Is Reality Real?

Is it real, or is it a dream?

Is reality real? Do the senses provide reliable information about reality? Can we know reality directly or is true knowledge of reality impossible? These are questions that some ancient, and some modern philosophers have asked.

One very important point is that anyone claiming that knowledge of a “true” reality is impossible is making an absolutely unprovable claim. They are claiming to have absolute and true knowledge that ultimate reality is ultimately unknowable. Well, if it is unknowable how in the hell do they know that? Doesn’t the fact that they claim to know something about that reality contradict their claim that it is unknowable?

From the scientific point of view, and philosophy was once viewed as part of science, this is an unfalsifiable claim about reality. A falsifiable claim or theory can be tested by experiment or observation. Any claim that is not, at least in theory, falsifiable is not science (and probably not good philosophy).

My view is that proper philosophy should be based on the principles of science and not contests in imagination untethered to a real world. Science assumes a real world exists. So should philosophy.

Looking at the modern world and all the technology in that world it should be obvious that the human mind is pretty damn capable of finding out a lot about that reality and using that knowledge to make life a lot more comfortable than it was just a few centuries ago (or even decades – we didn’t have air conditioning when I was a child in the 1950s).

Nevertheless, no one can say that the human mind can know every detail of whatever the “ultimate” reality is. That is to make exactly the same mistake that those who deny our ability to know reality make. We don’t know. It is an adventure and we don’t know what we will know, or when we will know it.

We don’t know if the human mind can come to understand everything about reality at some point in the future. We will know that if at at some point in the distant future we do in fact come to the point of knowing the true nature of reality. But the track record of humanity, and the power of its collective mentality united under the principles of science has a pretty good track record so far.

There is an important phrase I used above, that is, the “collective mentality.” That is what science is all about. One person makes observations and experiments trying to reveal some secret of nature. Individuals and individual senses can be deceived or simply misinterpret their results. But scientists take their results and submit their data and procedures to many others to double check. Often it is found the original scientist made a mistake or misunderstood their results.

It is the collective mentality of many eyes looking at the same thing that winnows out those results that actually say something about how the real world works. It is that collective mentality that proves the power of the human senses to come to know reality, at least in part.

Is the world “real”? What do you mean by “real”? How do we know we are not in some variation of “The Matrix” and it is all a dream?

In the above I have argued that we can’t claim to know that reality is unknowable, and on the other hand we can’t claim to know that is ultimately knowable either. How do we know if it is even real?

We don’t know that. All we know is that we are in whatever it is and actual observation should tell us that ignoring the possibility of it being real can be painful. Doubt that? Try this, go play on the freeway in rush hour traffic and let’s see how that works out for you.

Here is my personal conclusion. The world is real enough. It can hurt you if you don’t pay attention.

One last thought – all of those academic philosophers who consider the possibility that reality is not real act as if reality is real in their “real” life. They get paid to profess their skepticism and doubt but know they have to have enough money in their bank account to cover the checks they write in the real world.

Was Evil Good For Mankind?

Is it possible that in some sense evil has been good for mankind? I have written a fair amount on evil in the past, for example:

If one is rational … evil does exist. If one believes in God or a Supreme Being who created the universe then it is hard to deny that this God is the author of [some kinds] of evil. In the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament this is made clear:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Isaiah 45:7

Is Evil Real?, April 11, 2015

 To really understand evil we must understand that it does have a purpose. Without evil good could not exist. Without hate love could not exist. We live in a world of duality and whether it is an illusion [or not] is simply irrelevant.

Are Good And Evil Real?, May 3, 2015

 For there to be purpose in existence there has to be a “purpose-er,” the one who has a purpose, an intention, and a goal in mind (and therefore intelligence). My belief, and you may share it, is that there is a greater life and greater intelligence that has a purpose in existence and what we call “evil” is part of that purpose.

Is Evil Necessary?, April 25, 2015

Life and human evolution has a direction, a purposeful direction, towards greater complexity and interdependence. We can see this as we look at the history of humanity. In pre-history there were small bands of hunter gatherers which evolved to tribes which evolved to even larger and more complex chiefdoms to city states and to nation states. In each case we have societies that are larger, and more complex than those that preceded them.

Currently we are on the verge of planetary governance (or planetary destruction if we don’t). Maybe not in the lifetime of everyone reading this, but in terms of human history we are closer than we have ever been before.

One of the most powerful forces leading to larger and more complex human societies was evil, a very specific kind of human evil, the evil of human’s robbing, killing, raping, and enslaving other human beings. Humans learned to organize into larger and more complex societies, where for example, some could concentrate on making better weapons. They did this for self-protection, banding together to defend themselves or to defeat their enemies . But as one group formed a larger group others imitated them. It was literally an “arms race.”

As far as we can tell humanity has been in an arms race for as long as their have been humans.

Without the evil that motivated humans to come together into larger and more complex groups many things that are good would not have come either. Trade, farming, science, mathematics, writing, and the list goes on and on are things that humans learned to do as their societies became larger and more complex, with more specialization, and especially more cooperation with the trick being to ever expand the sphere of cooperation.

This evil was one powerful force drawing people together. There was another force, not of evil, but of good that worked in the same direction. That was the good of humans learning that life did not have to be a zero-sum game (where one side is a loser and the other is a winner). A life of interdependence, cooperation, trade, and mutual support can be a “win-win” game for everyone, a non-zero-sum game.

Cultural anthropologists have characterized these as “push” and “pull” forces and argued over which was most important. The “push” force is the evil of human’s preying on others and the “pull” force is human’s learning how much more they can benefit from working with each other instead of killing each other.

Capitalism, whatever some may see as its defects, was undoubtedly one of the greatest “pull” forces of all time. If humanity is to survive it is the “pull” forces of global trade and cooperation that will largely determine that. A country deeply invested in building our iPhones and other toys is less likely to want to bomb us out of existence.

It will be interesting to see how this works out as humanity explores even greater forms of mutual interdependence . The Jesuit priest, philosopher, and paleontologist  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin theorized of an Omega Point, a point of ultimate evolution and divine complexity.

In a very real sense evil may have been necessary, and ultimately good for humanity if we can reach that point without blowing up the planet first.

A Rational God

Is there a concept of a rational God that we can believe in? One of the greatest obstacles to a belief in a divine being in this scientific age is the apparent conflict of belief with reason. It seems like a lot of people compartmentalize their lives into the rational part that believes in the dictates of science, and the religious part that believes in magical beings. They switch their consciousness effortlessly between these “compartments” depending on the circumstances, perhaps only vaguely aware of the inherent conflicts betweens them.

Before you can really begin to investigate this problem you have to first figure out what you actually mean when you say “God.” As George H. Smith writes:

 Knowing what one is talking about is of inestimable value in any dialogue, so the theist, before he sets out to explain why we should believe in god, must first explain what he means by the word “god”.

Atheism: The Case Against God, George H. Smith, p. 29

Unfortunately the many attributes associated with the Christian God are hopelessly imprecise, contradictory, and in the end mostly unintelligible. For example most Christian theologians attempt to defend these three aspects of God:

Continue reading “A Rational God”