Sitting in front of you on the table is an orange. Its peel is yellowish-orange, oily, bumpy, and covered with tiny pores. Its shape is round, but not perfectly round: it has a few irregularities, including a lump on top containing a small green stub. You can wrap your hand comfortably around it, and when you pick it up it feels neither abnormally light nor heavy. Were you to peel away the skin, it would produce a pleasing ripping sound and reveal a lumpy ball made of crescent-shaped sections, each filled with pockets of sweet and sticky juice. Yes, this is an ideal orange.
Because of its lumpiness, the orange’s shape changes slightly as you turn your hand and view it from different angles. Since you can only look from one direction at a time, it is impossible to see the orange in its entirety. You rotate it slowly and try to remember each different perspective in order to form a complete mental image, but eventually you become frustrated and give up. Your vision, you realize, only captures a two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional reality, so you’ll never be able to see all of the orange at once.
Despite this disappointment, you are glad to have even an incomplete picture. You shudder to imagine what it must be like to be blind, and restricted to enjoying the orange through only your tongue, nose, hands, and ears. Although oranges are for eating, the first things that comes to mind when you think of an orange are its color, roundness, and bumpy, shiny texture, none of which you would appreciate (at least in the same way) without your sight. In fact, you come to the dispiriting conclusion that no blind person has ever truly experienced an orange, since its appearance is so essential to those with the faculties to observe it.
But what does it mean to truly experience an orange? Although you are grateful to be privy to its visual aspect, you cannot claim to capture all the fine details on its surface. It’s certainly not obvious to your naked eye that this fruit is actually made of millions of microscopic cells, which in turn are built from trillions of atoms arranged in complex mechanical structures. Nor can you capture its gustatory essence: of the multitude of molecular compounds making up this fruit, the taste buds on your tongue only allow you to perceive a fraction of them. Now it seems that you are hardly any closer to “fully experiencing” an orange than if you were blind!
It suddenly seems absurd to deconstruct this object into billions of atomic components, and you begin to question your scientific knowledge. How do you really know what this orange is made of? You’ve only ever learned about molecular science from books and other people. If you wanted to truly prove to yourself that the orange is comprised of tiny vibrating particles dispersed throughout empty space, you would have to dedicate yourself to chemistry and physics and gain access to advanced equipment necessary to demonstrate the existence of atoms. Even then, you would be forced to use some tool or technology without quite fully understanding it, shattering your confidence in your experiments.
After a moment of reflection, you realize that the situation is actually much more grave. Scientific knowledge aside, you cannot even be certain that there is an orange before you at this very instant! The human brain is demonstrably faulty, and this fruit could very well be a hallucination. Indeed, there may not even exist such a thing as an “orange” at all. Your entire reality could be nothing more than a dream or a figment of your imagination, from which you could suddenly awaken any instant. Despite this, you are strangely confident that if you extend your hand, it will once more graze that familiar surface...
But what does it matter? Despite the fact that your perception is incomplete or altogether false, sinking your teeth into a juicy slice of orange is a beautiful aesthetic experience. Who cares whether it is real, as long as it is pleasant? Are you incapable of enjoying pure sensation? How greedy of you to neglect this perfectly good orange and yearn instead for omniscience!
So you reach forward to take hold of the orange, dig your thumb beneath its thick peel, and begin to pull away. Ah, there is that pleasing ripping noise. But wait - what’s this? The bulbous mass before you is pink, not orange! It was a grapefruit all along!back to home page