Reality and Illusion

The world is known by the mind through logic, senses and experiences. For each individual mind, the world is a picture painted distinctively different than that of every other individual in existence. To say that reality however, is an illusion is a premature thought. Instead, it is the way reality is perceived that differs from every known conscious mind. The understanding of reality for every individual should therefore be unique and a stand alone perception of the physical and mental world.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

~ Albert Einstein

Even if we step into another dream every time we awake from sleep, an independent reality persists as a constant and unchanging truth. Through imagination, we are able to conceive things or events that defy the laws of nature and physics. But even in doing so, all products of our imagination are but a combination of matter and ideas taken from a persistent and independent reality. Take for example, the ancient imaginary creatures of mythology. The Minotaur is but the combination of a bull and a man, while a mermaid, the combination of a fish and a woman.

Like a pendulum swinging back and forth and never stopping in the middle, so does our mind swing from one extreme to the other. We commonly think that certain things like ethics and morals are absolute principles when history have often proven to us that the accepted norm of moral and ethics change in each age. Consequently, some people think that absolute relativism of morality is a possibility even though it is an absolute principle.  This of course is impossible because one cannot state that all absolute principles are ‘absolutely’ wrong and establish absolute relativism as an absolute principle. Indeed, this would be a great folly committed by an irrational mind.

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”

~ Rousseau

For anything to exist in its entirety, it must be for the observing mind both a cause and effect or an action and reaction. All things ranging from the mind and matter must therefore be understood not as a stand alone truth but as a sum of its relation with all other things known to the mind. As discussed in knowledge and ignorance, it is this relation that gives meaning to the existence of all things. Thus, it is impossible to understand something that is absolutely independent of everything that exists in reality.

The relationship between the society and the individual also falls into the boundaries of cause and effect. Every individual is the product of the society and is chained to a reality set by his immediate environment. Looking at things from the other end, society would not exist without the individuals that give meaning to its existence. When relations are concerned, a book is only a book when it is treated and perceived like a book. Should a book fail to be read by a human being who understands the language used in its construction, the book degrades into a mere object or matter and thus not a book anymore. It is the human being, the creator of languages and its written forms that the book must exist for. Without humans, all books would lose their very meaning of existence.

“All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone. Everything is in relation to everything else.”

~ Buddha

Reality is the product of the interactions and relations between the living and non-living, the conscious mind and the environment, the individual’s identity with society. A person’s identity and the justification of its existence are not independent from society. No man is an island or a hermit that is totally free from his environment.  Having said so, the conscious mind is only an incomplete factor that constitutes an individual’s identity. Throwing aside the consciousness of thought, memory and emotions, a person’s identity is also defined by the unconscious mind to which the individual has little or no control of.

What we think of ourselves is only a small fraction of the true reality of our identity. The understanding of one’s ego is limited by the very same limitations that set the boundaries between absolute knowledge and that capable of human understanding. One must understand that although the philosopher Descartes advocated that one must look from inwards to outwards to understand first himself and then the world, it is also equally important to understand the relations of the external to the internal. In simple terms, we must know both the role we play in society and the role society plays in shaping our identity to understand reality.

“I think, therefore I am.”

~ Descartes

I think, therefore I am, is only one’s perspective concerning himself and his external environment. Through doubt, Descartes proves that he exists and therefore a reality exists. This way of pure rationalization is incomplete because in leans too heavily on deduction alone. An external reality independent of the mind can also be proven through the existence of universal truths like time, space, velocity and mass. Through empirical study, we can establish the laws of gravity and velocity which are relevant to every individual of the past and the future.

The very sound of our heartbeat shows that we are the bounded by the flow of time. Like a clockwork toy edging closer to its end, the steady rhythm of our heart proves that we are both alive and moving closer to our death. Time is a universal truth that all matter is subjected to. Being a continuous flow from past to future, it binds all men by its current whether they are aware of it or not. The inability of man to control time is yet another evidence of an independent reality separate from the individual mind.

In establishing the truth of an independent reality, one can also establish two facts. First, the mind and matter are two separate entities that coexist together but are never identical. This means that the brain and the mind are two very different things as one is merely tangible matter while the other is an intangible quality that constitutes one’s identity. The perception of reality for an individual is therefore the relation between the mind and matter which is distinct for every individual based on his personal perception, experiences and senses.

Secondly, all human beings are chained to an independent reality whether he has knowledge of it or not. Instead of bending the truth of reality according to one’s perception, one should bend erase his personal feelings to understand the truth of reality. Even though the mental faculty of human beings is unable to comprehend the full extent of an absolute reality both infinite and eternal, human beings are able to understand the immediate reality that he is subjected to. In short, we are not able to understand what exactly in the past or what will exactly happen in the future but we can understand the reality we are immediately living in.

Bend not reality to suit the mind for this is the sign of ignorance. Instead, bend the mind to understand reality for only then can one understand the truth.

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