Before you continue reading, ask yourself to define what is real. Also, I feel the need state that the purpose of this article is to tear apart the definition of reality, and prove that I nor your nor anyone can or ever will have a proper definition of what is real, or shall I say, what real is.
“Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. In a wider definition, reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible. A still more broad definition includes everything that has existed, exists, or will exist.”
This is the average definition of reality, so to paraphrase, “Something that the Universe is currently doing, has done or will do; whether or not you can observe it as it is.” Reality is often contrasted with what is imaginary, only in the mind, dreams, what is false, what is fictional, or what is abstract. But Now we’ve already reached a contradiction. Are your dreams not inside your head? If you deny the existence of a dreams reality, you deny the existence of your brain, therefore denying the existence of yourself. So dreams must be real. Anything that exists within you, exists within the entirety of the universe, because just as a wave is something that the whole ocean is doing, you are something that the whole Universe is doing.
“What of That which is false? Certainly that can not be reality.” I presume you might be thinking. On the contrary, this is covered beautifully by Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’ : It is somewhat of an anecdote about prisoners who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. They can not move, nor turn their heads. The prisoners watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of the fire behind them, and begin to assign names and meaning to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing what we would call ‘reality’. Plato then explains how someone from our regular culture is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the ‘true form of reality’ rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners. If he tried to explain the the prisoners what his reality truly was, they would call him an imbecile, a radical, blasphemous.
My point in this is that for all we know, we are analogous to the prisoners. Don’t worry this isn’t a “Wake up people the government is a dark overlord” and illuminati mumbo-jumbo article, I just needed to bring attention to the fact that 1) The Prisoners of Plato’s cave’s veiw of reality is just as valid as ours, 2) How easily we assume we live in a universe of “What you see is what you get” principles. But more on this later.
“What of fiction? Fiction isn’t real, it is literally the antonym of Real” Allow me to answer your question with a question; When I say “Invisibility cloak, Frankenstein or Atlantis,” do you make up a new fiction for them every time in your head? No of course not. That is because, dispite their non existence, you have assigned these fictional entities with real properties.
To say, for instance, “Voldemort then turned his wand on Harry…”, what we are actually saying is something along the lines of: “A-specific-wizard-who-we-all-generally-understand-has-a- name-that-is-not-normally-spoken turned his magic-casting-implement onto another-specific-wizard-who-we-all-generally-understand-has-a-lightning-bolt-scar-on-his-forehead…” and despite the subjects of that sentence having no ACTUAL referent, we all understand this to be true.
Philosopher Saul Kripke boils this down one way by saying “The name doesn’t really have any referent, it has a pretended referent. The propositions that occur in the story are not genuine propositions saying something about some particular person; they are merely pretended propositions.” However, at least as far as Kripke is concerned, this doesn’t really put Atlantis back at the bottom of the ocean of existence, rather it describes how, or to what degree, fictional things exist, independent of the truth of their reference. To look at it another way: when wondering about the existence of Atlantis, Frankenstein or the flying spaghetti monster, are we asking if there is a physical, actual thing with properties that exactly or sufficiently match those of the object of a certain fiction. We tend to think of things, especially people, that “exist” as having one singular referent, one single form in one single place. Craig, the writer of the McRae Weekly, has to be both Craig as well as the writer of the McRae weekly. If there were someone else who was EXACTLY like me in every way, or if I didn’t write this blog, would I still be me? If I were a red head guy who was a professional surfer that didn’t write this blog, but I was genetically Identical to myself now, would that Craig McRae still be me? Most people would argue that that would not be Me. This is where some of fictionalism’s stances on existence get really fun. Because if for example Harry Potter didn’t cast spells, if he didn’t have a lightning bolt scar–if he sold sunglasses at the mall, drove a Hummer and had a Russian accent–would he still be Harry Potter? Of course not. This is because despite Harry’s lack of a singular referent, we as culture have chosen to all assign the sound of the words “Harry Potter” with the real properties of J.K Rowlings archetypal Harry Potter.
Fictions also contain real things WITH actuality; things like motorcycles, the moon, protons, Charlie Sheen, and peace. Are those things, the ‘inside the fiction but otherwise real things’, any different from the outside the fiction versions of themselves? Put another way: is HG Wells’ London THE London? Is Orson Welles’ Jersey THE Jersey? In name, maybe, depending upon who you ask.
Fictional Grover’s Mills exists in A JERSEY–but here’s the thing: that Jersey only exists because of a reference conjured in our minds upon hearing the word JERSEY. Jersey, here, is a REFERENCE. Arguably all fiction works by reference, and in my opinion, i feel, by it’s very definition then isn’t some aspect of all fiction true? When I say “The alien Invaders came to London” you unconsciously assign any and all truths and knowledge about London to this fiction. So in part, if some or all major aspects of a fiction is ‘true’, ( The setting for one) where do we draw the line between true and imaginary?
When H.G. Wells created those bear sized, leathery, tentacled martians, it could be said that he also created a world in which they really do exist.
Creationism– not that creationism–says that fictional objects exist, but only because of the authors who first created them actively and intentionally. Meaning, they don’t exist here in our ACTUAL world except as entertainment, but they do exist in other possible worlds.
Alexius Meinong theorized a kind of object–which we now call a Meinongian Object–that has no existence, but DOES have PROPERTIES. His two most famous examples of such an object is the round square, and the golden mountain. Two objects which have no existence but very clearly stated properties.
Possiblism states that anything which is possible … exists. Also called Modal Realism, it states that those worlds in which those possibilities became ACTUAL are just as real as ours, because any subject inside of them would say that their world is the ACTUAL world.So when I say “War of the Worlds Alien” or “Aunt Beast” or HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED- I’m not describing something that exists in our world, but a thing existing in another world.
I know there is an almost countless amount of possibilities in ways I could continue on with this post, but felt the need to get it out by the end of the month, maybe in a month or two I’ll make a follow up post.
So what is real? In a sense, Real is anything that can be defined in anyway and Reality is any point of view on anything at anytime. (Assuming time exists)