Beyond Reality

We assume our senses reveal the truth about the world. But could reality be an illusion?

I opened the Beyond Reality debate with a quotation from Ambrose Bierce: “Reality is the dream of a mad philosopher.” Bierce’s words seemed apposite because to me the notion of a single overarching ‘reality’ which might apply equally and objectively to all humans, now and forever, is a wild fantasy.

A standard dictionary definition of reality runs thus:

“Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.”

This sounds, at first, quite reassuring. Someone, somewhere, has carefully divided ‘things’ into two fixed categories:

(a)   ‘Things’ which actually exist. These are objectively Real

(b)   ‘Things’ which exist only as ideals or notions. These are not objectively Real.

‘Things’ can apparently only be one or the other – (a) or (b), real or unreal. Therefore, we might speak about someone refusing to fa

Continue reading

Enjoy unlimited access to the world's leading thinkers.

Start by exploring our subscription options or joining our mailing list today.

Start Free Trial

Already a subscriber? Log in

Join the conversation

David Morey 2 22 August 2015

When it comes to what is objective, key are the things or experiences we can share, where agreement can be sought, where interpretations can sometimes be tested, allowing Nature a determining role in our conversations and attempts at understanding. Can we speak fairly of laws of nature we can discover? Well maybe, but they are only as good as long as we find them holding good in different environments and different circumstances and in different times. We might speak more reasonably of patterns and regularities, and such is our objectivity, identifying such regularities and processes that seem to repeat and keep going whether we are present to observe them, or whether we have begun to exist or continue to exist to have experienced their activity. Such 'objectivity' allows us to think about and imagine times and places we have been unable to directly experience but can reason about and build on to understand a reality greater than ourselves, independent of ourselves, however grounded this is in ourselves, our experiences and our thoughts.

David Morey 2 22 August 2015

Seems rather important to consider what is real in terms of what is actual, what is real and possible, and what we can identify as impossible. Also to look at real patterns that need to be described in more than simple material terms, in terms of feelings, reactions, qualities, values, ideas or possibilities involved. Patterns, what is real, all need to be given a context of the level they manifest at. And, what is hard to see in objective terms is the unpatterned, the unique, the one off event, individuality, creativity, emergence, history, openness, contingency, etc.

David Morey 2 22 August 2015

The dualism of subject and object is discussed by Robert Pirsig with great insight in his less well known book Lila.