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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 8 2013: In Euclid’s list of common notions, he said: If two things are same to one thing then these two things are same between themselves. He declared this as self evident. This is a logical truth but is this absolute reality independent of our interpretation? What/who decides the sameness when the consciousness is absent? This is more intricate than an existentialist debate. Since there is no evidence available that the sameness of two things can be judged by anything other than conscious perception, some form of consciousness will be likely necessary for the sameness to be judged.If it is not human consciousness then may be it's some extra-terrstrial consciousness. When there is no evidence of such extra-terrestrial consciousness/life, then may be there is God. This is the entry point of ID and divine purpose. All because we find it difficult to live with indeterminacy or chance.
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      Nov 8 2013: Pabitra, you don't need any kind of consciousness in order for absolute reality to exist.
      Simple example. Let's assume an atom is part of absolute reality. Do you think atoms would just disappear if there is nobody observing them ?
      Without there being any consciousness there are no more contemplations about reality but that doesn't make it disappear.
      • Nov 9 2013: Harald, atoms are certainly not part of any absolute reality. They stand the chance of vanishing even when we are present observing. Dalton's atoms already did. If a new theory comes up with enough evidence to the contrary, atoms will be non-existent, just like aether did.
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          Nov 9 2013: I wrote "let's assume". I took atoms only as an example because everybody knows what an atom is.
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          Nov 9 2013: Harald, for some reason my son Diptarka used my laptop after I went to sleep. The reply above was mine, I just didn't check that he was signed in facebook when he left the computer. Sorry for the confusion.
          Or it may be a funny way to introduce Diptarka here in TED :)
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          Nov 9 2013: Welcome to TED Tintin:>)
    • Nov 8 2013: Of course that reality is completely independent of our interpretations. No matter how much I want to interpret anything, such a thing will remain being what it is whether I interpret it correctly or incorrectly. If there's nobody to make the call for sameness, then the objects remain identical regardless.

      Consciousness is dependent on reality. Not the other way around. We cannot change reality by interpreting however we want. Whether we can grasp the whole thing or just a bit, does not matter. Our interpretations might be way off, or spot on, does not matter, reality remains.

      No need for gods to keep any call "alive." (That argument for a god is simply a confusion between what we make out of reality and reality itself. One of the most nonsensical I hear. A signal that creationists are desperate.)
      • Nov 9 2013: We can change reality by how we interpret it... in fact our interpretation now can change what we do and that can change the present the future and even the past. The events may remain constant but our interpretation can dramatically change what we and others actually experience.

        BTW the truth does not need any argument to be the truth; accept it or reject it the truth remains being the truth, though when one accepts it one has more options than when one rejects it.
        • Nov 9 2013: We can change aspects of reality by working on it. We can't change it by just interpreting whichever way we desire without paying attention to what we can perceive about it. But action is required. Mere illusion won't do a thing unless it inspires us to work for it.

          "the truth does not need any argument to be the truth; accept it or reject it the truth remains being the truth"

          I never said otherwise. You just repeated my very statement.
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          Nov 9 2013: It's not about burden of proof really, Esteban. It's about fairness of proof. If I am claiming that all swans are white (I hope most will agree with that) and you are saying some swans are black as well, between you and me it will only be fair for you to prove me wrong rather me proving you wrong.
          Just one sighting of a black swan is enough for you validate your claim, where as I will require, technically, all the swans in the world down to the last to be exhibited as white.
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        • Nov 9 2013: Can you actually prove the veracity of your claim?
          How are you so sure that there is not a single evidence?
          I find the following stand more satisfying and rational:
          ---There is evidence that there is one, absolute, objective reality independent of interpretation or observation by consciousness perception

          Given your claim presided mine I will wait for your proof before providing mine ... That is if you do not have the burden of proof of what you claim why should I have such burden? Alluding to the 'To prove what I claim is practically impossible and to prove what you claim is extremely easy" will only shift your burden of proof of what it is you need to prove (and according the the allusion it is extremely easy). Do note that I am not saying that you have to prove what you said; I am saying if you want me to prove my claim then I want you to prove your claim because that would be the fair thing to do... Only make request of others that one would be glad to do if others made such a request.
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        Nov 9 2013: "Of course that reality is completely independent of our interpretations. No matter how much I want to interpret anything, such a thing will remain being what it is whether I interpret it correctly or incorrectly. If there's nobody to make the call for sameness, then the objects remain identical regardless."
        This is how you choose to define Reality, Entropy. I admit that this is an impressive definition but a definition, nonetheless. There is not a single evidence that there is one, absolute, objective reality independent of interpretation or observation by consciousness perception.
        History and experiences are replete with evidences that reality is created with conscious perception. It is just a common notion that things are always like what they are at present. We have been proven wrong way too many time.
        Reality is what it is as present and as along as it satisfactorily describes things. It can be traded for any improved, changed or revised version of reality if it explains more things that it can at present. I find this stand more satisfying and rational.
        • Nov 9 2013: Sorry Pabitra, but you continue mistaking reality with our interpretation of reality. We cannot change what reality is by mere thinking it so. What history if full of is errors in our interpretations, not with realities being changed magically by our consciousness. It does not matter if you think that I am defining reality, or not. Reality does not need definitions, reality is it's own evidence, and we have no option but to accept that it is there, or deny it in plain contradiction, since denying reality is denying the very thing that allows us to be able to deny anything.

          Sure, we can work towards changing things. You are mistaking what I said. I did not say that we can't change the state of affairs. But to do so we have to work. Imagining that reality is made of cheese does not make reality into cheese. Please.

          You are also contradicting yourself, precisely because you don't seem very aware of the distinction between reality and what we perceive and interpret from it:

          You said: "Reality is what it is as present and as along as it satisfactorily describes things."

          I say: Nope. reality is what it is. Our interpretation is what survives only as long as it satisfactorily describes things. How else would we know that our interpretation satisfactorily describes things if those things (reality), were not independent of such interpretations?

          You insisted: "It can be traded for any improved, changed or revised version of reality if it explains more things that it can at present."

          I insist: Yes, precisely. Our version of reality can be traded for better versions. But reality itself remains unaffected. Again, how else could we know that our version describes "more things" if those "more things" (reality) were not independent of our desires and interpretations?

          Did I explain this distinction with sufficient clarity now?
        • Nov 9 2013: Entropy,

          Actually from what I read in quantum experiments, what one thinks (and expects) can change the results one observes.

          I liked what you said "we have no option but to accept that it is there, or deny it in plain contradiction, since denying reality is denying the very thing that allows us to be able to deny anything" this is how I read it: ---we have the option to accept the facts, or deny them in plain contradiction, since denying the facts is denying the very thing that allows us correctly judge according to the facts--- Succinctly put: accept the truth, or deny it in plain contradiction. Accepting it enables to us know the truth.

          "reality is what it is. Our interpretation is what survives only as long as it satisfactorily describes things. How else would we know that our interpretation satisfactorily describes things if those things (reality), were not independent of such interpretations"?

          That question poses what I consider an interesting issue... Please note that reality does in part depend on individuals interpretations. What one believes and does influences what happens.
        • Nov 9 2013: Hello Esteban,

          Nope. the claim is that observing quantum phenomena can change the result. Not what we think, but the act of observing. In any event, I think there's a big problem of interpretation of what happens, since the math has solved problems leaving our capacity to understand what happens, why the problem is solved and what the math really means, behind.

          In your last paragraph, I disagree. Sure, what we think changes the actions we take. But merely interpreting reality does not change it. What this means is that I cannot just interpret that reality is made of cheese and therefore reality will be made of cheese, not that we can't take actions and change circumstances. In order to be able to be agents of change, we have to accept the "terms", that is, we have to accept that reality is what reality is. It would be fruitless for me to try and act as if reality was made of cheese if I want to, for example, help people get an education. For the latter I have to accept that the reality includes problems to get an education, and act upon it. Clearer now?
        • Nov 9 2013: Entropy,

          Consider that observing involves 1-notice or perceive (something) and 2-register it as being significant while also recognizing that that also involves certain considerations and distinctions. Can you now see how thinking influences what happens in reality? We can also take the route that the thoughts we have and consider changes the real chemical composition and reinforces such thoughts. I realize that the chemical composition one has can influence, produce and reinforce the thoughts one has in a bit of the egg or the chicken dictum.

          I too think there are issues with the interpretation of what happens to be. I used to believe that math was a purely objective domain until I discovered that the Order of Operations - PEMDAS was actually arbitrary set and it is what it is (regardless of the indeterminacies it may have or produce). When I dialogued with someone a bit more knowledgable in that domain they basically said yea thats an issue that we avoid getting into by ... (doing 'xyz').

          I want to question: Does reality includes problems? Has math solved problems leaving our capacity to understand what happens, why the problem is solved and what the math really means, behind? Math has shown certain relationships that exists for us to understand wonder ponder and learn what happens, why
          it happens, how it happens.(when our capacity manages to get it right).

          I posit that 'merely interpreting reality' does change reality on multiple levels. To what extend this is done is a secondary issue. You can interpret that reality is 'made of cheese' and therefore reality will be 'made of cheese', note that we can take actions and change circumstances. Of course using the reference to cheese can distract our observations. You can interpret that reality is 'problematic' and therefore reality will be 'problematic', note that we can take actions and change circumstances. Now substitute 'an opportunity' 'lovely' 'terrible' into the equation. To be an agent of change change.
        • Nov 10 2013: Esteban,

          Do you even notice how contradictory your position becomes because you want to force that idea that our perception changes reality? See that you said "You can interpret that reality is 'made of cheese' and therefore reality will be 'made of cheese'," only to later admit that such thing cannot be so: "Of course using the reference to cheese can distract our observations."

          Exactly. If we pretend that our perception changes reality into whatever we pretend it to be, then such attempt will "distract" our observations. How could that happen unless reality was independent of what we pretend it to be?

          Actually, you agree with me. I don't understand why on one place you argue for my position in another against it. Didn't you write "the truth does not need any argument to be the truth; accept it or reject it the truth remains being the truth"?
        • Nov 10 2013: Entropy,

          You can interpret that reality is 'fun' and therefore reality will be 'fun' regardless of the challenges encountered because one will experience those challenges encountered as being fun challenges to work out. On the note that our perceptions change reality; be them real or pretend perceptions... you probably know of the observation that the thoughts one has produce chemical changes within the brain... it also works the other way around the chemical changes within the brain produce more of certain thoughts.

          Please note that what you find contradictory corresponds to the position you think I have; which based on what I perceive from your response and what I know I can tell you its quite different from the position I have... if you want to actually understand my position please validate that the position you think I have corresponds to the position I have...

          Its evident that our perceptions changes reality... ever heard of double blind studies --- to guard against both experimenter bias and placebo effects...

          The reason that I agree with and absolute reality independent of us and at the same time I agree with the fact that what we think/feel/act/believe interacts with the reality is that I hold both happen to correspond with what happens to be. Maybe an example will clarify this point. I did write "the truth does not need any argument to be the truth; accept it or reject it the truth remains being the truth". If I recognize having written it or deny having written it does not change the fact of what actually happened. The fact that I chose to write it did really change the fact of what actually happened and now its set for all eternity a beginning that endures... This response itself changes reality and now its set for all eternity a beginning that endures...

          I hope that clarifies my present position... and that I answered your questions. If I ought to clarify something here please do let me know...
        • Nov 10 2013: Esteban,

          Then I think that we both mostly agree.

          If we interpret that reality is fun, that does not make reality fun, that makes our view of reality fun. Reality is what it is. Of course, definitions, explanations, and such become muddled once we also accept that of course, our own perception capabilities and what we do and the attitudes me decide to have are also parts of reality. That means that we can influence such parts of reality "by thinking." However, the chemical balances and such stuff in our brains will never change the way Mercury moves, etc.

          So, I think we agree and that then this is it for now.
        • Nov 10 2013: Indeed we mostly agree, especially if we consider that the chemical balances and such stuff in our brains can drive us to act to change the way Mercury moves; its just a matter of persisting till we get mercury to actually move differently.Of course why would one want to make mercury move differently?

          Reality is what it is until we change it into being what we change it into being... the key resides in ensuring all changes be improvements :-)
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        Nov 9 2013: Or it may be so that what I am proposing is more radical than you are willing to give me credit for :)
        I will admit that I do not know of any reality beyond my and generally speaking human perception. I shall be glad if you can explain to me what is the distinction between reality and what we perceive and interpret it to be. Examples do help.
        Are you sure that you are not mistaken in thinking that I am denying reality? Actually I am not. I am saying that there is a standard form of reality based on scientific observation, experiments and evidences and this is entirely born out of collective human cognitive capabilities. It is neither invariant nor absolute. Had it been so pursuit of science had long stopped.
        Moreover, this standard form of reality is not independent of our perception. Had it been so we would have no hope of perceiving it completely.
        • Nov 9 2013: Hey Pabitra,

          I don't know of any reality beyond what I perceive either. But reason will always lead to the necessity of reality being "out there" before we could even claim that we have limited knowledge about it.

          Examples? Gravitation was interpreted it to be a force dependent on the mass of the objects involved and their distances from each other. That was so successful that it helped us notice that the phenomena in outer space follows the same rules as phenomena in our planet (showed us that we are at home in the Universe). Yet, it failed, for example, to predict the orbit of Mercury. Then Einstein proposed that instead gravitation happens because of the deformation of the space-time thingie by the mass of the objects. The math became more complicated, but Einstein's rendition about gravitation predicted what Newton's did (otherwise it would not have left the floor), but it also solved Mercury's problem. Reality did not change one bit. Mercury still moves the very same way, but the explanation for gravitation changed. If Mercury's movement depended on our interpretation, then Newton's explanation would have sufficed.

          So what you should have said by the end is that the standard interpretations of reality is not independent of our perception. But reality? It is what it is, whether we can perfectly/completely know what it is or not.
      • Nov 9 2013: Pabitra,

        Lets consider and use the example of the swans... that you put forth...(I included the essence at the end of this response).

        You make a claim about swans
        I make a claim about swans
        Each claims veracity depends on the swans actual existence (and what was claimed about them)
        Now to be fair:
        - each must prove the veracity of their claim
        or
        - determine the veracity of the others claim
        or
        - hope most will agree with whatever they claimed... because they claimed it (and whomever dares to question their claims or present alternate claims must convince them)
        or
        - each chooses what to do with the claims...

        between you and me, I am asserting a fact. I am not interested in proving that your statement is wrong, especially given that anyone who knows the truth about swans can determine which claim about swans happens to be correct. Yea I know that just one sighting of a black swan is enough to validate the claim that some swans are black and to invalidate the claim that all swans are white. I also realize that to prove your claim you would have to prove that all swans happen to be white ... and that involves presenting the swans you know and the swans you don't know including every one that has existed-exists and will exist.

        Why should I go on a wild goose chase to prove to you that there in fact exists wild goose, especially when its likely that the goose I put on the table will be deemed not a definitive goose. Do note that sighting of a black swan may not be deemed enough.
        Indeed, "It's not about burden of proof" It's about which claim is right.

        ----what you said: If I am claiming that all swans are white (I hope most will agree with that) and you are saying some swans are black.

        Edited because I want to respond below your point and will have to respond above search for double slit experiment if you need to find my response
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          Nov 9 2013: Fair enough. I shall hope for the alternative 3 and continue following alternative 4 :)
          I have placed my view and none apart from Harald actually tried to mention any example of reality that is beyond or independent of our perception. I maintain that every part of reality is perception dependent and since I exclude nothing, I do not think I require to put forward any example to illustrate. Still I shall mention one.
          Even at the quantum level, photons stop showing diffraction patterns the moment some sensor is placed to record (or perceive) its position in a double slit experiment. This is a validated evidence of perception dependent reality.
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        Nov 9 2013: Interesting example Entropy. But do you mean to say that mercury's perihelion as described by general relativity was independent of perception?
        Let's say mercury itself was not within reality until someone sighted it (perception), discovered it motion (perception), failed to explain its perihelion ( capacity failure of perception) then used general relativity to explain it (perception) to include it into a a new and improved version of reality is created or as I am proposing reality expanded to include mercury's perihelion correctly. In such train of logic nowhere it is necessary, not it is even required, to ascribe mercury any absolute reality.
        If you are claiming that gravitation is a reality, it is on record that it changed substantially a couple of times in known history and if I am not very mistaken it may soon change again when Higss boson is discovered.
        I often wonder why unlike other force feilds, gravity always attracts. That is does so is a reality at present. But it may change so that we may realize in time that it can repel as well.
        • Nov 9 2013: Pabitra,

          Please elaborate how someone can sight it when it first requires to be sighted to be?
        • Nov 10 2013: Pabitra,

          The only way we can know about reality is by perceiving it. The only way we can be able to make sense of anything is by admitting that whether our perceptions are perfect or imperfect, such reality is out there independently of what we perceive. I truly don't understand how you can't notice how quickly this back and forth you try with perception yet data forcing us to change our interpretations necessarily means that reality is not dependent on our perceiving it, but the other way around.

          Mercury's perihelion is independent of our interpretations. Relativity just helps us describe it, and predict how it will behave. Such interpretation does not force Mercury into that orbit, it describes it. If Mercury's orbit depended on our descriptions of it, then relativity would not have been necessary. Again, there was a description that worked for most stuff, but if the stuff were dependent on our descriptions, then we would not need to come up with new and improved ones. there would be no way of having "better" ones. The only way this works is if reality is objective.
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        Nov 10 2013: Well, Esteban, about 100 years ago someone would argue in the same vein (like Mercury's perihelion) about the absolute nature of Time. People would vouch their lives on its synchronicity,simultaneity, and flow in every part of the universe.
        The fact that we need to come up with better and better description of the same stuff time and again points towards the subjective nature or reality of the stuff (and most often we do not lose sleep about improving the description of reality unless it starts to conflict with the description of any other part of it).
        I have a feeling that may be materialness of the universe is a popular pit hole of falling into the absolutist position of reality.
        • Nov 10 2013: Pabitra

          I find a bit humorous how some argue with absolute certainty about uncertain stuff and would vouch their lives on it rather than hedge the uncertainty so that they always win. I also find the escapism from materialness of the universe as a popular distraction from dealing once and for all with certain issues here and now. The way I see the example you used about time is that back then some used a flawed argument that everyone thought was valid and self-evidently correct because everyone consider it valid and self-evidently correct ... wether it actually corresponded to reality or not was a secondary issue. I agree - we need better descriptions.

          BTW the notion that you mention "the same stuff" I see implies that you are referring to the reality that is rather than the reality some think that is. I realize that for whatever reason you hold the reality that is to be subjective rather than objective which to me is just a matter of distinctions in use. Subjective being more like descriptions and objective being more precise measurements, still both being observations of the same stuff. To use an example, instead of subjectively observing its hot or cold we can objectively observe the temperature it has.
        • Nov 10 2013: Pabitra,

          You said: "The fact that we need to come up with better and better description of the same stuff time and again points towards the subjective nature or reality of the stuff (and most often we do not lose sleep about improving the description of reality unless it starts to conflict with the description of any other part of it)."

          Nope. This is pointing to the very opposite direction. That we have to come up with better and better descriptions of the same stuff points towards the subjective nature of our interpretation of reality, but the objective nature of reality. Unless reality is objective, we would not need "better and better" descriptions of it.

          Time did not change its nature as an answer to our interpretations of it being no longer constant. It was that time as variable made better sense of the way the universe behaves. But time keeps being whatever it is. Only our interpretations changed.

          I am not saying that Mercury's perihelion will always be best described by relativity, but that relativity provides the best interpretation of such perihelion we have today. That does not mean it might never change. What I'm saying is that Mercury will still move the way it moves, and that our changing interpretations depend on Mercury's perihelion being independent of what we think about it. It is simply nonsense to think otherwise.

          Cart before the horse.

          Anyway, I don't think that I can make this point any clearer. Keep enjoying your debate.

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