Reality, And Other Illusions

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 18, 2019

One surprising thing I have discovered lately is that everybody has a philosophy of life, and that most people, if you ask them, are quite willing to share theirs with you. Why does this surprise me? Somehow, I had assumed that having a philosophy requires deep thinking, which not everybody is capable of, or even interested in. But if you try the experiment of asking around, you’ll find that, in many cases, people seem grateful to be asked, and eager to tell you.

I’m probably a special case here, because I’m so well known to be a professional thinker that nobody would think of asking me. I therefore have to tell you my own philosophy, without being asked: I’m not an optimist or a pessimist. I’m a Realist. And just what does that mean? It means that I try to look at things as they are, not as I wish they were, or hope or fear they will become. It implies a certain acceptance and resignation. But does a Realist believe in a true, solid, objective Reality, despite all the factors like dreams, drugs, time, change, uncertainty, and mortality – not to mention all the curve balls which Science keeps throwing at us concerning the Macrocosm and the Microcosm – which inevitably generate confusion, and must sometimes cause any normal person to question what’s real and what is not? I’d say it’s not a matter of belief. We have to accept reality because, even though we can’t trust our senses, ultimately, they are all we have.

Take for example our sense of sight. Everybody knows that movies don’t really move, and that there are all kinds of other “optical illusions,” which fool the eye. But we also know that they are illusions. We also know (or think we do) that the Earth isn’t really flat, but round, that despite the evidence of our eyes, the Sun doesn’t really “rise,” or “set,” that an iceberg may appear enormous, but still most of it is under the water, that Sound, and even Light actually move, and that they travel at speeds which can be measured. We know that a conjuror’s mystifying magic is really clever trickery. And behind all the deception there is a “truth.” Of course, nobody can be sure that behind all the “truth,” there isn’t more and bigger deception.

But the Realist has his or her own brand of make-believe. He pretends that what appears (upon close inspection) to be real, really is real. Somewhere in here we must insert the disclaimer, “to all intents and purposes.” (Call them weasel words, but they are a convenient cover, meaning “in every practical sense.” They make it sound as if you really know what you’re talking about.)

So, everything that appears to be real is assumed to be so, “to all intents and purposes,” unless and until proven otherwise. Whatever seems true, really is true, until somebody produces evidence that it’s a lie, a hoax, a trick, or a dream.

There’s a famous story about Dr. Samuel Johnson’s method of refuting a theory that nothing is real. He kicked a rock, saying, “Thus do I refute it.”

Looking at my own work as a professional writer of epigrams, I’m surprised how many of them deal with this question. (It may have had something to do with my limited experiences with so-called “mind altering substances.”) Here are a few samples:

I could not possibly imagine a world like this, so it must be real.
Every time I close the door on Reality, it comes in through the window.
Either this life I’m in is very dream-like, or this dream I’m in is very life-like.
I make occasional visits to Reality – but I’m not a full-time resident.
Dreams are created out of Reality – and Reality is shaped by dreams.
The difference between play-acting and real life is that, in real life, it’s always opening night.

So, you will ask me, what, then, is real? Is pain real? Is love real? These are two things which seem hardest to deny while you’re experiencing them. I can only answer, yes, they are real, but they will pass, and then they won’t be real any more. Then you will say, “But everything passes – Does that mean that everything is only temporarily real?” Too bad Samuel Johnson isn’t here to kick a rock for you. But you know that you are real (don’t you?) – and you can find your own rock to kick. 


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