Yesterday, I was flying over the Sahara. The plain had started from Douala by 3:50 AM, gone to Yaoundé and was now on its way to Casablanca. So I had not slept that night at all. Now, a day later, I still feel tired and not yet fit to write anything interesting. Being so tired however resulted in an interesting experience. Let me just write about it shortly. This is not about the many things I encountered on the trip; I hope to write about those bit by bit over the next days or weeks. It was more about something that was not there, I mean not really (although the interesting question here is what the meaning is of “really”).
I was looking down at the endless stretch of parallel dunes (at least I think that is what these structures where). I don’t know if it is the trade winds in this area or why these dunes are all parallel. They stretch as far as one can see. Structured emptiness as far as you can see; a structure that has nothing to do with us. Fascinating and scaring at the same time.
Suddenly I noticed I could hear some music; a tune of music with a repeating melody. The music’s style was obviously Highlife, an old style of African pop music. I saw somebody in front with earphones so I suspected it was coming from there. But then I noticed that I could influence this music with my thoughts. I could make it slower or faster and influence the melody to an extent. The noise of the aircraft was quite intense. Obviously my tired brain could pick the right tones for this music out of the noise because all of the components of it where present in the noise.
It looks like when we are tired, the neurons in our brains start to become less exact and our tendency for gestalt perception can start to play tricks on us. What we perceive is what our perceptive system creates out of the primary input it gets. The melody I could hear was an illusion, although I think that each note I could hear was actually there as a component of the noise. The melody was consistent with the noise. It was a consistent theory of what was there, although not a correct one. What a pity. I like old style Dance Band Highlife (E.T. Mensah’s music and stuff like that) and the tune I could hear was simple but sounded nice. But it was an illusion.
Many ideas people hold seem to be of similar nature: people project things into reality, from superstitions and conspiracy theories to religions. To some extent, the theories may be consistent with observations, as long as you don’t look very exactly. But it is better to wake up (after one or two nights of good sleep). Be skeptic. Don’t even trust your own senses. I now need my second night of good sleep and hope to be back here tomorrow.