TED Conversations

Harald Jezek

Owner, Nuada beauty+wellness


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What is reality ?

Did you ever think about what it is that makes reality real ?
How is our reality created ? Isn't it the perceptions our brain creates based on our sensory inputs ?
But what if we lack a sense ? How does reality change for somebody who cannot hear or see ?
Or take it even a step further, assume you are deprived of all your senses, What would reality mean in such a case ?
And last but not least, let's assume you are born without any senses. What would that mean to your reality ?
So what is reality and what are we as part of this reality ?


Closing Statement from Harald Jezek

Thanks everybody for participating in this conversation.
After 900+ comments did we solve the question of what reality actually is ? Probably not, however it was a good exercise in contemplating what it actually means when we say this or this is "real".
What most of us agreed upon is that there are different aspects to reality.

One is the reality we deal with on a daily basis and which we share to a large degree. For example we agree upon common things, such as when we see a car we all agree it's a car, a tree is a tree and a house if a house.
Although we know that this reality is created by our mind based on sensory inputs which is not only incomplete but often also faulty, it still is "real" because we share the same benchmarking (same sensory inputs, generally same mechanism how our brain interprets those sensory inputs.

Beside this shared reality we all have our own reality. This can be something simple like the perception of a taste, odor or a color.
Although we might agree that a given color is read or an odor is that of a pine, we never can know how another person actually perceives this sensory input.
Individual reality also becomes visible in our beliefs. For a religious person the existence of a God is a fact and hence part of reality while for an atheist reality is free of such a God.
Differences in this aspect of reality can also be observed in how different people get different perceptions of the same situation.

Last but not least there must be an underlying objective reality which includes the laws of nature (whether those are the ones we believe are valid today or perhaps something even deeper which we don't have discovered yet) and which exists regardless of us being here to contemplate it and regardless of our beliefs.

Next time we insist something is real, let's think whether it's real for me, for all(most) of us or real in an absolute sense.

To finish with Albert Einstein:
"“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

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    Nov 1 2013: 'Isn't it the perceptions our brain creates based on our sensory inputs ?' Yes

    'How does reality change for somebody who cannot hear or see ?' It depends if this is from birth or happens later. If it happens later, remaining senses sharpen up to compensate as best as possible. If it is from birth, these lacking information is not incorporated in the concept of reality, yet other senses become more sensible than 'usual'.

    '...deprived of all your senses, What would reality mean in such a case ? ' Torture if exposed on long terms.

    'And last but not least, let's assume you are born without any senses. What would that mean to your reality ?'

    I don't know, yet the brain would not form as we know it and probably cripples as it needs sensory stimulating impulses to grow neuronal connections. Some vegetative structures may form to some degrees.
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      Nov 1 2013: Hi Lejan, I don't know if it is possible to survive when born without any senses.
      But let's assume it is possible. How does such a person create a consciousness and a mind ? All our thoughts are results, directly or indirectly, of sensory input.
      Together with our sensory perceptions and our thoughts we create our reality.
      Doesn't that mean that, what we call reality, it completely subjective and just a product of our brain ? Doesn't that further mean that if there were a creature with a completely different set of senses, it would have a completely different concept of reality ?
      This brings me to another question. What is the underlying absolute reality that is independent of the observer's interpretation ?
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        Nov 1 2013: Hi Harald,

        OK, lets assume such a person stays alive 'biologically', I don't think any reality of any sort will ever form within the brain, as the brain does not form its neural network in which the concept of 'thought' and 'reality' can be formed within.

        You are absolutely right in saying, that we create our subjective reality within our brains, because that is what we do. We don't even need a complete different set of sensors to come to different realities, on this different experiences in our life already do.

        You can observe this even within yourself. When we fall in love, everything around us changes in interesting ways and we see beautiful details and in our every day environment. The sun shines brighter than before, the birds are singing more clearly and even a rainy day brings beautiful water to beautiful flowers. If you realize one day later that your love is not returned or even misused, the same scenario, the same sun, same birds, same flowers and rain is cast in a complete different reality than it was shortly before.

        An independent form of reality to me is quite difficult to pinpoint, as even in physics we seem to alter results as soon as we start to observe certain processes, yet if this is based on the informational content of 'observation' or just on our physical presence, I don't know.

        My personal 'turning point' about reality was when I came to learn about the 'blind spot' in our eyes, where the visual nerve interrupts the sensors of our retina. But we don't notice this two 'black spots' in our vision. Here I realized the 'interpolation' capability of 'reality' my visual cortex was able to 'calculate' in real time and this at a level of perfection we can not distinguish from 'real' sensor information.

        The same goes for my hearing. Any MP3 algorithm calculates music down to my abilities to realize within its specific frequency spectrum and dumps the rest to make for smaller file sizes. If you will, it dumped a lot of reality without my notice.
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          Nov 2 2013: True, people can vary in their perceptions of reality, but still, most of us agree that a car is a car and not a tree and a rock is a rock and not a daisy.
          The blind spot you mentioned is a good example how we get tricked. Although we know the trick,we can't do anything about it. Our brain fills in the blanks without us even perceiving it.
        • Nov 2 2013: A key issue resides in how individuals create their subjective reality within... I am not sure that certain individuals actually choose to create the subjective reality that they create within their brains it seems to me that many just follow along with the story they been feed to believe... as the saying goes: the worst blindness stems from refusing to see... question is how does one think anew idea when the ideas one thinks keeps one just thinking the ideas one thinks?

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