What is real?



It seems, that the question: “What is real?” is a difficult and even dangerous question and smart people carefully “dance” around it. Parents, teachers, politicians, etc. often explain to their charges, how to put observations together, that the next time they “know” how to interpret events “properly”. How much could one trust these explanations, though?

    In each society there are “norms”, defining what should be called “real”. There are “experts”, who decide, when someone’s view of the world is not “normal”. People, who cannot differentiate between “real” and not “real” according to these “norms”, are “managed”.

    Mathematicians and scientists wisely do not ask: “What is real?” They deal with “experiments and observations”, “theories”, “models” and alike. They leave applications of theories and conclusions to those, who use their studies. They are bypassing this question and focusing on creation and polishing of tools of mind – theories and models.

    However, when one has to interpret own observations, this question (what is real?) seemingly cannot be ignored. Such interpretation is a tricky task. It is well known that everyone has difficulties recalling large deal of “observed”, while under hypnosis the recall is much better. This selective “hiding” of information affects what we perceive as real, existing, and what we ignore or perceive as illusion. Which rules does our Mind use for selection of what should be hidden? Are we born with them, or a large part of them comes with education?

Note that there are many people in our lives, whom we accept as our “guides”, who teach us how to “frame” one’s observations. Many of them are not entirely selfless and, more importantly, they themselves were shaped by the society, in which they live.

From the stream of information, which we get through our sensory organs, we select a part of the stream, which we deem worthy our attention. This selection is affected by the society to which we belong. It is impossible to describe the mechanism of perception and interpretation of an individual separately from the society. Social and individual are just different sides of one phenomenon.

No wonder that there are armies of people eager to “educate” us that we interpret “properly”, what we perceive, and obediently work for them or fight for them. The very way we perceive the word on the very basic level is greatly influenced by our “education”.

People belonging to different social groups interpret, what they perceive, differently, and it takes effort to reconcile their interpretations.

It is so tempting to assume, that there is some “objective reality” to which the society as a whole is adapting through this mechanism of trying variants of education and interpretation. It is so tempting to assume, that various interpretations gradually reconcile, that there is some “objective reality” causing our interpretations. However, the concept of “objective reality” was so horribly misused that it either needs to be replaced with something less dangerous, or even removed from our thinking all together.

The idea of “objective reality” is presented, usually, as follows.

Our minds want to have something to rely upon in their analysis, and starting from parents, through various teachers, religious guides, politicians and so on, we are provided with some sturdy images of “objective reality” independent from the way individuals or societies perceive it at the moment. Knowledge of this “objective reality” supposed to guide our analysis and our decisions.

Some ideologies go even further, they dictate, what one supposed to perceive, as “objective reality”, and even persecute those, who deviate from the prescribed perception.

All this is rigid limitation on thinking, it is limiting possibilities to experiment, learn and guide own life. In addition, it is dangerous, because, as life is changing, the images of “objective reality” inevitably come in conflict with it.

Those, who took these prescribed images too seriously, cannot make decisions, which are in their interests. This should be a warning that one should not be too attached to the prescribed division on “real” and “not real”.

From the other hand, we need to remember that these “images of reality” are developed by entire Humanity in the process of perpetual interaction. They make us what we are, able to make conscious decisions, enjoying conscious existence. We cannot simply reject some of them and create a few for our personal use. We must change them together. While this sounds as a difficult task, this is what is going on all the time. The Humanity (each member of it) perpetually revises the system of “images of reality”. This perpetually revised system of “images of reality” is a valuable tool, which is very useful, when applied properly, or it could be highly dangerous, when it is used to limit freedom of thinking.

Hence, development and, especially, application of this tool has to be consciously monitored and broadly discussed. Since this is something Humanity does as a whole, this activity requires perpetual “feeling of INTEGRITY” of Humanity. We do have this feeling, but we tend to suppress it in our perpetual battle with each other.

To do this work, we need to understand these “images of reality” better.

We understand that we get a stream of sensory information and we make numerous attempts to fit, to reconcile it with the huge system of patterns, which we maintain. Using these patterns, we build some construction in our minds, which corresponds “well enough” to “observed” stream of information. At some point, we decide that the match between the stream of sensory information and the system of patterns, which we have constructed to interpret it, is sufficient. Information, which does not fit into the system of patterns, which we constructed, we declare to be “random”, “unimportant”, “not essential to what we want to do with this stream of information”.

Sometimes we miss. If we feel that the cost of such mistake is high, we enrich our system of patterns through personal analysis and discussions with others. This way, we turn our mistakes in an excuse to develop our understanding and to connect with others. Note that process often turns into an “avalanche”, because it brings new view into analysis of our past experiences and new waves of revisions of the entire system of patterns.

The situation is kind of paradoxical: sometimes our mistakes of interpretation are more valuable, than our “right” interpretations. In addition, we are not sure: could our “right” interpretations actually be mistakes, which we could not catch, because of our limited understanding.

Education and life experience provides us with growing system of patterns and examples of its use. Actual application of this system leads to our growth in understanding.

There is only one way to operate inside such system. We need to grow, nonstop, all the time. We need to question everything, need to experiment and discover. However, this perpetual questioning of acquired from others knowledge is hard to do, because this knowledge makes our decision-making easier.

The most difficult thing: we should not think that we know how to distinguish between good and bad decisions, before we go through exploration and experimentation. It is difficult, because one, who has this knowledge, has attractive ability to sweep away all variants of decisions, which are “bad”. We could check what happens, if we have some knowledge of this sort, but we should not assume that we have this knowledge yet.

What is real, then? We do not know, what is real. Understanding of this makes our decision-making more mature. We could live with open questions quite nicely, and we should not accept deceptive answers, which limit our ability to think.

One should not be in a hurry to dismiss unusual observations as “not real”.

Alexander Liss 12/11/2019