What is Reality?

Many people say they are seeking the truth, have the truth, or want the truth. 'but what is truth? One definition is that truth is a conformance to reality. 'but what exactly is reality?

Is Reality Relative?

Now some would like to think reality is relative. That is, what is true for you may not be true for me, and vice versa. This is a polite way to run away from discussions, but what if I do not think the relativity of truth is not true for me? The proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand suffers the same end regardless of whether it sees the lion coming upon it or not. To be morbid, no scientific experiments have shown that toxic pollutants had no more or less effect on unsuspecting people than on warned people. If truth was relative, then "ignorance is bliss", and "what they don't know won't hurt them." -but we know otherwise.

This idea, that reality is relative, betrays a confusion of reality versus our perception of reality. Our perceptions may differ, either because we see incorrectly, or else we correctly see different partial views, but there is only one reality to be sensed and acted upon.

Is Reality Democratic?

Confess it! At some time you wished reality was democratic. If you and a majority of students missed a test answer, have you ever wished it would become right? If enough people believed the earth was flat, would it be flatter? If 100% of the people firmly believed disease was caused by unbalanced body humors, then would mass epidemics never happened? I think that if everyone believed reality was democratic, and not an objective thing to be discovered, we would still be in the Dark Ages.

Reality is Not to Be Trifled With

A tragic story happened in Arizona. A lady attended a seminar teaching that if you believe something then it will be true. While driving home, the traffic lights in front of her were red. She wanted to hurry home, and fully believing what she had been taught, willed them to be green and went anyway. A person was killed, a victim of unreal teaching.

Actually, reality has a lot of what is called cause and effect. While we do not have a perfect understanding of all of the complexities of the universe, some things are crystal clear. If you study enough of a philosophy, religion, or pseudo-religion to believe you are exempt from these laws of cause and effect, beware that you, or an innocent bystander, are not a victim of toxic teaching on reality.

The Tree in the Woods

George Berkeley once mused, "if a tree fell in the forest and nobody heard it, would it make a sound?" Answers may be:

a) Yes, because acoustic phenomena are self-existent, independent of an observer.

b) No, because perceived sound is dependent on an observer.

c) No, because without an observer, there would not even be the acoustic phenomena.

d) No, because nothing exists without an observer; no tree, no forest, no universe.

e) No, because nothing exists without an observer. Actually, if mankind is not observed, then we do not even exist if nobody was around to observe our creation. (uh-oh!)

Either a) reality is self-existent, b) we fail to distinguish reality from its perception, c) we think we make reality, d) we think of ourselves as the center of existence, or e) never go down a deserted path, because if you are ever unobserved...

There is actually a very simple answer to this famous question: yes the sound exists, because God heard it.

Schrödinger's Cat

A challenge to the observer-indepen-dence of reality has come from the world of atomic physics. Electrons appear as waves (without just one location) as long as one does not try to determine their exact position. When one does so, then they appear to act as particles with only one location, and the wave behavior mysteriously vanishes.

Erwin Schrödinger's cat analogy illustrates this paradox. Suppose a cat, a sealed vial of cyanide, a radioactive particle, a Geiger counter, and a vial-smashing device were all in an opaque box. If the Geiger detects the decay of the particle, the device releases the cyanide and kills the cat. Would the cat be dead or alive? Some would say the particle, and thus the cat, would be in a "half-way" state until the second someone opened the box. In other words, a random event remains only a probability until it is observed

There are three problems with this reasoning. First, the cat observes its own existence, and would not think it was half-way alive. Second, would the opening of the box event occur until somebody observed the observer? Maybe he's in a half-way state too. Finally, if nobody observed the cat, and the cat was not observing the vial, would the vial breaking event never occur?

Schrö dinger himself realized his analogy is absurd on a macro level. Lightning still strikes people, even when no one is watching. However, why should this even happen to subatomic particles?

And Now for the Really Strange...

Raymond Chiao's experiment at the University of California at Berkeley has also "made waves" in the study of reality. To simplify a bit, photons of light can be split in two "twin" photons. Not only does one photon behave as either a particular or wave with interference, depending on if you are measuring it, but the second "twin" photon acts as a particle or wave with interference, depending on whether you are measuring the first photon, which is some distance away. Years ago, Einstein derided this concept, called "spooky action at a distance." Yet the experiment works repeatably. Chiao speculates, "Even God doesn't know this information. If he did, the interference would disappear." For more information read Discover Nov. 1990 pp.62-68. "Weird Science" by David H. Freedman.

A Ramification

Minkowski and Einstein taught that we have limited movement in a fourth dimension: time. Some things may be like a 3-D version of a videotape, where a tape has 2 dimensions plus a third one, the position on the tape. While some speculate that God can fast-forward or rewind as he pleases, others have speculated that God sees all times simultaneously, as threads in a timeless mosaic, an eternal now, of creation. If the theorem of Bell's inequality can be violated, then either particles can communicate with each other faster than light, or else a photon's past particle/wave structure is determined by a future event.

An Eastern Philosophy of Reality

According to much Hindu, Buddhist, and New-Age philosophy, all of the universe is "maya" or illusion. This is an example of what is called "a self-destroying state-ment", like "I never tell the truth". If nothing exists and all is illusion that's fine. Then the illusion exists. -And just who is having this illusion? How can a non-existent being, arguing a non-existent point to other non-existent beings, tell about the reality of this illusion? It would be interesting to hear an explanation, except does a non-existent mouth make a sound?

A joke goes like this:

Is all of the universe maya, illusion? Yes.

Does illusion really matter? No.

Is money an illusion? Yes.

Would you give me all your illusions?

These beliefs do not seem too profitable.

A Western Philosophy of Reality

Some things, such as beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. Most things are not. Uranus, oil reserves, and atoms do not cease to exist when nobody looks at them. They existed prior to their discovery, for one cannot discover non-existent things.

If unobserved objects did not exist, then it's a good thing the earth rotates. 'because if everybody stopped looking at the planets for a second, would they cease to exist? Should you make sure you are always observed, so that you will never vanish? 'you probably get the point.

So western philosophies say reality is self-existent and independent of all observers. Scientists in general believed this, -until recently. While it is easy to come up with real examples that "break" many eastern philosophies, quantum mechanics has produced examples that "break" most western philosophies. While these examples have only be observed in subatomic particles, nobody can explain why this even happens to them.

A Third Way

This third philosophy says the universe is neither self-existent nor illusion, but rather "dependently exists." Some trivial things, like what is fashionable, are totally dependent on our observation. At least one thing, the particle-like behavior of subatomic particles, is affected by the observations of at least one kind of being: us. Perhaps the existence of the entire universe is affected not by the observations of animals or us, but One Observer: God.

The Bible and Reality

Paul made a bold claim about Jesus Christ in Colossians 1:15-17: "He [ Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: .... He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." So everything is sustained as well as created by God through Jesus.

Returning to quantum mechanics, no human today, religious or irreligious, can fully explain what is going on in this fascinating field. However, if the behavior and stability of the basic building blocks of matter cannot be explained without a lot of hand-waving, perhaps Colossians 1:17 has a particular meaning for physicists today.

For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714 www.BibleQuery.org

by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.