“We have seen that the most elementary criticism, applied to any ordinary object of perception, tends to invalidate the simple and comfortable creed of ‘common sense’; that not merely faith but gross credulity, is needed by the mind which would accept the apparent as real. I say, for instance, that I see a house. I can only mean by this that the part of my receiving instrument which undertakes the duty called vision is affected in a certain way, and arouses in me the idea of ‘house’. The idea ‘house’ is now treated by men as a real house, and my further observations will be an unfolding, enriching, and defining of this image. But what the external reality is which evoked the image that I call ‘house,’ I do not know and never can know. … I may, of course, call on one sense to ‘corroborate,’ as we trustfully say, the evidence of the other; may approach the house and touch it. Then the nerves of my hand will be affected by a sensation which I translate as hardness and solidity; the eye by a peculiar and wholly incomprehensible sensation called redness; and from these purely physical changes my mind constructs and externalizes an idea which it calls red bricks. Science herself, however, if she be asked to verify the reality of these perceptions, at once declares that tough the material world be real, the idea of solidity and color are but hallucination. They belong to the human animal, not to the physical universe.
“’The red brick,’ says science, ‘is a mere convention. In reality that bit, like all other bits of the universe, consists of innumerable atoms whirling and dancing one about the other. It is no more solid than a snowstorm.” ~Evelyn Underhill
Ms. Underhill says that it requires gross credibility to accept that which is apparent as real. Sadly, it seems we have a great number of people who will do just that today. Not only do they accept the apparently real as actually real, but they take the word of certain people they trust that it is real with little or no verification. But that is more of a political and social issue, while we are more interested in the spiritual aspects of it.
Underhill also says that science is backing her on claiming that the solid reality of matter is illusion. That is even truer today than when she was alive. Now we have the scientist of quantum physics saying that the apparently real, solid universe of matter is but a hologram of light. They also say that sub-atomic particles exist only as waves or potential objects until observed. So not only is the universe mostly empty space between the particles of the atom, but even those particles are not quite real! Yet something holds it all together, something that is actually real.
Making Sense of Senses
We have learned since we were born to know the world through our physical senses. Few of us ever consider that the physical senses are only aware of part of the physical world, so their awareness is limited. Further, what is picked up by the sense has to be interpreted by the brain before we get the final idea of what is there. But the brain can be easily tricked. We do have to use these senses, but we must always be aware that they give us a partial view of things, and are therefore not completely reliable. What is apparently real to the senses is only part of the physical world and none of the spiritual.
Solid as a Snowstorm
Underhill says that physical reality is no more solid than a snowstorm. I think that is an excellent analogy to use. A snowstorm isn’t a single thing, but a conglomerate of wind and billions of individual snowflakes. Yet in many ways it acts as a single thing. We are much the same, and so is everything else in the physical universe. We are molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic particles held in place by forces we don’t really understand. We think we are solid as a rock, but the rock is mo more solid than the snowstorm. What is apparently real is quite different from what is real.
Simple logic will tell us that if what we always thought was real and what is apparently real is actually illusion, then something else must exist beyond the illusion which is real. That something is spirit. The world of spirit is the only one that is real in the sense that it is permanent and unchanging. Nothing in it rots or dies. Nothing in it is illusion. However, when we try to understand the spiritual with our physical brain and senses, we form ideas that usually are illusion. We need to awaken our spiritual faculties to move beyond the apparently real to what is actually real.