Part of a series on the nature of reality:
Realism and Idealism
Cosmoid: A Definition
What is Science?
What is Not Science?
Back in February, I argued that reality exists independently of our perceptions, beliefs, and understanding. We live in an objective world, brought to us through our senses and translated into something we can experience. The universe is just too regular, too mathematical, too consistent to be otherwise. To most people, this seems like common sense, so they would agree. However, the human being is a complicated creature; we often believe things in our brains, but act as if they are not true. Rarely is this as evident as with the nature of reality.
When we open our eyes for the first time, we are assaulted with sensory information. Lights and colors, sounds, pressures and motion. As time goes on, we find patterns in these sensations, and slowly build up a model of the world, making connections and learning about how the world works. I have a memory from when I was very young—younger than seven. I was watching an episode of Veggie Tales, where Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber were on a cruise boat. Larry was at the wheel, and Bob came up to him and said “we’re making snow cones back here. Do you want peach or strawberry?” I remember noticing at the time that the boat they were in was little bigger than a bathtub, and I had not seen any snow cone equipment in the scenes before. Had the veggies decided they wanted snow cones and then, because of their decision, the equipment was suddenly there? I thought about myself sitting on the couch in the living room, and what I would do if I wanted a soup ladle. Could I just have it in my hand, or would I have to get up and walk into the kitchen to get it? I tried the first way, but no ladle materialized. I stopped thinking about it, getting absorbed in the movie again, but the memory has stuck with me as one of the defining moments of my development.
When we begin to comprehend logic, we have already formed habits of thought. The blank slate has already been written upon, and it is very hard to erase. Think of all the people who, as adults, are still nervous in the dark. Whether we tell ourselves it is nothing and that the place is the same in the dark as in the light, or rationalize our fear in terms of ghosts and spiritual energy, there is an anxiety that lingers in us from a time when we did not understand, when we believed that, if darkness covered something, then it did not truly exist. We believed the fuzziness in our perception was fuzziness in reality, and that anything at all might emerge.
There is an idea out there called the “Law of Attraction,” which says that if you think about something enough, it will come to you. Although there may be some truth to this from a certain point of view—if you are thinking about something you will notice happenings and opportunities that you would otherwise be oblivious to, but which would have been there all the same—it is explained as some kind of subconscious influence over the events of reality. However, everything that happens has a mechanism behind how it works. Everything has a chain of causality, regardless of whether you are there to see it or not. Essentially, the Law of Attraction is the same idea as the manifestation of the soup ladle or the snow cone machine, but pushed back beyond the boundaries of what we know and perceive. Metaphysical fuzziness.
As we go about our lives, we have experiences. Things happen, and we react or ignore them. When we notice our experiences, we might wonder why it happens, and then either try to find its scientific explanation or shrug our shoulders and accept it. Because we have to expend extra thought effort to understand how a phenomenon comes to be, and phenomena are all we experience with our bare senses, there arises an unconscious leaning toward the idea that phenomena are fundamental to reality, and they cause their explanations. In fact, it is the explanations that are fundamental to reality, existing and happening outside of perception, but completely real nonetheless, and that cause the phenomena we experience.
You might think, okay, this is obvious. Who in their right mind wouldn’t understand that physical explanations cause our experiences? Well one place you can find signs of the reverse is in advertising. Every so often I will see ads or headlines or video titles that say something like, “7 Spooky Phenomena Science Cannot Explain.” It does not say that scientists have not yet explained them, but implies that science is incapable of explaining them. And they must attract attention, or else they would not be used. If you have read my post, “What is Science?” you will know that I defined science as the most systematic way to go about studying something. Therefore, if science cannot explain something, there must be no explanation. In my post, “What is Not Science?” I argued that this is the definition of magic, and in “What if Nothing is Real?” (Realism and Idealism), I argued that magic cannot exist unless the fabric of reality is fundamentally Ideal.
So are all the people who click on these sensational headlines Idealists? Not necessarily, because they probably have not taken the time to parse the details of their metaphysical beliefs. That is why I am defining the term, Quasi-Realism: the state of expressing belief in Realism while subconsciously making choices and treating the world in one or more ways as if it were Ideal. Quasi-Realism is logically incoherent, and exemplifies the irrationality of human beings.
There is a bright side, though. Stories play perfectly into our sense of Quasi-Realism. That is why they can have magic, and faster than light travel, and even get known science wrong, and we still remain absorbed in them as if they could actually be happening. As a scientist writer, I constantly feel overwhelmed by behind-the-scenes questions. What about this? How can this be true? What is the pigment molecule that makes these plants from another planet slightly bluish? What kind of wood are the houses sided with? What do the main characters eat if they live in an environment very different from northern midwest United States of America? I get bogged down with these questions, and find my hands hovering over the keyboard, unable to make any strokes. But I have to remember that it really does not matter; if I explain only what is relevant to the story, then the readers can fill in the blanks on their own. Fiction, being a mere illusion in the mind, has no restraints against the fuzziness of Quasi-Reality.
Quasi-Realism is incompatible with Realism. The only way it could logically be true would be if the fabric of the universe were Ideal. It is what we fill in the gaps of our Cosmoids with. We want to feel like we know a large percentage of all that can be known, so in those places we don’t understand, we act as though there is no answer until we find out. If we want to learn and grow, we have to learn to spot the places where we have patched our cosmoids with Quasi-Realism, and with humility pull off those patches and admit we simply do not know what goes there. Only then can we explore the empty space and find the the answers and rich new mysteries beyond.