Added On: Sunday, November 04, 2007

Recognize the two universes

One of my favourite works of fiction is His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. It's about parallel universes that exist, similar to our own but all different. The main characters find doors between these universes and go off on great adventures.

Reading them makes me think about the two universes we all live in, and the doors between them. They are the inner-world of our thoughts and emotions and the outer-world of the reality we inhabit. The door between them is, of course, our body.

Inside each of us lies an entire world. You can peer into it whenever you wish and see yourself inside. This world is the basis of our understanding of reality. As Descartes put it "I think, therefore I am". It is a strange world of swirling emotions, dreams and identity. Some of it is given to us - our gender, our first language, the chemistry of our brain. And some we create for ourselves.

It is more pliable than external reality. We can change what we think, what we feel, and who we are to some extent. But there are some aspects of this world that are extremely difficult to change no matter how hard we try.

Somebody who identifies themselves as a man, for example, will find it very hard to shed that aspect of themselves and become a woman emotionally. Of course, we all know there are people who try that journey, but I'm pretty sure none of them are entirely successful in it.

The external world we have to deal with is that of cold, hard reality. It involves the laws of physics, relationships with others, and bodily needs. No matter how hard we try, we cannot change the way gravity makes us stick to the surface of the planet. We can also influence the external universe we live in, but our scope for doing it is much more limited. Even the most powerful people in history had no more than a minuscule impact on external reality.

Each of these two worlds, the inner and the outer, do affect each other as they are joined together.

If I am physically attacked by a person, that will change the state of my inner universe. I will become upset, angry and afraid.

Likewise, if I decide inside me that I want to build a house in the external world, I can have an effect on that reality. I can make changes in the state of the universe outside me based on decisions I make internally.

The doorway between these two worlds is our body. Our senses let us know what's happening outside us. The information they give us will have an effect on our internal state, whether we like it or not.

And our body is the vehicle we use to interact with and change the outside world. If my internal thoughts want to light a fire, it's my hands and eyes that help me transfer that desire into reality. This article started off existence inside me, but I've transferred it into the external universe via my hands and the keyboard on my computer.

It's useful for everybody to spend some time contemplating the two universes they have to live in and the connection between them. Recognise where one begins and the other ends, and how you use your body to join them together.

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