Is reality an absolute?

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I know, I know…heavy stuff. Let’s give it a shot anyway.

Is reality defined by an absolute truth of what IS, or is it all a matter of perception?

I will do my best to argue both sides of the point, but I am biased towards one side of the argument which will be evident to even the not so particularly astute. Hiding my biases is a virtue I lack to some degree.

First I will take an amateur stab at reality being an absolute. I mean, it is, right? Things exist. Grass is grass, regardless of color, texture, how it’s mowed, whether or not Cutler can move the chains down it (can you tell where I’m from?), etc. It exists. It has been documented, examined, broken down to its smallest measurable components and collectively perceived as such.

We can see it, touch it, smell it, hear it and taste it (if that’s your thing). It exists, therefore it is real. It is absolute. If we extend this logic to all things, collective definitions become truths and thus, reality becomes absolute. Nearly, anyway. Mysticism, spiritualism, metaphysics, theological beliefs…are subjective in their entirety, precisely because they are beliefs and resist empirical study. So, no arguing ghosts or gods, we can do that elsewhere.

So, reality is what we encounter, experience, examine with our senses and instruments, measure, define, categorize and agree exists. It’s silly to argue otherwise…

Or is it…

Perhaps reality is more tenuous than we think.

Let’s consider the grass from the previous example. We agree that grass is green. What if you and I perceive green differently? I don’t mean in shade or clarity, though we could argue those nuances affecting reality to a degree. Let’s use a more obvious distinction. Let’s say that the grass I perceive as green is actually blue as you know it. Whoa. I know. So, you refer to it as green, I refer to it as green, but we both perceive it to be entirely different colors. Which is the real color? Extend this logic to everyone perceiving the grass differently in every shade and color, or no color for some. Which is reality? Does the color exist outside our perceptions? How can one be sure?

Ridiculous!! Grass exists, who cares if we see it as different colors, so long as we all call it the same thing and agree on its color. It is real. Ok, so color may be a weak example. Let’s extend the logic to blind person’s perceptions. Without sight, someone has an entirely different experience with grass. Their brain perceives its texture, its smell, its sound and its taste (if they’re into that sort of thing), but not its color or what it looks like. Were their sight returned to them and grass placed in front of them to view, they could not identify it without the use of one of their other senses. I argue that their reality is different than ours.

Call it subjective reality.

Let’s take it one step further, shall we? What happens when we sleep and cease to perceive at all? Does reality cease to exist? It does to the person sleeping. Sure, grass still exists…to all the people awake to perceive it, but were we to all sleep at once, would it cease to exist or just cease to matter?

How about memory? We define reality through our memories, yet we all know how inconsistent and inaccurate those can be. Ask two people to remember a story they were both present for and I’ll bet you get two different tales. Sometimes, the differences are subtle, sometimes they are pivotal facts. Reality is not shared between two who have shared it.

It sounds temperamental, this whole reality thing, no?

One final thought from this perspective. Have any of you had a near death experience or for some reason had a drastic shift in perception of the world around you? It’s often described by saying something akin to, “the whole world changed” or “everything changed”. Did it? Did things change or did the way we perceive them change? Did people get nicer or did we simply appreciate kindness more? Or when we are running late and we hit EVERY RED LIGHT. Do we actually encounter more red lights or did we simply perceive that we did because they were highlighted by our tardiness?

Which is reality? The world we experience according to our perceptions or the world as it exists outside of our perceptions?

Or does anything really exist outside of our perceptions?

The floor is yours, my friends…

-J.S. Izzo

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