world, then the world of human invention can be defined as the metaphysical world; it all begins with imagination. By harnessing earth, air, fire and water, the metaphysical world created by mind has taken shape before our very eyes.

The physical world evolves slowly through success and failure. Plant and animal species arise and decline, geology, weather patterns and climates change; the time scale is enormous, spanning many thousands to many millions of years. The metaphysical world evolves quickly, also through success and failure. Technologies and ideas are supplanted by newer ones, which are then replaced even faster. The time scale is short; in the world of semiconductors, for example, it spans a mere 18 months to introduce a new generation of twice-as-fast computer chips.

We awoke as a species in the prehistoric natural world but now inhabit a modern, unnatural world of dreams made solid, a metaphysical world born in the imagination. We are awakened not by sun and birds, but by “auto-dimmed nature-sounds” digital alarm. We wash by the sink, not by the creek. We hunt for breakfast in the refrigerator not the forest, travel by car instead of by foot. Daytime is spent inside lighted boxes ventilated by mechanical heating and cooling systems instead of out in open air, cooled by the breeze, warmed and illuminated by the sun. Television has replaced the fire pit; instead of song and story alongside others, we often sit alone, as television, radio, DVD player or the iPod provide a seductive and distracting commercial sound-track to our metaphysical, virtual lives. The ultimate irony is “reality TV” where we sit idly by and watch others lead their lives in the metaphysical world.

If the human mind were as perfect and time-tested as the natural world, all would be in order, but this is not the case. Our minds are confused and troubled, thus the metaphysical world we now inhabit is also confused and troubled. If the world seems completely crazy at times, it is because the metaphysical world is as crazy as we have made it. So what’s to do?

Well, nowadays I wake at dawn; I sit and watch the sunrise. I spend time in the garden with my hands in the soil and listen to the birds. I turn off the TV and enjoy the simple quiet. Mercifully, amid the man-made metaphysical madness, the natural world still surrounds us, ever available, all accepting, the mother of us all.