The Orange Car

The story of the orange car is as follows. We were in France a little over a year ago with two other couples, very good friends, and as we were walking up a street in a small town we noticed a car about 20 yards away from us up the incline. The car captured our attention because it was a very bright orange. The women were off somewhere else, it was just the guys, and not one of us had ever seen a car that looked like this one. We just sort of stopped in our tracks and looked at it in wonder. Orange. It was orange and we couldn’t get over it.

We were eager to take a closer look, and walked a little faster. I was very eager and got there first and could not make sense out of what I saw. I waved my friends to hurry up, and when they did, they too were momentarily bewildered. The orange car had turned into a deep, but not unusual purple. We began to laugh.

Initially we thought our eyes had played a trick on us, and then, of course knowing that we all experienced the same “vision”, we decided that the sun had played the trick: the angle of the reflection of the light that we saw from where we had been standing gave us the impression of the color that we saw from there; now from a different angel, closer to the car we could see that it wasn’t orange, had never been orange, but was in “fact” purple. My friends left it at that. I did not. i ruminated on the experience, thinking about the sun, and truth, and perception.

What follows now are the thoughts that have gathered themselves around that experience.

One could very reasonably say that the car was never orange; we had a misperception, and upon closer examination found its true color to be purple. That certainly would be a true enough statement of the circumstances.

On the other hand we do know that there are colors in the spectrum we cannot see, and sounds in ranges beyond our ability to hear, so that our perception of color and sound is always constrained by our position in time and space in relation to that at which we are looking. We also know that we are also limited by our physical abilities.

It’s at this point where someone might fall back on the common phrasing that “truth is relative” or, in a more confrontational mode, “one person’s truth is another’s fabrication.”

But confrontation, while good for the entertainment/news currently in vogue, generally does not lead us to a deeper understanding, and I suspect that the notion that “truth is relative” is a short-cut kind of confusion. It seems more likely that truth is what it is, and we are in some kind of relationship to it. That position is what the orange car experience demonstrates.

We can only experience any truth from where we are seeing it. If we stand fast and cling to our position, then that is a choice, not based on the truth as we see it (no matter what we may claim) but on our need to be identified with that truth. In my mind, that position is designed to deny the reality of process and change, and instead insist  on a permanence that does not exist.

Is there then nothing permanent? Yes, but it is not the fixed kind of permanence we fall in love with and long for as children. What is permanent in this universe is the process.

I turn now to Wikipedia for a description of that process:

“In other words, energy cannot be created or destroyed, and energy, in all of its forms, has mass. Mass also cannot be created or destroyed, and in all of its forms, has energy. According to the theory of relativity, mass and energy as commonly understood, are two names for the same thing, and neither one is changed or transformed into the other. Rather, neither one appears without the other. Rather than mass being changed into energy, the view of relativity is that rest mass has been changed to a more mobile form of mass, but remains mass. In this process, neither the amount of mass nor the amount of energy changes. Thus, if energy changes type and leaves a system, it simply takes its mass with it. If either mass or energy disappears from a system, it will always be found that both have simply moved off to another place.”

I would submit that the experiences the wisdom teachers are describing in the language and metaphor of their time and place is the illuminating discovery described above. From one place at one time “The Kingdom of God is within you.”  From another time and place comes the process understanding called Reincarnation.

Quantum physics explains that we do not have to choose, in fact we cannot choose: wave and/or particle is subject to where and how we do our observation. Despite the awkwardness and limitation of our language dominated intellectual understanding both are true at the same time. Again, a nod and quote from Wikipedia:

“Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interaction of matter and energy. ”

Thus I conclude that the car was orange and purple at the same time. It didn’t change it’s color; I changed my position.

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One comment

  1. David Lee · · Reply

    As Always, TD, I enjoy and retain your parables. A quick tweak: my understanding of
    wave/particle is that our point of observation is a factor, but also in some states of matter/energy the wave predominates and in other states, particle prevails. But, you are the teller of the parable, so i won’t make any further comment.

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