I’ve been meditating with Sam Harris’s Waking Up app since approximately August 2018. At least twice, there’s been an exercise that feels alienating and distracting to me, in that it makes me think that a non-trivial amount of people must be experiencing reality in a significantly different manner than I am. In the daily meditation from June 4, 2020, Sam said:
Everything is appearing in this same place. What you see with your open eyes is the same place, the same condition, in which you are thinking. And you can prove this to yourself by broadcasting a thought into that space. Simply visualize something. As you gaze into space, superimpose an image of a person, or an object, that you can visualize. It might be the face of a close friend; it might be your car or your keys. Now however vague or unstable that imagery is, I think you’ll recognize that there’s something there. Something is being superimposed on your visual field. It’s not elsewhere. It does seem as though you see it. It’s like a transparent overlay on what your eyes are seeing in this moment. And in fact it’s happening in your visual cortex where everything else is being seen.
I cannot superimpose anything over my visual field, and it scares me a little to imagine that there are people who can. When I visualize something, the something is in its own box in my mind, like looking at a different screen. If you asked me to imagine that there’s a cat sitting in my chair, I’d imagine a copy of the room and the chair and a then the cat in it, in an ephemeral space in my mind. To “see” this copy of the room and the chair and a cat, it feels like I disengage with my visual field, and am rotating an eye in mind “up” to see this room-copy.
If there’s a large segment of the population that can superimpose images on their visual field with relative ease, then stories of ghosts, aliens, Bigfoot, and angels seem like they should be met bored indifference. I’d expect people to start daydreaming and seeing monsters, like in a TV show when a character is fantasizing or dreaming and you ask out loud to whoever’s watching with you, “This isn’t real, right?”