Monday, July 31, 2017

What is Reality

I've been in discussion with a friend on the essence of reality. Here's my contribution. 

There are many different concepts, embraced by astute men and women, of what “reality” is.

We might all agree that a granite rock is real, as are bananas and sharks. We may eat one while the latter may eat us, but they’re both real. We say they are real, and part of reality, because they are capable of being sensed by our five physical senses: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. 

But there is another aspect of reality that we cannot see, hear, taste, smell or touch…and yet we sense it and we have a sense organ for this invisible thing. I speak of gravity, and we have a vestibular system in our inner ear that acts as a balance organ. It’s connected to your brain and works in conjunction with your eyes to sense which way is up and where things are located in space, which we also cannot see, hear, taste, smell or touch. We cannot see gravity, but we sense it, we cannot sense space, but we exist in it. So, both gravity and space are part also of reality.

There are other aspects of reality, however, that we encounter every day, too, that defy our five senses, and even our sixth sense of balance, but are very much part of human reality. One of those often mentioned is “love.” Another is “hate”. And there is “fear” and “hope.” We sense, in a physical way, the evidence of love and hate by the actions of others. A hand, per se, is not love or hate, but when the hand embraces or hits, we attribute the reality of love or hate to the hand and the person it’s attached to. In our mind, the anticipation of the embrace or hit is describe by “fear” and “hope.” And all of those emotions are part of our reality as humans. And because they are so hard at times to understand we may call them mystical, because they come from and go to places that cannot be, per se, physically identified.

Then there are concepts from our imagination that may or may not be part of what is physically real, but they are concepts that seem real to some people. Here we may speak of   things like “black holes” or “fairies.” Astronomers and astrophysicists believe black holes are part of our physical reality, while poets and storytellers may believe “fairies” are real, even though no one as seen either one outside of a person’s imagination or though the inference of scientific measurements. Whether they are physically real is one thing, although we can still make them part of our reality by drawing or animating them. 

John Lennon once said, “I believe in everything until it is disproved. So, I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?” Lennon makes a good case that “concepts” and “nonphysical” ideas are real and are part of reality, simply because they’re conceivable. 

As a counter argument to that, but it makes the same point, Albert Einstein, who may have believed in blackholes, said “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Now, Einstein may have been trying to be funny and crack a joke. But what’s important is that persistence is much a part of our reality as is our imagination, insight, and those moments of epiphany that explain the interaction and juxtaposition of all these things that fill up what is real to us. 

And one last example. We may ask is a number “real?” Well, when we write it on a piece of paper, and we can see it, and manipulate it with other numbers we might say it is. But even in our mind as a concept, the number is still part of us, and it may motivate us to take one physical action or another. Mathematicians classify numbers as real, rational, integers, whole, natural and irrational numbers. To them, all of these rational, real, and irrational numbers are very real. And their existence has allowed us to explore space, and given physical means to actuaries who calculate the cost of your insurance policies. 

We could go on, but perhaps the point is now made—that reality consists of material things and immaterial concepts. Materialists may not feel emotionally safe by admitting this, but there are many immaterial things that affect and effect our material lives. But this short explanation may suffice that our five physical senses are very much effected by the immaterial. 

Therefore, REALITY IS THE SUM OR WHOLE of all these many material and immaterial things and concepts. All these things are part of the one essence that we call reality. We might say that the sum of all this is one thing. There is one reality, which is the sum of these many diverse parts. 

But how is it possible that all of these diverse things and concepts form a whole, a oneness, that work together and keep our feet on the ground, and for the most part allow humans to interact safety with each other and the universe. What keeps reality from falling apart, imploding, exploding or disintegrating? We might express the answer to that question by saying there are “natural laws” that superintend over reality that keep it together, that make it constantly whole and protect its oneness. 

But how do natural laws work and keep all this together as ONE reality? Where did the laws and rules come from?  Many people answer that question by turning to mysticism, otherwise known as religion. I’m not sure what atheists call it, but theists and Jews and Christians (and may be Muslims) call the source and the power that keeps all this together by the common concept God. Such a God Force must be beyond the material and immaterial things that he controls. The philosophers among us would say that such a “force of nature” (or God) is so far beyond all that we call reality, that REALITY is simply part of God’s imagination. Or, in popular terms, we are part of God’s Matrix.  Somehow, mystically or mysteriously, a Supreme Being holds all of these diverse things together in a working whole. The sum of all reality is one. And while reality may be just the figment of the One’s imagination, it still is.

In Exodus 3 (of the Jewish and Christian Bible) when Moses asks God’s name, God answers, "I Am who I Am.” This is perhaps the most famous passage in the Bible. Linguistic scholars say it is a phrase that defies tense, or time. It is indeed mysterious, as was the story that transpired after Moses and God has this conversation in front of a bush that burned but was not consumed in the flames. The burning bush was part of Moses’ reality, as was the disembodied voice or thoughts that allowed Moses to record the conversation. And surely the 10 plagues that God cast over Egypt in an effort to free the Israelites, should have confirmed in the reality of Pharaoh, Moses and all the people of that time and place, that I AM WHO I AM has power over all reality….and thus demands a relationship of us with Him, as mysterious as that may be. 

It is in this way that reality is one, that we are part of it, and we have a relationship with the Supreme Being that controls it. 

Get over it.




  1. Allow me to paraphrase this story briefly and please ignore my inconsistent use of capital letters because they haven’t been invented yet. Imagine this story in real time. No script.
    Moses walks in to see Pharaoh face to face and as god/God he declares this to Pharaoh. “I am who I am speaks to me one-to-one and I am here to deliver the message to you. I am who I am says, ‘Let my people go that they may worship me’”
    Now imagine…
    Pharaoh: “What did you say?! Are you nuts? ‘I am who I am’?! Duh! That’s too clear! You insult my intelligence! That’s circular reasoning! (LOL) That’s too concise! Give me some examples!” (hahahaha, I bet he wishes he could take that one back) “Who do you think you are? Can you explain this to me in a way that I can understand it?”
    Moses: You asked for it.
    Dan: Welcome to Theology 101: a man trying to explain himself.

    1. And, I expect that is exactly what Pharaoh said, except for the part that "That's too clear." Pharaoh must have laughed at Moses because it didn't make sense. So, God did give him examples, and let him have it with a 10 barrel shot gun. God explained it to him in a way he could understand.

    2. OK, we agree. Strike "That's too clear!" and replace it with "Obviously!" -- LOL