TED Conversations

Harald Jezek

Owner, Nuada beauty+wellness


This conversation is closed.

What is reality ?

Did you ever think about what it is that makes reality real ?
How is our reality created ? Isn't it the perceptions our brain creates based on our sensory inputs ?
But what if we lack a sense ? How does reality change for somebody who cannot hear or see ?
Or take it even a step further, assume you are deprived of all your senses, What would reality mean in such a case ?
And last but not least, let's assume you are born without any senses. What would that mean to your reality ?
So what is reality and what are we as part of this reality ?


Closing Statement from Harald Jezek

Thanks everybody for participating in this conversation.
After 900+ comments did we solve the question of what reality actually is ? Probably not, however it was a good exercise in contemplating what it actually means when we say this or this is "real".
What most of us agreed upon is that there are different aspects to reality.

One is the reality we deal with on a daily basis and which we share to a large degree. For example we agree upon common things, such as when we see a car we all agree it's a car, a tree is a tree and a house if a house.
Although we know that this reality is created by our mind based on sensory inputs which is not only incomplete but often also faulty, it still is "real" because we share the same benchmarking (same sensory inputs, generally same mechanism how our brain interprets those sensory inputs.

Beside this shared reality we all have our own reality. This can be something simple like the perception of a taste, odor or a color.
Although we might agree that a given color is read or an odor is that of a pine, we never can know how another person actually perceives this sensory input.
Individual reality also becomes visible in our beliefs. For a religious person the existence of a God is a fact and hence part of reality while for an atheist reality is free of such a God.
Differences in this aspect of reality can also be observed in how different people get different perceptions of the same situation.

Last but not least there must be an underlying objective reality which includes the laws of nature (whether those are the ones we believe are valid today or perhaps something even deeper which we don't have discovered yet) and which exists regardless of us being here to contemplate it and regardless of our beliefs.

Next time we insist something is real, let's think whether it's real for me, for all(most) of us or real in an absolute sense.

To finish with Albert Einstein:
"“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 19 2013: The experience of consciousness is the stream of observation, where an organism perceives its environment with reference to itself.

    In evolution it must be essential for a self replicating, self preserving organism to have an internalized model of itself in reference to its environment.

    The primary experience of consciousness is in the stream of observation, where the organism perceives itself as separate from its environment by constantly referencing a model of itself as an existential entity in relation to external, and internal stimuli.

    "If you are not subconsciously referencing yourself as separate from everything else, do you really exist?"

    Just like information contained within DNA is expressed as the emergent property of self replication and life. Information managed by the neural networks in our brain is expressed as the mind, and consciousness. It is purely physical neural networks that add meaning to such information, and create the illusion of an observer dependent reality.

    Evolution has strengthened, and perfected this illusion of an authentic self, observer dependent reality, and stream of experiences as a reference for self preservation in complex organisms.

    It is clearly nothing external to our bodies, it is just a temporary perception that spans our lives, it's governed by the laws of physics, and chemistry, purely a biological phenomenon, it is information which is neither matter, nor energy, and its meaning is an outcome of evolution, and no man's creative genius.
    • Nov 19 2013: Anuraag,

      What if the ideas you are presenting and spreading correspond to 'malware' ' introduced into the human mind to keep it operating within a set of constraints?
    • thumb
      Nov 20 2013: Hello Anuraag. "If you are not subconsciously referencing yourself as separate from everything else, do you really exist?" This is an outstanding point right into the root of our existence as unique individuals.

      I would be very grateful if you take a couple of minutes of your time to explain WHERE IS "the neural networks in our brain is expressed as the mind, and consciousness" and how we can prove its existence.

      As far as I know your concept is in harmony with Eric Richard Kandel, leading neuropsychiatrist. He suspects that our brains can produce something non-physical, something beyond brains….

      Then how would be explain the existence of living beings without any brains (sometimes extremely intelligent, towards their environment)?

      So far, I must say, no one can deny that no researcher, or surgeon, or butcher has found any image or a thought in actual brains.
      • thumb
        Nov 20 2013: Its extremely difficult to find an abstraction such as a thought in a physical neural network, just like it is extremely difficult to find a calculation in a microprocessor. These are abstract tokens which emerge from such physical structures, and so it might be that no one has found it yet.

        In my theory it is possible that consciousness, or the illusion of being an observer exists wherever our brains tend to reference everything around us with ourselves. This referencing is happening subconsciously all the time, when we are awake in various places in our brains. In one of antonio damasio talk however he mentions, that it might happen in the posterior portion of the brain stem.
        • Nov 20 2013: Liked the metaphor you used of "extremely difficult to find a calculation in a microprocessor"... related to "extremely difficult to find an abstraction such as a thought in a physical neural network"

          Evidently its extremely difficult to understand the program running in the machine language of bits and bytes ... heck some cant even understand the program code itself!

          I wonder if 'the abstract tokens' emerge from such physical structures or if its the other way around... the abstract tokens merge with physical structures to direct and produce particular behaviors.... In other words is there a programer/user who created the program/instruction that created the calculation to be done? (and where did the computer that produced the calculation... come from)?
        • thumb
          Nov 21 2013: SInce I remember myself I was bewildered by visible appearances that people called "Real Life". I did not trust it. When I was about 5 and saw my father with a small group of his musicians smoking and drinking in the room next to my bedroom, I was struck by how alien and unreal they seemed to me (my usual reaction on "human reality"). I wondered what all this made of? In my elementary school I told my math teacher: 1+1=2 shall be 1+1=1 because in math the unit 1 is forever the Same unit, we cannot have more than 1. Obeying this logic no matter how many times we take 1, 1+1+1+1…= 1, it stays the same unit. In spite math in our true experience No exact copies of anything are possible. However, I accepted the play of a wonder-world of math, where units and equations could gulp one another but get back to the same position and "values". I wanted to know why human logic breaks so easily in order to get wishable results. Russell tried but could not find any convincing explanations regarding math.

          The explanations are beyond microscopes and logic. We need to comprehend the nature's created Laws of our perceiving itself. In my art class I've noticed a few rules which perceptions follow regardless of what we do, paint, think, memorize, whether awake or asleep. I named them Classical Artist's Rules. They closely reveal the Laws of natural perceiving, leading me to the field that has no name.

          Perceptions behave as any classically trained artist who paints on blank canvas. He constantly Compares sensations, shapes, images, colors etc, at the same time Selects some of these to create a Composition of them Focusing on something important to him leaving the rest of impressions on a vague background, then Frames his Composition separating it from the rest of his reality. Our minds are governed by the same laws of Comparison, Selecting, Composing Focusing and Framing. We absolutely cannot produce images or thoughts, or memory without this mental routine. …..

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.