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Reality tunnel is a term coined by Timothy Leary (1920-1996) and popularised by Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007), akin to the idea of representative realism.

The theory states that, with a subconscious set of mental "filters" formed from their beliefs and experiences, every individual interprets the same world differently, hence "Truth is in the eye of the beholder".


Every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it, we don't even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality. – Robert Anton Wilson [1][2]

The idea does not necessarily imply that there is no objective truth; rather that our access to it is mediated through our senses, experience, conditioning, prior beliefs, and other non-objective factors. The implied individual world each person occupies is said to be their reality tunnel. The term can also apply to groups of people united by beliefs: we can speak of the fundamentalist Christian reality tunnel or the ontological naturalism reality tunnel.

A parallel can be seen in the psychological concept of confirmation bias — the human tendency to notice and assign significance to observations that confirm existing beliefs, while filtering out or rationalizing away observations that do not fit with prior beliefs and expectations. This helps to explain why reality tunnels are usually transparent to their inhabitants. While it seems most people take their beliefs to correspond to the "one true objective reality", Robert Anton Wilson emphasizes that each person's reality tunnel is their own artistic creation, whether they realize it or not.

Wilson—like John C. Lilly and many others—relates that through various techniques one can break down old reality tunnels and impose new reality tunnels by removing old filters and replacing them with new ones, with new perspectives on reality — at will. This is attempted through various processes of deprogramming using neuro-linguistic programming, cybernetics, hypnosis, biofeedback devices, meditation, controlled use of hallucinogens, and forcibly acting out other reality tunnels. Thus, it is believed one's reality tunnel can be widened to take full advantage of human potential and experience reality on more positive levels. Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Rising[3] is (among other things) a guidebook to the exploration of various reality tunnels.

Similar ideas

We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are. – Anais Nin

Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons used the word gloss to describe how the mind perceives reality.[4][5] We are taught, he theorised, how to "put the world together" by others who subscribe to a consensus reality. "The curious world of Talcott Parsons was where society was a system, [sic]

interactive subsystems adhering to a certain set of unwritten rules."[6][7]

The meme is another source of gloss; it is "transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena." Because we're social creatures, there are reasons for us to adopt some social currencies.

In line with Kantian thought,[8] as well as the work of Norwood Russell Hanson, studies have indeed shown[9][10][11][citation needed] that our brains "filter" the data coming from our senses. This "filtering" is largely unconscious and may be influenced—more-or-less in many ways, in societies and in individuals—by biology,[12][13][14] cultural constructs[15] including education and language[16] (such as memes), life experiences,[17] preferences[18] and mental state,[19][20] belief systems (e.g. World view, the Stock Market), momentary needs, pathology, etc.

An everyday example of such filtering is our ability to follow a conversation, or read, without being distracted by surrounding conversations, once called the cocktail party effect.[10][21]

In his 1986 book Waking Up,[22][23] Charles Tart—an American psychologist and parapsychologist known for his psychological work on the nature of consciousness—introduced the phrase "consensus trance" to the lexicon. Tart likened normal waking consciousness to hypnotic trance. He discussed how each of us is from birth inducted to the trance of the society around us.[24] Tart noted both similarities and differences between hypnotic trance induction and consensus trance induction. (See G. I. Gurdjieff).

Some disciplines—Zen for example, and monastic schools such as Sufism—seek to overcome such conditioned realities by returning to less thoughtful and channeled states of mind.

Constructivism is a modern psychological response to reality-tunneling.[25]

For Wilson, a fully functioning human ought to be able to be aware of his or her reality tunnel, and able to keep it flexible enough to accommodate, and to some degree empathize with, different reality tunnels, different "game rules", different cultures.... Constructivist thinking is the exercise of metacognition to become aware of our reality tunnels or labyrinths and the elements that "program" them. Constructivist thinking should, ideally, decrease the chance that we will confuse our map of the world with the actual world.... [This philosophy] is currently expressed in many Eastern consciousness-exploration techniques.[26]

See also


  1. Wilson, Robert Real Reality. URL accessed on 23 July 2011.
  2. Wilson, Robert Anton Maybe Logic: The Lives And Ideas Of Robert Anton Wilson -- Illustrated Interview. American Buddha. URL accessed on 23 July 2011.
  3. Robert Anton Wilson, Prometheus Rising. New Falcon Publications, 1983, 262pp. ISBN 1561840564
  4. Sam Keen, Castaneda interview, Psychology Today, Dec. 1972
  5. Psychology Wiki: Talcott Parsons
  6. Roger A. Salerno, Beyond the enlightenment: lives and thoughts of social theorists. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004, p.179.
  7. Talcott Parsons, The Social System. New York: The Free Press, 1951
  8. Matthew Alper, The "God" Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God. Sourcebooks, Inc., 2008, p.50f.
    "The human mind, Kant contended, must be born, not as a clean slate, but with built-in 'modes of perception' that work to organize the multitude of information our sense organs are constantly imparting to us. Without such built-in processing mechanisms, we would experience reality as an untelligible jumble of sense experiences."
  9. Seed, How do brains filter data?
  10. 10.0 10.1 New Scientist: 'Party chat' brain filter discovered
  11. BBC, Brain 'irrelevance filter' found, 10 Dec 2007. Retrieved 10-11-09.
  12. Example, autism. Autistics are unable "to understand the social communication of neurotypicals", and "Three- to five-year-old autistic children are less likely to exhibit social understanding, approach others spontaneously, imitate and respond to emotions...."
  13. Bryn Mawr: Serendip, Through Different Eyes: How People with Autism Experience the World
  14. See Synesthesia, Apophenia
  15. Thom Hartmann, How We Experience The World Differently
  16. See Representational systems (NLP), Linguistic relativity, Conveyed concept
  17. See Constructivism (learning theory)
  18. See Solipsism
  19. Enhanced Visual Motion Perception in Major Depressive Disorder, The Journal of Neuroscience, July 15, 2009, 29(28):9072-9077; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1003-09.2009
  20. See Qualia
  21. Cherry, E. C. (1953) Some experiments on the recognition of speech, with one and with two ears. Journal of Acoustical Society of America 25(5), 975-979.
  22. Charles Tart, Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential. iUniverse, Inc., 2001, 344pp. ISBN 0595196640
  23. [1] Review by Howard Rheingold
  24. J. Jeffrey Means, Mary Ann Nelson, Trauma & evil: healing the wounded soul. Fortress Press, 2000, p.30-32. ISBN 0800632702.
    "Awakening from the consensus trances in which we are stuck as a result of living in a violent society is rare."
  25. Karen Eriksen, Garrett McAuliffe, Teaching counselors and therapists: constructivist and developmental course design. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. pp. 366. ISBN 0897897951
  26. R. Elliott Ingersoll and Cecile Brennan, in Eriksen, McAuliffe 2001, p.336.

Further reading

  • Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self. Basic Books, 2009, 288pp. ISBN 0465045677.
  • P. D. Ouspensky, The Fourth Way: A Record of Talks and Answers to Questions Based on the Teaching of G. I. Gurdjieff. (Prepared under the general supervision of Sophia Ouspensky). New York: Knopf, 1957; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957.

External links

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