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What is real?
We live in a Universe that is infinitely enormous, upon a planet that plays home the only existing life forms that we know of. In the movie; The Matrix, our world is nothing more than a mere computer program, run through our brains while the world deteriorates from within. How can we ever know, that this is not happening to us at this very instant? This essay is obviously not condoning the idea that we are run by computers, however, it will attempt to take a deeper look into a question that is rarely thought about, but should perhaps be a more common one; What Is Real? This essay will analyze many different views of realism, from different places, at different points in time, considering each point of view, and seek to further the reader’s knowledge in this realm of philosophy.
At the present time, we, as humans, have no direct way of knowing what is real. It is a mystery, far more complex than any computer or robot we possess. What is strikingly odd about this question is that if you ask a seven year-old what is real, it is probable that you will receive an answer. Clearly this answer will be very basic, and chances are that the seven year-old will not explain why they chose that answer, but is it not fascinating that in two minutes, a mere child is able to respond to a question some adults, can waste their whole life trying to answer? Many would argue that the child only gives that answer, because he or she is none the wiser, but is it possible that philosophers, or anyone who makes an attempt to answer this question, are none the wiser, for having overlooked the simple answer of a youngster? – Once again, this is from a completely un-biased point of view, and seeks solely to provoke thought in the readers mind.
“If we’re good, we go to a heaven of some sort.” An answer many people around the world would give when asked what happens when we pass away. Is that possible? There is a theory that when we die, we lose 21 grams, and that these 21 grams represents our soul, either heading up, or down. Is this an actual possibility, that as we die, a part of us lives on? Is it possible anyone will ever know for sure? Another theory on afterlife; is that when we die, it’s the same as before we were born. This uncertain nothingness, of a dark or light blank screen. And as we wait in this dark/lightness, we are just sitting in line to be reborn. This theory leads to the argument of what is “nothing”? Is “nothing” possible? There is no clear definition of “nothing” in the dictionary, only vague attempts such as “a non-existent thing,” or “in no way; to no degree.”
The idea of nothing being impossible is quite fascinating, as it is not possible to think of nothing, leading us further to believe that something, must be real, even if they are mere images, they are still “real images.” These real images are what we witness in everyday life, although they differ from person to person, we know that we are seeing something real, because we know that we cannot see nothing.
We live in an unpredictable world. No one can tell for sure what’s waiting around the corner, or what’s going to happen tomorrow. Yet some people believe in something called destiny: The seemingly inevitable succession of events¹. Destiny goes against everything logical. It is a truth, worldly known that nothing is provable by means of the technology, science, math or experiment, which we possess in our day and age. Furthering our question, to something more along the lines of; “How do we know what we think is real, if we have no way of actually proving it?” So is it possible that destiny does really exist, and that we may all be following a list of events that have already been thought out? Perhaps the determinists are right?
As humans, most of us are blessed with five senses; touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing. These acute senses vary from person to person. What may appear as an orange to one may appear as a banana to the next. One’s acquired taste for sushi might be considered disgusting to another. There is a saying that says “one mans garbage is another’s treasure.” This saying represents how not only senses vary from being to being, but how perspective does as well. It is arguable that perspective all depends on things such as background, beliefs, and perhaps most importantly, wealth, but these opinions are solely in the eye of the beholder. It is firmly believed that perspective is influenced by how one see’s an image, object, or person, primarily, and secondly by wealth etc.
These varying perspectives can be captured in full motion at Stanstead College, where there is a clash of cultures. There are Mexicans who prefer their candy hot and spicy, to almost anyone else who frowns at first taste, and asks for something sweet instead. This does not only hold true for candy, it can be found in almost any other perspective of life; style, likes, sports (aside from soccer as it is known as the global language), and interest in the opposite sex. Where one boy might find a girl in his class to be the next best thing since sliced bread, the young man next to him might completely disagree. Another example can be found in the music industry, where one boy might find Mozart atrocious, and be madly in love with his favourite heavy-metal band. The guy in the room next to him that gets mad at this loud, satanic noise as he might refer to it, might fancy classical music and think it is amazing. All these reasons may lead one to believe that we are not all witnessing the same images, or hearing the same sounds, that tastes and likes are more than acquired, that perhaps it’s the way it comes through our ears or mouth that differs.
These examples all lead to the next question; if people’s perspectives and tastes vary so heavily, how do we know which one is right, or real? Is their a wrong side of the bridge? Is there a way to determine this? No. Due to the limitations of reason and logical thinking, for now all we have is our opinionated guesses. These opinions have been known to get us in trouble as a race. Since the first religious wars, people have been fighting over beliefs, territory, and who the stronger is. Life would almost be much easier if a right answer was determinable.
Exert from: From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest: p. 207 Hegel’s Metaphysics: Absolute Idealism
- “Reality as totality of conceptual truth” – Idea that total reality is an absolute mind, or the mind of god, which is an integrated and structured source of truths.
- “Reality as absolute mind” – reality is absolute conceptuality which reveals itself through human experiences in all aspects of life.
- “The real is the rational and the rational is the real”
- “Reality is knowable by its intelligible, rational structures” – Hegel is very against the principle that reality is unknowable, for he believes it is present for every human to attain through reason.
Hegel, much like Plato, is a relativist, and a strong one at that. “Hegel is as confident a rationalist as Plato had been.” (From Socrates to Sartre, p. 209) He is a firm believer that reality, and what is real, is determinable through rational thought, something that is present in all humans. He feels that “what is real?” all depends on the person, and their personal experiences.
Exert from: Philosophy, a Text with Readings – p. 178
“Let us settle ourselves , and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the covers the globe… till we com to a hard bottom of rocks in a place which we call reality.” –James Thomson.
Thomson feels that for humans to have a solid sense of reality, furthermore, what is real, they must first put behind them their differences in opinion, tradition, appearance etc. This is found to be a very good point, as it makes sense. How can we expect a world to come to terms on things such as reality, when we cannot come to terms on smaller things such as oil prices? As a race, our attitude towards each other must change, and as a people, we must take into account everyone’s perspective in a respectful manner. Globalisation, as much as it is frowned upon by some, is believed to be a possible answer. Globalisation is allowing us to become more united as a world, making it easier to reach out to one another. “1st phase of globalisation(discovery of the new worlds in 1490’s) changed the size of the world from large to medium, 2nd phase(industrial revolutions) changed it from medium to small, the 3rd phase, which is taking place now, changed it from small, to tiny.” – ***politics paper
The Materialist View
(“materialism: the metaphysical position that reality is ultimately composed of matter”– definition from Philosophy, a Text with Readings)
Eastern- Eastern materialism dates back to around 600 B.C.E, was a principle held by the Charvaka philosophers of India. They believed that the only form of reasoning was sense perception. They felt that other sources of knowledge, such as inductive, or deductive reasoning were invalid. They believed that the only reliable source of knowledge is what we can see, hear, touch, smell, or taste with our senses. Along with this belief, they argued that if we cannot know something, it is wrong to say it exists. They did not believe in spirits, nor did they believe in an afterlife, because it is not something we are able to perceive with our senses. “Human life begins in this world, and ends in this world, so people should try to get as much of the bodily pleasures of this life as they can.” –Charvakaian Belief
Western- Western materialism can be traced all the way back to 460 B.C.E. Much like the Charvakian philosophers, the early Western philosophers believed that reality could be explained in terms of matter. According to Democritus, everything in the universe, even the soul, is made up of atoms. Almost a millennium after Democritus came another great Western philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes felt quite similar to Democritus, as he believed that measurable matter is all there is in the universe, that only matter is real.
“The universe, that is the whole mass of things that are, is corporeal, that is to say body; and has the dimensions of magnitude, namely, length, breadth, and depth. Also every part of body is likewise body, and has the like dimensions. And, consequently, every part of the Universe is body, and that which is not body is no part of the Universe. And because the Universe is all, that which is no part of it is nothing, and consequently, nowhere.” – exert from Hobbes’ Leviathan
Objections to Materialism-
The main objection to materialism is the fact that it is very neglectful in accounting for human consciousness. Many people feel that activities such as loving, wishing, dreaming, hoping and hating all come from nonmaterial spiritual entity.
The Idealist View
(“idealism: in metaphysics, the position that reality is ultimately nonmatter, in epistemology, the position that all we know are our ideas – definition from Exert from: Philosophy, a Text with Readings)
Western idealism dates back to the ancient Greek, Pythagoras (about 600 B.C.E). Pythagoras held the belief that “individual entities are merely shadows of reality.”( Exert from: Philosophy, a Text with Readings) This thinking can also be found with the Christian thought, developed by Saint Augustine. In The City of God, Augustine warns the reader to beware of the world, and flesh, as they are temporary. What was claimed as real is the spiritual world, or; the world without matter.
The most commonly known Eastern idealist, is an Indian philosopher by the name of Vasubandhu. He strongly believed that all we ever perceive are sensations within us. He is famous for saying “Only mind exists.” The other Eastern idealists held most of the same ideas as the Western ones, letting idealism to be quite similar all over the globe.
Objections to Idealism-
Almost all objections to idealism are based upon the fact that it is all based upon assumption. Idealists have also been accused of committing the fallacy of anthropomorphism (giving human attributes to nonhuman entities, mainly god).
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