How real is the reality as we know it?
The world as an illusion — a philosopher’s point of view…
- Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: One of the most influential philosophers of all time, Plato invites us to imagine a cave. In it, there are people who have been chained and are observing a blank wall. They can see, because of the fire, the shadows of themselves and of whatever is happening behind them. The voices echo in the cave while the shadows dance on the wall thus making the shadows appear real and talking. Plato compares us to those who are chained to the cave wall in his metaphor. He points out that we believe and think we see reality by watching the shadows on the wall. Whereas, beyond our perceived reality, there lies a world of “perfect” forms. Everything that we see is just a shade, an imitation of how things truly are.
The theory is closely related to the Indian philosophy of ‘Advaita Vedanta theory’ described in Upanishads.
2. René Descartes’ Solipsism: Have you ever experienced that you’ve awoken from a dream, only to find out you are actually still sleeping? Dreams within dreams happen sometimes, in the REM phase of sleep. What if the reality as we know it exists only inside a dream then may be our minds could be confused by various deceptions.
René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Dubbed the father of modern western philosophy, Descartes argues that if we cannot even tell for sure whether we are dreaming, then how can we know for certain any truth about the world in which we seem to live? His famous statement “I think, therefore I am” comes from the realization that to think or even to be deceived one has to exist and that is the only truth beyond any doubt. The movie ‘Inception’ explores the very topics that Descartes was philosophizing about over three hundred years ago.
3. The “brain in a jar” thought experiment: Imagine that you are just a brain in a jar that is run by a higher power. How would you know? And can you truly deny the possibility that this is your reality? This is a question discussed by thinkers and scientists who, like most people, believe that one’s understanding of reality depends solely on their subjective feelings. A modern interpretation of Descartes’ evil demon problem, this thought experiment leads to the same conclusion: we cannot confirm the actual existence of anything except our consciousness. If this seems to sound reminiscent of the movie ‘The Matrix’, it is only because this idea was part of the very basis of the story.
4. Idealism: The earliest subjective idealists were members of the Yogācāra school of Indian Buddhism. The ‘mind-only’ school of Buddhism where the world is regarded very largely as a ‘mental projection’ consists the core of the Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism.
Subjective idealism made its mark in Europe in the 18th-century writings of George Barkley who argued that we cannot know objects outside of our perception of them. Barkley claimed that objects maintain their existence when no person is perceiving them because God (a higher being) is constantly perceiving all objects. Thus the world or reality as we know it consists only in the minds of humans and of God.
5. Transcendental idealism: A different approach to Idealism is a doctrine founded by the famous German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant’s doctrine maintains that human experience of things is similar to the way they appear to them rather than being as they really are. In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant argues that space and time are merely formal features of how we perceive objects, not things in themselves. Objects in space and time are only appearances, and we know nothing about the real things of which they are appearances.
6. Maya : How real is the reality as we know it? ‘Maya’ is a Vedic concept of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) connoting “ The world as we perceive it through our senses, exists but is constantly changing and thus is unreal, it conceals the true character of spiritual reality”.
The early 8th century CE Indian philosopher and saint ‘Adi Shankaracharya’ commented…
“Only the knowledge of Vedas can help to take away the veil that hides truth from your eyes. God and you are one! so you should identify yourself with Atman, not with human limitations. The idea that you are bound to this world is only an illusion (Maya).
7. Time is an illusion — Eternalism: From philosophers to physicists, the nature of time has always inspired curiosity. The concept of time is simply an illusion made up of human memories, everything that has ever been and ever will be is happening right now. To answer the differences among the present, the past and the future, There are three competing theories. Presentists argue that only the present objects and present experiences are real, and we recognize this in the special vividness of our present experience. However, according to the growing-past theory, the past and present are both real, but the future is not real. The third theory is that there are no physical or objective differences among present, past, and future because the differences are merely subjective and come from us. This third theory is often called “Eternalism.”
8. Phenomenalism: Everyone is interested in knowing as to what happens to things when we aren’t looking at them. Phenomenalism has a simple answer — they disappear. Well, only because objects only exist as a phenomenon of consciousness. Quantum mechanics seem to favor phenomenalism. Quantum mechanics states that particles do not assume a specific velocity or position until they are observed. This strange behavior of matter particles would correspond with phenomenalism, since things would not exist in a definite form until observed. So, there is no existence without perception. The physical world exists only as sensory data in the perception of minds, and not as a substance or a thing in itself.
Mind-blowing! We don’t know if and when these theories will be proved or disapproved conclusively.
To be cont.…
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