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Harald Jezek

Owner, Nuada beauty+wellness

TEDCRED 50+

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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 ?

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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: In literal meaning reality is truth.
    The concept of thru and false is relative .The decision we take to determine a statement or situation is basically the logic our brain process thru some previously stored data on its memory.
    In this universe nothing is absolute .For example if I say “ the car is moving and the house is stationary” for one who is on the street it is a statement of reality.
    If you move out of earth – the earth is moving so also the car and the house.
    For a person with a coffee mug in the back seat of the car – the house is moving back and he will not face any problem in sipping the drink .

    Seeing at sky a blind cannot see the sun even in daytime .. at night I cannot see the sun- If even right now the Sun blast for the next 8 min you will see it ”as it is on the sky “(assuming sun ray takes 8 min to reach earth) and an object 100 light year away from sun will see that till next 100 years. In all of these cases DOES SUN EXIST cannot be answered absolutely.


    All are relative - all are illusion either optical or logical. The more our civilization is expanding our scientists are showing us more and more phenomena and we are storing more records and images in our brain but no end of these illusions.

    I think this is the reason every country every community of human being believe in GOD .
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      Nov 7 2013: Well Jyotiprosad, that is one good reason for me not to believe in GOD, particularly a creator one.
      • Nov 7 2013: No.. I did not mean to give the credit to god as creator ..GOD concept is an escape path used when we fail to explain something .When we can not establish a proper logic for any thing we put that in HIS plate.May be some one can establish the logic better today or may be in future.So that concept actually an open way for logic expansion and it's endless.
        Consider many events that we could not explained in our early civilization and marked as "GOD created/GOD given" people tried and explained and they are no more under the influence of GOD but we still have many miles to go .. How much ... GOD knows ...
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          Nov 7 2013: I can live perfectly at peace with the realization that I do not have answer to many small and big questions. Probably that is why I did not need a GOD to turn to. I have nothing against any private belief about GOD by anyone. Just do not like public decisions and actions based on this belief.
        • Nov 7 2013: Pabitra,

          I actually prefer public decisions and actions be based on God's ways because its an absolute objectively better position than the alternatives. If you do not like the notion of God just replace it with sustainable-desirable-congruent with life, or divinely gracious, or all-knowing.

          Edited to add : or what ought to be, or according to what actually is the better possibility in an absolute reality...
        • Nov 8 2013: Esteban,

          Unfortunately, the claim that a god is "absolute objectively better position than the alternatives" is harmful because in reality there's no gods, and therefore they belief that there is an absolute-whatever only leads to a tyranny of the old-tribes that invented such gods and invested these gods with their ephemeral values. Such false sense of objectivity can only lead to abomination.

          The "alternative" is what we have in reality anyway. In the end, fortunately, religious reinterpret their gods to fit our societal development, even if with some resistance at first. Otherwise life would be as insufferable today as it was when those "sacred books" were written.

          Yup. This sounds out-topic, but here we have an example of reality. Reality is what it is, and even religions and their "absolutes" can't but adapt to it. :)
        • Nov 8 2013: Entropy,

          You do realize that science epitomizes the old-tribes invention you described...
          Even in the case that God did not exist and/or was created to denote the ultimate perfect reality to strive for its evident that God and God's values are beneficial in reality. It is scientists that reinterpret their gods to fit developments, even if with some resistance at first. In some ways life now is as insufferable today as it was when those "sacred books" were written... maybe even a bit more insufferable....
        • Nov 9 2013: Sorry Esteban, but there's places where life today is way better than in the times those tribes put those morals into their "sacred" books. I know so. I have not been burned alive for not believing that gods are real, for example.

          Science does not epitomize the old-tribes "invention" I described. Science moves wherever evidence leads by design. We don't ignore those mistakes. They become clear and open parts of our history.

          Gods were not created as a perfect anything to strive for. Have you read those "sacred" books? If those books described values beneficial in reality then religious people would never need to ignore and "reinterpret" them. We would have no discussion when it comes to things that we today take for granted, like women's rights to vote, to give but one little example. Were it left to those "perfect" books, women would have to ask persimmon from their husbands or whichever male authority before speaking. All depending on your preferred passages from a sacred book, of course.
    • Nov 7 2013: The decision we take to determine a statement or situation may well involve past present and future 'data'.

      "In this universe nothing is absolute"(a) implies that that absolute statement (a) isn't absolute leading me to the conclusion that: - In this universe there are absolutes- (b). noticing that that absolute statement (b) is an absolute which validates the claim stated I can now move on to find other absolutes...

      For someone who is on the street and knows the car, the house, and they are actually moving the statement is partially true and partially false. The statement "DOES SUN EXIST" can be answered absolutely. Yes, the sun exists. There, I just answered it, and I shown and proven that the statement can be answered absolutely. Whether my answer given is true or false (is a whole different matter) and depends on whether the sun exists or not. Do note that for the observer millions of light year away they may see the light of the sun without the sun actually still existing... thus the evidence they get may leads them to the erroneous assertion. It's even possible for a scientist out there way into the future to claim "the sun does not exist' being shunned because evidently the data they see shows it still does exists - as far as they can see. Of course some things transcend the temporal for example " an absolute eternal reality" the claim "there is an an absolute eternal reality" would be true forever if in fact there exists an absolute eternal reality. I believe that there does exists an absolute eternal reality and what we do now each of us contributes to it. So make sure what you think, say, do is something you would like to have around for a long long time...
      • Nov 8 2013: @Esteban ... The absolute is some thing that does not depend on any other parameters...

        The motion/movement depends on time and position coordinate if you follow the same change ratio then they are static to you ..

        The existence of any object depends on the signal received from that to your Sensor( may be eye ,telescope,skin,ear blah blah) if the Sensor is active or receiving signal then object exists otherwise not.
        The "light ball" rises on EAST we call SUN but I do not know what my PET cat calls it -what it thinks about it.

        For me all logic stored in my brain and of course I take input from you all and try to "realize" more and more..

        All of these has dependency .. so no more absolute.

        Scientists said "Absolute Temperature is -273 C" because they could not establish that.
        Few years ago "absolute velocity was the velocity of light" as at that speed the mass becomes zero but still they could not accelerate a gram of particle to reach that speed ..

        Those so called absolute are absolute no more.Had they been "ABSOLUTE"( independent of any parameters) then might not face those fate.

        I do not mind to put the "absolute reality" as a divine concept as I stated " a thought of future expansion for our knowledge" which in short one can easily termed as GOD.

        Except this I could not get any example of your "there is an an absolute eternal reality" ....

        I am impressed by your thought and that is for me the purpose of this site..
        • Nov 8 2013: Jyotiprosad et all,

          Whether motion/movement depends on time (and position) or time depends on motion/movement (and position) could be questioned... the same way that the archer the bow and the arrow co-depend in their constitution and come to existence together motion/movement and time co-depend in their constitution and come to existence together .

          'The existence of any object' depends on 'The existence of any object' ...
          The existence of some object in one's mind ...depends on ...
          'The existence of some object in one's mind' ...

          Why would the existence of any object depend on sensing it, or its signals... The sun can emit a signal into space and then ceases to exist yet the signal continues its trajectory without the sun existing any more... and on the other hand the sun could cease to emit a signal into space while continuing to exist. For example black holes do not emit a signals into space and still exist... we know they are there not because we see them there but because of what we don't see there! The rose is still a rose by whatever name one calls it IF/WHEN pointing to the map refers to the points in the territory... of course pointing to the map may also refer to the points in the map ... as well as a metaphorical allusion to distinguish what one thinks to be real, what happens to be real and the correspondences that exist (including the ones that exist only within the domain of possibilities).

          By the way does the light ball actually rises on the east or do we rotate to the east?

          I used to believe that all 'knowledge' (corresponding to 'logic' in what you stated) existed within and only within a mind... later on I come to believe that its possible that 'knowledge'/ 'logic' 'stories' exist independent of the mind... while needing a mind to become active... its a bit like programs existing independent of the computer while needing a computer to become active... if the operating system allows it... of course the programing language also has a role.
        • Nov 8 2013: "Those so called absolute are absolute no more"... thus we can conclude that 'those so called absolutes' where not absolutes and where erroneously called absolutes rather than what they should had been called in accordance to what they be. Of course knowing the fact that those so called absolutes where not actually absolutes only refers to the particulars involved in that set... there could be so called absolutes that be absolute... and are correctly called absolutes... (there are other possibilities too like for example absolutes that are not called absolutes or relative temporals that are called relative temporals). Its been my experience that many 'liars' dislike/resent exposing the truth, I think it has to do with the fact that only the liars face the fate of justly being called liars when the truth be told... In a humorous way: "Both the liar and the righteous will claim: I tell the truth and am righteous. Each doing honor to their state, the liar will be telling lies and the righteous will be telling truths. What is said can be misleading or factual just ensure correspondence between words and deeds. In other words It matter little if what they claim is true or false just ensure they follow through an do as the claim. correspondence between what one thinks to be and what happens to be facilitates better dealings and can enrich each side... the idea of the space can guide the construction of the space just as the space can guide the construction of the idea of the space...

          I stated that "there is an an absolute eternal reality" and though it may sound a bit paradoxical within that absolute eternal realty there are beginnings that endure forevermore. The absolute meaning of a word is set when used and then it endures forevermore. of course when we use it anew we set anew the meaning of a word... wether we set it in concordance to this or that in accordance to it or not because of what we think / what be / what others claim be particularities of use.
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      Nov 7 2013: @Roy: that's the trouble, you look at reality from your subjective perspective.
      But, at the core there must (should) be an absolute truth that is independent of our interpretation or even our existence.
      Just imagine there were no humans anymore. Can you agree that even under such circumstances something real would be left ?
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        Nov 8 2013: @ Roy: I think I understand what you are trying to say and agree with you.
        @Harald: I do not see the trouble. Possibly you use the same faculty of senses and perception, and in extension, your consciousness to feel that there is an underlying objective reality. So logically any idea of reality we are discussing here is subject to our cognitive capacities.
        Your belief that at the core there must (should) be an absolute truth that is independent of our interpretation or even our existence has no more validity than my belief that reality is only relative to sensory perception and consciousness, but at least it is a fact of experience up till now and assuming otherwise will require more assumptions than necessary.
        The belief that there must be an absolute objective reality independent of our existence is similar to believing there must be a purpose behind the creation. And both fail under Ockham’s razor.
        As regards your last question, I argue that it is logically inadmissible. There is no evidence whatsoever that there is any conscious perception other than by humans capable of understanding reality in the similar context as those of humans.
        • Nov 8 2013: logically the ideas of reality that surpass someones cognitive capacities will be shunned in their discussions as not existing because they can not think of such ideas existing, still such ideas of reality may exists elsewhere .

          The argument that Your belief (x) has no more validity than my belief (y) focuses the conversation unto beliefs rather than maintaining the focus of the conversation on exploring the validity of x and y and which happens to be...

          BTW under the assumption three were no humans anymore it follows that one can't agree ! Assuming everyone participating here is a human... 'the lack of evidence is not absence of evidence' ... thus there just may be other conscious perceptions other than by humans capable of understanding reality in the similar context as those of humans of which humans are unaware of..
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          Nov 8 2013: Pabitra, reality does not depend on humans, otherwise, without humans to observe reality, reality would disappear, which would be sort of difficult to imagine, because if reality disappears everything would be gone. Frankly, that doesn't sound very logical to me.
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          Nov 9 2013: Harald,
          I believe the human reality DOES depend on humans. You may notice that when people die, and leave the human reality, the world does not come to an end....disappear....as you say? Your argument that reality does not depend on humans doesn't sound very logical to me.
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        Nov 8 2013: I do not observe the "trouble" either Harald.

        You write, in your opening statement..." Isn't it the perceptions our brain creates based on our sensory inputs".

        Yes....I believe that our perceptions contribute to creating our reality. Therefor, how can you dismiss subjective perspectives from the exploration of one's reality?

        You write..."...at the core there must (should) be an absolute truth that is independent of our interpretations or even our existence".

        Doesn't it depend on the subject? If, as we seem to agree, "perceptions our brain creates based on our sensory inputs" contribute to our reality, it seems highly unlikely that all humans would agree on an absolute truth for EVERTTHING.....don't you think?

        Yes....I agree that if there were no more humans, something real would be left.....I am imagining....as you advised. Is my imagination, or your imagination real?
        • Nov 8 2013: Colleen,

          The notion that our senses , or sensory inputs, react to , respond, sense some signal out there implies the notion the signal exists out there to be sensed... and what produced the signal itself being out there is another notion to consider. Evidently getting everyone to agree that the facts are the facts can seem highly unlikely especially in certain domains... still the facts are the facts regardless of some rejecting them being facts or recognizing them as facts... the proof of the validity does not change the validity, it merely proves it . Of course some will only accept the validity of something when it's been proved valid and then there are does who will deny the validity of something even when it's been proved to seek and maintain their ways unchanged (or seek to get away with what they have done under the benefit of the doubt). Many things contribute to our reality (be them internal external individual shared).

          it seems 'highly unlikely that all humans would agree on an absolute truth for EVERTTHING....' (especially given what some can observed here ) fortunately THE absolute truth depends on THE absolute truth and one's agreement with THE absolute isn't dependent on the agreement with everyone it just involves agreement with the absolute ( and incidentally with those who agree with the absolute).

          Both your imagination and the others imagination are real! in one sense, what you imagine really is what you imagine. What each imagines adds to the reality... at least as something that each imagined... whether what someone imagines possible is possible / will be possible in form depends on the possibility of it being possible in thought and form... some possibilities best remain as only possibilities without form.
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          Nov 8 2013: I don't dismiss the subjective reality. Actually we can't dismiss it because that is the reality we are dealing with on a daily basis.
          No humans don't agree on everything, but an absolute reality is independent from our perceptions. It doesn't even require humans.
          I think the assumption that there is a true reality, regardless of humans observing it, is just logical. The alternative would be that all reality only exists because of us and once we are gone reality disappears with the blink of an eye.
          It that were the case then one would have to ask, where our subjective reality comes from.
        • Nov 9 2013: Harald,

          Just for the sake of pushing the dialogue boundaries a bit... and exploring the alternatives... what would happen if the reality that exists stems from what we think-feel-wish and with the blink of an eye what we think of manifest? The movie the sphere sort of uses this premise... (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sphere_(film)). This idea would create past-presnt-future reality in a single instant for us to experience it. There are others pushing this idea out there selling books about the law of attraction, the secret, a course in miracles, some beliefs in the new agers ways etc.

          To respond to the question ... our subjective reality comes from our subjective reality :-) then again to push the envelope it may be programed into us... :-)
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          Nov 9 2013: @ Esteban,
          How reality can change can be understood (not imagined) with a little physics and it can be as or even more dramatic than a movie. Take for instance quantum entanglement.
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        Nov 8 2013: I agree Esteban..."many things contribute to our reality...".
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      Nov 9 2013: I agree our perceptions of reality may differ but suggest there is one underlying reality.

      There is a star we call the sun, whether we are blind.. it's still there even after we die and perceive nothing.

      I have no issue accepting I'm in a car moving down the street. The wind in my face reinforces the car I'm in is moving relative to every thing else. No issue that earth is rotating target than the whole universe spinning around earth every day because there is also evidence for this.

      Seems a bit extreme to call every thing an illusion just because reality is complex and our perceptions are imperfect.

      there are serious implications of your base assumption is the cosmos is an illusion.. the food you eat and water you drink is an illusion... The people you love are an illusion. are you real .

      do you accept three are things in this illusion that seem reasonably reliable And repeatable. That within the limits of our human perceptions and brains we can learn about the universe?
      • Nov 9 2013: Obey,

        Maybe the claim that everything is an illusion has to do with the fact that words distinctions constitute 'stuff' distinguishing 'stuff' ... 'the sun' is 'the sun' because of the fact of being named 'the sun', had it been named 'whatchamacallit' it would had been 'whatchamacallit', of course the thing being named be the thing being named regardless of the name assigned to refer to it. Words have a peculiar property: the absolute meaning of a word stems from its use, that is each time someone uses a word they establish once and for all the absolute meaning that that word gets assigned, the fact some individuals choose to reassign the same meaning or use the a word to mean different things hardly changes the fact that each time a word is used it gets assigned once and for all it's absolute meaning.
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          Nov 11 2013: Interesting how words, especially labels influence perceptions of reality and are also shaped by perceptions of reality.

          the thing we label the sun or sol or whatever has properties independent of what we call it or what we believe it to be

          one of the earliest short lived forms of monotheism was when a pharoh decided the sun was the one true god.

          early scientists thought the sun, might be burning coal.

          Perception and belief doesn't always match reality.

          Words may fail us at the edges of science and human comprehension. What is matter . What is an atom . How does gravity work. How can it bend space. All defy even our super primate brain intuitions.
      • Nov 11 2013: I look at words like I look at maps... they relate to the territory and in a way are even a part of the territory while also existing independent of the territory ... the map can help explore the territory and can become a territory itself to be explored. liked what you said : " Interesting how words, especially labels influence perceptions of reality and are also shaped by perceptions of reality".

        I wonder if its true that the thing we "...label the sun or sol or whatever has properties independent of what we call it or what we believe it to be..." influences what it be. as you said "Perception and belief doesn't always match reality" we may yet discover the influences that perceptions and believes have on properties of certain stuff out there and within. The thing about words is that they help us distinguish and understand and use and collaborate even with the limitations they have. Of course they can also hinder doing those things... and fortunately we can create recreate the words as we please always adding additional lexicons to expand our knowledge and understanding with ever 'better' accuracy.

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