People live their lives bound by what they accept as correct and true. That’s how they define “reality”. But what does it mean to be “correct” or “true”? Merely vague concepts… Their “reality” may all be a mirage. Can we consider them to be simply living in their own world shaped by their beliefs? – Itachi Uchiha from Naruto
Have you ever had a conversation with someone, perhaps an argument, during which a snide retort may have been thrown about? Something along the lines of, “dude, get real,” because to that person, your perspective couldn’t have been more wrong. Several times, I have been put in that position and several times, reached the compromise of agreeing to disagree because after all we all have our own set of beliefs, our own opinions.
What if I told you to hold that thought? That, ‘getting real’ is not just some casual shade being thrown your way but an impossible challenge in itself. What if we all lived in our separate realities and no matter how hard we try, we cannot break out of our individual worlds?
When my English professor started the analysis of a short story by Guy de Maupassant titled ‘The False Gems‘, I, along with everyone else in the class had no idea there was more to the text than meets the eye. I was interested in the concept of ‘perception versus reality’ that he put forth, and in particular, the conclusion we arrived at that perception is reality. Some agreed with this, and others did not. I found myself belonging to the former.
Think about it.
The nature of Reality
Reality is a fluid concept that is formed on the grounds of our individual belief systems. Those belief systems may differ from person to person. When my teacher proposed this, it was met by objections from an especially passionate classmate of mine who argued that reality is not fluid but a fixed, changeless state of the world. He pointed out that reality is based upon facts. But…is it really? Isn’t fact a completely distinguishable notion from reality?
Facts can be proven through investigation – that is to say, science. But aren’t the very facts written in textbooks and put forth by scientists all based off judgments made by humans over the course of history? Isn’t it possible to have different interpretations of the same ‘facts’? Different, say, schools of thought?
The problem of defining reality is rooted in our living in a world which forms the ground for our conscious life and yet, cannot be completely deciphered. Hence, we try to perceive it in all the ways we can – through physical and mental means. That, then poses the question of whether reality itself is a physical or mental construction, or possibly even more than what our range of perception is limited to. It is this puzzle, this mystery of the ultimate truth that scientists try to uncover through observations, and facts.
Popular German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s idea of the noumenal world presents the possibility that reality is a separate construction, a ‘thing in itself’ – the reality that exists beyond our perception. According to Kant, the true nature of reality can never be known as we are contained and limited to our individual perceptions of it. He believes our very perception is what disconnects us from reality itself. This poses the alternative notion that perception is not reality but merely, a means by which we can attempt to understand it.
I, personally, believe that perception is reality and we are limited, in this way. However, there is a possibility of a collective reality, shared by those who believe and see things in the same way. People who are open-minded have an opportunity to widen their perceptions, and as a result, be exposed to a greater scope of reality. By being more receptive of other people’s perceptions, we constantly transform and redefine our own world.
A Marxist Perspective
I don’t know what it is the Germans put in their beer that gets their gears turning but time and again, they produce these genius philosophers that turn things around. Karl Marx – that’s a name that should ring a bell and if it doesn’t…have you been living under a rock? I kid (not).
Dear ol’ Karl is known mostly for his contributions in politics, economics and his ideas on society but a lot of it can be applied to different fields and subjects, including literary theory. Following Karl’s footsteps, some Marxists believe that literature portrays imaginary ways in which people perceive the real world – therefore being a creation in itself of a sub-reality, than a reflection of it.
Louis Althusser (a French philosopher who identified himself as a Marxist) further builds upon this theory by referring to the world we live in as a ‘virtual reality’, a means by which we engage and interact under the influence of culture and ideology. He too believed that our realities are mere constructions of our perceptions, that are formed through hegemonic structures. People in power, that is to say politicians and the government, impose their values on the mass population which soon dominate the mainstream culture. As the political structure changes, with it follows a change in the values and ideology of the people – impacting reality.
Though Althusser brings in a more political view of reality, if you think about how our governments and political leaders exert their dominance on the people, it brings it into context. Everything we consume is selectively filtered and controlled by those in power. Wouldn’t our realities therefore be confined to the systems we live under?
Transformation of the Inconceivable
Reality is limitless – and with that realization comes the knowledge that knowledge too, is limitless. Brilliant scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein have admitted that science itself cannot make a definite claim of what reality is, the latter going so far as to call science his ‘religion’ – deeming it a matter of faith. Every scientific discovery is rooted in the assumption of reality, rather than the certainty of it. For all we know, what we think is real might not be at all.
The vast majority of our population, from what I’ve noticed, are materialists. They believe that what they see, is what they get – that whatever images, sounds and information that their brain processes is the ultimate reality. Can we then pose the question – where did the ability to rationalize reality come from? How does our brain judge real and not real? Can we rely on what our minds concoct to draw the final line between reality and fantasy?
Some turn to religion and their faith for answers. Others, to science. In our pursuit of Reality, as humans we have this unquenchable thirst for knowledge – for the transformation of the inconceivable into a definite truth. However, every door we open just leads us to another endless maze of twists and turns – simply because there is no ultimate ‘Truth’. The subjectivity of our individual perceptions is what stops us from seeing the whole picture, if there even is one.
This is what I believe. But hey, for all I know, I could be wrong. You and I might not be real at all. We might be..in the Matrix.
What it all comes down to is the acceptance of multiple possibilities on the subject of reality. I am open to discussing this with others and learning their views, while at the same time, expanding my own. It’s a never-ending journey of constantly pushing our limits and trying to get as close to the Truth as possible. Personally, as of now there is only one truth I am willing to accept.
At the end of the day, as long as I get my share of finger licking chicken and delectable chocolates, any reality is just fine!