During a recent information overload I began to question the basis for defining reality. Researching various descriptions of the term led to exacerbating the original condition but it also provided for a fascinating foray into something most of us take for granted, the existence of reality.
What is real? To pull an apolitical example of the conundrum from our current political landscape, consider the dichotomy presented by the President of the USA.
Here is a man loved by half of the country, hated by the other half. Without regard to which side you are on, your feelings are likely to be strong. Half see him as an angel with a slightly rusted halo, sacrificing an affluent, pampered lifestyle in his effort to make this country a better place for all its citizens. The other half view him as a villain, a misogynistic, homophobic bigot who only sought office to personally grow his already too large bank account.
Each side believes in their truth, each side acts on their truth. But the “truths” are mutually exclusive and therefore cannot both be true. Both cannot be reality.
An ancient reality points to the persistence of belief. Heliocentrism, that the sun revolves around the earth, was an accepted reality until first questioned by Philolaus in the 4th century BCE, yet it remained the accepted reality until Galileo in the 16th century CE. This was a “reality” that required two thousand years to vanquish.
On a lighter note, there is a reality in which prayer can cause rain to fall. In times of drought primitive societies around the globe have used prayer to bring needed rain. The technique involved prayer, and sometimes dancing, which continued until the rain began. We might argue cause and effect but the operational reality is that the prayer caused the rain.
A TV ad for a DNA testing company showed a man who said he had long believed himself descended from German ancestors. He belonged to German cultural organizations, wore lederhosen, and had a large circle of friends within that community. The testing showed that he was actually of Scots descent so he traded in the lederhosen for a kilt. Did reality change? What of all the people he interacted with as a descendant of Germany, did they suddenly disappear? Perhaps only his perception changed and with minimal effect on anything else.
If reality is truth, truth reality, then what of the polygraph. The venerable lie detector can actually only detect deliberate falsehood. What the subject believes to be true will record as being true. Again, perception creating reality.
There are 7.7 billion inhabitants on this planet. I would venture a guess that something close to 100 percent of them would accept as reality that plunging a hand into boiling water would be painful. A significantly smaller number would accept as reality the proposition that chocolate tastes good.
And now let’s turn stage right and move deep into the weeds. Quantum physics seems to indicate that all matter, all time and all space are interwoven into a single entity, a construct that acts according to a body of law as yet undecipherable to we humans.
In this developing science objects being observed can move instantly from point to point, manifest at two or more spatial points at the same time or even move along parallel tracks at speeds that vary one from the other. In this new universe, seemingly scripted by Lewis Carroll, all bets are off. Perception is no longer reality because what we perceive is in constant flux, ever changing.
While the points of illustration that bolster our discussions of reality can range from the sublime to the ridiculous, the question remains, what is real? In this progression from flat earth to quantum physics perhaps our linchpin to sanity, our systemic matrix, comes down to shared perceptions within those groups we identify with and the civility to peacefully understand, accept and work with the perceptions of others that do not quite dovetail with our own.
Thank you for the time you have invested in reading this and I value your opinion.