Lesson #1: The Truth About Reality

Lesson #1: The Truth About Reality Science is powerful, but limited. Science is supposed to hack away at this thing called "reality" -- by telling you what exactly it is. But that's like the five blind men trying to describe the elephant, with little to no knowledge about the whole. Science can't define reality Human scientists can't unstrip "reality" to its core -- because whenever they observe the physical universe, they're using a special kind of looking glass. The human filter of perception. They're just like the five blind men. Only capable of perceiving parts of the whole. Human scientists are limited in how they can perceive the world, because they're human. Humans can only hear certain sound waves, see certain light waves, feel certain tactile stimulation, and smell and taste certain chemicals. Because you're human, you can't experience everything. You're limited by what your body has evolved to experience. Unlike pigeons, you can't see ultraviolet light. Unlike dolphins, you can't communicate through sonar. And as Cylon Cavil from "Battlestar Galactica" says, you can't see gamma rays, hear X-rays, smell dark matter, or feel the wind of a supernova flowing over you. The importance of defining reality Nonetheless, it's still important to define the term "reality." Because it's a term that's pretty common. And your definition shapes the way you view your world and your place in it. You also need to know what reality does and does not mean -- so that you won't let others convince your that your version of reality is wrong, and their version is right (without first thinking critically about it that is). The old definition of reality The dictionary says that reality is "that which exists, independent of human awareness." This would work if we could somehow be aware of something that exists -- without being humanly aware of it. Which isn't possible, because we are human. So reality is something that is that which exists out there -- that you may or may not be aware of. Okay, the problem is... once a you become aware of something "out there" it's no longer "out there." But "in here," because the brain co-constructs the perceptual experience. For example, when you see an elephant outside your window, it's no longer just outside your window. It's in your visual field and your short-term memory. It's "in here." In your human awareness. This is how you know it's real, that it exists. The new definition of reality Humans can't know what's "out there" without internalizing it through perceptual experience (we'll get to this more in Lesson #3). This turns the old-definition-of-reality around completely. You know something is real when you experience it. When you haven't experienced it, you have no way of knowing if it exists or not. (Unless someone else you trust has already experienced it and told you about it too.) An elephant is only real to you when you've seen it at the zoo. Or on Discovery Channel. Or in a children's book when you were young. Or heard stories about it from your safaring uncle. If you've never had any exposure to an elephant of any sort -- elephants won't be real to you. Even if they existed on the other side of the planet, you wouldn't know about them unless you or someone else has experienced the perception of "elephant."

The new definition of reality is "that which exists, through human awareness."

The Morpheus definition of reality Let's pick this apart even further, because it's really important to know what you're dealing with whenever someone tries to tell you their version of reality is more accurate than yours. Here's what Morpheus told Neo in The Matrix:
“If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
I'll repeat that.

"Real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain."

This is the cool version of the new definition of reality. Your human awareness of reality is all about the electrical signals interpreted by your brain. What this has to do with daily life Let's bring this into a real life example. Say you're having an argument with your older brother. He's so convinced he's right and you're wrong -- that his version of reality is more accurate than yours. He tells you that you're so "out of touch with reality" to even make your argument. Okay, what does this mean? It means that your brother's personal experience and what he's paid attention to over time -- the electrical signals of his brain -- painted a particular version of what happened between the two of you. Which from his perspective, clearly shows how he is right and you are wrong. You, on the other hand, are a completely different person. You have a different collection of life experience. And different beliefs, goals, fears, and dispositions. So your personal experience and what you've paid attention to over time, is very different. In other words, the electrical signals of your brain painted a different version of what happened between the two of you, in regards to the particular incident that you are arguing about. Which from your perspective, clearly shows how you are right. In this argument between you and your brother, it's fruitless for him to say that you're "out of touch with reality." Because you're totally in touch with your version of reality.

No one human being can be totally in touch with reality.

Reality's total touch is far too vast for any single human mind to comprehend. Because the entire universe is far too vast for any single human mind to comprehend. (Remember, you can't even see ultraviolet light or communicate via sonar.)

No one can ever be totally out of touch with reality because they are always experiencing something. Some reality -- that's theirs.

Your bro's claim that you are "out of touch with reality" isn't accurate. Instead, it's a subtle way to invalidate your personal opinion. But opinions, like feelings, can't ever be proven "wrong." They just exist. It's far more productive (and sensible) for him to explain how he got to his version of reality. And ask you how you got to your version too. So that you can both find out what caused the difference in story-versions. And see if you can somehow end up on the same page. That would be the response able thing to do. But then how can anyone ever be right? Alright, so if neither you nor your brother is objectively "right" in the argument, then the whole world goes to chaos, right? Not exactly. As we've just covered, no one single person alone can have a completely objective version of the totality of reality -- or the entire universe. So being right isn't possible, in the purest sense of the word. The world you live has little to do with what's right or wrong, and tons more to do with:
      • What people in power decide are the "rules"
      • How people follow or break those rules
      • How people relate to one another based on mutual agreements or understandings -- or lack of them
      • How people allocate their personal resources -- time, money, energy, etc.
      • How individual actions shape societies and nations
Is it right or wrong to make Joe pay for Ramona's healthcare? Or to pollute the air from use of recycling factories rather than pollute the Earth with landfills? Or to put Alexander to jail just because he appears to be guilty (since innocence or guilt can't be 100% proven, just inferred)? Of course you can't answer those questions with a straight-up yes or no. They're complex questions. Reality's complex.

Don't waste time and energy arguing with others about what's right or wrong in life. Those are human constructs that change over time.

A right thing or a wrong thing doesn't exist without a human being there to perceive it and label it as such. Find out what's right and wrong for you, and let others make their own decisions. The truth about reality There's no way for any individual to totally know what's going on in the entire universe all at once. Because you're limited in how you can "know" due to the constraints of your human mind.

Reality is relative to each individual experiencing it.

So don't worry about being absolutely "right" or "wrong", or having the most "objective" version of reality. Real life is happening right now, whether or not you've got the most accurate, objective version of reality. And when you face up to the fact that reality is that which you perceive, it's only scary for a moment. Because you see how much potential you really do have for shaping and constructing your life and your perception of it -- for the better.

Real life is reality.

Living your life to the fullest (which is the mindful goal of viewing your life as your construct) has absolutely nothing to do with being right all the time. And everything to do with being honest with yourself and others. As well as all the stories you tell yourself. We'll continue this discussion next lesson. Until then, you're welcome to share your thoughts in the comment section below! All the best, signed, Melissa P.S. Did you get here from a link from a friend? This is Lesson 1 of a 10-part free e-class that shows you how your life is your construct. Learn more about it and sign up here.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

jasray August 20, 2010 at 10:57 am

Reading #1 validates the stance of those in the scientific community; most theories now note the incompleteness of science and the realization that quantum theory is incomplete:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_%28physics%29

The Observer Effect
Bell’s Theorem
Johari Window

David Sinei October 28, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Well,
I clearly have to think about why my immediate reaction to “Science is incomplete” is negative. :-)

Your point is well made though. Reality will almost certainly never be fully mapped. Science just tries to increase the acreage of what we know.

Melissa Karnaze October 29, 2010 at 9:49 am

Great introspection David. :) It’s not uncommon for the scientifically-minded/trained to feel defensive about it.

Not that you’re looking for positive spins on that statement, but if science were complete — we’d be in a lot of trouble. We still have so many problems and misunderstandings about the world and our place in it. Like you say, science helps us map that out more mindfully.

michelle thompson July 9, 2012 at 11:08 am

thank you for those words of wisdom. Its interesting reading something for the first time feeling a confirming awareness to what you wrote regarding reality.
I feel liberated in knowing theres a healthier way to express yourself instead of constantly invalidating others opinions around me as if mines the only one thats real…little self righteous ego of mines, so cute sometimes.

Little Girl July 16, 2012 at 10:03 am

I enjoyed reading this. I recently got divorced and my reality of the relationship and my ex’s was quite different. We definitely weren’t willing to compromise to live according to the other’s perception of reality and that’s essentially why we didn’t stay married. After reading this, I realize that we are both good people and neither of us were right. This article does an excellent job of breaking it down and putting it into perspective.

Martin M August 2, 2012 at 1:59 am

Great article,thanks!

One question:Why do you find it easier to explain reality throuh Morpheus’s understanding,which is based on the 5 senses(actually said 4)?

Sounds like reality is more ‘response-oriented’ as opposed to ‘creation-oriented'(i’ve just coined the term).Faith/belief is the basis of Creation-oriented reality.Being cetain of things not ‘sensed’, and working towards realizing them.

Or is this my reality?

angela barling August 8, 2012 at 11:16 am

I find this defination particularly hlepful when discussing “problems” in people’s lives (to be simplistic). It as if they have portrayed a scenario /painted a picture of the negative way of things . When explaining that this is only their perception of how things are I hear the penny drop – a stepping back as if really understanding “reality”. It hel;ps!! :-)

Jim October 27, 2012 at 3:55 pm

So reality must be observed to be fact? What one observes is based on individual variables? In dealing with different perspectives, opinions etc about “reality” a camera check ( what would a camera show) can be helpful.

M October 30, 2012 at 10:41 am

Thank you so very much for offering this course to people who may need such a thing in their lives at the moment. Also, for me, since I live in Islamabad at this time so don’t have people, guidance, resources to turn to on advice for such things.

Yes, I’m already aware of these types of discussions of “reality” (as of the last 4 years) and basically agree. The reason I was curious about this course was because I have been meditating for about 4 1/2 years. This led me to further understanding of non-conceptual understanding of ‘reality’ and tap into the silence within and those realities that I know not of.. and more calm and peace within myself. The problem (or not one depending how one sees it) is that I have so much peace within myself that I’m not motivated to do anything really anymore! Sometimes I get a feeling but then I meditate 10-15 min., then it’s gone..And I’m to my happy go lucky with inner peace existence.

The thing is about a year and 1/2 ago, I finished my last work contract, began teaching meditation on a part time basis and basically haven’t been motivated to look for another contract since! Although, for the 1st time in 25 years, I picked up old hobbies that I am still enjoying doing. But family, friends and I am beginning (a little at times) to worry about this. Since I have some savings but not quite enough, this is not the time to retire yet! I’m 50 now. And just don’t have enough money saved up to retire yet. (although to retire as a monk plenty!) So, perhaps in another 5 years. I mean I have done very well this past year to live on very little and not having missed much. So life is simpler. I see my life progressively bit by bit going towards a life of a monk. But I have family, friends and obligations that I can’t leave now so my life can’t lead to a life of monkhood. Maybe in 15-20 years, but not now.

So when I came across/read your article on your website while researching on “Mindfulness Meditation” for my students, I became intrigued with that bit about, yes mindfulness can eventually lead you to a monks experience of the universe and the world around and within one, that of peace but it is also demotivating (in the western context). So wondering what your course has to say about this.

While mindfulness was a god send when I began 4 years ago, when I was suffering from post-traumatic-syndrome effects after living through a conflict in Africa as a result of a work situation. And the other things, events in my life which caused a negative emotional reaction and which I simply shelved, so got also to deal with these aspects. But now I have to find a new balance, having gone too far in the “inner-peace” direction and was interested to know how to use these emotions that come up in me in meditation, to help me galvanize that into motivation to do something else or work again.

Thanking you kindly.

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