TED Conversations

Harald Jezek

Owner, Nuada beauty+wellness


This conversation is closed.

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.”

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 3 2013: Harald, this may be a example speaking to a small part of one's reality

    I have no sense of smell but I can taste and, more often then not share the same experience as most. I ask others to describe the sensation of smell they experience with any given object and words such as sweet, fresh, sour, nasty, aromatic, or none are shared. The world has made me fully aware that I am missing one of my key senses. So... My brain conjures up the "idea" of their words using my experience of tasting, vision, I guess my imagination and, of course their adjectives and I create my own reality of the smell. I have no idea if we share the same sensation as others but, when I see a rose i go to the word sweet, a lemon-sour, newly fallen rain-fresh(like the taste of a piece of parsley).

    Having no sense of smell, I have seen the power of suggestion at work; Flavored coffee, let's use pumpkin. I have ordered this flavor at a number of coffee houses and I am here to attest to the fact that I detect no flavor other then coffee. In this case taste trumps smell.

    with regards to every day labels we put on objects such as you mentioned; it is so much easier and even comforting to go along with group consensuses.

    great question and I hope this sheds some light.
    • Nov 3 2013: For the first 18 years of life I saw the world flat, thinking it was the way everyone saw. I had an eye- perception condition that kept me looking through one or the other one. To construct a 3D view from the different flat perceptions involved a bit more than I could muster and given that I never done it and no one seemed to notice this deficiency well I saw the world through one eye with its advantages and disadvantages. To me the movies look just like enhanced reality rather than reality looking like enhanced movies. The notion of space which most associate to sight isn't dependent on seeing with the eyes, thats why the blind can 'see where objects are through sounds, touch, and other means'.

      As you say many label objects to go along with group consensuses without paying much attention to validating that the object they experience corresponds to the object 'the group' experiences. In other words what you see as green and label as green may correspond to me seeing red while labeling it as green. In reality when we see green we see different colors though have learned to call them the same name. The notion of a number of people or things that are located close together being considered or classed together as a group or an aggregate depends on what constitutes a group and what constitutes an aggregate. On some level the notion of a group is a fabricated abstraction and on some level the notion of a group reflects existing traits. The notion that the group comes to a consensus covers up what takes place, that its individuals who come to the consensus, sometimes in non-consensus ways. For example if an individual decided to put up a sign that read "Residents here oppose the acquisition of property by anyone external to our family"without the consent of all of the residents. They may technically be right or wrong depending on what 'residents here' denote and some other factors. Point being: we create realities for ourselves and others.
    • thumb
      Nov 5 2013: Mary Ellen,
      that's interesting, because large part of what we taste comes actually from the retro olfactory sensation.
      For example, I'm a Sommelier, so taste and smell are very important parameters for qualifying a wine. However, if we have a cold or just hold our nose shut, the taste changes because we are not getting odors of the wine vapors we exhale.
      In other words, you drink coffee and know it's coffee because you created a sensory model of coffee in your mind, although you lack the smell input. This works perfectly for you because you never had any different experience, nor could anybody possibly describe to you how coffee smells, but I'm pretty certain, that on an absolute level, your experience is very different form somebody who uses taste and smell.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.