Friday, June 21, 2013

Now I Know in Part...

Yesterday, several videos showed up in my Facebook mini-feed of people being able to hear for the first time (or at least being able to hear better) thanks to cochlear implants. I watched one. Then another. Then many more.

The reactions people have are very moving. Many start crying when they hear the first sounds. Often they are startled or even confused, because their brains aren't used to processing sound.

It got me thinking: how do you describe sound to someone who has never heard or sight to someone who has never seen? Each is - as far as I can tell - an irreducible category of experience. To see is to detect light, but what could the concept of "detecting light" possibly mean to someone who has only known darkness? Can the experience of light or sound really be adequately compared to any other aspect of human experience? I don't think so. At the same time, people who are blind or deaf probably have experiences of reality that I have no category for either.

This leads me to wonder: how much of the whole of reality are we unaware of because we lack the sense(s) to perceive it? Are there other aspects of reality that are like light to a blind man or sound to a deaf person but which all human beings are blind and deaf to? My guess is yes. I suppose this is an unprovable assumption, but it seems to me a very rational one. Even with the senses that we do have, we're able to conclude that there is much to reality which is not immediately detectable (e.g., ultraviolet light, radio waves, etc). All signs suggest that reality is more, not less, than the sum of our experiences.

I believe all of us will experience something analogous to the cochlear implant after death: a new sense (or perhaps several senses) which will grant us the ability to experience reality in its fullness. The Apostle Paul wrote, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1st Cor 13:12).

I hope Paul is right. Knowing in part can be frustrating.

I suspect that this opening of our senses will be a little like these cochlear implant videos, only more so: Tears. Feeling overwhelmed. An ability to experience those we love in a way we never could before. A sense that something we've gone without for so long has finally been granted to us.

I think it will be beautiful, but probably a little scary, too. Maybe really scary. Especially if we want to hold on to an incomplete or deluded view of reality. The more we learn to love and long for the truth now, the more beautiful coming face to face with it will be.


  1. Beautiful Ryan. This is something I've been thinking about for about 15 years now. Even back in undergrad I put together the rough outline of a book idea I had called "The Seventh Sense" having to do with exactly what you've described above. Oh, and thanks for tagging me earlier so I could come back and read this!

    1. Haha, I'm not surprised at all that you've thought about exactly the same thing. It certainly would be a challenge to write a book about a sense that we have pretty much no means of describing! But its definitely a fascinating idea