More on First Reality and Second Reality

Let us imagine a land called Aqua. Aqua is a desert land, but because water is so important to these desert people, their culture centers around its worship. And in Aqua, there are legends of a place, far across the desert, where water is abundant. (Somewhere, over the rainbow...)

Over the centuries, various Aquans attempt to cross the barren desert and find this place where water is plentiful. And, at long last, a few hardy pilgrims succeed. They find a place with a great lake, and, for the first time, some Aquans are able to plunge into a large body of water and swim. They directly experience immersion in water, the movements necessary to swim, the feedback one gets from the water as to when one is swimming well or poorly, what it is to flounder in the depths and nearly drown, and so on. And this immersion is a transformative experience for those who undergo it.

Those experiences are first reality.

Naturally, when these pioneers return to Aqua, they try to communicate their experiences to the non-swimmers around them. They create terms like "drag," "lift," "glide," "resistance," "propulsion," "buoyancy" and "sinking" to describe what they were doing when swimming. While this is a step removed from first reality, it is still discourse about first reality.

But now imagine that, water being so important to the people of Aqua, these reports of swimming by those who have actually experienced it attract adherents among those who have never crossed the desert, and who have never actually swum. Certain descriptions offered by the swimmers appeal to certain groups in Aqua, while other descriptions appeal to others. These groups form sects, and compete in Aqua as to which of their favored "doctrines" of swimming will gain official approval.

One group claims: "Swimming is all about propulsion, and the notion of drag is a piece of propaganda put forward by reactionaries who do not want the common people of Aqua to advance."

Another group asserts: "Swimming is concerned with gliding, and those who talk of propulsion merely are creating justifications for their own oppression of others in Aqua."

A third group argues: "Essentially, all those who try to swim are sinking. We in Aqua can all only achieve buoyancy together, as it is by the lift of our solidarity that we all support each other."

Each of these groups has some truth on its side: each one has abstracted some aspect of primary reality, and thus some aspect of its truth, but each is also engaged in falsehood, in that each tries to claim the aspect upon which it focuses is reality itself, rather than a mere aspect of reality. And generally speaking, none of these groups urges their followers to actually try to cross the desert and swim for themselves.

These doctrines are secondary realities, or "ideologies" of swimming. They are wars over differing descriptions of primary reality, rather than reports of primary reality itself. Nevertheless, the secondary realities themselves enter into primary reality: for instance, the cult of gliding may gain political ascendancy, and engage in the slaughter or imprisonment of the adherents of propulsion. The suffering of its victims is most certainly a part of primary reality, as is the dehumanization of the "victors" who are able to dole out this suffering.


  1. This reminds me about the story by Raymond Smullyan, "A Planet Without Laughter". It's really short:

    It's about a society where hardly anyone has experienced laughter, so people develop various theories of "humorism" to explain what humor is. Like your Aqua story, it's a metaphor for mystical experience.

  2. Which group is which in this metaphor?