31 May 2005

Delusions

Many years ago, I remember seeing a movie starring Lloyd Bridges called “The Deadly Dream”. In it, a genetic engineering scientist (Bridges) believes he is being hunted down by a group of people who believe genetic engineering is a danger to humankind, and who are willing do anything, even kill, to prevent its progress. Of course, everyone around Bridges assures him that no such thing is happening, and that he is being delusional, but this makes Bridges even more suspicious of his wife, friends and colleagues.

Although the plot of “humankind being endangered by the advance of science” was quite thrilling to me as a teenager, a much larger concept had surfaced in my mind then: That, our waking life is a dream, and our dreams are actually the real life. Foolish? Even delusional, you think? Maybe. But I see a lot of recurring similarity in this concept, not only in science fiction, but also in science, spirituality and in real life.

On this, Professor Richard Dawkins, at Oxford University, has an interesting point of view. He says, specifically in science, time changes everything. In a 1996 BBC lecture, “Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder,” Prof Dawkins says, even a fact like “The earth is not the centre of the universe. It orbits the sun – which is just another star…” would sound delusional to Aristotle, or any Greek from that period. He elaborates, “Aristotle could walk straight into a modern seminar on ethics, theology, political or moral philosophy, and contribute. But let him walk into a modern science class and he’d be a lost soul. Not because of the jargon, but because science advances, cumulatively.”

Then, in the context of science, which helps us to interpret reality on a day-to-day basis, would delusion – i.e. a false belief based upon a misinterpretation of reality – require time as a vector component to make sense to us? Or, could another view be that it’s a purely subjective matter, as Aldous Huxley discussed it in his book, “The Doors of Perception” (see my earlier post)? Or, as in real life, could it also have a socio-cultural and political component to it such as “we are God’s chosen people”… something along the lines that the United States may use to justify their war against Iraq?

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