Un-Frequently Asked Question - What is Reality ?

Beating around the bush



David Sylvester looks at Alberto Giacometti's sculptures and sees expressed the loneliness and desire of man alienated from his authentic self in industrial society.

Giacometti’s view of man is that of the seeking man. An endless walk in search of a hiding reality. Enough is enough. We need an answer. We need to find out what reality is and be done with this thing. Let’s agree on what reality is so this guy can rest.

Keep it simple stupid ?

Hegel :)

Hegel :)

Are we over-complicating things ? Isn't reality just what we’re living right now ? But then again what is "right now” ? Perception makes it so things are what we make of them and we end up with as many realities as there are people as per Hegel's conception of consciousness.

When you and I look at a spoon, our perception is completely different. The micro-second we look at it, our brains call on memories and link dots to identify the object and your recollection is different than mine because how you learned about spoons was different than how I did. So of couse if we were to describe it we'd do it differently but even more so, our very experience of it is also different. Experience is part memory and memory is personal.

But one may think of reality as the common denominator to all our perceptions. Who perceives that version then ? A non-human consciousness ? Animal consciousness ? That would be a subjective perception as well.

E Pluribus Unum ?



So maybe we should settle on “Reality is subjective” ? A constant multiplicity with universes branching out. An infinite multiverse. Side note: Crazy that you need to get the universe in order to understand a spoon - But even then we can't agree on the reality of the spoon.

Still, consider this: There may a binary data point that is similar across observers. One that could actually serve as a common denominator for describing reality: Presence. We are both in the "presence" of a spoon or we are not. And from many realities emerges one ! E Pluribus Unum

And let me save you the pain of challenging that maybe: Of course, the spoon might be an illusion we're both experiencing and our very presence might to be perceived by yet another observer which subjects to his reality. I know, I know, tough one but we're getting there

Silent consensus ?

We collectively decide on the limits and outcomes of reality. For example consider how we consistently over-estimate our tendency for chaos. Experts predicted there would be an outbreak of coke consumption after coke legalisation in Portugal. They were wrong. 

Similarly, we imagine the world coming to and end if laws were to disappear. But it won’t. The lattice that binds us to the status quo is much more subtle. Order prerogatives have been internalised by each of us.

And collective illusions and beliefs are common. Take homeopathy or the Bermuda triangle for example. Some realities impose themselves by the cheer volume of believers.

Product of imagination ?

In 1983, Benedict Anderson wrote about “Imagined communities” : "An imagined community is different from an actual community because it is not (and, for practical reasons, cannot be) based on everyday face-to-face interaction between its members" - Wikipedia.

In a way, Benedict Anderson's “Imagined Communities” are reality generators. These communities invent their own realities. A nation is an imagined community for instance. So is a very large Facebook group. And what might be the ‘realest' imagined community ? One united by pain I believe. A community arising from collective mourning and struggle.

In watchmen, Dr Manhattan un-knowingly destroys NYC but also re-unites the American people

In watchmen, Dr Manhattan un-knowingly destroys NYC but also re-unites the American people

Drumroll : Reality is ...

On an individual level, lucid dreaming comes to mind: During a lucid dream, your brain is fully functional. What you feel and see is, hetherto, as real as it gets. The difference with reality is that you can actually control this world around you.

Take a game of chess. What is it ? Is it reality ? Or a physical cover up for something more profound i.e. the underlying challenge of winning or losing ? Truth is there is no underlying challenge :) There is no winning or losing. All there is is the game.

Same for reality. Reality is what you want to be really :) Just as chess could have a gazillion other possible rules. Life and reality have no inherent meaning. None. Whatsoever. I was lucky to see two astonishing movies that made me think about reality lately. “The Zero Theorem” (Christopher Waltz) and “Mr Nobody” (Jared Leto). In the former, Waltz is trying to prove life, reality and the universe don't exist … In the latter, old Leto recalls his Many lives and parallel realities. Both reach the same conclusion:

Reality, Life ... is a playground, you do whatever you want