The External World behind Quantum Physics
Light: A Form of Energy
Max Planck’s discovery shows that light exhibits the properties of both a wave and a particle. Since Planck’s day, countless experiments and observations have revealed this as an incontrovertible fact. That being so, in order to better comprehend this definition we can refer to another kind of waves, those that occur in water. Those waves are not made up of water, but are made up of the energy transmitted through the water. If a wave moves from one end of a swimming pool to another, this does not mean that the water in one side of the pool passes to the other. The water remains where it was. Only the wave itself moves, transmitting energy. When you move your hand in a bathtub filled with water you produce a small wave in the form of ripples, because you are imparting energy to the water. That energy manifests in the water in the form of a wave.
This is the true account: there is no other god besides Allah. Allah—He is the Almighty, the All-Wise. (Surah Al ‘Imran, 62)
Radio frequency and measurement device.
Light is an energy that behaves in the form of a wave. Light waves resemble waves in water. But unlike the energy in water, this energy here has no need of a medium to travel through. It can move within a total vacuum. Thus light energy can be found where there is no matter.
All waves are energy travelling and generally are trasmitted by the use of a medium—water, in this example.
Light waves, understandably, are rather more complicated than waves in water and do not require a medium in order to travel. They can travel through an empty vacuum.31Light is dependent on matter only at the initial stage. Once light has been emitted, it can move independently with no material element. Light energy can be found even where there is no matter at all.
Light and heat are different forms of the energy known as electromagnetic radiation. All the various forms of electromagnetic radiation act in the form of energy waves in space. Again, this can be compared—albeit simplistically—to ripples created when a stone is thrown into a lake. In the same way that those ripples may be of different width and amplitude, so electromagnetic radiation can have different wavelengths.
There are very great differences between the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. While some may be kilometers long, other wavelengths are smaller than a trillionth of a centimeter.
A six-mirror, giant gamma-ray telescope on Mount Hopkins.
Scientists divide these different wavelengths into named categories, which seem to imply that they are different forms of energy entirely. For example, rays with a wavelength as short as a trillionth of a centimeter are known as “gamma rays.” These transmit very high energy. Rays with wavelengths kilometers long are known as “radio waves” and transmit very weak energy. For that reason, while gamma rays are lethal to us, radio ways have no effect at all as they pass through your body.
The spectrum of wavelengths is extraordinary wide. The shortest length is 1025 times smaller than the longest. Numerically, this is expressed by the figure 1 followed by 25 zeroes. In order to better comprehend this number—which may be written as 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000—let’s provide some comparisons. For example, the number of seconds that have passed during the 4 billion years of the Earth’s existence is only 1017. If we wanted to count to 1025, day and night and non-stop, it would take us 100 million times longer than the age of the Earth! If we tried to place 1025 playing cards on top of one another, we would find ourselves far beyond the Milky Way and we would need to travel half the length of the observable universe.
The visible light, the near infrared and ultraviolet rays that reach us from the Sun occupy the space of a single unit on the electromagnetic spectrum. In other words, the light reaching us from the Sun is the equivalent of just one out of 1025 playing cards laid one atop the other. It is only these rays that support life on Earth.
Though the different wavelengths in the universe have been distributed in such a broad spectrum, it is interesting that our Sun’s light should have been confined to a very narrow range within that spectrum. Seventy percent of the different wavelengths emitted by the Sun fall within a very narrow range between 0.3 and 1.5 microns (1 micron is one thousandth of a millimeter.)
In that range, there are three kinds of light: visible light, near infrared rays and ultraviolet rays.
But these three types of light represent just one unit in the electromagnetic spectrum! In other terms, all the Sun’s light, when put together, represents just one out of the 1025 playing cards. That the Sun’s rays are restricted to such a narrow range is important, since only these rays can support life on Earth.
The light stimulating the human eye in order to form an image represents a narrow band of this broad range of frequencies—an area less than an octave in width. The wavelengths that stimulate the retina vary between 39 and 75 millionths of a centimeter. According to professor of neuropsychology Richard L. Gregory, “Looked at in this way we are almost blind!”32
Bearing this in mind, you can realize how the light you see represents only a very small fraction of the light that you perceive to be out there. Your retina perceives images formed by light consisting of a rather small band. The realm of other frequency bands apart from this one is unknown to us.
* Like sounds, light is made up of octaves. The light octave is determined by the frequency of the light waves. For example, 48th octave represents infrared light, 49th octave visible light, and 50th octave ultraviolet light. Every light wave, from infrasound and ultrasound vibrations to radio waves and microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet light, gamma rays and solar rays, is a different octave in the electromagnetic spectrum.
The light in the narrow range of frequencies we can see conveys all that we can experience in the outside world.
The chief property of light is the effect it has on matter. In general, matter possesses inertia, resisting all the pressures placed on it by pushing or pulling. And whenever we push or pull an object, we feel pushing or pulling forces on ourselves. Newton called this action and reaction. Light also acts on matter, but light particles have no inertial property. We can see light reacting with objects, as when a laser beam cuts through metal or repairs a damaged retina. But we can never perceive the actions and reactions that matter has on light. Physicists refer to light’s inability to be pushed or pulled as “its absence of any rest mass.” .33Rest mass is the mass of a body when at rest, in other words, it is a fixed entity. Yet when it comes to light, it is never at rest: It is in a state of constant movement. Therefore, light is a form of energy that lacks mass and for that reason does not exhibit a basic characteristic of “matter.”
Fred Alan Wolf describes this state of affairs:
Where Is Light, Actually?
Is it light that makes the outside world visible to us, and is the means whereby our brains form images of the outside world? Does light cause all corporeal entities to come into being when we step outside and cause them to disappear for us in a completely darkened room? Were it not for light, would the whole world around us cease to exist?
The idea that the external world we perceive exists only through the help of visible light is actually our own impression. There is actually no light in the outside world, in which a pitch darkness rules. Neither lamps, nor car headlights, nor the Sun emit any light in the sense we know it. Light occurs and illuminates the world we live in solely as a perception in our brains.
X-ray machines take photographs by converting the effect of radio waves into visible light on photographic film.
The Sun and other sources of light emit electromagnetic particles (photons) at varying wavelengths. These particles spread outward through the universe as dictated by their structures. For example, many radioactive particles pass right through your body. Only a lead shield can halt them. Some of these particles are so heavy and so charged with energy that they generally destroy any molecules they meet and continue on their way without changing course. This is the underlying reason why radiation causes cancer. X-ray machines make use of a weaker form of radiation. Via photosensitive film, these machines convert the effect set up by radio waves into visible light, converting them into a form that our retinas can detect. In other words, light exists as long as it is percieved by the eye and interpreted by the brain. But light and illumination do not exist outside in the terms with which we are familiar.
Under normal circumstances, radio waves cannot be detected by any of our senses. Radios convert these into sound waves that can be detected by our ears.
Radio waves do not damage human tissue as they pass through it. These waves cannot be detected by our senses, but the radios in your home or auto convert them into sound waves that your ears can perceive. The crackling noise you hear between channels or when no radio program is being broadcast is actually the “sound” of the cosmic background radiation that has been emitted by all the stars, including our Sun, since the beginning of the universe. What we refer to as “sound” here is actually our perception of our radios processing these waves and making them audible to our ears—followed by the signals our auditory nerves transmit to our brains.
In other words, the waves themselves do not really exist, since they have no material existence in the physical sense. They must be converted into a form that the ears can hear and the brain can interpret. The same applies to a television set. Various light waves that are invisible to us are converted by the set’s screen into a form we can perceive.
The photons that are the source of the perception we call “light” are light particles and generally bounce off the atom they first collide with. In doing so, they cause little harm to their point of impact. Because of the higher frequencies at which they vibrate, ultraviolet rays carry a greater energy charge that can effect our skin and may sometimes damage our cell’s genetic codes. That is why excessive exposure to sunlight can lead to cancer.
Ultraviolet rays, which carry higher energy due to their frequencies, can sometimes cause defects in the genetic code of living cells.
Due to their frequencies, the photons known as infrared leave some of their energy on the molecules with which they collide and increase the rate at which they vibrate—thus raising their temperature. That is why infrared rays are also known as “heat rays.” A hot stove or electric heater gives off large quantities of infrared rays that are perceived as heat on your skin. Yet in fact, nothing “hot” exists outside. What we call “heat” consists of energy generated by the light waves striking matter. It is impossible to claim that anything known as “heat” exists in the absence of a conscious entity that perceives it.
Some photons have frequencies that fall between the ultraviolet and the infrared. When these rays strike the retinal layer at the back of your eyes, they are converted into an electrical signal by the cells there. Thus we perceive photons, which are all in fact physical particles, as “light.” If the cells in our eyes perceived photons as “heat” particles, then we would have no such concepts as light, color, or darkness; and when we looked at physical objects, we would merely feel whether they were “hot” or “cold.” The way the outside world appears to us depends on the way our senses perceive it. There is actually no light or heat there, in objective terms.
In essence, there are no heat and light outside. The perception center in the brain converts particles traveling at different frequencies into a visible and perceptible form.
We are surrounded by particles of different frequencies and wavelengths. Only the perception centers in our brains make these “visible” and “detectable” for us.
The photons that fall onto the retinal layer are converted into electrical currents by the perception cells there. These currents are then transmitted by the nerves to the visual center in the brain. The visual center then forms an image by interpreting these electrical currents. This property of light is expressed thus in physics textbooks:
The living, vivid world that we imagine exists outside our eyes is actually an illusion arising in the form of perceptions. The seascape we watch on a sunny day is merely an image formed by electrical signals transmitted to the brain. We can never have direct experience of the external original of the images we perceive.
The bright and vibrant world that we imagine exists outside us does actually have a material existence—but its perception is in fact a kind of phantom produced within us, the original of which we can never see. The seascape you see on a sunny day actually consists entirely of darkness. There is no reflection on the water, sea-blue color, clarity of air or eye-catching white clouds at all. What enables us to perceive this image, so bright and vivid for us, is merely the electrical signals transmitted to our brain. Apart from effecting a perception in our brains, light exists on the outside solely as a form of energy. For that reason, light—which we may think of as the reason for our perception of matter, is actually nothing but an illusion.
Considering this fact, we arrive at a very striking conclusion: Your eyes actually have no property such as “sight” at all. The eye is merely a subordinate unit that converts photons into electrical signals. It has no ability to perceive. It is not the eye that watches the bright world that we imagine surrounds us. The sensation of light or color does not form in the eye itself—as we’ll explain in detail in the sections regarding vision.
It is He Who appointed the Sun to give radiance, and the Moon to give light, assigning it phases so you would know the number of years and the reckoning of time. Allah did not create these things except with truth. We make the signs clear for people who know. (Surah Yunus, 5)
Are Colors Only in Our Brains?
What we perceive as light consists solely of signals interpreted in our visual cortex. Therefore, colors, which stem from light and pervade our entire lives, are nothing more than interpretations by the brain.
The names of different colors are assigned to photons of various frequencies. We are able to distinguish colors such as red and yellow according to the degree of photon vibration: Thus different colors have different scales of vibration. Paper and snow appear white because they reflect all frequencies, and the combination of these gives rise to white. Leaves are green, because they reflect only photons at a frequency that gives rise to the appearance of green, while they absorb all the others. Glass is transparent, because photons can pass through it and reach our eyes without encountering any obstruction. A black fabric reflects very little light back because it absorbs almost all the photons that strike it. As a result, few photons reach our eyes, and we perceive the fabric as dark or black.
A mirror copies an image because it has a smooth reflective surface, and the moment that light rays strike it, almost all bounce off and their parallel nature is not distorted.
Color perception begins in the cone cells in the eye’s retinal layer. In the retina, there are three main groups of cone cells, each of which react to particular light wavelengths. The first of these three groups is sensitive to red, the second to blue, and the third to green. As a result of these three different groups being stimulated in different proportions, millions of different color shades are perceived. However, it is not enough for light to reach the cone cells in order for us to see colors.
Jeremy Nathans, a researcher from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, states how the cone cells in the retina do not actually give rise to color:
These color data perceived by the cone cells are converted into electrical signals, thanks to the varying pigments they possess. The nerve cells connected to these cells then transmit these signals to a special region in the brain, in which forms the vivid world we see throughout our lives.
Color is perceived first in the retinal layer in the eye. The three main types of cone cells in the retina react to different wavelengths. Millions of different shades of color emerge as the result of the cone cells being stimulated in different proportions. These colors, converted into electrical signals in the cone cells, are transmitted to the optic nerve. As a result, the brightly colored world we see is formed. In fact, however, there is no color in any part of the brain. The colored world is merely what we perceive.
Are there any colors in this region?
This special visual center of the brain is completely dark, like all the other parts of the brain. There is no light there, and no colors. There is no red, green or yellow in this part of the brain. There is no white. There is no reflection of bright flower gardens or dazzling sunlight, no blue sky or verdant trees. The inside of the skull is pitch black. We imagine that light enters it directly through our eyes. But in fact, there is not the slightest trace of light anywhere behind the eyes.
The formation of colors stems from objects’ light-reflective properties. Since there is no light in the outside world, there can be no question of the existence of any color. Therefore, where is the colorful world we regard as “outside” our eyes? This world cannot reach us directly from the outside, nor does it form inside our brains. The colorful world is something we perceive. It assumes this form because we interpret it as such.
Peter Russell from the Cambridge University Department of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics describes this state of affairs:
Like light, colors are an interpretation by the brain. The brightness in the image and the world of color are formed solely by types of radiation we perceive in this manner.* The interpretation is entirely subjective.
Richard L. Gregory, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, sums up the position in his book, Eye and Brain:
Any damage or structural alteration that occurs in the eye may cause the same object to be perceived in very different ways, even though the signals generated by the arriving photons and the visual center in the brain still have exactly the same properties. That is why color-blind people and those with normal vision perceive and interpret specific colors so very differently.
There is actually no color in the space we perceive as “the outside.” The movements of photons we perceive as light and color are nothing more than perceptual phenomena created in a pitch-black environment.
The conlusion emerging from this whole account is that what we perceive as “the outside world” is dark. In fact, even the concept of darkness may be misleading. There is no color at all there. The three-dimensional, bright world we see portrayed in vivid colors is entirely deceptive. The reflected photons we interpret as light or color are nothing more than physical events taking place in complete darkness. Our entire bodies, including our eyes, and the whole material world we see as a three-dimensional, brightly colored sphere, are actually contained within the brain, which alone interprets what we see in this way. However, the interesting thing is that the eye that perceives all this and the brain that interprets it are also in complete darkness. Light and color do not exist in the brain that interprets them.
Daniel C. Dennett, a professor of philosophy from Tufts University, has conducted countless experiments into consciousness and the brain. He summarizes the position:
In the same book, Dennett quotes from an introductory book on the brain by Ornstein and Thompson:
Since color is related to the individual’s mode of perception, it is impossible for us to know whether or not the world we perceive looks the same to other people. An object we perceive as red may be a completely different shade for someone else. There is no way of comparing their perceptions of “red” with our own.
Since color is concerned with the way in which a person perceives external light, there is no way in which we can know whether the world we perceive is the same for any other person or not. You can never know whether the color that someone else sees as “red” is the same red that you see. For us, the concept of “colorful” may actually express millions of different hues altogether. Yet someone else may see a far more limited variety of colors and yet still interpret this as a full spectrum. We have no way of comparing our perception with that of anyone else looking at the same object.
We imagine that we are looking at the same thing. But perhaps the things that we perceive and what another person sees are actually completely different to one another. Since our perception of the external world is limited to our five senses, we cannot know whether “blue” means the same thing for any other person, or whether coffee tastes the same. Neither can we describe these perceptions.
Color-blindness is one of the significant pieces of evidence that colors are formed solely in the brain. A minor inherited genetic variation arising in the retina is known to cause color-blindness. Many people in this situation are unable to tell the difference between red and green. The only reason for this is our different ways of perceiving the concept of color. Something we are certain is “green” being perceived as “grey” by another party does not show that either one is mistaken. We can never know who is right and who is wrong, because both individuals have individual perceptions, and we have no means of conducting comparisons and testing the true reality. Green perception and grey perception are both individuals’ personal experiences, the validity of which is again based on those individuals’ interpretation.
We need to realize that all the properties we ascribe to objects and other people actually belong to images in our brains, not to the “originals” in the outside world. Since we can never step outside of our own perceptions and reach the outside reality, we can never perceive the true existence of matter, of colors, much less of the universe as a whole.
The famous 18th-century philosopher Bishop George Berkeley drew attention to this fact:
Oxford University’s Gerard O’Brien, working at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said this in a radio talk:
An image of flowers seen through the human eye, Bees see the same flowers like this
O’Brien’s analysis on this subject is highly important in terms of questioning what “external reality” is like. There is no evidence that other living things see light or perceive color in the same way as we do. It is impossible for us to obtain any scientific evidence to show the truth. That being the case, all we can state regarding the external world is conjecture and guesswork, because our perception of the outside world—in the way we are familiar with it—depends on our five senses.
The Five Senses That Present the Outside World
If all that we ever know are the sensory images that appear in our minds, how can we be sure there is a physical reality behind our perceptions? Is it not just an assumption? My answer is: Yes, it is an assumption, nevertheless, it seems a most plausible one.43
We learn everything about the outside world by means of our sense organs. When the electrical signals reaching us by way of our sense organs are interrupted, the world that exists on the outside will disappear for us alone.
What we call “the external world” actually consists of the electron exchanges between minute atoms, the movement of radio waves in the air and the imperceptible oscillations of molecules. But do the sources of energy that transform the atoms and molecules and generate radio waves actually exist? What proves their existence? The material objects that they effect? The bodies we see, smell or feel? Or the radio waves we hear or see? Or is it simply the electrical signals reaching our brains through our five senses?
What would happen if these electrical signals vanished? Would the world outside promptly disappear?
The outside world exists in a concentrated wave form. However, the world we perceive is not the actual world outside. Therefore, if the electrical signals reaching the brain are eliminated, the world outside will effectively cease to exist for us. That is because we learn everything about the world outside by way of our senses. The information we learn about the outside world only comes in the form that our sensory organs transmit. This information reaching us is converted into electrical signals that are interpreted in the relevant sites in the brain. For that reason, the water we drink, any film we watch or any flower we smell are all the results of interpretations by the brain.
Recall, however, that actually there are neither colors, nor sounds nor images in our brains. All that occurs in our brains is electrical signals. The boundless landscape you imagine you see in front of you, a brightly colored flower in which you take such delight, loud music or a meal that tastes so delicious—all consist solely of electrical signals reaching the brain. This, however, does not mean that the outside world does not exist. It will not come to an end if the electrical signals reaching you from your sense organs are cut off. The outside world will come to an end “for you only,” because for you, the outside world consists only of the interpretation of electrical signals by your brain.
In her book Mapping the Mind, the science writer Rita Carter describes how we perceive the world:
This is truly astonishing and significant. All the sensations, images, tastes and sounds we receive about the world actually consist of the same material: electrical signals. The regions in the brain affected by these signals turn them into delicious food, a beautiful landscape, or lively music. But the conscious entity that feels or perceives them is something else. The brain and electrical signals themselves cannot enjoy the taste of food or the color and smell of a flower. Materialist scientists fail to realize that it is the soul—as distinct from the brain—that perceives and evaluates.
Jeffrey M. Schwartz describes how perceptions arise independently of the brain:
Peter Russell has described the problem in these terms:
Every time we try to pin down the physical aspect we come away empty-handed. Every idea we have had of the physical has proven to be wrong, and the notion of materiality seems to be evaporating before our eyes. But our belief in the material world is so deeply engrained—and so powerfully reinforced by our experience—that we cling to our assumption that there must be some physical essence. Like the medieval astronomers who never questioned their assumption that the Earth was the center of the universe, we never question our assumption that the external world is physical in nature. Indeed it was quite startling to me when I realized that the answer might be staring us straight in the face. Maybe there really is nothing there. No “thing,” that is. No physical aspect. Maybe there is only a mental aspect to everything.46
Research into the brain can never answer questions regarding who or what does the perceiving, because what scientists are seeking in the brain is actually something very different from human beings’ physical bodies—something that exists in their own identity.
American author Marilyn Ferguson notes this important search in the world of science and philosophy for who or what it is that performs such perceiving:
There is no little man sitting in the brain observing what is going on. Research into the brain can never answer the question of who really does the perceiving. Because it is the “soul” that perceives, independently of any person’s physical identity.
Consciousness is a property belonging solely to the soul bestowed on human beings by Allah. It is through the soul that man becomes an entity able to think, perceive and decide. The mind and consciousness possessed by human beings are properties bestowed on them by the soul. In one verse Allah tells us that:
Accordingly, We have revealed to you a Spirit by Our command. You had no idea of what the Book was, nor faith. Nonetheless We have made it a Light by which We guide those of Our servants We will. Truly you are guiding to a Straight Path. (Surat ash-Shura, 52)
This subject will be clarified in detail later.
Who Observes the Visual Images in the Brain?
Light passing through the lens produces a reversed and upside-down image on retina at the back of the eye. The rod and cone cells there convert that image into electric currents, which are forwarded to the visual center at the rear of the brain. The brain then converts the signal into meaningful, three-dimensional images.
After the light from an outside object falls onto the retina, signals are transmitted to up to 30 different visual centers in the brain for processing. The light passing through the lens at the front of the eye leaves an upside-down and two-dimentional image on the layer of retinal cells at the back of the eye. Following various chemical processes, the rod and cone cells there convert that image into electrical impulses, which signals are transmitted by the optic nerve to the vision center at the rear of the brain. The brain then assembles these into meaningful three-dimensional images.
In the words of Craig Hamilton:
How that happens is an example of what is known as “the binding problem” and is itself a mystery that no one has yet solved convincingly. For the moment, though, what is important to understand is that each of your eyes is seeing a different part of the picture, and your brain is piercing it together into a unified whole.48
These accounts provide a general description of how the eye sees. The eyes represent the first stage in the formation of an image, the original of which, in the world outside, we can never know. The world existing outside us is replicated inside us in a very small area in the brain, thanks to the light passing through our eyes and by way of electrical signals. When we look around us, any images we see, even if it is one of the boundless heavens, actually forms in this tiny area of the brain. We can never know whether or not the original of this boundless image actually corresponds to what we see.
Peter Russell sums up the position:
When I see a tree, it seems as if I am seeing the tree directly. But science tells us something completely different is happening. Light entering the eye triggers chemical reactions in the retina, [and] these produce electro-chemical impulses which travel along nerve fibers to the brain. The brain analyses the data it receives, and then creates its own picture of what is out there. I then have the experience of seeing a tree. But what I am actually experiencing is not the tree itself, only the image that appears in the mind. This is true of everything I experience. Everything we know, perceive, and imagine, every color, sound, sensation, every thought and every feeling, is a form appearing in the mind. It is all an in-forming of consciousness.49
Inside the brain, there are no scampering children, blue cloudless sky or ships floating on the sea. All there is in the brain is electrical signals.
All this leads to an important realization, that throughout our lives we imagine that the world lies outside us. The fact is, however, that we actually perceive the world that we imagine to be external to us in a small region inside the brain.
Since we cannot directly see the original of the world outside us, and since everything is a perception arising in the brain, then is it actually the eye that sees?
Throughout our lives, we imagine that we see the world that lies outside us with our eyes. But the scientific description of the visual functions performed by the brain shows that it is not the eye that sees. The eye and its millions of retinal nerve cells serve to transmit the message to the brain in order for vision to take place. The retina perceives the photons falling onto it and forwards them to the brain by converting them into electrical signals. In other words, what we are seeing is light waves from the outside falling onto retinal cells consisting of fat, protein and water and the electrical signals they transmit. In the brain, there are no children running in the garden, no sunny sky, no ships cleaving through the waves. The only thing that exists is electrical signals.
Is there some site inside the brain where all these perceptions arise, where images take life, where sounds are heard and where smells form? If we examine the brain very closely, we find neurons interacting with one another and the various chemical and electrical transfers among them. Yet inside the brain, we cannot find colors, shapes, texts or anything belonging to the world outside. There are no waving green leaves, crowds shopping, houses, cars or furniture inside the brain.
Nowhere in the brain is there a friend, our mother or father smiling at us. The image of this book you are reading exists nowhere in the brain. In short, the world we imagine we see around us is neither outside us nor inside the brain. Scientists who claim that the image does exist in the brain have this question to answer: If an image does form in the brain, then who is it who perceives that image?
Vilayanur S. Ramachandran is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and professor with the Psychology Department and the Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego. He dramatizes this question in his book Phantoms in the Brain:
Here, Ramachandran is touching on an exceedingly important point. If we assume that there is an image inside the brain, then the existence of a person watching that image is essential. The progression of little people inside the brain regarding these images, and the even smaller people inside their brains looking at those images will carry on forever. (For details, see The Little Man in the Tower by Harun Yahya.)
Since no entity is watching the images inside the brain, then to claim that there is an image in the brain is unrealistic and illogical. The inside of the brain is completely dark, without light or sound. In the brain, there are no bright colors, lovely flowers, stoves that give a feeling of warmth or chirping birds.
So what is it that does form inside the brain? Ramachandran’s technical explanation runs as follows:
When we look at a book, a pencil or a human being, a different nervous activity goes into operation for each object perceived. The higher brain centers are informed about what we are looking at.However, the countless chemical processes involved here are not by themselves sufficient to account for sight, because there is no little person observing the images in the brain. It is the human soul that observes the external world and draws significance from it.
Richard L. Gregory offers this description:
It is important to avoid the temptation of thinking that eyes produce pictures in the brain which are perceptions of objects. The pictures-in-the-brain notion suggests an internal eye to see them. But this would need a further eye to see its picture—another picture, another eye—and so on forever, without getting anywhere.53
* The British biophysicist who won the Nobel Prize for his co-discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule.
Professor Antonio Damasio, head of the Iowa University Neurology Department, says, “Quite candidly, this first problem of consciousness is the problem of how we get a ‘movie-in-the-brain,’” 54 thus openly admitting the predicament in which scientists find themselves on this subject. It is clear that 21st-century science leaves unanswered the question “Who is it who is seeing?” Scientists have abandoned the hypothesis that there is an observer in the brain. But for scientists, this has made the concept of the image forming in the brain even worse. A single location in the brain presents us a world with countless distinct and flawless details, and non-stop. This is the technical and scientific explanation. Then, where is the “image”?
The Oxford University psychology writer Susan Blackmore comments:
Crick* says that he wants to find the correlates of ‘the vivid picture of the world we see in front of our eyes’ or what Damasio calls the ‘movie-in-the-brain.’ But if the visual world is a grand illusion, then they will never be able to find what they are looking for because neither the movie-in-the-brain nor the vivid picture exist in the brain. They are both part of the illusion.55
We are sure that we see the true state of the object we look at in the external world. In fact, however, we can never have direct experience of the original of that object. What we see is simply an illusion, as in the three-dimensional illustration made on the ground in the illustration. It is something produced by the mind. However, we never feel the slightest doubt that we are experiencing the original outside images.
According to Blackmore, our feeling of direct experience is simply an illusion. In fact, even the concept of illusion fails to fully clarify the position. An illusion is something that is detected when we compare events occurring in our minds with the physical reality. However, here human beings do not have direct experience of the world outside—in other words, of any physical realities. These are all things produced by the mind; and the mind can never perceive external reality. These are realities belonging to us alone.
As Erwin Schrödinger, one of the discoverers of quantum physics, stated, “Every man’s world picture is and always remains a construct of his mind, and cannot be proved to have any other existence.” 56
When we imagine the book in our mind’s eye, we have an experience very similar to when we actually see the book with our physical eyes. This is an important proof that we can obtain an image of an object in the brain only by thinking about it—an object that does not really exist. The Washington University psychologist Michael Posner and neurologist Marcus Raichle say this about the brain’s extraordinary mechanism:
Open your eyes, and a scene fills your view effortlessly, close your eyes and think of that scene, and you can summon an image of it, certainly not as vivid, solid, or complete as the scene you see with your eyes, but still one that captures the scene’s essential characteristics. In both cases, an image of the scene is formed in the mind. The image formed from actual visual experiences is called a “percept” to distinguish it from an imagined image. The percept is formed as the result of light hitting the retina and sending signals that are further processed in the brain. But how are we able to create an image when no light is hitting the retina to send such signals? 57
What creates an object in our minds, in the absence of the original of that object, is the same mechanism that creates it in our minds when we imagine the original does exist. Therefore, the existence of the images we see as the external world is merely an illusion, a phantom. Everything we see—the bright world in front of us, our friends, the people around us and even our own bodies—are part of this dream. What we imagine to be the source of all these, their originals in the external world, must always remain unknown to us.
This “shadow world” includes our workplaces, homes, the people around us, our cars, the food we eat, the films we watch; in short, everything in our lives. When we return home, we feel that we are entering our real abode. The fact is, however, that we are observing an identical copy of our real home, one that we do not even consider could possibly be an image. Again, everything we encounter in our homes, we observe in our minds. All our lives take place inside a tiny area in the brain.
So far, most neurologists and psychologists who have investigated this subject have easily come to this conclusion. Yet they generally avoid answering the question of “Who does the perceiving?” They look for tiny imaginary figures inside the brain and seek a material entity that perceives all these things. They debate these questions in books, articles and conferences, cite other scientists who have also been unable to resolve the issue and claim that they too have been unable to find a solution. The fact is, however, that all the technical and scientific facts indicate that human beings possess a soul that perceives, sees and feels. What scientists look for in the brain—the “seeing entity” in other words—is the soul. Everything belonging to what we consider to be the “outside world” consists of images displayed to the soul.
This insight totally does away with materialism, in which some scientists have such a strong belief. For materialists, who claim that everything consists of material entities, the existence of the soul is totally unacceptable. For that reason, the question of “Who does the perceiving?” will always remain unanswerable for materialists.
It is Allah Who gives human beings their souls. It is Allah Who causes that soul to hear, see and feel. It is Almighty Allah Who creates a perfectly clear, flawlessly detailed and extraordinarily vivid world for us solely as an illusion, Who gives the soul the impression that it is really experiencing all these things, and Who creates all things out of nothing.
Allah has told man of the truth of this in verses:
That is the Knower of the Unseen and the Visible, the Almighty, the Most Merciful. He Who has created all things in the best possible way. He commenced the creation of man from clay; then produced his seed from an extract of base fluid. Then [He] formed him and breathed His Spirit into him and gave you hearing, sight and hearts. What little thanks you show! (Surat as-Sajda, 6-9)
Sounds Exist Only in Our Brains
The hearing process is similar to seeing. The information reaching us as sound is, just like images, merely electrical signals. The external ear collects the sound waves around us and transmits them to the middle ear. This then reinforces the vibrations and forwards them to the inner ear, which then converts these vibrations into electrical signals, depending on their frequency and concentration, and sends them to the brain.
In the brain, these messages are sent to the hearing center where they are processed and analyzed. And that is how hearing takes place.
However, one very important point here is that just as with images, the sounds we heard are not somewhere outside our brains. Peter Russell, known especially for his work on human consciousness, describes the position:
For us, external sound exists only for so long as we perceive it. However, to repeat a very significant point, sounds, like visual images, are not inside our brains. In our brains, all that exists is electrical signals. All the kinds of sound we regard as “real” are products of these electrical signals in the brain. When we chat with a friend, we perceive their three-dimensional image in a perfect form in our visual cortex; we also hear the sounds they make in such a way as to confirm the impression of distance. If our friend is far away, we are assured that his voice is also coming from a distance. Yet these sounds are neither close to nor far away from us; they exist only in the form of electrical signals. To put it another way, these sounds are not inside our brains either. There is actually a profound silence inside the brain.
No matter how crowded and noisy the place where we happen to be there is still no sound inside the brain. The impulses transmitted by electrical signals inform us of the existence of a crowded and noisy outside world. In truth, however, we can make no direct contact with that noisy, crowded world outside, and neither can we re-create it in our heads. Sound is something we perceive.
Sounds from the outside are converted by the external and middle ear into fluid waves in the inner ear. Following a series of processes, these waves are transmitted in the form of electrical signals to the brain, where they are perceived as sounds. Therefore, external sound for us exists only as long as we perceive it. What we hear is the product of these electrical signals inside our brain.
As Peter Russell explains,
I hear the music of a violin, but the sound I hear is a quality appearing in the mind. There is no sound as such in the external world, just vibrating air molecules59
Therefore, in hearing sounds, we make the same error as we do with regard to seeing images. We imagine that sounds come from the world outside. Yet the sounds we perceive are actually a part of the shadow world brought into being for us. Just like the images, tastes, smells and sensations belonging to that illusory world, sounds also represent part of this world of perception. The noise from the crowded environment we imagine exists in the external world, the voice of a friend calling to us, and the music we listen to belong solely to this perceptual world.
We have no way of knowing whether or not these correspond to the reality outside, because we can never step outside our brains and experience the physical world directly.
We imagine that sounds reach us from the outside world. In fact, though, the sounds we hear are part of our own perceptual world. We have no means of knowing whether these sounds correspond to the external reality.
Smells and Tastes Arise Solely in Our Brains
You can assume that the delicious smell of a meal cooking actually comes from the food itself. We imagine that other people experience exactly the same aromas as we do, and believe that we all share common sensations. But this is merely conjecture. What reaches us is scent molecules, which are converted into electrical signals. Just as with sight and sound, what we refer to as “smell” is a sophisticated mixture of electrical signals. The scent molecules themselves never reach our brains.
The famous George Berkeley, whom we referred to earlier, described this fact:
At the beginning, it was believed that colours, odours, etc., “really exist,” but subsequently such views were renounced, and it was seen that they only exist in dependence on our sensations.60
In dreams, when there are no scent molecules physically present, the perception of scent can be felt just as realistically. In the same way that you can envision exceptionally clear and distinct images and hear the most flawless sounds as you dream, you can also perceive scents in the same manner. Therefore, you can easily see that there is no need for an aroma to have a material existence in order for you to perceive it.
The same applies to the perception of taste. Just as with our other sense organs, the taste receptors on the tongue convert the various arriving stimuli into electrical signals. Therefore, when you eat a delicious piece of cake, you do not experience its actual taste. In the same way that you cannot see its true appearance or smell its true aroma, you also do not enjoy its real flavor. Its perceived “taste” is produced by the electrical signals sent to the brain.
We experience all the chocolate and fruit we enjoy during our lives in our perceptual world. The perceptions formed in our brains by way of our five senses tell us these look lovely, are sweet-smelling and flavorful. But this information belongs exclusively and entirely to ourselves. We are made to perceive these properties in our minds, and have no other experiences of the world outside us.
That is Allah, your Lord, the Creator of everything. There is no god but Him—so how have you been perverted? (Surah Ghafir, 62)
... Allah created both you and what you do. (Surat as-Saffat, 96)
The Sense of Touch is No More Than Electrical Signals Transmitted to the Brain
The sensation that arises when we touch something reaches us only as an electrical signal. Any sensation of matter we perceive comes into being solely by way of electrical signals. Therefore, we can never touch the original of any object that exists outside. It is impossible, based on the perception forming inside us, to know what a physical object is really like or to know the nature of the external world.
The external world we perceive seems totally realistic. Though it is a scientific fact that we inhabit a world made up of our perceptions, most people are deceived by the perfection of these perceptions. One of the most misleading factors is their sense of touch. People may harbor doubts as to the reality of what they see, smell or taste, yet being able to touch objects may mislead them into assuming they have direct contact with the external world. But in fact, information about the object touched is forwarded to the brain as electrical signals, which entirely eliminates all such preconceptions on the subject. As with all our other perceptions, the sense of touch arises in the brain. Your feeling an object depends on the information you receive regarding it in your brain.
Although you are touching an object, you cannot feel it if your brain does not perceive it, as Peter Russell makes clear:
Our notion of matter as a solid substance is, like the color green, a quality appearing in consciousness. It is a model of what is “out there,” but as with almost every other model, quite unlike what is actually out there.61
The concept of reality he emphasizes is exceedingly accurate. When you touch an external surface, your relationship with it consists solely of the electrons in your fingers repelling the electrons in the object. In other words, you are actually unable to even touch it. We have no direct contact with outside objects. Notwithstanding, the sensations that arise give the impression we are perceiving its true nature. We may perceive that a tree trunk is hard, and that cotton is soft. We perceive the different natures of both, but the process taking place at the molecular level consists of electrons repelling one another. The sensation of hardness from the top of a desk, the softness of a cat’s fur or the rough surface of a brick wall reaches us solely as electrical signals. The physical experience taking place is completely different from the sensation arising within us. Therefore, we can never touch the original of any substance that exists externally. What reaches us is only a perception regarding the outside world, and on the basis of these perceptions, we have no means of knowing what the outside world is really like.
The illustration shows the processes taking place from the fingers to the brain after touching a single button.
Andrew B. Newberg, an Associate Professor in the Department of Radiology and Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, states:
There were philosophers in the past that said, “Look, if I kick a rock and I hurt my toe, that’s real. I feel that. It feels real. It’s vivid. And that means it’s reality.” But it’s still an experience and it’s still this person’s perception of it being real.62
For instance, when you touch something hot, if the nerves responsible for transmitting the sensation of pain to your brain are impaired, it is impossible for you to feel that you are being burned. The burning sensation and the consequent feeling of pain are all just interpretations by the brain. Similarly, a feeling of perception may be established by artificial production using electrical signals, even though no outside stimulant is present. So we may feel that our hand is burning, even though there is no fire nearby. This is another proof that the sensations arise solely in our perceptual world. This significant fact was expressed by the famous 20th-century thinker Bertrand Russell:
As to the sense of touch when we press the table with our fingers, that is an electric disturbance on the electrons and protons of our finger-tips, produced, according to modern physics, by the proximity of the electrons and protons in the table. If the same disturbance in our finger-tips arose in any other way, we should have the sensations, in spite of there being no table.63
For our perceptual world, the essential feature of matter, its solidity, disappears in the scientific sense. In the same way that our seeing a thing provides no evidence about its true physical appearance, so our touching an object provides no clues concerning its real solidity. What we touch consists solely of an entity forming in the brain. Its true nature and appearance on the outside is a dream that we can never know, as the science writer J. R. Minkel sets out in an article in New Scientist magazine:
You’re holding a magazine. It feels solid; it seems to have some kind of independent existence in space. Ditto the objects around you—perhaps a cup of coffee, a computer. They all seem real and out there somewhere. But it’s all an illusion.64
When our hand touches something hot, if the nerves responsible for transmitting the sensation of heat to the brain are removed from the equation, it is impossible to feel the sensation of burning, because this feeling arises solely in our perceptual world.
Distance Is Also a Perception Formed Solely in Our Brains
We quickly realize when people approach from a distance. Their appearance, voice and size vary depending on the terrain. On the basis of these factors, we make an analysis and determine the distance between them and us. Yet in fact, there is no distance at all between these others and ourselves. The idea that we are seeing them from some distance is due to a computation we carry out in our brains. Our sensation of distance is just a perception.
The appearance of what we call the external world is so convincing and impressive that one needs to reflect carefully in order to realize that it is all simply perceptions. Such factors as distance, depth, color, shade and light make the images so convincing and credible. These materials have been employed so flawlessly that they assume a three-dimensional, colored and vivid form in the brain. When countless details are added to this image, the result is the world that we inhabit throughout our lives, imagining it to be the original, but which in fact is a mere copy that we really experience only in our minds.
There is in fact no distance between ourselves and someone we imagine to be approaching from far off. The feeling of distance we perceive is merely an interpretation by the brain. We are in fact in the same spot as a tunnel we imagine extends as far as the horizon. Everything is merely shown to us at one point inside the brain.
The perception that we refer to as “distance” is a kind of three-dimensional sensation. The factors we call perspective, shade and movement awaken a sense of depth and distance in images. This depth perception, known as space perception in optical science, is provided through highly complex systems. The simplest way of describing the system is to state that the image reaching any one eye is merely a two-dimensional one, with height and width only. The dimensions of the images reaching the retina, and the fact that both eyes see different images, give rise to the sensation of depth and distance. The images falling onto our two eyes differ slightly in terms of angle and illumination, and the brain then combines these two images together into a single picture that gives a sensation of depth and distance.
We are so convinced that the other person is at a distance from us that we shout in order to make ourselves heard and run to catch up with him. The fact is, however, that the person we are trying to catch up with is in exactly the same place as us. We do not move, and the other person does not approach us. The whole image and all the distance are created as perceptions inside the brain.
“Distance” has been created for us solely as a sensation. As has already pointed out, there is actually no distance between us and someone we think is approaching from further away. The person we behold has been created on a single plane in our brain. Our sensation of distance is merely the brain’s interpretation. So absolute is our belief that this other person is at a distance that we shout in order to make ourselves heard and run to catch up with him. In fact, however, that person is at exactly the same place as ourselves. Every square centimeter we imagine that we run across is actually part of an image existing in our brain. In fact, we do not move; the other person comes no closer to us and draws no further away. Everything is observed solely in a minute point inside the brain.
For example, we imagine a plane flying in the sky to be many kilometers away. But it is actually right alongside us, in our brains.
When we look at a plane we imagine, as a result of the noise it produces and the frequency and wavelengths of the light waves it reflects to reach our eyes, that the plane is many kilometers away. Yet if the brain perceived frequency and dimension as one single unit, the situation would be very different. In that event, we would have no doubt that the plane we imagined to be thousands of kilometers away was actually at a different distance and we would be convinced of this reality.
Human beings see many details within the sense of depth that confronts them. They see a book they are holding fairly close by, the television beyond and the window further away still, and the Sun even further away.
We imagine that a plane is several kilometers away in the sky from us. The fact is, though, it is actually right inside our brains. There is no distance between the plane and us.
Their hands, legs and bodies are all contained within this visual field. Each object has its own particular perspective and a distance to the point from where it’s observed. That is how people perceive things; their sense of depth, perspective, shade within the whole visual field convinces them that they are seeing the actual external world. In fact, however, everything they see, including their own bodies, is the effects of electrical signals inside their brains. There is no distance between the book in front of them and the Sun that they imagine to be 93 million miles away. And there is no distance between them and any other object either. Everything they observe is part of an image arising in the brain.
The formation of a sensation of depth on the two-dimensional retina bears a close resemblance to the technique employed by artists trying to impart a realistic sense of depth on a two-dimensional surface. There are certain recognized techniques for creating a feeling of depth: objects being placed in front of one another, one or more vanishing points, variation in texture, diminishing dimensions and height and movement—the closer an object, the quicker it seems to be moving. The method employed by artists also applies to images arising in the brain. Depth, light and shade are perceived by the two-dimensional retinas in our eyes through the same method. The more accurate the details in this image, the more realistic it seems and the more it misleads us. Thus we act as if the third dimension—with depth and distance—were actually there.
“The faculty of consciousness is one thing we all share, but what goes in our consciousness, the forms that consciousness takes on, varies widely. This is our personal reality, the reality we each know and experience. Invariably we mistake this personal reality for physical reality, believing ourselves to be in direct contact with the world ‘out there.’ But the colors and sounds we experience are not really ‘out there’; they are all images in the mind, pictures of reality we have constructed. This one fact leads to a radical rethinking of the relationship between consciousness and reality.” —Peter Russell,
From Science to God: A Physicist’s Journey into the Mystery of Consciousness, New World Library, 2002, p. 39
In fact, however, all the images we perceive exist in a single plane, rather like a film on a flat screen. The visual center in the brain is exceedingly small. All seemingly “distant” images such as far-off mountains, stars in the sky, the Moon and Sun, planes flying in the air and birds are all crammed into this minute space. In a technical sense there is no distance between a plane you imagine to be flying many kilometers away and the glass in your hand; both are on a single location in the visual center inside your brain.
This is a glorious proof of creation, sublime artistry and a flawless work. Allah creates these perfect images and details in the mind of every human being, at all moments and without interruption. Nothing is missing to make us harbor any suspicions regarding the existence of the three-dimensional images before us. The world belonging to us is created constantly as a copy of the original world outside. The might, power and creative artistry of Him to Whom all these belong are manifested in every detail. It is Almighty Allah, the Lord and Sovereign of all things, Who creates all the worlds and brings these into being individually for every human being.
In verses, Allah tells us that:
It is Allah Who created the seven heavens and of the Earth the same number, the Command descending down through all of them, so that you might know that Allah has power over all things and that Allah encompasses all things in His knowledge. (Surat at-Talaq, 12)
Do they not see that Allah, Who created the heavens and Earth, has the power to create the like of them, and has appointed fixed terms for them of which there is no doubt? But the wrongdoers still spurn anything but disbelief. (Surat al-Isra’, 99)
What Is “Real” for Us?
We believe in the existence of objects just because we see and touch them, and they are reflected to us by our perceptions. However, our perceptions are only ideas in our mind. Thus, objects we captivate by perceptions are nothing but ideas, and these ideas are essentially in nowhere but our mind… Since all these exist only in the mind, then it means that we are beguiled by deceptions when we imagine the universe and things to have an existence outside the mind65
Our seeing any object, hearing the sound it makes or touching it, provides little information about the nature of the material world existing outside. For us, what gives us evidence of anything’s physical existence is our perception of it. Yet there is actually no sound, nor image, nor flavor, nor smell in our perceptual center in the brain where all these things arise. The inside of the brain is pitch dark and utterly soundless. There are no small observers in the brain to detect smells or observe images. Therefore, the idea that sounds and images can form inside the brain is illogical, scientifically impossible. However, we perceive an amazingly flawless, colored, mobile and distinct world in that pitch-black, soundless space. Despite being a world of perception forming solely in the brain, this world is realistic and highly convincing. An image far clearer and more distinct than the most advanced three-dimensional film screens or televisions, of a far higher quality than the world’s most perfect cameras, arises in the brain. Inside the brain form sounds that are much more perfect, much clearer and richer than the most advanced music systems, and which cannot be distinguished from the real thing. The perfume and scent of a rose also forms inside the brain, as do sensations of heat and cold, in the most precise manner. This perfectly clear world is placed at our disposal, without interruption, by the will of Allah. Anyone looking around in a crowded shopping center can see children running around, different people shopping, brightly lit shop windows, trays of foodstuffs, an occasional stray cat, the warm air and the smells emanating from the food court reaching his nose—all at one and the same time. People may be chatting with friends, greeting someone they recognize, as window-shopping. Yet they are actually experiencing images arising in their brains. The crowd a person sees around him, all the details he observes, all form on a phantom screen inside the brain.
Is the original of this world anything like the details that person is made to perceive? We cannot know. It is impossible for us to obtain any knowledge regarding whether there really are a lot of people around, or if the scent of flowers fills the air. What we are shown is the form of the environment as we perceive. For us, the external world is solely the world we are shown. If the electrical signals forwarded to us by our sense organs were eliminated, then our external world would disappear as well, even though there is an actual world outside.
We can only know what is forwarded to, reaches and is shown to us. That is the sum total of what goes on in our minds.
Gerard O’Brien describes the concept of the outside world and that of our perceptions:
There is an issue about whether or not the world that we experience, the world in some sense that is constructed in our heads, whether or not it actually corresponds to the way the world actually is. Because if you accept, as a number of theorists now do, that our experience of the world is constructed by our brains, then there becomes a real issue of the correspondence that exists between our experience of the world and the way the world really is, independent of our experience. And if you think there might be large mismatches between our experience of the world and the way the world really is, then it starts to look as though our visual world, the world of our experience, is in some sense an illusion.66
We can only know what is transmitted and shown to us. And that is all that goes on inside the mind. Your workplace, home and life are in fact all in your mind. Yet the material world you are convinced exists on the outside is in fact only a copy.
That being the case, what is real for us?
What we refer to as “reality” indicates a world with a material existence outside the brain and the senses. People have a full belief in the existence of that world, whether they happen to be observing it or not. They are certain that they are in their own bedroom when they get up in the morning. They imagine that they are in their offices and that the computers there have their own independent existence, and that everything will still be there when they return the following morning. They assume that their homes will be there when they return in the evening and assume the continued existence of their friends, families, acquaintances and relatives, whether or not they can see them or talk with them. Most of these experiences are repeated every day and permit no room for any doubt. On the contrary, they are of such a quality to be thoroughly convincing.
But all these things are actually in our minds, things that we are led to experience. All we see is an illusory copy of the outside material world of whose existence we are so certain. It is solely our perceptions that give rise to our world.
Susan Blackmore defines this world inside the brain:
The mind feels like a private theatre. Here I am, inside the theatre, located roughly somewhere inside my head and looking out through my eyes. But this is a multi-sensational theatre. So I experience touches, smells, sounds, and emotions as well, and I can use my imagination too—conjuring up sights and sounds to be seen as though on a mental screen by inner eye or heard by my inner ear. All these are the “contents of my consciousness,” and “I” am the audience of one who experiences them.67
The world we observe is merely a copy. An amusement park full of lights is only a duplicated image forming in the brain, whose source is simply electrical signals. The voices of the people around us, our relatives and birds are similarly, duplicate sounds arising within the brain, whose source is just electrical signals. The taste and smell of a piece of fruit we eat are duplicate tastes and smells forming in the brain. It is impossible for us to eat the original of the fruit. The source of all the features of the fruit in our brains is, again, electrical signals.
You have never felt the true heat of the Sun, the actual coolness of the sea nor the coldness of an ice cube. Because you can never have direct experience of the Sun, the sea or ice, and the effects they have on you are simply electrical signals.
A glass of water set in front of you is not distant from you at all. It is not standing in front of you, it is in your brain. You perceive an image of it in your brain.
When we imagine we are touching a glass surface, we are not actually touching the original glass. It is not our fingers that do the touching, but the brain. That being so, nobody can ever touch a real glass. They cannot drink water from it. The water they drink consists of a sensation of drinking imparted by perceptions arising inside the brain.
In the documentary film What the Bleep Do We Know?, Joe Dispenza, who has a Doctor of Chiropractic Degree from Life University in Atlanta, Georgia, says, “Your brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s taking place out there, and what’s taking place in here.” Fred Alan Wolf says, “There is no ‘out there’ out there, independent of what’s going on in here [in the brain].”68
The life we lead is a composite of the duplicates in question. The realistic appearance of these perceptions is highly deceptive. We think that the person in front of us sees the same things as we do, and we imagine that we are both in agreement and that we are observing the true state of the world. Yet in fact, the other person, who agrees with us on the things we see and hear, also consists of an image arising in our brain. In addition, we can never know what difference there is between the things he perceives and what we perceive. It is impossible for us to describe what “green” means for us, or what a lemon smells like.
So what is real? In that regard, Joe Dispenza asks the following questions:
Scientific experiments have shown that if we take a person and hook their brains up to certain PET scans or computer technology, and ask them to look at a certain object, and they watch certain areas of the brain light up. And then they’ve asked them to close their eyes and now imagine that same object. And when they imagine that same object, it produced the same areas of the brain to light up as if they were actually visually looking at it. So it caused scientists to back up and ask this question. So who sees then? Does the brain see? Or do the eyes see? And what is reality? Is reality what we’re seeing with our brain or is reality what we’re seeing with our eyes? And the truth is that the brain does not know the difference between what it sees in its environment and what it remembers. Because the same specific neural nets are then firing. So then it asks the question: What is reality? 69
In the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know?, J. Z. Knight describes reality:
That we simply are has allowed this reality we call real, from the power of intangibility to pull out of inertness, “action,” “chaos,” and hold it into its form, and we call it matter.70
Each of us lives in a world of perceptions that belongs to us alone. Nobody can share the images in this world and nobody can confirm them, yet we regard these images as reality. That being so, is reality simply an illusion? Does it consist solely of what we are made to experience? Do the body we regard as our own, and the life we consider to be ours, exist solely as phantoms in our minds?
All these are indeed phantoms. We live in a phantom world brought into being in our own brains. We imagine that we are looking at the true world outside, but a whole new world actually exists in our brains, and it is impossible for us to step outside it.
The philosopher Geoff Haselhurst describes how science has no explanation for the realism of the world that forms in the brain:
Peter Russell makes the following statements:
That being so, reality for us is not matter, the external original of which we can never directly experience. Since all these things consist of an image formed by electrical signals in the brain, reality cannot be the world inside the brain, either. This world is completely illusory, a phantasm. We are misled by observing that world. “Reality,” therefore, is neither outside nor in the image inside the brain.
The truth is from your Lord, so on no account be among the doubters. (Surat al-Baqara, 147)
Is it difficult to come to terms with this state of affairs? Fred Alan Wolf summarizes the familiarity with the illusory world in which people live and how they seek to avoid the concept of “true realism”:
It’s by no means easy for any materialist to grasp and accept the fact that the world forming in the brain is not real. This has been verified by modern science, but nonetheless, as expressed by Fred Alan Wolf, this great truth is ignored. The fact we live in an illusory world is reflected as an ordinary scientific discovery and as an insoluble problem. The only reason for this is that what is “true” for us is “unacceptable” to the materialist mindset. This “truth,” which materialists cannot admit and which scientists are searching for, belongs to the human soul.
It is the human soul that is absolute in this world and that will live forever in the Hereafter. It is Allah Who bestows this soul on man. The matter outside man, people’s own bodies and the worlds arising in their minds will all one day come to an end and vanish. It is the soul, imparted by Almighty Allah, that is absolute and perpetual.
Your Lord said to the angels, “I am going to create a human being out of clay. When I have formed him and breathed My Spirit into him, fall down in prostration to him!” (Surah Sâd, 71-72)
The Realism in Dreams
We do not actually speak with anyone in our dreams. We see no-one, and our eyes are closed. We neither run, nor walk. No monsters frighten and chase us, no green and spacious lawns spread out before us. There are no skyscrapers we are scared to look down from or crowds of people. In the face of all these images, we are, in fact, alone in bed. The loud noises from the crowds we imagine to be surrounding us, never in fact reach into our silent room.
When we imagine ourselves to be running very fast, we are not in fact moving at all. When we imagine ourselves to be having a heated discussion with someone, we do not in fact even open our mouths. Yet during dreaming, we experience all these things very vividly. The people around us, our surroundings and the things we experience are so realistic that we never imagine that these things are actually part of our dream.
When you dream, you are alone in a pitch-black, soundless environment. Your eyes are closed, and you do not run, speak or see anybody. Yet the people around you, the environment and the events you experience in dreams are all so realistic that you have no doubt that they are all real. Dreams are important evidence proving that the external world in fact consists of perceptions alone.
We may even dream of being hit by a car and receive a very clear impression of the pains that result. We truly feel the fear we experience as the car approaches, it speeds toward us, and the moment of impact. We have no doubt as to the reality of these sensations. The temperature of air, people’s expressions, the clothes we are wearing and everything are exceedingly realistic. Yet we have actually experienced none of these. No light or sound reaches us. There is no cause of any image, sound or smell. The concept we refer to as the external world has disappeared. This is all experienced solely in our minds. Yet we do not realize that this is the case. Even if we are told—in the dream—that we are actually dreaming, we completely discount the possibility and are utterly convinced of the reality of the dream world we are inhabiting. For us, the things we see, smell, touch and feel in dreams have a definite reality. For that reason, our fears, joys and doubts during dreaming are also real. We have all the same physical experiences as when we are awake. No evidence might require us to suspect that we are, in fact, dreaming.
Dreaming is a powerful example demonstrating that the external world for us is in fact a perception. In the same way that someone dreaming has no doubt that his surroundings are real, so it is very difficult to be convinced that the reality of what we refer to as “the real world” is only in our minds. Yet how we perceive the images we call “real life” is exactly the same as how we experience dreams. Both images form in the mind. We have no doubt as to the reality of either set of images as we observe them. Yet we do have proof that dreams are not real. When we awaken, we say, “It was all just a dream.” So how can we prove that we are not dreaming at this very moment?
Allah imparts this truth in His verses:
The Trumpet will be blown and at once they will be sliding from their graves towards their Lord. They will say, “Alas for us! Who has raised us from our resting-place? This is what the All-Merciful promised us. The Messengers were telling the truth.” (Surah Ya Sin, 51-52)
The proof of this at this moment is the scientifically imparted evidence. In this case, the moment that we’ll wake up from the dream will be when we depart from this earthly life. So the right thing to do is to regard this world as mere illusion for us, as something we experience in the mind, and behave accordingly.
Peter Russell compares the realism of dreams to that of the world we inhabit:
Réné Descartes described this as well:
Never, of course, can we guarantee that the people around us, or even the life we are experiencing at this moment, are not a dream. When we dream, we can touch a piece of ice and perceive its cold wetness and transparency in a perfect form. When we smell a rose, we perceive its unique scent in an equally flawless manner. The reason is that the same processes take place in our brains when we really smell a rose or only dream that we are doing so.
That being so, we can never know when we are experiencing the true image and perfume of a rose. In fact, we never have direct experience of a real rose in either case, and in either event. Neither the image nor the perfume of the rose are anywhere in our brains.
Therefore, neither case represents reality, as Gerald O’Brien describes:
When we dream of smelling a flower, we enjoy a perfect sensation of the unique perfume of that flower. The reason for this is that the same processes take place in the brain when we actually smell a flower or when we only dream we are doing so.
If someone is aware that he’s dreaming, he will not be frightened by a car approaching, will realize that the goods and money he acquires are transitory, and will harbor no greed for them. He knows that the blessings and beauty he possesses will come to an end when he awakens, and these will inspire no pride in him. Other people’s negative attitudes are of no importance in his dreams, because he knows that neither the circumstances nor the people themselves are real. He knows that he will wake up, for which reason he does not chase after worldly things, or become worried by worldly concerns, or devote himself to his own interests as if this life will never end. He knows that there is a real world outside the dream one. Therefore, his surroundings are of no importance or value to anyone who knows he is dreaming.
This also applies to the period we refer to as “real life.” For someone who knows that this life is not real, that it is presented merely in the form of perceptions, nothing he experiences in connection with this “real” world is of any importance. Just as with dreaming, he is aware of the false nature of an unreal life, even as he lives it. He now realizes that the people expecting gain from him do not actually exist, and that the deceptive beauty and attractions around him in fact consist of illusions. There is therefore no point in his thirsting for things that exist in this world or expending energy on any personal gains. He lives in a passing, transitory world and knows that his true life will begin after this one.
The writer Remez Sasson has this to say:
Just as in dreams, the world we inhabit consists of illusory images, illusory smells, tastes and feelings. One may, of course, awake from this dream before this life comes to an end and see the true facts. Awakening from this dream, realizing that this world is not reality, will enable one to understand that the true reality is the Hereafter. Someone who comprehends the Hereafter becomes aware of the transitory nature of this world, knows that he needs to attain Allah’s approval in order to achieve salvation in the Hereafter, and begins striving to that end. This is one of the facts that will bestow countless blessings on a person in this world and in the Hereafter.
People who wake on the Day of Resurrection are described in verses:
The Trumpet will be blown. That is the Day of the Threat. Every self will come together with a driver and a witness: “You were heedless of this, so We have stripped you of your covering, and today your sight is sharp.” (Surah Qaf, 20-22)
Perceptual Defects in the Brain and a Different External World
When our five senses—which convince us that what we see is the real world—are deprived of the electrical signals that give rise to perceptions, the external world disappears. It is a scientific fact that the senses provide information only by way of electrical signals. If there is plentiful information in the outside world, but the relevant electrical signals fail to register, we will be unaware of it.
Errors of perception in the brain are some of the most important proofs of this. For example, if you look at a room in full daylight and imagine you are seeing it completely, the reality is different. There is one very small point of the room in front of you that you cannot see. And that missing spot remains wherever you look. This is the “blind spot,” present in every human being in the center of the retina where the optic nerve departs for the brain.
The cause of this blindness is the fact that the cells of the retina are absent in just that one spot in the retina. Nonetheless, you see the image before you utterly flawlessly. The reason is the compensatory nature of the brain. The area that cannot be seen because of the blind spot becomes “visible” because of the brain’s ability to “color in” and “complete” the other details in the background. This is an extraordinary state of affairs. There literally exists no information in that blind spot, and whatever details the brain creates there is entirely illusory. Yet we never know that we “cannot see” that spot. The brain “papers over” the blind spot by making its own best estimate of what ought to be there. But how is that estimate made? That question still represents a puzzle for scientists.
Vilayanur S. Ramachandran describes this secret:
But is it possible for us to have any preference in the completion process within the brain? Ramachandran also answers this question:
When we look at a table, our visual system first acquires information about the edges of the table. And a representative picture resembling the table’s outline forms in our minds. Following this, the system then selects the color and texture of the table. These are some of the essential elements for the process of “completion.” After this information has been obtained, the brain makes a general estimate regarding the image before it. The brain does not need to examine every detail of that image and enter into detailed computation. It creates images based on “guesswork.”80
Therefore, the brain produces an illusion that we believe to exist. The image in the blind spot is not a true image of what is in front of us; yet we are unaware of this. Interestingly, however, we have no evidence that the entire image is true. The image in the blind spot, which does not actually exist, seems as realistic as the other surrounding images. We are unaware of where the blind spot is in our day-to-day lives. That being so, we cannot know whether the images we obtain are all illusions. We may take them to be “realistic,” but this is not enough proof for believing that the images shown to us are “real.”
Other perceptual defects or errors in the brain also demonstrate this. One such is cortical color blindness. If the area V4 in the brain, which involves processing color, is damaged, sufferers see the world in shades of gray. Everything appears like a black-and-white film. Yet such people have no problems with reading a newspaper, recognizing people’s faces or movements and determining direction.81If the middle temporal visual area (MT) is damaged, patients can still read and see colors, but cannot tell in which direction and how fast a thing is moving.
Prof. Ramachandran has written this on the subject:
Hallucinations are another example of perceptual defects. Hallucinations generally stem from brain damage, various febrile diseases, drug use or old age and senility. The sufferer perceives things which do not exist—they see things which are not there and hear non-existent sounds. Such people are wholly awake and conscious when they experience hallucinations, which images are highly convincing.
These syndromes we have cited are just a few of these disorders, as a result of which some people experience vivid events that do not correspond to reality. For some people, external colors seem very different. Our brightly colored world is like a black-and-white film for them. If we really have direct experience of the external world—if the world we inhabit does not consist solely of electrical signals reaching the brain—then why do these people experience different perceptions?
If there is just “one” external world, why do they not perceive the outside world in the same way we do, and why do they not see the same things?
Most of us have no doubt that we have a perfect perception of the outside world and that our perceptions form a seamless whole. Yet the same thing applies to someone who sometimes experiences hallucinations. Such people also think the illusory images they see are real. That being so, we can say nothing about what the external world arising in our brains actually resembles, or whether it seems different to others’ perceptions. This is something that cannot be tested by 21st-century science or determined experimentally. It is impossible for us to know what an individual world, brought into being for each one of us, is like. We have direct experience only of our perceptions within that world. We cannot step out of it or learn any more about it.
The electrical signals transmitted by way of our senses give rise to a copy of the external world for us. Fundamentally, however, there remains an “identity” that perceives the outside world, that draws meaning from what it perceives, harbors doubts, rejoices, experiences sorrow, becomes excited, thinks, recognizes and analyzes. But where in the brain is this entity, which we refer to as “I”? Does the interaction of neurons cause us to think and be happy? Is that what enables us to enjoy music? Is that interaction the source of our enjoying looking at a landscape or eating a delicious meal?
Obviously, no rational person can answer “Yes” to these questions. Our identity lies outside the brain, and is known as the “soul.”
They will ask you about the Spirit. Say: “The Spirit is my Lord’s concern. You have only been given a little knowledge.” (Surat al-Isra’, 85)