Photo by Rain Duran (instagram.com/raintostay)
Written by Amos Galileo Rendao
Original on November 4, 2010, Revised April 16, 2017
As parkour practitioners, we often interact with clear cut concepts and objects, like concrete walls, basic physics, trees, point A and B, but have you ever asked yourself, “Is this wall real?” “Am I actually climbing this tree in reality, or is this all a dream?” There have been times when I’ve questioned whether or not I’m awake after accomplishing a physical feat that I recently thought impossible, and rightfully so, because I have in the past awakened after such an experience.
How do I know with complete certainty that I’m not dreaming? René Descartes took a similar journey; he was searching for absolute truth. He went further than most would dare and deconstructed his entire worldview with questions like: How can I be sure my entire reality is not a deception created by an evil genius (Descartes, 1641)? This question finds a more contemporary form as: How can I be sure that I’m not a brain in a vat, my entire reality a computer simulation being controlled by an evil scientist (Harman, 1973)? The film “The Matrix” also suggests this age-old question (Silver, J., 1999). It always seemed funny to me that people would leave the theater not being able to say with 100% certainty that they are not in the Matrix themselves. How can we know for sure? What evidence can I put forward showing that my experience of the world is not a computer simulation or a dream but objective reality (a reality existing independently of our minds)? It seems like anything I would present as evidence, like the striking of my foot upon the pavement beneath me, wouldn’t support either conclusion over the other. Am I left restricted to mere faith that my surroundings are an objective reality?
Making matters even worse, some leading physicists and philosophers are now saying that we can theoretically demonstrate a high probability that we are living in a virtual simulation (Bostrom, 2003) or hologram (Susskind & Lindesay, 2004).
“In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things.”
Alright, that’s a bit of a problem for any sort of certainty about my surroundings, but it doesn’t stop there. Even if we could say with complete certainty that all of this around us is an objective reality, we would still have to deal with the fact that all of us hold only a small piece of this reality. We can only know what we’ve experienced, read, or heard about, and in the context of recorded time, I have such a short existence. In the context of how many people have lived on this planet, I am one of tens of billions. So much has happened and is happening at this exact moment that hasn’t and will never enter our personal realities, whether it’s
as you read this sentence that someone is taking their last breath in sacrifice for your continued freedom to have these written ideas in your possession without hiding them,
conversations someone had about you that you’ll never know about,
the sound of a tree falling next to hundreds of observers somewhere on the other side of the planet,
or maybe the existence of the most prime hot spot to train at that you won’t encounter until the age of 96 … hopefully you’ve been training sustainably.
I think the most vivid example that I’ve ever witnessed was on a mundane bus ride as the sole passenger. I was sitting in the back reading a book when I looked up to see the outcome of a motorcycle accident that had just taken place. People were running to help a man who was probably on his painful deathbed. The bus didn’t stop, and so as I sat in the shock of witnessing such a tragic human experience, I continued staring out the window, involuntarily watching the scenery change. Not more than a couple blocks away, two lovers came into my line of sight. I observed their body language, genuine smiles; they began to embrace and revealed a deep love with a kiss that Hollywood would pay millions to capture. They were not even slightly aware of the gruesome reality that a few people were living out just down the street. I myself may have been the only conscious being that even witnessed this overwhelming juxtaposition.
Two blocks. Eight people. 30 seconds.
An entire planet. Tens of billions of conscious beings? Who knows how many years if even countable.
Have you ever considered modern calculations of how many advanced intelligent civilizations per galaxy exist (Glade, Ballet, & Bastien, 2012)? Are you familiar with how many galaxies astronomers estimate are in just our observable universe? Around 2,000,000,000,000 galaxies … That’s not a typo. That number is two trillion … just in the observable galaxy … the author of that study stated that “the vast majority still await discovery” (Smith, 2016).
How can one person claim absolute truth when we each have such an infinitesimal glimpse of the big picture?
We must recognize that so many people have lived and died on a flat earth around which the stars once revolved.
What are the largest misconceptions we presently believe to be absolutely true?
“I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
So I have no evidence I can put forth to show that I am not a brain in a vat or inside a dream, and even if I am in an objective reality, I have such a small piece of the grand puzzle. Well, it’s still not over … We also have to consider our interpretations of objective reality through the filter of our limited senses. This causes an impossible, big ol’ roof gap between us and the actual things we are surrounded by.
Everything you experience is your personal interpretation of that thing, but never actually that thing. For example, if you were to see and grab a handrail, your particular nervous system, the calluses on your hand, the quality of your eyesight, are a few of the many filters that stand between you and experiencing the actual handrail. You also have to consider that we have extreme limitations as our mere handful of senses only pick up a small segment of the possible spectrums of light, sound, smell, and so on. Furthermore, our senses are not invulnerable to inaccuracy.
Let’s focus in on just one of these filters. With some exceptions, the human eye has three different types of photoreceptors, whereas dogs only have two, giving them a more limited visual experience (Miller & Murphy, 1995). Have you seen studies that show that the mantis shrimp has 12 types of photoreceptors, allowing their vision to dip into deep ultraviolet to far red (Thoen, How, Chiou, & Marshall, 2014)? On top of that, they can rotate their eyes independently of each other to enhance their ability to see the polarization of light (allowing better contrast between an object and its background … so a precision a height) (Daly et al., 2016).
Wait, what?! Stop reading for just 15 seconds and try to fathom that experience …
Are you now imagining a mantis shrimp doing parkour better than you can? Good, that means you’re still on board with me. Let’s move on.
On top of that, our past experiences (some of which are inaccurate memories) play a major role in how we view the world, even with something extremely simple. For example, let’s say you and a friend are looking at a tree. Your friend had two different traumatic experiences with trees as a child, both ending in serious injury. Let’s say you’ve always really enjoyed climbing trees and have never had any negative experiences while doing so.
Both of you, influenced by your past interactions, have different filters with something so basic as a tree. These memories and emotions alter where you focus your attention and paint a completely different image in your separate realities. As you both look on, he may be experiencing the past superimposed over the moment, whereas at that exact moment you’re seeing the future: all the underbars, laches, wall flip 1080’s, and various lines you could take through, around, and up the tree. Both of you are experiencing different realities as elements such as your point of focus, emotions, and hormones vary.
Now take that concept and apply it to something far more complex like politics, the intricacies of humor, an abstract art piece 20 years in the making, the earth as an organism, love.
Our personal experiences play a major role in what we focus our attention on and how we even perceive things around us. We must also recognize the fact that the memories by which we construct our worldview can be inaccurate.
1) Evidence doesn’t exist to prove that we’re not inside a computer simulation or a dream.
2) We are restricted by the extent of what we’ve experienced, and each of us only has a minuscule piece of the greater puzzle.
3) If we decided to teach them, mantis shrimp could do parkour better than you ever will.
4) We’re forced to create personal interpretations of our surroundings due to our limited and unique sensory experience.
5) Our past experiences, which are stored as memories that could be inaccurate, are another filter that stands between us and our surroundings.
The above poses many layers of problems to an ability to say we know objective reality with absolute certainty.
“All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.”
– Edgar Allen Poe
Many people may experience fear when confronted with the unknown or the breaking down of their belief system’s foundation, but I believe that confronting these questions with an honest heart is a path to liberation and to the development of strong motivations that act as a backbone for a life well lived; a backbone that sends roots down through the legs and deep into the earth. Apprehension and discomfort are completely natural. It’s difficult for a person to go on living the life they may be living when the core of their worldview is altered, but let’s not trade this daunting path for one that is comfortable at the cost of living a lie. At the same time, let’s not stay here in this pit of nihilism and despair wandering in the dark where others don’t dare go. Let’s climb out of this using everything we can muster, because if we don’t, our fate will be that of even some of the brightest minds who fell victim to destructive pessimism and despair, as can happen when the delicate balance of a person’s most concrete beliefs are shattered and left with a void in their place.
“We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
Descartes did start to crawl back up the abyss he bravely jumped into with a very interesting conclusion: “I think, therefore I am.” Even if I am being deceived in a virtual reality or I’m in a dream, it still shows that by being deceived or thinking in general, I must exist (Descartes, 1637). That seems like a legit foundation for which to start. But don’t get too excited … Let’s take the next step towards the exit of the cave:
Is there such thing as an objective reality, or can we know anything with absolute certainty outside of knowing we exist, and if so, can we access it with logic and express it with human communication?
I used to ask myself this question in its various guises, and after many years of study and contemplation, I’ve become comfortable with the tentative conclusion of not being able to directly express the answer in the English language, or any human logical system of communication for that matter …
… So why am I wallowing in logic and writing in English? Should we just give up trying to communicate or learn anything? Should we just retreat to a mountain top to meditate for the rest of our lives?
I don’t believe so.
First of all, I think it’s reasonable to assume that we are not within a computer simulation, a dream, or a hologram until very strong evidence starts to float to the surface that would support the interesting philosophical probabilities and theoretical physics. This doesn’t mean we absolutely know, but just that it’s a reasonable, foundational assumption that will most likely promote a healthier human experience. So I’ll continue to act accordingly until I get that call from Morpheus … and seriously, to all my friends who would love to prank me: PLEASE, not with this one. I’ll most likely take it seriously, and it could endanger my life if you ask me to jump a monstrous roof gap to escape agents that are coming up the elevators.
So with the reasonable assumption that we are living in a shared reality existing independently of our minds (objective reality), it still seems we are disconnected from it by our personal interpretations, the filter of our limited senses, all our past experiences acting as a relative context for which all new information enters, and the extremely small piece of experience we hold of an incomprehensibly sized puzzle … and of course that annoying mantis shrimp thing too.
Even if we can’t truly communicate objective reality because of the above-stated problems,
I believe we can get close to it; we can also get further away.
Imagine a sphere with a glowing nucleus. The nucleus is objective reality, and you can get closer to it or move farther away from it in a myriad of diverse routes, not just one line, one path, one way to truth, but an infinite set of possibilities.
For example, why would I land a three-meter precision on my feet rather than my knees? When a community debates an important issue, why do they communicate in a common language? Why can’t I survive on a diet solely consisting of plastics?
Even though we may not be able to communicate absolute truth/objective reality outside of “I think, therefore I am,” it seems logic brings us closer rather than farther away from the nucleus of objective reality. It helps us communicate our interactions with our surroundings one to another via the scientific method. Both in conjunction are the criteria for dubbing an idea, theory, or faith reasonable or outlandish. They allow us to more accurately predict the success rate of our offered solutions to problems. It’s how we learn from our mistakes. It’s how we build an accurate representation of the world around us. It’s our most effective tool in protecting ourselves from manipulation and lies by those who seek to exploit us. Logic and science are not boring textbooks, they are important guides to the true way of nature, a smiling clue on a path towards understanding the universe.
Just to clarify (because there are a lot of misconceptions out there), science is “the systematic study of the natural world and its physical and biological processes, through observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanations” (Science, 2007). Science IS NOT a study paid under the table for desired results by some large corporation that greatly benefits from a particular public perception. The dark side of science is not of science itself. It comes from the shadows of things such as human greed, cognitive biases, of powerful people that fear losing their power. Do not confuse the cruel abuses of science (manipulated data, disinformation, attacks on legitimate scientists, etc.) with the untouchable tool itself. No one can pay all the possible money in the world to change the basic structure of the scientific method that you would use to troubleshoot a problem in your daily life.
“Reason has built the modern world. It is a precious but also a fragile thing, which can be corroded by apparently harmless irrationality. We must favor verifiable evidence over private feeling. Otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth.”
And yes, we live in a complicated time where some of the problems analyzed and phenomena studied (e.g. climate change, the nature of consciousness, the origins of the planet) are sometimes so dauntingly inaccessible. Even with the tools of logic and science, we have only limited personal resources and time, and alone or in small groups, we seemingly can’t even begin to approach answers. However, it doesn’t mean these issues transcend logic and science, only that we must now employ our tools on a more complicated scale involving a substantial consensus among diverse experts, logical analysis from a vast number of skeptics, examination of reputations of organizations and the sources of their funding, and additional information activism to push back the tides of corruption. Just because some questions and problems are monumentally complex, it again doesn’t change the basic role logic and science play in our daily lives to help us learn from mistakes, make healthy decisions with our diet, fix a bicycle, improve the way we communicate, etc.
“Science is much more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which ones best match the facts. It urges on us a fine balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous skeptical scrutiny of everything — new ideas and established wisdom. We need wide appreciation of this kind of thinking. It works. It’s an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change. Our task is not just to train more scientists but also to deepen public understanding of science.”
Through all the troubleshooting, observation, investigation, etc., a logical and scientific approach helps us shrink the divide between us and objective reality. Let’s consider some of the above problems we face.
- “We are restricted by the extent of what we’ve experienced, and each of us only has a small piece of the greater puzzle.”
Science allows us to start putting together pieces and testing for validity on a large scale that one person could never achieve alone.
- “If we decided to teach them, mantis shrimp could do parkour better than you ever will.”
We know this because SCIENCE.
- “We’re forced to create personal interpretations of our surroundings due to our limited and unique sensory experience.”
With tools that help us extend what we’re capable of observing (e.g. microscopes, slow motion cameras, x-rays, and so on), we can further bridge the gap.
- “Evidence doesn’t exist to prove that we’re not inside a computer simulation or a dream.”
We determine the strength and validity of evidence via logic and science.
- “Our past experiences, which are stored as memories that could be inaccurate, act as another filter that stands between us and our surroundings.”
The scientific method is a tool for shedding bias, anecdotal information, inaccuracies in memory, and so on.
When we ignore a logical and scientific approach or rebel against it, we end up with things like injuries, things we’ve built that don’t work, or dysfunctional group communication. This appears to be a disconnection from objective reality. This is the opposite of harmony with our surroundings. This is us moving farther away from the nucleus of objective reality.
It’s almost as if logic and science are a reflection of the true way of nature which can be seen in humans as imperfect mirrors, bending and connecting in order to form a greater sphere: the feedback loop of collective consciousness or God’s eye. It’s important to remember that these reflections bouncing between human mirrors are not infallible, but logic and the scientific method do prove to be time-tested guides towards the glowing nucleus of objective reality/God, rather than away from it.
Some people may use the term ‘God’ to refer to objective reality. Beliefs that are pantheistic, pandeistic, and panentheistic, are defined by the belief that God is all (Pantheism, 2017) (Pandeism, 2017) (Panentheism, 2017). Some people prefer not to use the word ‘God’ due to the heavy historical baggage. Maybe you’re a die hard star wars fan and you’re inserting “the force” as your terminology. No matter what words you use, I’m more specifically referring to the divinity of all that is, everything interconnected; not condescendingly standing above us with human features and human emotions assigned, ready to punish or reward us. I mean you and me, the river, the rocks, the relationship between us, the beauty of our collaborative journey towards understanding ourself (singular and purposively misspelled).
No matter what term rings true to you, the concept of objective reality is deeply profound: this pure world untouchable by most all human beings, infinite as far as we can tell, interconnected, more powerful than we can even begin to comprehend. The ability to perceive it necessarily creates a gap between us and objective reality/God for reasons such as our limited senses acting as a filter. When we are born, perception is our “original sin.” We then use logic and science to shrink the divide and find a way back to harmony with objective reality/God.
There are those who build belief systems only rooted in blind faith and fear, hardened by ego, as they scoff at science or bastardize it to suit their pre-established, concrete beliefs. They end up walking the other way; their awkward and hypocritical actions being a billboard of their lost ramblings in the opposite direction of objective reality. They shout at passersby, “Follow me!” as they hide a need for vindication or ulterior motives for personal gain.
On the other hand, those who seek a relationship with objective reality/God climb a mountain that polishes their ability to interact with the physical world gracefully, communicate clearly, glimpse the true way of nature scientifically. Their relationship with objective reality/God (the force) grows so strong and into such harmony as they climb higher and higher that eventually they happen upon a scientist sitting near the top of the mountain (whom many people mistake for a Zen Buddhist when looking from such great distances). The scientist tells the traveler a koan that acts as a metaphorical strike of a cane to the head. And with the impact of paradox, logic and science are NOT knocked out of the brain as all along being the wrong way, but instead are admired as the pavement on the road up to this point. Now all that remains is a lightly traveled dirt path that has no space for English, or Japanese, or logic, or mathematics, or anything I could try to write here.
Logic and science are not the dry absence of a beautiful, mysterious, and awe-inspiring human experience that the domain of spirituality can often monopolize through connotation. They are profound, spiritual tools for our journey towards finding harmony with all that is.
Also, it’s important to note that a logical/scientific approach is not absent in intuition, gut instinct, listening to your heart, empathy, flow state, etc., and in fact, they help hone these important human tools. For example, as we tap into the power of our intuition, we’re looking for patterns and we repeat experiments to test validity in order to sharpen our ability. Our intuition isn’t always right, it takes a scientific approach to hone this skill. And just because you may be turning your conscious and logical process off for a high-pressure obstacle course doesn’t mean the flow state is isolated from a logical and scientific approach. A quick search will reveal the high volume of literature on the topic. Even the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person is built upon logical constructs, e.g. striking your shin on a handrail allows you to roughly understand what someone else is experiencing when they do the same. This simple example could be extended to more complicated forms of empathy involving things such as love or depression.
Logic and science are not absent in the process of learning about, honing, and utilizing the intuition, flow state, extrasensory human abilities, empathy, and so on.
“Nature will always maintain its rights, and prevail in the end over any abstract reasoning whatsoever.”
Lastly, not having the space to dive into the vast discussion on morality, I would at least like to propose that this closer harmony with objective reality/God produces a more ethical life than the opposing direction. Logic and science alone can help us establish many basic ethical conclusions, and where they may fall short for more complicated moral dilemmas, they can still act as a foundation that informs a more sound moral code.
For a basic example, the moral belief that we shouldn’t murder isn’t a gift mysteriously handed down to us, it just makes pure functional sense in the logical construction of a social contract for a society that is designed to survive rather than implode (Louis C.K., 2013, :D). The same would go for laws against stealing and its effects on an economic system.
However, as we all know, there are gray areas where there is a lot of disagreement (e.g. legality of drugs, gay marriage, abortion). This is where morality becomes complicated and may need more than just a logical and scientific approach. With that said, it’s clear that people that have a closer relationship to objective reality/God are far more likely to have more accurate perceptions of the world and thus their moral framework will reflect this accuracy itself.
For example, someone very disconnected from objective reality/God may have warped views of morality that have no connection to our shared experience. I’ve looked deep into the eyes of and listened to people that believe the most moral thing we can presently do is burn down the system through terror and the extinguishing of innocent lives. But when asked why, they put forth a weak structure of beliefs about the world that are demonstrably false.
On the other hand, someone who has a sharply accurate perception of the world around them (a strong relationship with objective reality/God) is far more likely to make moral judgments rooted in that accuracy. For example, take someone who has a logical and accurate belief that they are not isolated amidst the ecosystems of the earth, but instead their actions ripple throughout. When faced with ethical decisions involving personal responsibility and the effects on others and the environment, their morality will more accurately match the reality of the situation in which we are faced.
The full conversation on morality is too large for this short article, but no matter how you create your moral beliefs it should at least be noted the essential role that logic and science play in developing a deeper relationship with objective reality/God and thus a truer moral framework.
“I believe that love of truth is the basis of all real virtue, and that virtues based upon lies can only do harm.”
So, humans with the use of logic and the scientific method can be seen as moving towards harmony with objective reality/God, but how is parkour an act of praise?
In parkour we naturally, through logical processes, mold our bodies to be in harmony with the true way of nature/God by reprogramming our muscle memory and natural reactions; by strengthening the connection between mind, body, and surroundings. We develop a relationship with the world around us that floods the database of our intuition with detailed information about our surroundings. Those who are disconnected from the true way of nature/objective reality and rebel against it are often clumsy, break things around them, fall poorly, and so break themselves. There are those disconnected that belligerently yell their motto, “go big or go home” or “just do it,” but it’s only a faint utterance in your memory as they’re weeded out with constant injuries through a process of natural selection. In contrast, you notice those who have a close relationship with objective reality/God. Watch her as she elegantly glides through her environment, present and aware of her surroundings. She adapts with grace to the inevitable obstacles and falls in life.
As a community, we are a community of scientists, spreading our personal experiences and advice from our positions of expertise and experience from one to another in order to find patterns so that we may develop methods of instruction and training that are more sustainable and effective. For example, we’ve seen national summits with expert speakers (on topics including everything from nutrition to strength training to mastering the mind), coach retreats, coaching certifications, an influx of research papers, etc., popping up all over the world. ParkourEDU is an organization specifically founded to push movement innovation and sustainable training methods from a scientific foundation. There’s even a facebook group titled “Parkour Research” that is constantly growing in members. This spreading of knowledge with audience participation, application, further research, and discussion is a step down the path of harmony with objective reality/God.
If objective reality is something we can never truly communicate with human language, and logic and science are guides towards rather than away, then parkour is an act of praise, a Zen Buddhist’s step towards enlightenment. Imagine a monk sitting in silence on top of a mountain. In that exact moment a traceur is balancing on a thin railing in complete thoughtlessness. A devout believer prays for courage on bended knee while one story above him a traceuse triumphs over her fear and self-doubt, approaching at sprinting speed something she has yet to experience.
Let us rewire our muscle memory in accordance to the true way of nature; let us find harmony with objective reality/God. Let us transcend mundane sidewalks, make a jungle of this oppressive urban architecture. No longer will we clumsily stumble through our existence, we will embrace obstacles as challenges and tools for rewriting our natural reactions. No longer will we cower in fear; our training will act as a venue for mastering our minds. We will safely place ourselves into the uncommon and unnatural, causing ourselves to fall. Now, when hit with the ripples of events outside of our control, our natural reaction will be a quick adaptation, from the second we are blindsided to the moment we’re safely back on our feet, it will have been as if we didn’t miss a step running.
Parkour is the science of movement and a moving meditation: thoughtlessness while balancing, a silent landing that Confucius wouldn’t hear no matter where he was sitting, or the eternal struggle with ego and fear while taking that leap once thought impossible. We start with logic and science as warped reflections of objective reality and use them as tools to mold our bodies until our bodies become our surroundings.
Whether or not we can truly express objective reality/God with human communication, parkour is an important tool for our spiritual journey across the infinite gap jump.
Brothers and Sisters, Let Us Play!
Big ol’ special thanks for indispensable feedback and contributions from:
Alex Banks (Caroline Poilvé)
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