From ‘The trouble with getting lost in your own world… “, by David Mitchell


Do we really want to know what’s actually going on? In the world and in the past and in plant cells and in space and in the flat upstairs? I get that it’s always going to be impossible to be sure. All any of us has to go on is a load of nerve signals hastily compiled into a vaguely coherent impression by the grey sponge that seems to be the site of the key thing that makes each of us whoever each of us is. It’s an impression that can get skewed by fear, rage, self-interest, hunger, a bad back or by being, to a greater or lesser extent, mad.

Anyone who’s suffered from sciatica will tell you how disconcerting it is to feel a pain you’re convinced is emanating from your leg but which is in fact caused by an injury, located somewhere in the spine, to the nerve responsible for leg news. But it doesn’t feel like a faulty line – the nerve doesn’t crackle. It just feels like a sore leg. It is a totally convincing, rather undramatic, delusion and a salutary reminder that when we think we’re definitely looking at a table, that’s actually just the narrative our brain is imposing upon unsubstantiated data supplied by the ocular nerve.

On top of that, loads of the data our ocular nerves are getting hold of these days comes via various screens which are themselves imperfectly connected to, and flawed reflections of, the things that are really happening. So I totally accept that no one actually knows anything and, for all practical purposes, there is no such thing as objective truth.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth searching for – in the same way the ultimate unattainability of complete cleanliness doesn’t invalidate occasionally using the Hoover. For millennia it’s been a sort of given that humans are always, in various ways, trying to work out what’s up. And the results have been mixed. On the plus side, it’s provided a huge variety of cheese and celebrity gossip. In the minus column, there’s our expulsion from the Garden of Eden [citation needed] and nuclear weapons.


the new electric hoarding at Piccadilly Circus is going to have targeted advertising. There are hidden cameras within it that can apparently identify the age of passers-by or what make of car they’re driving and will change the sign’s marketing messages accordingly. This has been happening online for some time, but now it’s moving off the computer screen on to a tennis court-sized expanse of iconic central London wall. The wall will also offer localised wifi with which people will be encouraged to interact so their experience of that part of town can be further personalised.

Essentially, then, the appearance of a famous landmark will be different according to who you are. There will be no “true” version. The writing on the wall will be different for you than it is for someone else. Reality will be warped by subjectivity before it even hits the optic nerve.”

[full text]

From ‘The trouble with getting lost in your own world… “, by David Mitchell

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