Reality is Bunk

No, it’s not about the matrix. And I don’t think life is a dream. I’m not even talking about Kant’s Ding-an-sich / Welt-für-mich. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that the physical world we experience really is the way it seems to us. Even then:

– Heresy n°1 – 

98% of reality is simply what we choose to believe.    

Choose gravity!
You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Split reality

2%of our world is what I call “imperative reality”.  This is reality that we ignore at our peril. Not respecting it carries swift and sometimes fatal punishment. Illusions that you can fly off a tall building generally don’t last long. So we can easily agree that things fall down. This does not mean that we need to agree on gravity. If someone chooses to believe there are invisible imps that push things down, however ridiculous that belief may be, there’s nothing to stop them. There is no natural penalty attached to ridiculous beliefs, only to ignoring the “imperative” facts.

Another 8% of reality consists of scientific, or testable, facts. These  however can be ignored with impunity. Evolution e.g. is easily proven to anyone who accepts the scientific method, but there are still people who reject it. These people don’t drop dead, indeed they can live long and healthy lives. A bit annoyingly, they can enjoy all the mod cons provided by science, with their minds firmly stuck in the dark ages.

The remaining 90% of reality are things like expectations, abstract ideas, value judgements, philosophical theories, psychological explanations:  This time I’ll do better.  What is justice? Or freedom? It is good to help others and bad to be late. Does God exist? Is epiphenomenalism true? Do we have free will? What is A’s real motivation? Is B a true friend? Why did C do that?

What does “true” mean?

For the first 10% of reality, I have an idea of what it means for something to be true. Something is true if adding it to my worldview allows me to make better predictions about the future. This also gives me way to decide whether something is true. Choose something relevant, make a prediction with the idea, and with it’s negation. Then see what really happens.

Personally, I find the old “adaequatio rei et intellectus”, the correspondence of mind and reality, a bit circular. How do we check the correspondence? We can only compare our  mind with … our idea of the thing – which is still our mind.

And while a coherent world-view may be elegant, I think our views are at best “locally coherent”, i.e. they don’t obviously contradict the other ideas we commonly are aware of at the same time (I’ll come back to this another day).

As for saying that something is true, if it’s satisfactory to believe it…

What about the other 90% reality? What does it mean to say “epiphenomenalism is true”, or even “God exists”. These are statements that have no testable consequences, so my own definition above doesn’t work. The classical definition of truth fares no better: you can’t have an adaequatio rei et intellectus, because there simply isn’t a res. The same goes for value judgements, or statements about abstract ideas.

So?

Without a clear idea of what it means for 90% of reality to be true, maybe we should just accept that it’s largely subjective. Then we can stop arguing about it. This does not mean it doesn’t matter what we think, or that there is no reasonable way of choosing between two conflicting views. Just that the way to do it is not their “truth” value.

© K / ablogdog.com 2012. Please respect the copyright notice.

Published by

Delft

I like blue.

27 thoughts on “Reality is Bunk”

  1. Hey!
    Love this post!
    And I agree that reality is subjective!

    People choose to believe some things and not others as a form of security.

    Perhaps religion is a ‘reality’ of security because people are so insecure of not knowing what happens after death?

    Anyway, thank for the great post!

    1. Hi Colin,

      Thanks.

      I don’t think it’s security people get from religion. After all they are sad when someone dies young, especially a child. Even when they know the person only vaguely, i.e it doesn’t leave a hole in their lives. If they were sure, wouldn’t they be joyful?

      We’e social beings, and religion includes lots of social activities, as well as the ideal of compassion, which gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling. I think that’s one factor.

      Another is that it provides moral certainties. If you’ve “swallowed” a religion you can condemn everyone who doesn’t see things your way from the safe moral high-ground of your faith, and never have to ask yourself uncomfortable questions. And you can be sure that forcing others to live the way you want, is actually the kindest thing: you are saving their souls etc. E.g.
      this priest was probably just following his conscience…

      These certainties give social structures an enormous motivation to encourage religion, to increase stability. Of course this only works as long as people don’t start to think critically, and see the cost of this kind of stability…

      Thanks for the input.

      Delft

  2. Religion, a contraversial subject. And I must admit that while you feel passionate about your opinion on reality, I can only assume that by posting it, you must wish for someone with a different perspective to find some sort of insight in your thought process. I read it and as a person who hold believe in a religion I still maintian the perspective of “truth” as it is presented in a scientific method. It is a fact that Evolution is a theory. Micro evolution is factual and no one is disputing that, however Macro, being one species completely changing into another based on the “survival of the fittest” method is completely unfounded. To say we evolved from monkies births the question as to why monkies still exist if we are their more fit predessors? Shouldn’t they have gone extinct long ago? If there was ever an idea to be pushed down ones throat, it’s evolution.
    Now religion, being the belief in a creator or higher being is completely unsupported by fact, but there is nothing to disprove it either. To say that those who believe in religion are merely insecure or are looking for a high ground in which to judge others is merely ironic being that those who make such a statement are just as judgemental. It is human nature to judge for holding a simple opinion about anything gives you judgement apon it.
    Being that most of the world’s population still believes in a higher being or power, it’s hardly an outdated concept. If this reality is looked at from a scietific standpoint and research is noted from those who had near death experiences (the closest we will ever come to knowing about death without actually experiencing it ourselves), the scientific evidence supports the idea that there is something more after this life.
    As for morals, I will not say that any one person is more capable of holding them than anyone else reguardless of beliefs. In every organization, religion, race, or group, at some point there will be one who does something contradictory and ends up misrepresenting the group as a whole. Hense the concept of prejudice.
    I will end my comment on the philosophical note that while I have no doubt changed your prospective anymore than you have changed mine, it is the nature of reality to be so personal that yours doesn’t have to be mine to be “true”.

    1. Thanks for engaging.
      I am glad that at least in principle you agree to the scientific method. Whoever “pushed evolution down your throat” seems to have done it badly: we did not evolve from monkeys, we only share common ancestors. We are evolutionary “cousins” so to speak, and each of us occupies a separate ecological niche, which is why we cohabit this planet, along with all the other species.
      In my experience believers come in two flavours: the ones who go around telling others what they should do (who keep telling us homosexuals are against nature etc.), and the ones who concentrate on the loving aspects of religion. I know some religious people who are incredibly courageous, giving and warm. I think perhaps this is the difference between the institutionalized religion (e.g. the catholic church) and the individual human kind. Unfortunately on a socio-political level it always seems to be the former kind who dominates the discussions.
      Non-believers can be just as judgemental as believers can, but they have no obligation to be, see Heresy n°2.
      I like your last comment: indeed reality is personal, so we may well agree to disagree.

  3. You know, I must respect your confidence when approaching such contraversial subjects. Most people dance around religion, homosexuality, and even politics these days since the country is so badly devided. It’s often easier to refrain from revealing your opinion in hopes of remaining in the delicate balance of being politically correct. or unoffensive. I would also buy you a coffee just for having the capasity of holding a friendly debate. Most people get nasy very quick when others question their point of view.
    That being said, I certainly don’t want to hold out on my homosexuality opinion. What a person does behind closed doors is none of my buisness as long as it’s not against the law or hurting anyone. My religion says that it’s not my place to judge. That’s not to say that my religion doesn’t define homosexuality as a choice…a lifestyle if you will. It is here that the great debate occures. Scientifically one must ask if it really is a choice or if it’s biologically out of one’s control? Where then do bi-sexual people land? Is it hormones? Is it genetic? And if it is, is it just an anomally, or is something physically off? You are then viewing homosexuality as a medical condition with an unknown cause. I personally have friends who are homosexual and one of them openly admits that she had a tramatic experience that ruined her forever with men. She has male friends but, her mind won’t allow her to view them sexually. I don’t discuss it any further with her for fear of offending or bringing up old wounds. For her it is a choice, but I know of others who say that is not so. I personally lean toward choice given my religious point of view and my experience of friendship, but as I originally said, it’s not my place to judge making the whole conversation nearly irrelevant. I say nearly because just having an opinion on whether or not it’s a choice is techincally placing judgement, even though I see it as more of a hypothesis.
    I will have to check out your second Heresy just for giggles. On evolution however, I am obviously facinated by science and know exactly what you are talking about when you speak on humans being cousins to the ape/ monkey/ primate family, but based on other studies, I disagree with Macro-evolution. For reasons that you are probably familiar with being a study of evolution. It’s not a perfect theory or it would be fact. Being so widely accepted, it was a surprise to find that only 50% of biological scientist believe in Macro-evolution. Check it out. More recent studies have turned up some inconsistancies.
    Thanks for good conversation🙂

    1. Where homosexuality is concerned: if you accept that it is not your place to judge, what difference does it make to you whether it is a choice or not? Or whether it depends on the person? I think this may explain how I see it.

      On evolution, I’m afraid you are directly contradicting your previous argument. To me that suggests you are simply repeating arguments you’ve been taught, but don’t understand. I know that in the USA you are taught that there is a controversy on the subject, but in fact there isn’t one. Being a scientist myself I can tell you that all serious biologists agree on it. Creationism is a crackpot theory, rather like the flat earth theory. There is simply no evidence to support it.
      If there was even a single shred of evidence, you can be sure creationists would have made that their principal argument, rather than teaching people like yourself the line about the monkeys you presented in your first post, or the “it’s only a theory” line. In fact, if they were real scientists, they would know that in this case, as e.g with relativity, the word “theory” does not mean “conjecture”, but “a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct.”

      While for philosophical questions I am happy for everyone to believe what they like, in science I think we should let the facts speak: and all the facts point to evolution. If someone is not happy to accept the scientific method, that is of course their choice. It does, however, make argument futile: none so deaf as he who will not hear.

    2. Hello! SoundEagle must commend both Delft and cloudsnmycoffee for being civilised and patient with each other. Having said that, SoundEagle is in agreement with Delft, just to state a position (or belief, worldview, background and so on) here. It is very unfortunate that too often even those who claim to believe in and adopt the scientific method still cherrypick the data and refuse to examine contrary evidences. They fail to understand and address many valid points, perspectives, domains and dimensions, and hence it is impossible for them to evaluate and change their standpoints, approaches and behaviours.

      All in all, it is important for, and also courageous and admirable of, us to confront these sensitive and polarising issues amidst social prejudice, ignorance and bigotry, to have lived an examined life, and to be inquisitive and open-minded. Perhaps some of us could take comfort in the fact that in recent years, the Catholic Church has had to accept evolution, though on a theistic basis.

      For one of the most recent takes on atheism, visit http://www.thesixwaysofatheism.com.

      As for the pitfalls and fallacies of the design argument, visit the following:
      http://www.iep.utm.edu/design/
      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/intelligent-design-trial.html

      It has been estimated that if evolution (both macro and micro) were wrong then more than 99% of all scientific disciplines would be wrong too due to the high degree of cross-collaborations and confluences of data.

      As for homosexuality, it is hardly confined to the human species, and is prevalent in many other species. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_animals. The same is also true of sexual behaviour. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_sexual_behaviour.

      1. The cross-collaborations thing is absurd. Why should mechanical engineering, computer science, or even chemistry be subject to the “truth” of evolution? The beauty of science is that theories may shape how we think about something, but for facts we rely on evidence. We do the test in the lab, build the building, run the program, and then we have evidence one way or another, regardless of which theories inspired our ideas.
        This kind of unsound argument easily leads people who don’t accept evidence to the conclusion that they can dismiss all arguments, if they can disprove this one.
        Thanks for engaging.
        (Typo fixed.)

        1. Perhaps there is some misunderstanding here. By “cross-collaborations” (whether by design or by accident, whether independently or co-dependently, and whether concurrently or not), I meant the cumulative results, benefits and synergies from the convergence of evidence from diverse disciplines and researchers who may or may not be collaborating and/or aware of each other’s findings and activities in the first place; and I also meant that research(ers) on/in evolution and evolutionary sciences have relied and benefited, both directly and indirectly, fertilizations, findings, paradigms and techniques from diverse disciplines. Let me quote Michael Shermer from his essay entitled “A skeptic’s journey for truth in science” as further examples:

          To be fair, not all claims are subject to laboratory experiments and statistical tests. Many historical and inferential sciences require nuanced analyses of data and a convergence of evidence from multiple lines of inquiry that point to an unmistakable conclusion. Just as detectives employ the convergence of evidence technique to deduce who most likely committed a crime, scientists employ the method to determine the likeliest explanation for a particular phenomenon. Cosmologists reconstruct the history of the universe by integrating data from cosmology, astronomy, astrophysics, spectroscopy, general relativity and quantum mechanics. Geologists reconstruct the history of Earth through a convergence of evidence from geology, geophysics and geochemistry. Archaeologists piece together the history of a civilization from pollen grains, kitchen middens, potshards, tools, works of art, written sources and oth er site-specific artifacts. Climate scientists prove anthropogenic global warming from the environmental sciences, planetary geology, geophysics, glaciology, meteorology, chemistry, biology, ecology, among other disciplines. Evolutionary biologists uncover the history of life on Earth from geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biogeography, comparative anatomy and physiology, genetics, and so on.

      2. I know what cross-collaboration means, thanks. There is no support in anything you write for the idea that “if evolution were wrong…99% of all scientific disciplines would be too”. That is simply nonsense, see my previous argument.
        It is completely irrelevant what ideas researchers in evolution have relied on. And while there are disciplines that are largely speculative, this is not true of “99% of all disciplines”.

        1. That is not (just) my claim; and it is from some scientists who have made the interconnections and stocktaking of disciplines and knowledges. When creationists try to debunk certain parts and/or the whole of evolutionists or evolutionary scientists, they have cited certain problems with some scientific claims and/or techniques which rely on or are founded on mathematics, measurements, instruments, various disciplines and so on in very interconnected ways, and have been reliably used fro a long time. For example, many instruments rely on the veracity and reliability of quantum mechanics, electronics and electrical engineering, which in turn rely on other disciplines such as physics, mechanical engineering, optics and so on . . . . It is a very highly interconnected web.

  4. On homosexuality, it is not my place to judge, but when deducing what is moral for one’s self, you must acknowledge your choices. For Christians, it’s just another personal choice, but it should not effect how you treat anyone. So, in essence, it doesn’t matter, only in respect to my personal choice.
    On evolution, the Cambrian period is acknowledged by credible scientist at substantial universities across the world as putting a big “GAP” in the theory of evolution. I am a US citizen and yes, we may live in our own little bubble at times, but that is not to deduce that we are all as ignorant as the world would like to believe. We are just people, just like everyone else. There is nothing to support Macro-evolution. It’s just another religion. One sees only what they want to, correct? When I look at evolution, I see gaps. When I look at my religion, I see nothing. It’s a felt thing. Purely a belief, nothing more. Unexplainable to a scientist such as yourself. Been fun talking to you.

    1. I am afraid that as to the Cambrian, you have once again been misinformed. Far from speaking against evolution, the “gap” you mention provides key evidence that may help us understand more about how the earth and it’s inhabitants developed.
      Doesn’t it strike you as suspicious that people arguing against evolution always pick on words like “gap”, “theory” etc, that – taken out of context – may seem to speak as evidence against evolution, although even 2 minutes research will prove otherwise? Are they so stupid or uneducated as not to understand this? Or are they willfully misrepresenting the facts to mislead people like yourself? I do wonder. In either case I think it’s a great pity. I think they haven’t understood that acknowledging evolution (not “believing”: it’s not a religion, it’s science) is no bar to religious faith. I don’t believe a single religious leader in Europe denies the truth of evolution, any more than they insist the sun revolves around the earth, or the earth is flat.
      The difference between science and religion is indeed looking at the evidence. As as scientist, I do not see only what I want to, although religious fanatics do.

      I agree that faith is a felt thing, there’s the difference to science. And everyone may feel differently.

  5. I think you shouldn’t reject the scientific method before giving it a good try. After all, the scientific method is just the application of common sense. Like that object falling from a rooftop. It makes sense to get out of the way. How fast is it falling? Well, Galileo and Newton actually took their time and carefully observed how things fell and came up with several laws of physics. They are universal laws as far as we can tell (which is pretty far nowadays). The inverse square relationship also seems to be hold true in a lot of places in the observable universe. Anyway.

    1. As a scientist I fully agree. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who go through life believing all sorts of rubbish on no evidence at all, and rejecting things the scientific method shows to be true: evolution, global warning. There is simply no way you can convince them to rely on evidence, because they reject the very method by which you may try to persuade them (evidence), that’s because its in the 8%.
      As Schleichert says in his book “How to argue with fundamentalists without losing your mind” (in a word: Don’t!): you cannot by reasoning dissuade people from opinions they have not arrived at by reasoning. At best you can try to plant subversive little questions to niggle at their minds…
      Thanks for dropping by.

  6. Ah, I see you went a touch deeper than me on this. Impressive arguments here, and good God, thank you for standing up for the scientific method, which, if we are to accept our world (perhaps out only option if we are to be rational people, not lost in reality conundrums) is the only place we can effectively garner real information about the things we actually *can* study.

    Seems you inspired a bit of a firestorm in the comments, though. It is rather refreshing to see someone actually know their science before arguing it. Thank you for that. I will be returning.

    1. Thanks.

      I’m afraid arguing with people who have been injected with rubbish, and simply not taught to question what they say is a bit tiring. And frustrating. I really wonder where the people who do it all the time get their patience from.

      But we do need the science to survive, so I’m hoping that ultimately it will win the argument.

    1. I think it would certainly help some discussions – like the climate one – to separate what is real, and what are ideas, concepts, and projections…
      Thanks for stopping by.

        1. Ah, ok, I think I get your drift. Though I’m not sure I entirely agree: after all, if I believe that there are invisible imps pushing stuff down and the result is indistinguishable from this unproven ‘theory of gravity’ thing, what’s the difference?

          I think where I’m coming from is that so much depends upon the beliefs and perspectives of those taking part in any discussion. Although I agree that it would help the climate discussion if we could all agree on reality; but those in denial simply won’t.

          I think the following is a particularly apt illustration: In the 1950s it was generally considered ‘impossible’ for man to land on the moon… and today, some people — incredibly — find it easy to believe that the whole Apollo program was all just a hoax. What, indeed, is ‘truth’?

        2. In the climate discussion I think the problem is more that each side presents their own projections as fact, and the other sides projection as fabrications, when they’re both projections, not reality.
          Reality is only what is now, or what is past, not what we believe may happen in the future.

        3. Fair point about the ‘now’. I take exception to your comments about the climate discussion on the grounds that it implies there is still a ‘debate’ about whether it’s ‘real’ (etc). The only remaining ‘debate’ exists purely in the minds of those who are suffering from cognitive dissonance.

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