As a species, the human race has evolved to the point where we ask ourselves fundamental questions to help make sense of our existence. One such question is, What is the nature of reality?
If I asked you to explain what reality is, you might respond by saying that it is everything ‘out there’. It is the things you can see and touch and hear and how all these factors come together. But what if I told you that the nature of reality is actually something quite different?
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Albert Einstein
Reality is all in your mind
Reality is everything in your brain. It is a hard concept to grasp, but consider this; there are no actual colours or sounds or smells outside. So what is outside?
Well, colour consists of electromagnetic waves, and the colour we see depends on the length of these waves. Sound is compressed airwaves and smell is pungent air molecules. Our brain interprets these as colour, sound and smell. So in actual fact, your reality is billions of neurons firing to form a rich, multi-coloured picture.
We have built up our own nature of reality through repeated experiences which we then categorise and catalogue. For example, we know that the thing we are walking on is pavement. This is because we have come across pavements before many times in our lives. The tall brown structures with green things on them are trees. And so on and so on.
This is our ‘internal model of reality’ and allows us to navigate through life understanding what we are seeing, hearing, smelling and touching.
But can our senses deceive us? We know that animals do not have the same reality as us. Bats, for instance, use sound to navigate their way. Dogs have a much keener sense of smell but poorer eyesight than us.
“Quite literally, at least 96% of ‘reality’ its imply invisible to us. We perceive so little yet think this is all there is. So what does this mean exactly? It means that if we open our minds to what we can’t see, then we might need to rethink how much we know about reality.” – Ziad Masri, Reality Unveiled
So what is the nature of reality? There are some scientists that believe it is all just an illusion. To show you what I’m talking about, here are four studies that might change your mind about the nature of reality:
Experiments that show reality is an illusion:
The Brain in a Jar
Imagine that right now, you are the subject of an experiment. Your brain has been removed and put in a jar, powered by electricity. Your nerves are connected to a highly advanced computer that can stimulate your senses.
How would you know? And would your reality be any different from what it is now?
This thought study was the inspiration behind the film ‘The Matrix’. Here our protagonist Neo finds out that he is living in a computer-simulated reality. Philosophers believe that even if we cannot trust the outside world – if we are thinking, then we must exist.
The double slit experiment in quantum physics explores how single particles change their behaviour depending on whether they are being observed or not.
In the experiment, single particles pass through a screen with two slits one at a time. If they are being observed, they will pass through one slit or the other. However, if they are not being watched, they pass through both slits at the same time.
So how does this affect our nature of reality? Well, one train of thought is that if no one is observing, then they disappear. Phenomenalism is where objects only exist if we are observing them.
Quantum physics suggests that particles do not exist until they are observed. So, therefore, without perception, we cannot exist. It is a bit like the tree falling in a forest: if no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Solipsism is the theory that you are the only person that exists. In essence, existence is everything and only what you experience. So the only thing that you can prove is your own existence.
Your thoughts, your emotions, your pain, your feelings of love and contentment are the only things you know. You cannot step inside another person and experience their reality. And neither can they step into yours.
This would imply that we are totally egocentric beings who cannot conceive a reality bar our own. The solipsist is aware of co-existing with others but cannot attach any meaning to this.
We are back to quantum physics again and looking at how particles react. Entanglement is where two particles have interacted with each other and what happens next. These particles are stuck with each other once they have interacted or become ‘entangled’. They will never become untangled. The spin of one particle will affect the other’s spin and vice versa.
However, they are not attached to each other in a physical sense. Researchers have observed particles communicating with each other over vast distances. Particles were split into two separate dishes in one experiment. The results showed that no matter how far apart they were if one was manipulated, the other would react accordingly.
And how does this affect our nature of reality? As we are all made up of energy particles, it suggests there is no such thing as a physical universe. Instead, this energy which we believe to be embedded in the physical realm is actually being transmitted to us from the abstract realm.
In this realm, we are simply information that is all connected. Basically, we are all just energy.
“What we observe as material bodies and forces are nothing but shapes and variations in the structure of space. Particles are just appearances.” Erwin Schrodinger
So, what does makes something real? Is your reality the same as mine? Have we evolved to become more aware of our reality? Or is it necessary for our survival not know the mechanics of our own reality?
“Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be.” Donald Hoffman
Whatever reality is, if we think we exist, then that must be enough to constitute a reality of sorts.