I wrote this partially in response to Lyle Zynda’s “The Nature of Reality and Why It Matters.”
Realism is the idea that there exists an objective universe external to the human perception. Realist philosophers believe that the word “real” can refer to something independent of the human senses. What humans perceive may not necessarily constitute the definite, real world. According to one fundamental epistemological argument, humans do not experience reality directly. Rather, we merely perceive our brain’s interpretation of reality. This provides realists significant doubt that reality matches the subjective experience of humans. Furthermore, biologically the human body is only capable of receiving a limited range of sensory data. For instance, we cannot detect electromagnetic fields or perceive infrared radiation like other animals. Even though we don’t experience them directly, our science proves their existence. Therefore, it is possible that humans have a very limited grasp on the true reality.
This debate over the true nature of reality may seem like something whimsical and only for the amusement of dilettantes. Upon further reflection, how an individual decides to approach and answer this ultimately personal question holds enormous stake because it influences the way he conducts his life. Whereas the realist may decide to pursue a life of science in order to uncover what he believes to be an objective truth, a non-realist may decide to follow his instinct because reality is ultimately subjective. The question also deals with hope and imagination. Consider an individual who disagrees with the social norms of his time. If he was a realist, perhaps he would decide to live in contentedness because ultimately the world operates based on higher functions. The non-realist may be galvanized by his belief in the malleable nature of reality, that the status quo is not necessarily the way things have to exist.
Personally, I think this question matters in terms of choosing whether or not to believe in one’s current environment. I question Nozick’s claim that given proper thought, most people would not choose to enter an illusory state. Both Nozick and The Matrix strongly associate living in a dream with dishonor and corruption. I believe that because there is insufficient positive proof in the existence of an objective reality, humans are forced to trust their default, subjective experience. Accepting a subjective reality is not only more logical but preferable. Our senses render everything we experience and our consciousness processes and decides how we react. Humans are unable to step outside of our mind-body complex. Our whole lives are inescapably lived in a subjective manner, whether we believe in an objective reality or not. Furthermore, what matters and what is meaningful exists as a human question. For all we know, the very concept of “meaning” is man-made. This definition necessitates subjectivity in the human quest for meaning. Therefore, logically I see no philosophical problem with choosing to enter a dream world that is more “perfect” (also a human, subjective concept) than the current world. Why would it matter to escape to a dream, if we weren’t ever aware of its artifice? How do we, as human beings, know for sure that we are not in a dream right now? This in conjunction with the assumption that human experience is subjective suggests the identical nature of the “real” world and the “dream world.” There exists no difference able to be grasped by the human.
In order for me to define what matters to me, I must first decide “What is reality?” For this reason, I will continue to ponder this question as I grow older.