The subject of reality comes up a lot in philosophy. Why is it we, as a species, question our reality so much? What is built into us that causes us to have to go through this? Everyone is familiar with Descartes’, “I think therefore I am,” but why is it so resnonant? I’ve often wondered on reality myself, so it’s not exactly a surprise to me that it has been so ingrained in our questioning of the universe.
Almost all philosphers, at some time or another, have grappled with the question of reality. We touched upon Descartes, but he is just the surface. Anytime you see someone dabble in metaphysics, they have absolutely written, and probably extensively, about reality. Berkeley wondered if reality existed when you weren’t there and seems to have concluded that it does, because God is all-seeing and therefore if God can see an object it must be real.
I find the questioning of reality to be similar to that of the need to have a higher power that created and aligns us. We have to be able to make sense of things. One is putting into the concrete our lack of understanding of the world and attributing it to some higher power. The other, the question of reality, seems to be quite the reverse: it is attempting to put into abstract what we sense. Perhaps, though, it is not as abstract as I thought and is more relatable to the idea of needing to put into concrete what is abstract. Why would we immediately assume the world still exists when we cannot see it. It seems to be a matter of faith that when I go to sleep at night, the world goes on around me.
Not faith, though. Reason. Through experience and education, everyone should be able to reason enough to know that reality, most likely, keeps on existing without them. The five senses I have are enough to tell me the surface of this keyboard is real, the desk it sits on is real and the space surrounding me is real. My brain has developed to keep interpreting this data and conclude that it is real, even when I am no longer here. There is a phase of child development where peek-a-boo works and then suddenly it doesn’t. This is the concept. At some point, we are able to abstract beyond the here and now.
Why, though, do we keep on questioning this reality? What conflict is inside the mind that makes us wonder if the world is playing tricks on us? Of course, the possiblity does exist that we keep questioning reality, because somewhere deep in our subconscious we know there is no reality; this really is a holographic universe. Let’s put that to the side for now and assume that reality exists. We can’t come to any conclusions on why we question reality if we start questioning it here.
Now I find myself at an impasse, though. It is much easier to question reality itself than to wonder why we question it all. The question, though, seems to come down to matter of trust. Trust in our senses and trust in our ability to reason. It seems to be this distrust of our ability to reason that causes us to question existence. Our minds are reasoning on a level beyond that of consciousness to determine the world is real. We’ve run the calculations somewhere deep inside and concluded that, yes, everything around us does exist. But in our conscious reasoning, we are questioning that of our subconsciouss. Why not question our subconscious, it doesn’t speak to us. The parts of our brain we have built through social and cultural interaction, education, training and sensory input are telling us that possibly things aren’t real. Descartes questioned it, so why shouldn’t I? Perhaps he was on to something. Perhaps, what we really should get out is the conflict between conscious and subconscious reasoning. Perhaps, our minds are much more complex in the background than we would like to give credit to and that is why, after everything we can physically experience, we still have to question to ability of our silent subconscious to gently inform us that it is all real.