First we breathe in and feel blessed. What inspired our meditation about reality must have been our involvement with it, in some way. There are people who think that what we call reality is ‘in reality’ a fiction. The universe is empty space laced with energy and some of this energy takes on a special form we call ‘matter’. Most of this matter is still empty space, traversed by particles of which we can’t determine momentum and location at the same time, etcetera, blah blah.
Reality for most thinkers means shared reality. Our dreams can be as real as the electricity in our brain, they are still less real than the common fictions we use to cope with life: Money, laws, organizations. We don’t need to expand that. Breathe some more and call reality whatever our friends call reality. Could it still be a dream? Of course, we could never rule out that theoretical possibility. All our friends could be in on it, elaborate hallucinations created by our brain to entertain itself. I would argue that this absurd possibility can never formally be disproved because it is a fundamental quality of consciousness that it cannot be sure that it is confronting something outside of itself.
So, reality is the world we talk about. In an extreme case of a group of people taking so-called reality altering drugs, when they share their experiences with each other, reality will indeed be different for them. If all of humanity uses such drugs, human reality will be different than the reality we talk about. The molecules are still the same, but the altered humans are for example not able to distinguish colors. There will still be different levels of light absorption and reflection, wavelengths hitting our retinas, but no colors. Breathe out.
Isn’t that too easy? How can a collective psychosis change reality? Here is the materialist point of view: I just want to mean the underlying atoms or protons or whatever when I talk about reality; I’m not interested in what we ‘mean’ by reality. Fair enough. But as soon as we charge it with meaning, as soon as we talk about it, reality is already more than ‘just’ the constant flux of the configuration of the cosmos. It requires the interpretation that distinguishes it from fantasy.
We keep breathing and think some more about this concept of reality. We cherish the irony of our consciousness that is fundamentally incapable of being absolutely sure something outside of it exists (bishop Berkeley) and at the same time presupposes reality for meaning and interactions with others. We realize (reality as a verb) that there is this Gordian knot at the heart of the concept. The Cartesian uncertainty can’t be cast aside by the notion of ‘hard reality’; absolute certainty is beyond consciousness. That doesn’t make the world less real. It just points out a very specific characteristic of reality that is us.
Drawing by Ianbourgeot.com