Random Thoughts Indexed

There are numerous versions floating around of the idea that the entire world is an illusion, a construct of our own observation and imagination, of our mind. I do not think this is true. While it is the case that many questions will cause the answers to fit their assumptions - most evident in some kinds of particle physics and bad journalism - it is the questions or the ability to "ask" them which limit the answers, not reality itself in most cases.

At its extreme, these theories have to cope with their inherent solipsism. If your mind is the place in which the only true reality resides, what of us other people, at the very least? Are we also real, and just the rocks and trees around us are illusions? That would be a very strange, narrow, and anthropocentric view of reality indeed. The next step would be to allow perhaps that all living creatures are real and the rest of the scenery is illusion... but does not a rock feel pain? Does not an island truly cry?

Once we allow that reality is created not just by our own mind but by other minds and even all "things," it becomes pointless to imagine we can simply wish it different, since every other thing has its own will to exist as it appears and its own creation - the grand illusion, the mass conspiracy, that is our shared reality.

I think this mode of thought is only useful when considering the social and psychological limitations that we accept in our lives. Their level of reality is certainly of our own creation, abstract productions that gain most of their strength and unchangeability from our belief in their existence.

So what do I think is real? Well, we could start with anything I could stub my toe on. Anything I can eat or hold - anything that might eat or touch me...

Basically I think that all we observe around us is real. It may not be exactly what it appears to be, and it is certainly the case that many things have an illusory nature, but even an illusion is usually a manifestation of "something" real. While I truly appreciate the tearing down of the walls between hallucination and observation that led so brilliantly to the Cartesian cogito ergo sum, that analysis is just that - and is more an exploration of the limits of analysis and knowledge than evidence or proof that the external world is not even real. To get down to detail, even a hallucination is real - but the nature of its reality is one of brain chemistry rather than objects observed in the universe.

When we do observe something, and decide it is not the product of fever, wishful thinking, or delusion, what we observe it as is certainly not the end of the story as to what its reality or nature consists of. It is its particular mode of interaction with our limited senses that is what we can determine to be real. There may be much that "does not meet the eye," but if the eye is the only tool we have, that will be our limit of understanding the thing.

To conclude, I think that the real world does exist outside our consciousness, and certainly exhibits many phenomena that are consistent and predictable, that are directly related to its underlying nature. Those phenomena are the ones that we have evolved organs by which to perceive, since perceptions of inconsistent or unpredictable natures of things would not confer a survival advantage. They are real, they are just not everything that is real.

10/17/00

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© Huw Powell
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