What is reality? Realists hold that reality is ontologically independent of any concepts, beliefs, and perceptions. Anti-realists believe that reality is coloured by the mind or cultural artefacts. As per the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, everything that surrounds us is simply a fragment of a mathematical structure.
An age-old philosophical question is, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Is reality perceived or constructed? Is reality a concept in our minds, or does reality really exist? And, if reality is merely a concept, do you and I exist, or are we just figments of someone’s imagination?
Well, one would say, matter can’t be unreal. It can be touched and felt. But, if we go to the root of it, we would realise that all matter is made of molecules. Atoms make up molecules, which, in turn, are divisible into sub-atomic particles: particles that have spin and charge. These are purely mathematical properties.
So, does this bring us to the conclusion that we are mathematical entities? Well, cosmologist Max Tegmark believes it to be so. He explains, “If you accept the idea that both space itself, and all the stuff in space, have no properties at all except mathematical properties, then the idea that everything is mathematical starts to sound a little bit less insane.”
Isn’t mathematics also a belief system? Is reality as objective as we assume it to be? Is it subjective too? What is Language? What is Maths? What is Metaphysics? What is Time? What is Space?
These fundamentals have played a significant role in our understanding of the Universe as we know it. But do they really exist? Perhaps, our assumptions, interpretations, biases, prejudices, notions, concepts, ideologies, etc. frame reality.
Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” He gave the theory of a demon that has almost infinite control over every sense, thought, and memory, that we have, and it deceives us all the time. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave also makes a beautiful attempt to show us how reality is not what it seems, and that we tend to mistake appearances for reality.
The Growing Block Universe Theory states that only the past and present exist and that the future does not exist. Omphalos Hypothesis states that God created the Earth a few thousand years ago with the evidence of a past that never did exist. Bertrand Russell’s Five Minute Hypothesis which is a pseudo-scientific argument states that the world was created just five minutes ago. Whatever you know that you know has been implanted in your mind in the form of “memory traces.”
Idealism, says that everything that exists in the world is an idea in the mind. Then, the Multiverse theory states that ours is not the only universe, but there are plenty more of them.
What our senses perceive is just a parameter in the function of a series of creative processes that fetch us the final reality as we see it, which leads to another interesting question: What consciousness is. Does consciousness create reality? Or is it the other way round?
Maybe a Derridian deconstruction of reality is required to make sure we are not putting reality and the meaning of it, in buckets of preconceived notions and moulds of concepts and ideologies we have grown up with. Our mind is extremely smart and has a speed many times more than the biggest supercomputer on the Earth, but it fails in one aspect: It can’t differentiate between what is real and what is not.
When Gautam Buddha suddenly proposed abstention from the war after witnessing the pitiable condition of mankind owing to mass destruction, his comrades protested vehemently. To prod them Buddha asked each of them to whom did they think the land they were fighting for belonged. They all responded unanimously, “Our ancestors.” He told them that if their ancestors were asked the same question, they would also have answered similarly that it belonged to their ancestors, and if they went on asking like this, there would be one moment when it would be known that the land did not indeed belong to anyone at all. “So why fight for something that is not our own?”
What is ours? Is nothing ours, or is the whole universe ours? Do we give and take, or do we share? Do we make and break, or do we perceive? Are we the doers, or are we the seers? What is the difference?
We can choose to be citizens of a city, a state, a nation, or one of the world, or the entire cosmos. It is only a matter of concern. The concern one has for his kith and kin is not the same as one has for others. Nature does not distinguish among its consumers based on their caste, creed, class, colour, gender, race, or other such man-made distinctions. Then, what leads us to practise and advocate biases? Culture? Who makes a culture? Can we bring about a change?
There is a need for a mindset that engenders prioritization of the needs of others above our personal needs. This, though appears like one distant dream, can be manifested as we first rotate our camera and take a selfie of our mind thus observing the way it functions, and realising the way it can be enslaved to not be affected by circumstances, which could lead us to gain the wisdom of compassion.
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. -Albert Einstein