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 7 2013: @ Harald
    I find the claim of an absolute objective reality 'out there' doubtful. This claim is based on the observation that reality or part of it was always there waiting for us to be discovered. Like say earth was always round, quantum reality was always there and if string theory comes out as successful it was there too.
    I see reality in a different light altogether. I do not accept the idea of an absolute reality existing irrespective of our perception as a valid hypothesis. It is comparable to the idea of expanding universe. Expansion here is not like the regular idea of expansion. Space grows but grows in where? There is no valid or logical hypothesis of an ultra-space where space grows into. In backward direction, there is no 'before' to big band as the conventional idea of time starts from big band itself.
    Like wise I think reality expands creating it's own space right from the moment of big bang. On the way it changes shape, description and its impact on our lives.
    This idea may be counter-intuitive, but logical.
    Second, the reality we are discussing cannot be a generic one. We are not including the reality of animals, plants or viruses in our discussions. So we are tacitly placing human consciousness at the center of the idea of reality. It will be interesting to refer your last question "assume you are deprived of all your senses, What would reality mean in such a case ? " in this context. Our sensory perceptions form something like an event boundary between a subjective, relative, changing reality and an absolute, objective one.
    I bet that reality will be very different if we are reduced in sizes (keeping sensory perceptive capabilities intact) to that of an electron where we can exist at two places simultaneously or you and I can exist in the same space (not place mind you, exactly same space) violating the notion of exclusion.
    I find the idea of an omnipresent, unchanging, absolute reality a bit stretched.
    • Nov 7 2013: Pabitra,

      I was 'including the reality of animals, plants or viruses in our discussions'
      Others may have been also including that and a lot more ... thus I find the claim "We are not including..." misrepresentative.
      I also see these conversations as interactions more in line with a dialogue or an interchange than a discussion.
      I think from some of your responses that you have decided to abstain from further dialogue with me based on your perception of some claims I stated... that's your choice and I mention it to open a door for you to validate this point... and/or reconsider your stand.
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        Nov 7 2013: Ok Esteban, let's try once more :)
        First, I have no hard feelings, I just do not feel comfortable engaging with you in 'dialogues' and let me clarify, I see that as MY limitation.
        Second, in my experience conversations in TED progress better with least one on one dialogues rather people place their perspectives in the posts and silently learn.
        So, you are including the reality of animals, plants or viruses in our discussions'? Unless you have special super/sub human capabilities, how do you 'know' of those realities, if I may ask?
        I find it too tough 'knowing' your reality my friend!
        I request you to be brief and use simple language. I am linguistically challenged.
        • Nov 7 2013: On a personal side-note I feel sorry you do not feel conformable engaging in dialogues with me, I think it has something to do with the ideas each expresses and how each sees those ideas.

          Its good you mention the second point for us all to consider and keep in mind... and just to be clear personally I tend to focus on the issues being put forth rather than who presents them. you probably read and recall something about 'its about what be right; not about who be right'. I am also a bit concerned with certain ideas that individuals present and put on the conversation. I realize that its 'their choice'. ( though wonder if "'their' choice" refers to certain ideas 'controlling' the individuals vs or the individuals 'freely' determination. I think this also is quite related to how individuals feel).

          Yes I am including in the reality dialogue the reality of animals, plants, viruses and quite a bit more, knowns unknowns and to put it bluntly all of reality... I know of those realities thanks to the power of human capabilities, like being able to sense-think-speculate-imagine-observe-hypotize-test-validate-inquire-repetably. (BTW I sense a somewhat condescending attitude a gybe or mocking remark; in your question because of the words 'Unless you have special super/sub human capabilities'. This may be dew to what I perceive or it may be due to what you intended, either way I considered it relevant to mention it and let it go) yes, you may ask, you don't need my permission :-). I just got the conditional structure of the statement you asked... Unless 'X' , do 'this' If 'y'.... Thus given that 'y' and not 'x' condition are satisfied I did do 'this' and answered the question 'how do you 'know' of those realities'? It would had been briefer and simpler to just the question. This leads me to believe that you are NOT linguistically challenged, as you claimed.

          I understand how tough 'knowing' someone reality can be... I also understand how challenging it can be to know reality.
        • Nov 7 2013: I had the intention to develop the notions:
          1- Whether one own a reality, or happens to exist in one
          2- the challenge of steeping out of one's world and entering the other's world given one always be within one's world and may not allow the others ideas into their domain, or may only see the others twisted ideas ... ( especially when these have been distorted by the ideas one holds).
          3- one better validate that what they think to be - corresponds to what be (that is construct an accurate model of reality based on reality) And evidently 'an accurate model' is an oxymoronic statement - its a contradiction in terms for a model implies inaccuracies.

          to perceive reality as reality exists ... first one has to twist the twisted to get it straight that way what one thinks actually corresponds to what be... using the metaphor of identical copies it means ensuring that regardless of which copy one takes its for all practical purposes irrelevant. using the three meaning communication model it means ensuring that the intended meaning the perceived meaning and the shared meaning are equivalent... of course sometimes this isn't required and sometimes its crucial to focus on one of the three. I see something similar happens with what one thinks to be real, what happens to be real and what be made to be real. Here too sometimes its crucial to focus on one of the three because of what really matters. Sometimes what matters isn't what be real, sometimes what matters is developing into reality that seed with the appropriate cultivation, and sometimes what matters is keeping that seed as an undeveloped seed. Some possibilities are to remain as possible for now and forevermore, while some possibilities are to be developed appropriately. To sort of restate an idea I expressed elsewhere in a different form: the question isn't to cultivate or not to cultivate it be what to cultivate and/or how to cultivate each seed (note one can cultivate the seen for it to develop or not develop).
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        Nov 7 2013: @Esteban: you are right, this thread is under "debate" but I didn't intend to be a debate but rather an exchange of thoughts. In order to be it a debate you need facts but this topic deals with a lot of unknowns.
        • Nov 7 2013: Harald,

          I would even venture to forward the notion that you intended the exchange of thoughts to be an enriching shared adventure into better knowing the unknowns. (for some reason its counter intuitive for me to consider that you intended this conversation to be an open space for voicing 'actually dissenting' thoughts), the idea is to move towards better models of understanding of the reality as well as better and expanded realities of the reality.

          Do note that knowing and understanding the facts is an exercise involving acceptance of the reality, it is not a debate about what one or another thinks to be the facts. Some individuals feel threatened when forced to accept the facts, they insist on having the freedom to determine what is a fact and what isn't one... Of course they have the freedom to do that ... depending on what they do, what they determine and how it corresponds to the facts; they get it right or get it wrong... Everyone has the freedom to choose what be the right answer... and that does not change what be the right answer to choose if one wants to get it right according to what be right ...

          I take this opportunity to thank you for initiating this, I have enjoyed it quite a bit and hope you and other have done the same... I realize that I sort of contributed quite a bit here, this topic is something of a passion of mine... I realize from my observations of some responses to what I intended to say and what seemed to have been perceived that for all practical purposes what be in me hardly corresponds to what be in others... thus their responses correspond to what they think rather than actually address what I think... under which reality shall the exchange actually take place?
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      Nov 7 2013: Hi pm. Absolute reality does not mean every thing is unchanging.

      Also I agree our point of view, or biology makes a difference in how we perceive and understand reality. But I don't see how that changes underlying reality. There may be aspects of reality, we are unaware of but what exists exists as it is.
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        Nov 7 2013: I agree with you in as much as that the only absolute is everything is relative. I shall add that this relativity is not of mere spatial frames but of how consciousness, cognition and sensory perceptions play roles in understanding the reality.
        I am no scientist, Ob. But I an interested observer of events and history. Einstein died believing that quantum indeterminacy is actually a logical mistake. He could not accept quantum reality. I know a couple word class scientists who confide to me (in private of course) that they find it hard to accept Feinman's concept of sum over histories to bring quantum events in the scope of macroscopic reality.
        Roger Penrose, after a life time in mathematical physics confides that all mathematics may very well be a tautology and not a description of reality.
        Now we have another stalwart like Stephen Hawking endorsing M-theory.
        I may be wrong, but it appears to me that all these anomalies result from our deep rooted belief that there is an objective, underlying reality independent of our knowing.
        • Nov 7 2013: Well thats just a relative seeking to be absolute rather than staying relative ... which ought to tell us something about the absolute reality everyone ought to aspire to.

          "indeterminacy is actually a logical mistake" ... so determine once and for all to cultivate the absolute better reality....
          Note that the claim 'its all relative' cultivates indeterminacy and is a paradoxical contradiction which resorts to the absolute to make its case.
          The claim "There is an absolute truth" cultivates a determined stance (be it the only absolute truth that there is an absolute truth be it that there are other absolute truths the statement is self supportive (rather than self contradictory). To me its a bit amusing how the relativist deny being a relativist when they embrace or reject the absolute position... and how the absolutist can ALWAYS be both and absolutist and a relativists by choice. So in a way to the absolutist its about the absolute not about being a relativists or an absolutist.
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          Nov 9 2013: Hi pm. Seems like we disagree on this one. I believe there is one underlying reality. even if everyone has different perceptions about it. It's raining in Sydney whether people perceive it or not. The universe was here before we were Bjorn and will be here after we die even though we will do longer perceive it. There is light even if you are blind. Theearth rotates the sun and diamonds are made of carbon atoms even if we don't fully understand what matter is.
      • Nov 7 2013: Obey,

        If you can see how when an individual of a group changes the group changes then you just might see how our point of view (being part of reality itself) changes the reality itself when we change our point of view. Of course when the group changes it can change the individuals too. The impact one has on the other is left for a different conversation. Someone once said to me that reality is ever expanding adding more stuff to it... thus the change in essence just creates a new additional 'part' with a singular beginning, enduring existence and a bunch of infinite possibilities . This raises up the issue of what do we want to have more of? I also believe that for all practical purposes there can be a collapse which binds within 'a past possibility' certain traits. Evidently 'the possibility' is ever present, and ever left 'as a possibility'.
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        Nov 10 2013: Hi Ob,
        I am certain that you are disagreeing with me :)
        Whatever is existing beyond the realm of our perception, is unknown and not reality. When we realize that there was something present even before our knowing, it's hindsight.
        It may be a choice for you to think that reality exists independent of our perception, but all the examples you gave are subject to our perception, direct or indirect, individual or collective. A blind person knows about light through sense of hearing. We know about rotation of earth by reading about it and following science.
        Think about future. We expect that things will happen in future, science even predicts few such things. Do you think they are 'real' now? Or do you think they will become part of reality only after we perceive them happening?
        I do not think speculation, prediction, hindsight etc. as part of reality.
        I am feeling that I am in the minority here with my view towards reality but that does not necessarily make my stand illogical or wrong.
        • Nov 10 2013: Pabitra,

          One may think to know what will happen but until it happens one just thinks one knows it.

          From what I see the way you define what belongs to reality claims that what is real and beyond the realm of our perception is not reality. You stated that "When we realize that there was something present even before our knowing, it's hindsight". I am curious what you conducer of something that is present and unknown to you, without you realizing it would it still be something real ?

          I do think that future events are 'real' now. They are part of reality and after we perceive them happening they become part of our perceived reality... note that speculation, prediction, hindsight etc. are part of reality... whether the speculation and prediction corresponded to what happened is also part of reality similarly hindsight is related to what happens.

          You are right being in the minority here with certain view towards reality does not necessarily make such stand illogical or wrong; what makes certain view towards reality illogical or wrong (or logical and right) depends on the particular views towards reality and reality itself. I wonder how you manage to validate if what you hold to be corresponds to what be considering what you hold? Please explain...
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          Nov 11 2013: I think we may have different definitions of reality,.

          by my definition the planet Neptune was real, it existed, before humans discovered it.

          The islands of new Zealand existed before humans discovered it.

          America existed and was part of reality before Columbus rediscovered it.

          Atoms existed and were part of reality before they were discovered
          your definition of reality might be what I would call perceptions of reality.
        • Nov 11 2013: I hold there is a subtle distinction to be made here...
          it relates to the things and the names of things...
          The planet Neptune came to existence...
          ... with the definition of Neptune, before that it was just a planet!
          Of course a planet came to exist...
          ... with the definition of a planet, before that it was just stuff in space!
          The sublet distinction I want to address involves shifts between the territory and the map.
          Consider countries and their borders, the separation and delineations in the territory can be just imaginary lines running though the middle of a river... or from one point to another.

          Some of the stuff depends on how one defines it... granted the stuff itself exists independent of how one defines it to be.
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      Nov 7 2013: Hi Pabrita,
      1) reality can change over time. Most likely, reality before the big bang was different from reality after it. Reality doesn't have to be static in order to be absolute.
      2) Absolute reality also must be completely independent of whether we are here or not. Absolute reality just is.
      3) Space grows into where ? I don't know, but not knowing it doesn't mean that there isn't a fundamental truth providing the answer to this question. It only means that we don't have a clue about this part of reality.
      4) Even if you are right and reality expands, it still will be absolute compared to our subjective reality which is to a high degree a product of our brain.
      5) yes, I'm talking about a generic reality, because I look as absolute reality as the smallest possible common denominator to everything. Human consciousness is irrelevant to absolute reality, because it's independent from it and exists regardless of us contemplating what it might be.
      6) as to your last paragraph: I agree. That's exactly the point. I think if we could shrink to the size of the smallest possible entity that exists (whether that will turn out to be a vibrating string or something else), we would develop an increasingly better understanding of reality.
      It's a bit like looking down from a plane on a forest and say, ok this is generally green, interspersed with rivers and lakes or actually going into the forest starting to understand the individual creatures living there, understanding the ecology, etc.
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      Nov 7 2013: Esteban, thanks for participating here ;-)
      Not sure what this is supposed to mean "(for some reason its counter intuitive for me to consider that you intended this conversation to be an open space for voicing 'actually dissenting' thoughts)"
      Obviously there are still lots of questions to be answered concerning an absolute reality, hence there aren't really right or wrong views. In any case, facts are resilient, they stay regardless of our beliefs. The trick is to put aside beliefs and figure out what the facts are.
      • Nov 7 2013: Harald,

        I wanted to state: In reality there really are right or wrong views;
        - with the right view one gets to experience reality right
        - with the wrong view one gets to experience 'the wrong reality'
        or experience the right reality the wrong way!
        Then I though about the idea - about being able to love or hate the place. This stems from an insight I had a while back. Putting the two together...

        In reality everyone ends up exiting in the same reality where only right good things exist. Everyone there does what ought to be done as it ought to be done. the thing is that 'everything' is perfect thus those who choose to be bad are perfectly bad, so bad they do everything wrong and given they want to do wrong and do it wrong they end up just doing good, without ever being able to recognize it nor feel good about it... in fact they hate everything and exist in a nightmare made real. Those who choose to be good are perfectly good, so good they do everything right even mistakes are good mistakes and end up just doing good, always being able to recognize what be and learn and feel good about it... in fact they love everything and exist in a dream made real. Some think right and some thing wrong just like some love the truth and some hate the truth still the truth be the truth regardless if one loves it or hates it. Personally I rather exists aware of love, truth, beauty and appreciating everything divine. To me we all end up doing good in a good place where only good exists, heaven for the good and hell for the bad, still everyone just doing righteous good (some aware of what they do some unaware of what they do)
        Obviously there are still lots of questions to be answered concerning an absolute reality, some will love the inquire process considering them as wonderful conversations and some will detest the interchanges considering them confrontations. Some choose to cultivate confrontations rather than dialogues. I pefer the dialogues
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          Nov 7 2013: The thing is it really doesn't matter what one believes. Reality doesn't care because it is what it is regardless of ones belief.
          As to the right/wrong views: without knowing everything there is to know we can't always say which is the right or the wrong view. Only when the truth becomes available to us can we make this distinction.
          In the meanwhile we should differentiate between truths (at least as to our best knowledge, which means we still can be wrong), probabilities and there degrees of being true, speculations (part of what we are doing here) and pure fantasy (although some people live in fantasy worlds and enjoy it).
          I think good conversations are always great. Some people consider a topic such this about reality futile and a waste of time, however, not everything we do has to have an immediate practical purpose ;-)
      • Nov 7 2013: in reference to "what this is supposed to mean"...

        I have this habit of considering multiple perspectives and angles and meanings and possibilities ... the statement I made stemmed from acknowledging one such idea... that being that the intent some may have for contributing may be a bit counter intuitive... this is much more evident in other forums, certain 'news' programs, magazines etc... I also wanted to open the door to the idea of how to best handle 'dissent' noting that voicing or expressing opinions that are at variance with commonly, or officially expressed points may be needed or may be a regressive distraction.

        In the context of this interaction it would be something akin to transcending once and for all the issue of:
        1 - an absolute 'objective' reality with individuals 'subjective' realities
        2- just a 'subjective' reality conception

        How do we get everyone to accept the notion that 1 is preferable and move on with the quest. I get it that in someones subjective reality 2 is preferable, to them, based on their subjective reality. each insist on their delusional reality being real, still that hardly changes the fact of what actually be preferable and real based on what actually be preferable and real... (note subtle shift from 'someones reality' into 'the reality' and how this shifts from possessing reality to acknowledging what happens to be real).
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          Nov 7 2013: Dissent is part of a conversation. If everybody has exactly the same view on every topic a conversation would be pretty boring, wouldn't it ?
          I think, as far as I can see from the comments that most people agree with absolute + subjective reality.
          The way I see it is that our daily life plays out in our subjective reality but is still governed, whether we are conscious or not about it, by absolute reality.
          But then, nobody has to convince anybody, because, as I said in my other post, what is real is real regardless of ones belief. The more open minded one is, the more likely it is to see the truth. With closed minds it is difficult to make progress, but again, everybody must make this choice for himself.
      • Nov 7 2013: You say: The thing is it really doesn't matter what one believes.
        I say : The thing is it really does matter what one believes.

        Of course it can also matters if what one believes to be happens to be or not and what it is one chooses to believe...

        I agree with you that what it is that is what it is...

        Note that we can always say which is the right or the wrong view... (assuming we are alive and can say it)
        ... always saying it according to what it is and being right is a bit more of a challenge, yea sometimes one can be wrong...

        Only when the truth becomes available to us can we realize if the distinction we made was right or something else.

        we should differentiate between:
        - truths (at least as to our best knowledge, which means we still can be wrong),
        - probabilities and there degrees of being true,
        - speculations (part of what we are doing here) and
        - pure fantasy (although some people live in fantasy worlds and enjoy it).

        I agree some people consider certain topic... futile and a waste of time, however, not everything we do has to have an immediate practical purpose ;-) nor is it futile and a waste of time because those people consider it to be so.

        BTW to stimulate the neurons... Having the same view hardly implies having the same appreciation of the view thus it still entertaining when people share the same view pointing out what they each see, think, feels, experience.

        I wonder what happens when nobody convinces anybody to become one ... will idea and body get to conceive a somebody...

        Rather than considering the notion of open minded equating to 'this' vs closed minded equating to 'that' I prefer to say that depending on what this be and what that be one ought to be open minded or closed minded., that is keep a closed mind to what ought to be kept out and an open mind to what ought to be let in. I agree everyone must make this choice for themselves...

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