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Is Reality Really Real?

Douglas Adams once posited that Earth and everything in it was assembled by an alien race to function as a supercomputer whose purpose was to find the Ultimate Question (the answer being already known to be 42).  Certainly, this hypothesis is about as valid as any other when it comes to understanding reality.

For at least the past couple of thousand years, humans have tried to define reality and about the best answer so far is something akin to the definition of pornography, we know it when we see it.  Some ancient philosophers concluded that reality was a demonic illusion designed to lead humanity into error.  In more recent times, films such as the Matrix series put forth the possibility that reality was a computer simulation designed to placate humans.  All equally plausible.

We used to think light came in seven colors, but now we realize that the very finite bandwidth we can see is just a tiny part of a vast progression of wavelengths spanning frequencies far beyond our ability to directly detect them.  Likewise, we used to think sound was only what we could hear, though now we are aware of far more.

We used to think reality was composed of three spacial dimensions, but cutting edge work is now opening the possibility of multiple dimensions of time and space.  We can even model them in our attempt to visualize things that our senses cannot detect.

In virtually every discipline, our boundaries of reality are constantly being destroyed and rebuilt somewhere further out, only to repeat the process again every few years or so.  Defining that thing we call reality is much like trying to nail water to the wall.  It is a futile exercise that we humans seems hell-bent on performing as if doomed, like Sisyphus, to an eternity of pointless labor.

It wasn't long ago that seeing people walking down the street talking to themselves was an indication that they had lost touch with our communal definition of reality.  Now we have incorporated this activity into our accepted boundaries by assuming those people are using cell phones with wireless headsets.  Thus, people who used to be insane are perfectly normal now simply by a small change in our collective definition of reality.

Conspiracy theories are generally thought to be outside the bounds of reality until they proven real.  Then suddenly, something that was once (violently) denounced becomes an undisputed given.  There was a time not too long ago when anyone who spoke of black helicopters was thought to be on the verge of insanity, yet few people dispute them now.  Same goes for chemtrails, weather manipulation and a dozen other topics.

It is getting increasingly difficult for me to deny what someone else considers real, despite the fact that their reality seems quite foreign to me.  For instance, Indonesians in general believe very strongly in the existence of ghosts and demons.  Though I find the idea intellectually repugnant, I cannot deny it when folks appear to look at these beings and react strongly to their presence though I detect nothing at all.  I also find most of the people having these experiences to be otherwise normal, intelligent and fully functional by my definition of reality.

Another example of this is the topic of evolution.  Millions of otherwise 'normal' people believe that this phenomenon is real despite a complete lack of evidence to back it up and all of the and logical roadblocks that make the theory virtually impossible to exist, much less believe.

The question of what is real still merits serious scientific study.  One group of scientists believe they have hit upon a way to prove or disprove that our entire Universe exists as a computer simulation in some greater reality.  They will attempt to create a new reality inside of a computer to test the rules by which we define reality, which leads to the intriguing possibility that their simulation would be just as real to the beings within it as ours is to us.

It also brings up a number of interesting thoughts regarding the various SimGames or the CGI program that was written to create the massive battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings series of films.  That program allowed the creation of digital creatures with a form of free will within the bounds of certain behavioral rules, not unlike human beings.

In general, we tend to believe that certain things we see on TeeVee are real, though the only objective reality connected with those images are the photons released by phosphors excited by streams of electrons.  The images appear to move even though they are nothing more than a rapid series of still images flashed before our eyes.

When it comes down to it, about the only solid definition of reality is the individual's belief that something is real.  We comfort ourselves by calling other people's experiences that we can't share 'hallucinations' or 'delusions'.  Yet to the person experiencing them, they are as real and tangible as the table I am sitting at to write this.  In some cases, we can even will ourselves to share an experience that was moments before 'not real'.

In a sense, then, both everything and nothing are real.  We cannot say that an experience we don't share with someone else is not real, it is just not part of the shared set of things we collectively consider reality.  In all cases, all reality is nothing more than belief.  The willingness of the perceiver to believe something is real makes it so, and if we all believe something, then we call it reality.

Once upon a time, the Earth stood at the core of a series of crystal spheres with lights attached to them all rotating around us.  That was quite real to the folks who believed it.  At one time, the Universe was comprised of only four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water.  Now we believe there are 117, with new ones beings discovered on a regular basis.  And at some point, we may redefine reality to make the whole periodic table obsolete and no longer part of our reality.

In the end, is there any such thing as objective reality?  Our entire concept of reality are constantly changing, both individually and collectively.  Where this really gets fun is trying to decide if we discover things because be believe they exist, or did they exist before we discovered them?  That may seem like a silly question, but who can honestly say that something existed before it was discovered?  Are we in fact creating our reality every minute of every day?

Just some fun ponders for a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Who knows...perhaps we can make unpleasant things go away by ceasing to believe in them.

Wouldn't that be fun?


The Sunday Funnies

Here's an oldies but greaty from the musical philospher Tom Lehrer....