Imaginary Beings

Yet, in the end, what’s most remarkable is not that our fantasies contain so much reality; it is that our reality contains so much fantasy. Most of us understand that our perceptual systems, far from passively reflecting the world around us, actively sort, select, distort, ignore, and alter a huge amount of information in order to construct reality as we experience it. But reality as we experience it also departs from actual reality in deeper ways. In actual reality, space and time are inseparable, and neither one behaves anything like the way we perceive it; nor does light, and nor does gravity, and, in all likelihood, nor does consciousness. Yet all the while we go on experiencing space like a map we can walk on, time like a conveyor belt we travel on, ourselves as brimming with agency, our lives as mattering urgently.

That world, the one we inhabit every day of our lives, is a yeti—a fantastical thing constructed out of bits and pieces of reality plus the magic wand of the mind. If we could hand it over to some superior being for consideration, it might not even rank very high on the scale of plausibility. Then again, plausibility itself might not rank very high on the scale of qualities we prize. Better, perhaps, to know that what we feel in our happiest moments has some truth to it: life is magical.

Kathryn Schulz

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When I Worked

November 2017

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