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This light romp of a poem asks if we can know the world, or even ourselves, or if everything we think we know is just a representation in the brain.

 

Representations

by Ken Sanes

It seems there are people at the university
who are absolutely certain we can’t really see.
They say that all we know are representations
which are things residing inside the brain.
If they’re right, it means that all our experiences,
from childhood memories to the feeling of pain,
and from the sound of a sigh to the sight of the rain,
are just things inside called representations.
This would include all forms of sensation
along with emotion, aversion, desire and thought
and, although we might catch a wisp of the world,
it would mean that in life nothing gets caught.
In fact, it would mean that there’s no way to find
a direct perception of things or true access to mind,
just their representations with a texture and feel
that lead us to think we’re experiencing what’s real.
And even our sense that we occupy space
would be like seeing a mask but perceiving a face.
Some even say that there’s no self at all
since it’s just representations we naively believe.
If they’re right, we’re stuck in a fictional person
and that’s where we are since we’re not free to leave.
But at least, if they’re right, we’ll be free of despair
since, despite our best efforts, we’ll know we’re not there.

So what should we make of all of these claims
that we can’t even manage to somehow be real,
and we feel that we think and think that we feel?
The answer, of course, is that none of us knows.
None of us knows why the world is so crazy
or why the truth of ourselves goes so deep but is hazy.
We can’t even agree on what it’s all for.
But there’s one thing I know almost for certain
and it’s that each of us has a real conscious core,
and we enjoy direct access because that’s who we are.
As for representations, they’re what bring us to life.
It is representations, those great representations,
that, amid all the mishmash, are tools of the mind.
Yes, it's the sum total of all those representations
that flesh out the self and make it somewhat defined.
And in a world full of falsehood where things are unclear,
our task (that’s our choice) is to move beyond fear,
and find ways to make contact and know what is true,
while the representation of love lets us make something new.

 


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