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.”

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    Nov 5 2013: After reading some excellent and throught-provoking comments, I have a question now. Does any one know the difference between reality and fact ? Maybe it also has something to do with the answer to the thread.

    Thank you.
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      Nov 5 2013: I think fact is a statement that describes our understanding of reality while reality is REALITY. Throughout history "established facts" have changed with paradigm shifts. "Earth is flat" used to be a fact and so was "atom is the smallest indivisible particle of matter". Both the statements as we understand it now contradict reality but were at some point considered "established fact".
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        Nov 5 2013: Thank you for your reply~!
        I think you're right that "fact"is a statement about something existed or happened in the past or its event has continued to now. But I think it should also have to be VERIFIED OR PROVED.

        So in my humble perspective,the objective part of reality is fact. Reality is more about the current status of individual.But it's often connected with facts.

        Reality has 3 meanings:
        1.all of your experiences that determine how things appear to you;
        Due to people's different experiences and perceptions, the result of this is possibly be either subjective or objective.

        2.the state of being actual or real;
        This could be interpreted into being realistic and practical, but your surroundings(people or phenomenon) could trick you with some false "facts" to let you follow the reality to survive, feel more comfortable or supported by your surroundings. This isn't objective enough either.

        3.the state of the world as it really is rather than as you might want it to be;
        This is the result of all facts have happened in your life. It doesn't depend on people's feelings and your surroundings' misleadingness. This part is definitely objective.

        For example, I tell you I'm in Shanghai, but you can't see me. And this is the FACT, so it's the objective part of reality whether you believe it or not.But if you don't believe I'm in Shanghai because you imagine I'm on the moon, this is to say you are not realistic, this is related to the meaning 2. If you didn't know Shanghai and nobody has told you about it, you don't believe I am in Shanghai because based on your experience, the city doesn't exist. So this is related to the meaning1.It's also your reality.

        And I also think if we were born without any sense, then we couldn't exist at all.Maybe just like air or water, but can't be a living species.:)
      • Nov 5 2013: I consider that a fact is a statement established as congruent with reality (an invalid fact is a statement which used to be considered as valid and has been proven invalid ).

        In communication I consider words have 3 singular distinct absolute meanings :
        1- the intended meaning - what the speaker writes sought to express with the word
        2- the perceived meaning - what the listener reader managed to hear read with the word
        3-the shared meaning - the concordances and differences between 1 and 2

        In theory and actual communication the three are one (identical) so that whichever copy one picks it's the same... In practice we need to verify and ensure with which one we operate. I mention this because it sort of maps into internal - external - 'shared'
        it could be 1-what one senses to be going on, 2-what one thinks to be going on, 3-what actually be going on

        In communication the important meaning may depend on circumstances, sometimes we need to ensure the intended meaning takes precedence, sometimes we need to focus on the perceived meaning and then there are those times which its something else that matters. The content, the form, and a bit more all play a part in the communication. Likewise the destination, the route and a bit more play a part in the adventure experience.
    • Nov 5 2013: I would distinguish between a "fact" and a "statement of fact." For me, a fact is something that exists regardless of our knowledge or experience of it. In our common discourse, however, we use "statements of fact," which are simply claims we are making about our perceptions. That we often get the facts wrong doesn't change objective reality. Unfortunately we have to live in our subjective realities, as well.
      Within this distinction, I would list the following "types" of facts:
      1. Objective fact -- it exists even if we don't know about it. When we do know about it, it should be demonstrable and capable of replication.
      2. Observed fact -- we have experienced it, but have of course processed the experience through our perceptions. We may have difficulty convincing others of this fact unless they have also experienced it.
      3. Metaphorical fact: It is a "fact" that the sun rises in the east; though it actually doesn't rise at all, we move towards it. We know this objectively, but the metaphorical fact is more pleasant and useful in general conversation.
      4. "Faith-based" or limited use fact -- People make statements of fact all the time about things that they believe to be true, but can't actually prove. These facts have importance and can be used within groups of people who share the basic belief, but are essentially useless with others.

      Because the majority of those kinds of "fact" are subjective, we have trouble defining reality with any real precision.
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        Nov 7 2013: I don't know why you classify facts in your way, but since you replied to me, I'd like to exchange my idea on your elaboration.
        "For me, a fact is something that exists regardless of our knowledge or experience of it. "

        I don't think so. I think fact is something proved or verified by our knowledge or experiences. It doesn't change since it was proved. It's something happened in the past and continues to be true.
        If you don't have knowlege to prove something is true or happened but you believe it exists, it's your imagination and enigma in the world.

        For example, with current knowledge , we can only say there may be aliens in outer sapce because we haven't enough absolute evidence to prove their existence. We can't say their existence is a fact to us. But with the new knowledge we acquire in the future , we may be able to verify their existence and at that time when we look back, we can say" xxxx years ago, people didn't know there were aliens outside our world. But I've proved it's a fact and we now know." We can never say the aliens' existence is a fact before we verify it with our knowledge. Maybe they don't exist at all and are only your imagination.
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      Nov 5 2013: The way I see it, a fact is a truth relative to reality. However, there might be facts that are true relative to our subjective reality such as the fact "the car is red". Based on absolute reality, this statement wouldn't be true anymore because colors are constructs of our brain and not something that actually exists.
      • Nov 6 2013: What if the construct of our brain be them material be them ideological became alive? Say intelligent artifacts becoming self replicating and consciously aware of directing their development. Organizations, agencies, states, countries, domains, stories and other memes we conceived and which then took off on their own.
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          Nov 6 2013: Maybe they do, although this line of thinking is probably a bit esoteric.
          But looking back in history man came up with lots of "crazy" ideas (e.g. flying) that at the time seemed fiction. But eventually it appears we manage to make our dreams real.
          I just recently read that scientists found ways to give light a limited shape, such as the light sabers in Star Wars. Some fantasies we are not able to make real yet, but who knows, given enough time, perhaps we can.
      • Nov 6 2013: well considering that these whole conversations are intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest... and those words refer to the definition of esoteric these whole conversations could be a bit esoteric... :-) The thing with reality, and what we experience of it is that one influences the other sometimes blurring the line... to the thoughts one has create the brain chemistry or does the brain chemistry one has produce the thoughts... and if we change the stories we hold do we change the experiences we have... as the saying goes careful what you wish for you just might get it... we need to keep our dreams from becoming nightmares and transform the nightmares into pleasant dreams ...
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          Nov 6 2013: That's actually another interesting topic.
          We know that feelings, emotions, thoughts etc are results of chemical reactions.
          For example we know that the feeling of love is related to certain chemical reactions. Now, are those reactions triggered by the feeling or is the feeling a result of the chemical reaction. If the feeling is the result of a chemical reaction, what triggered this reaction.
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        Nov 6 2013: I know what you mean now. I think there's no absolute reality you mentioned at all. Reality is just for humans. Because we don't know all about the nature and the world and we were lucky enough to have developed to be intelligent to find and verify something about the nature. I think without human there're no false or true concepts--the reality in the world, the word"reality" is for human beings. Without humans' senses, the world still goes forward itself.

        And if we talk about the "reality", I think we talk about the human's world with human's true or false concepts , the world including human and nature.If you think "the red car is red"is not a fact to the nature, it's not a normal standard in human's world because it's a fact to humans. I think if the car is red, you can say it's red and the statement is objective. Just as I tell you I'm in Shanghai, but to the nature, I'm just on a piece of its land, it's meaningless to the nature.But it's objective for humans whether you believe it or not.
        hehehe….. It's a headache,I have to sleep now.
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          Nov 6 2013: Hi Yoka, no, exactly the other way around. There must be some absolute reality. But there is also our subjective reality in which we live and with which we have to deal on a daily basis.
        • Nov 6 2013: Harald

          Actually, Why must there be some absolute reality? I concur with you that there is an absolute reality... this because there is an absolute reality and not because there has to be one... of course I could be right or wrong about this... but thats a bit of a side issue.

          I believe that there is an absolute reality because I believe there is an absolute reality (not because there must be one nor because I have to believe it, its along the lines of because I choose to believe it). I think the notion that ' Reality is just for humans' stems from a presumptuous human trait similar to the idea that the earth is the center of the universe and everything revolves around us... I do think that we are an important vital character in the scheme of things while also considering that there are other important vital 'characters' in the scheme of things (both material and immaterial as well as other things)... the distinction of body-mind-spirit comes to mind as well as stories-feelings-ideas memes and additional 'conceptions'...
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          Nov 7 2013: Esteban, ok, let's assume there is no absolute reality. What would the alternative be ?
          AH, I agree, absolute reality is totally independent from humans and I don't think that anybody could seriously believe that it is human specific (this is different for our day to day reality).
          As to whether or not we are a vital piece in the big scheme of things I don't know, but considering the vastness of the universe I really doubt it.
          Nature had billions of years to experiment and I think we are simply a result of these experiments.
          In what sense do you separate body-mind-spirit ? Everything there is to a human being is a result of chemical processes. Take out the brain and the whole machinerie stops to work. There is no reason to believe in any separation of mind and body. As to the term "spirit" I don't even know what to do with it. It has no meaning for me.
        • Nov 7 2013: Infinite possibilities...
          I think there is a reason each exists and I doubt it would be dew to chance or some experiment.
          Yes in a sense I do separate body-mind-spirit and in a sense I keep them united. I associate the body with the physical, the mind with the cognitive-emotive and the spirit with the spirit...
          You declared that 'Everything there is to a human being is a result of chemical processes" I hold that there is more to a human being that the results of chemical processes... I suppose when we each die we will realize if we where right or wrong... For me the brain is just a piece of the physical machine... an important one... but still just a piece. There are reasons to believe in the separation of mind and body, they just are not reasons you consider valid. Your comment about 'spirit' does not surprise me much...
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        Nov 7 2013: Hi, Harald,
        I think we have different understandings on the word"reality", I think you mean the "true world".
        I try to say the absolute true things are the world, the universe and its happening events on daily basis. What we did and are doing in the world and universe are absolutely true.:)
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          Nov 7 2013: I'm not sure because I separate reality into 2 domains. One is the day to day reality that we all to a large degree share although we know that this reality is just our brain's interpretation based on all the sensory inputs it gets.
          But, real or not, that's what we have to deal with.
          The other reality I'm talking about is the absolute and fundamental truth that I think must be at the core of everything and that does not depend on any interpretation.
          You know what I mean ? ;-)
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        Nov 7 2013: Yes, I see. I tried to give you my answer: The world and the universe and its happening events on a daily basis are absolutely true. As a part of the world and the universe, what we did and are doing are absolutely true.:)
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      Nov 6 2013: These words can be used as synonyms
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        Nov 7 2013: Thank you for your smiling face.:)

        Yes, the words are near- synonyms but I think they're a little different.

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