Reality: too obvious to be true

Banksy and Baudrillard

untitled (Banksy and Baudrillard) (detail)

Nothing is wholly obvious without becoming enigmatic. Reality itself is too obvious to be true. (Jean Baudrillard)

In hand, a bunch of diverse quotations, most of them having at least some bearing on the nature of reality. The Baudrillard piece seems to have appointed itself chief amongst them, but Einstein can be heard muttering in the background.

Not unexpectedly – given the two words, ‘obvious’ and ‘enigmatic’ – Google Images quickly finds a picture/text version of the Baudrillard quote. But more interesting by far, I think, is this Banksy art piece with which it is teamed up on the Particulate Matters blog.

Clearly, both Banksy and “cosmicdebris” (proprietor of Particulate Matters) are saying something about the teachings of the Christian Church – particularly, it seems, in relation to the indoctrination of children. Look elsewhere on the Particulate Matters blog and you will find links to other ‘indoctrination’ stories: for example, Monsanto indoctrinating kids at the zoo.

Actually, I’m inclined to suspect that indoctrination is integral to every aspect of living – and that everyone is routinely doing it and/or having it done to them. And it wouldn’t necessarily qualify as either brainwashing or catechism. Let’s put it more simply: we’re all inclined to push our ideas on others – and we call it marketing, persuasion, instruction, education, or teaching.

Be that all as it may, it is not really the main point of my post.

A few months ago, on |cross-ties| – the blog of “The Other” – there was a bit of back-and-forth about the nature of reality. A piece titled Taking a cycle trip led one reader to discuss Derrida’s ideas, noting that in language there is a gap between words and things. I would take this further, asserting that there is a gap between what we perceive and what is actually the case.

A similar gap yawns between the words of every witness and the occurrences they describe – what we thought we saw, the way it seems to us, what we believe to be true, and everything that is ‘obvious’. (And, by the way, since it’s that obvious, why can’t everyone see it our way?)

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus begins with the proposition that “the world is everything that is the case” and ends by reminding us that “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Wittgenstein isn’t saying there’s stuff we can choose not to talk about; he’s actually pointing out that there are some things nobody can put into words.

Albert Einstein asserts that “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Elsewhere, he declares, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking.” He is not saying that nothing is real; what he means is that everything we experience as real is invented. “The human mind has first to construct forms, independently, before we can find them in things.” (Albert Einstein Essays in Science (1934), p27)

The way science talks about reality and truth is sounding more and more like the words of the ancient religions. For example, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche, a notable teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, says: “The ultimate truth of all conventional truths is their being void of inherent existence. Conventional truths, ie empirical phenomena, exist dependently upon causal conditions, parts and imputation; they have absolutely no existence apart from these conditioning factors.”

But “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true,” wrote Francis Bacon (1560-1626). Called the creator of empiricism, “[Bacon] established and popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian method, or simply the scientific method.” (GoodReads)

Ultimately, then, as Baudrillard says, whatever seems obvious is, in reality, the superficial manifestation of a profound mystery: the deeper you go into it, the less you are able to say about it.

In Poetry: This Death Is Incomplete (part one of an essay on poetry and death), Amy King talks about “spinning yarns to name things and claim power over them” – which, she reminds us, is not a new concept. In explication, King points us to Alice Notley’s The Book of Lies. The opening lines are especially apt: “Do you believe this stuff or is it a story? I believe every fucking word, but it is a story.”


An ever-changing draft of this piece has been in my editor for months. There’s so much more I want to say, but it is long past time I got something posted. 


In celebration of Schubert’s trout, Schrödinger’s cat, and Einstein on the Beach

Franz Schubert (31 Jan 1797 – 19 Nov 1828)

Franz Schubert (31 Jan 1797 – 19 Nov 1828)








Schubert’s life is the quintessential example of the Romantic notion of the neglected genius who dies in obscurity. Even Mozart, who probably had a harsher life and greater obstacles to overcome, was at least accorded a modicum of recognition in his own lifetime. For Schubert, an entire generation had to pass before his most substantial achievements saw the light of day.


Philip Glass (and cat)

Philip Glass (and cat)





[The music of Philip Glass] is frequently described as minimalist, though he prefers to describe himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures”. Although his early, mature music is minimalist, he has evolved stylistically. Currently, he describes himself as a “Classicist”, pointing out that he is trained in harmony and counterpoint and studied Franz Schubert, Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with Nadia Boulanger.



Oh! by the way, Schrödinger’s cat was a bit of a red herring.

Laughing at the sky

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky. ([fake] Buddha)

Sky over Washington Monument

Sky over Washington Monument

Bodhipaksa, a Buddhist teacher and author living in New Hampshire, considers that this now widely-known and popular saying “bears no resemblance to anything the Buddha’s recorded as having said.”

Bodhipaksa subsequently remarks that “Gautama doesn’t seem to have been big on laughter!”

To me, this fake Buddha quote certainly sounds like authentic Zen!

Commenting on the quote, Choying Lhundrap writes about the Tibetan teacher Minling Khandro Rinpoche, who, in her 2012 New Year address, combined it with words from Jean Houston:

“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back
and laugh at the sky. At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of possibilities.”

Which, for me, gets right to the heart of the matter.

But let’s give the last word to Albert Einstein: “Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one.”


George Draffan, responding to Bodhipaksa’s remarks, says it sounds like a stanza from a Tibetan Dzoghcen text that translates as:

Since everything is but an illusion,
Perfect in being what it is,
Having nothing to do with good or bad,
Acceptance or rejection,
One might as well burst out laughing!

(from chapter 1 of The Great Perfection’s Self-Liberation in the Nature of Mind, by Longchenpa, 1308-1364)


Epiphany (Greek: επιφάνεια, “the appearance, miraculous phenomenon”) is a Christian feast intended to celebrate the ‘shining forth’ or revelation of God to humankind in human form, in the person of Jesus. The observance had its origins in the eastern Christian churches, and included the birth of Jesus; the visit of the three Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) who arrived in Bethlehem; and all of Jesus’ childhood events, up to his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. The feast was initially based on, and viewed as a fulfillment of, the Jewish Feast of Lights. This was fixed on January 6. (WordIQ)

Owing no doubt to the vagueness of the name Epiphany, very different manifestations of Christ’s glory and Divinity were celebrated in this feast quite early in its history, especially the Baptism, the miracle at Cana, the Nativity, and the visit of the Magi. But we cannot for a moment suppose that in the first instance a festival of manifestations in general was established, into which popular local devotion read specified meaning as circumstances dictated. It seems fairly clear hat the Baptism was the event predominantly commemorated. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Epiphanies of sudden comprehension have also made possible leaps in technology and the sciences. Famous epiphanies include Archimedes’ realization of how to estimate the volume of a given mass, which inspired him to shout “Eureka!” (“I have found it!”). The biographies of many mathematicians and scientists include an epiphanic episode early in the career, the ramifications of which were worked out in detail over the following years. For example, Albert Einstein was struck as a young child by being given a compass, and realizing that some unseen force in space was making it move. An example of a flash of holistic understanding in a prepared mind was Charles Darwin’s “hunch” (about natural selection) during The Voyage of the Beagle. (Wikipedia)


The man next to Emily had been talking to people across the table. Now he leaned close and spoke to her: ‘Guess what? The universe we live in is not the only one.’

Emily turned. He said, ‘The universe is a membrane. The Big Bang was caused by the collision of the membrane of our universe and a parallel one.’ (Charlotte Grimshaw, in ‘Singularity’, in her set of stories of the same name)

Attracted, a few weeks ago, by the title of Charlotte Grimshaw‘s story series, I have just finished reading the book. And I found myself, at the end, disappointed that they weren’t more closely tied to the title – but that’s because I’m fascinated by the whole notion of parallel universes and their respective membranes.

If you’re scientifically inclined, there is, I’d say, a fair bit to explore on the subject. So here are a few links to start with.

Grimshaw, Charlotte. 2009. Singularity [stories]. Auckland: Random House (Vintage Books) [p185]

Pictures in the brain

All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other. (HP Lovecraft)

Reality is merely an illusion. Albeit a very persistent one. (Albert Einstein)

Life is the movie you see through your own, unique eyes. It makes little difference what’s happening out there. It’s how you take it that counts. (Denis Waitley, in The Winner’s Edge)

Nothing in the world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. (William Shakespeare) 

Nobody can hurt me without my permission. (Mahatma Gandhi) 

No one can drive us crazy unless we give them the keys. (Doug Horton)

We are disturbed not by things that happen, but by our opinion of the things that happen. (Epictetus)

You should always be aware that your head creates your world. … To see your drama clearly is to be liberated from it. (Ken Keyes, Jr, in Handbook to Higher Consciousness)