For Peyton Farquhar, belief acquiesed to knowledge the moment that he felt his neck break, the last of his mortal feelings (Bierce, 1909/1966, Chapter 3). While reading “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge”, I was taken in by the author’s use of the omniscient narrator’s descriptions of Farquhar’s perceptions. And, as I have stated before, perception is reality. In order to contrast what is real and what is not, we must acknowledge that there are separate realities for each perceiver, and each perception must be that of consequence. The old rhetoric asks, “If a tree falls in the wood and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” My reply is, “How do you know that the tree fell?” This, however, does not answer the question, but it starts us on a journey to find the meaning of reality and which reality we are defining.
In the question about the tree in the wood, there is a consequence of the falling action, which is a transfer of energy to the vegetation and ground which it strikes. There is also the vibration of the air around the tree agitated by the sudden separation. The question here is if it made a sound. Very simply, these vibrations are perceived as sound by using the ear as an antenna, the ear drum as a modulator, and the brain as a filter and recorder. If there is neither any living thing in audible proximity to the fall, nor an analog recording device capable of reproducing the sound as testimony, then I argue that the tree did not make a sound. Further, one could argue that only the brain makes the sound by interpretting the vibrations; therefore, falling trees do not make any sound and any recording is only a recording of vibrations of air. Is this just semantics? Because this argument depends largely on how “sound” is defined, I believe it is. The same is true for color.
By my statement that perception is reality, I mean that our reality is defined by our perceptions, though it does not mean that what is real to me must be real to anyone else. One could also say that life is defined through experiences, but again, it is truly the individual perception of these experiences that matter, nothing else. “A philosophy is the expression of a man’s intimate character, and all definitions of the universe are but the deliberately adopted reactions of human characters upon it” (James, 1909, p. 20).
In Bierce (1909/1966), Peyton Farquhar perceived an ordeal where he was spared a hanging because of chance. Consider my theory, both metaphysically and astrophysically, that the Universe is infinite and, thereby, everything that can happen does happen. The term “Universe” here is a misnomer. I am actually describing a Multiverse with an infinite number of Universes, each a separate and distinct realm based on a choice, decision, and consequence. Picture an infinite number of Universes that are, initially, exactly the same, then there comes a choice to be made: option A or option B. Half of the Universes take on the consequences of option A while the remaining half take on option B, then there is another choice to be made, and the Multiverse splits infinitely in half based on the infinite choices that are made. This theory would promote realms where the choices not made in our Universe may or may not be consequent. Did Peyton Farquhar get a glimpse of an alternate reality in which the supply sergeant failed to care for the rope appropriately? Though it might be possible, it does not matter. Peyton Farquhar perceived his death immediately after, subsequently defining his reality, and for a split second, giving him knowledge. Though, if he continued the experience of escaping his death even after his death is witnessed by the executioner and his peers, one could argue that reality had split and though Peyton was dead, perhaps he lived on in another reality. This, I believe, is the basis of the religious context of Heaven and Hell. You can believe in Heaven, Hell, or nothing in particular; until you experience it, you have no knowledge of it.
If we can never glimpse the alternate realities, then we cannot perceive them; therefore, they are not real.
Bierce, A. (1966). An occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. The collected works of Ambrose Bierce (Vol. 2, pp. 27-45). Retrieved from Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13334/13334-h/13334-h.htm (Original work published 1909)
James, W. (1909). A pluralistic universe. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books