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What is Reality?
Some thoughts on this thing we call reality.
We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.
The nature of reality has been a topic of philosophical inquiry for centuries. From ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle to modern-day thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Bertrand Russell, the concept of reality has been explored and debated in depth.
In this article, we will delve into the nature of reality and attempt to answer some of the most fundamental questions about our existence.
At its core, reality refers to everything that exists.
It encompasses both the tangible and intangible aspects of our world, including physical objects, thoughts, emotions, and ideas. However, the nature of reality is not always straightforward. What we perceive as reality may not necessarily be an accurate representation of what truly exists.
One of the most famous thought experiments in philosophy is René Descartes' "Cogito, ergo sum" or "I think, therefore I am."
Descartes argued that the only thing he could be certain of was his own existence, as he could doubt everything else. This idea highlights the subjective nature of reality and the limitations of our senses in perceiving it.
There are two key “schools” when it comes to exploring the nature of reality.
Idealism posits that reality is fundamentally mental or spiritual in nature, rather than physical. This idea suggests that the world we perceive is a manifestation of our own consciousness and that the physical world is merely an illusion.
On the other hand, materialism asserts that reality is entirely physical in nature. According to this view, everything that exists can be explained by the laws of physics and chemistry. Materialists argue that consciousness and subjective experiences are simply the results of physical processes in the brain.
Despite the many different philosophical perspectives on the nature of reality, there are some common threads that run through them all.
One of these is the idea that reality is not fixed or static, but rather constantly evolving and changing. Another is the notion that reality is interconnected and interdependent, with everything in the universe influencing and being influenced by everything else.
The problem ‘what is reality?’ arises from a consciousness of ourselves as living in a world which seems to be outside of, and yet is the cause of, our conscious life. Our reflections on this lead us to wonder if we can know of the world beyond our perceptions – the underlying cause of our consciousness of appearances. This world of the underlying cause we call ‘reality’. - Philosophy Now
What is reality?
The way many of us would answer this question would be by referring to our own sensory experience of the world. What we can see, hear, feel, taste and touch. But those senses are actually edited experiences since the light that reaches the eye, for example, triggers chemical and electrical signals which are then processed, and given meaning, by the brain. What we perceive is at least two steps removed from the experience.
The world we create inside our minds is a personal version of the world outside of us.
‘Reality is that which, if you stop believing in it, does not go away.’ - Philip K Dick
The core idea that none of that which we see or touch or experience is real in any sense and that we are basically living in a dream of some sort is a concept that has been considered across time by scientists and philosophers alike. One of the earlier ideas pertaining to this is a philosophical concept referred to as “Solipsism”.
Solipsism is the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist, which takes us back to an idealist view of the world. ‘Only my mind exists’.
This basic idea was first contemplated by Greek philosopher Gorgias (c. 483–375 BC), who came to the conclusion that any objective knowledge outside of our own personal experience was effectively impossible.
“Nothing exists. Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it. Even if something could be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others.” - Gorgias
This idea was later restated by Descartes.
There are some obvious questions and possible objections to this idealist view. For example, why would we, as individuals, choose to create realities which contain “horrors” and suffering?
I guess we only have to look at the behaviours some are capable of in order to answer that question.
It is clear that at some level there is a “consensus reality” that we are able to share and act within. Of course, I will have no real ideas as to the way you are perceiving or thinking about that reality, simply that it contains enough common ground for us to be able to work together.
It is also clear that there is a “personal reality” or “subjective reality” which at one level explains why we can experience the same external event and have different reactions to it and memories about it.
The role of emotions, expectations, previous experiences and beliefs will serve to cloud what happened and how we respond to it.
John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) was a scientist-philosopher who introduced the concept of wormholes and coined the term “black hole”. He pioneered the theory of nuclear fission with Niels Bohr and introduced the scattering matrix (S-Matrix)used in quantum mechanics.
He devised a concept of quantum foam; a theory of “virtual particles” popping in and out of existence in space (similarly, he conceptualized foam as the foundation of the fabric of the universe).
In the final decades of his life, the question that intrigued Wheeler most was: “Are life and mind irrelevant to the structure of the universe, or are they central to it?”
He suggested that the nature of reality was revealed by the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics.
According to the quantum theory, before the observation is made, a subatomic particle exists in several states, called a superposition (or, as Wheeler called it, a ‘smoky dragon’).
Once the particle is observed, it instantaneously collapses into a single position.
Wheeler suggested that reality is created by observers and that: “no phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.” He coined the term “Participatory Anthropic Principle”
Wheeler suggested a thought experiment to test this idea. It was known as the “delayed-choice experiment,” and was tested in a laboratory in 1984.
This experiment was a variation on the famous “double-slit experiment” in which the dual nature of light was exposed (depending on how the experiment was measured and observed, the light behaved like a particle (a photon) or like a wave).
Unlike the original “double-slit experiment”, in Wheeler’s version, the method of detection was changed AFTER a photon had passed the double slit.
The experiment showed that the path of the photon was not fixed until the physicists made their measurements. The results of this experiment, as well as another conducted in 2007, proved what Wheeler had always suspected – observers’ consciousness is required to bring the universe into existence. This means that a pre-life Earth would have existed in an undetermined state, and a pre-life universe could only exist retroactively.
The Anthropic Principle is well-known in science and it reminds us to reflect upon the “just-so” nature of the planet (and universe) in which we live. If the Earth had been closer to the Sun or further away from it then we would not have evolved the way we did. The Earth is in the Goldilocks Zone where conditions were “just right” for us to exist.
This opens some interesting possibilities, Is the Universe we believe we live in reinforced by our anthropomorphic perceptions of it? Are we repeatedly finding these “just so” conditions because we are looking for them?
Real is something capable of being treated as fact and something that is being or occurring in actuality and having a verified existence and substance that coincides with reality. Real is something that is not an illusion, not fantasy, not imaginary or a feeling of intuition. - BK101
This is an interesting quote in the light of some of the things we have been discussing.
Well, here’s an interesting video to keep you thinking.
Until next time
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