The term “reality tunnel” was first used by Timothy Leary in helping to describe his 8 Circuit Model for Consciousness, a system Robert Anton Wilson elaborated upon in his nonfiction book “Prometheus Rising.” Wilson describes a “reality tunnel” (or “neurological reality tunnel”) as the framework by which a person perceives reality. According to Wilson, reality is subjective, or because there is no objective way to think about the world, people create reality tunnels through which their beliefs, morals, and expectations filter the infinite quantity of stimulus to which everyone is incessantly exposed. Tunnel realities may be better understood by examining the two main concepts associated.
First, Robert Anton Wilson says that because there is too much incoming external stimuli for any one person to completely absorb reality in it’s entirety, we only take in information which is personally meaningful to ourselves. Therefore, tunnel realities may be compared to a lens through which information is allowed or denied. For example, an anthropologist or sociologist may process a situation in terms of how people treat one another, what type of slang they use, what sort of clothing they have chosen to wear, or anything else which may measure human nature because that is what an anthropologist or sociologist is most interested in and adapt at noticing. They have constructed a tunnel reality sensitive to humanistic matters and thus their brains have learned to be on the alert for these types of things. This example of an anthropologist’s tunnel reality may be compared to the tunnel reality of someone who is athletic or chiefly interested in sports. For this type of person, tunnel realities probably do not pay special attention to intricate human relations. Rather, an athletic person may pay special attention to other people’s physic, posture, or size because those are the kind of details their tunnel reality has learned to send to their brain. Because everyone has different interests and therefore tunnel realities, people will process the same events differently, making note of different things and gauging different significances. Simply put, tunnel realities are like filters through which we see the world.
Secondly and perhaps most importantly, tunnel realities are created based upon an individual’s beliefs or morals. This may be understood by applying the old motto “You only see what you want to see”; because it is impossible to understand reality’s complexity fully, a person will interpret a situation such that it agrees with previously established ideas. For example, someone who is against underage drinking will think of a party in which teenagers are served alcohol as unacceptable. If an accident occurs after the party in which an attendant is involved, the person with this tunnel reality will think that the alcohol was a leading cause, or that if underage drinking had not transpired the accident might have been avoided. Conversely, someone who sees nothing wrong with underage drinking will think of the party as a right of passage or harmless fun, while the accident might be more easily blamed on another cause, such as the other driver or a malfunctioning street sign. In each case, the person’s tunnel reality filters through information which agrees with their individual principals.
Robert Anton Wilson was against reliance upon one solidified tunnel reality. Rather, Wilson argued that a reprogrammed tunnel reality meant that someone was constantly challenging their beliefs or morals by looking past the sorts of details they were previously concerned with and attempting to identify new significance. For example, someone in support of underage drinking may examine a case in which someone who was legally too young to drink was injured in a car accident after they had become intoxicated and rather than attempt to find an excuse draw the conclusion that perhaps underage drinking has ill effects.
However, Wilson’s earnest habit of challenging his tunnel reality does not simply stem from the fear of analyzing reality incorrectly. While he is in support of necessary change of morality or behavior, Robert Anton Wilson believes that by thinking about things in new ways, or by attempting to see beyond our own tunnel realities, we may enrich our understanding of reality. For example, an average person may better their lives by pushing themselves to see with an artist’s eye, or a voter may attempt to alter their tunnel reality is that they can get into the head space of a politician.
In short, Robert Anton Wilson believes that tunnel realities, the windows through which people view life, are unavoidable but can be amended to not ignore information contradictory to a person’s beliefs, expectations, or interests. Instead, a person should strive to construct a tunnel reality open to all sorts of ideas and concepts. By doing this, Wilson argues that our tunnel realities may cease to paint a predictable and specialized painting of reality and allow new insights and perceptions.