What is real? What does it mean for a thing to be considered real? And how can we be sure, with our limited sensory perceptions and memories, whether what we think of as real, is?
A thing is real if you are certain of it, in any way. However this certainty can only be as infallible as the means used to obtain it. Sense perceptions are always fallible. Therefore any certainty of an existence that is based on sense perceptions is a limited certainty, and would more accurately be labelled a probability. For example, the chair I sit upon while writing this is real, but it is only real to the extent that, although it certainly has every seeming of being real, my perception of it is fallible. It is possible for me to be mistaken in my perceptions of this chair, therefore I canít be sure whether it is real beyond the extent of my immediate sensations.
Given that we cannot determine a thing to be certainly real because of the limitations of our epistemological devices, is it even possible for this hypothetical state of "certainly real" to actually be attained? It is inconceivable to imagine what any such thing might be, or how we ever could encounter it, or what it would appear to us to be. For we could not become familiar with it by the normal means of sense perception, and even if we used machine-enhanced perceiving devices, there is still a margin of error. If any such "certainly real" thing were to be discovered, it would have to be through a process that did not rely on sense perceptions at all.
The concept in question is whether or not there exists a reality that is objective, separate from our personal human experience. Whether or not, if weíre not around to hear, the prosaic falling tree makes noise. Although we cannot rule out the possible that this is true; we cannot ever be sure that there isnít an objective reality, it is very foolish to assume that there is. There is no logical reason to do so. If you choose to believe in objective reality, you are taking a leap of faith beyond what I am willing to. If you believe the tree still makes a noise, you are granting an elevated and privileged state of existence to the things you perceive around you.
Would it ever be possible for a human to have the experience of an entity, to be aware of the existence of a thing, without relying on perceptions? The answer to this is yes. The idea might be stated a number of ways, but the most accessible solution was stated as "I think therefore I am", which I take to mean that you can be sure of an existence without relying on any sense perceptions. The method of determination used in this case, instead of sense perception, is a logical syllogism. In the context of this phrase, "I" is not a flesh and blood being, for that sort of being can only be perceived by our senses. The "I" that Descartes proved to exist was the part of him which he could never perceive with his senses, and yet he was aware of its existence. The only part of this existence that he could be certain of however, was that it existed. To state any other characteristic of it would be to reduce your certainty to mere likelihood. The only existence we can absolutely determine is existence itself, and we cannot define it in any way beyond to say that it is.
This pure and abstract existence can be perceived to be in everything that is perceived. As said earlier, any attempt to render a thing certainly real will falter, since our perceptions are fallible. Although we can never be sure that what we are seeing is what we think we are seeing, we can be absolutely certain that we are seeing. There is an existence that is being beheld by our senses, for if there was not, we could not perceive anything at all, either real or not, certain or not. So we may perceive a painting, and while we canít be sure if it has shades of red or blue, dark or light, canvas or cloth, wood or metal, or any other trait one might care to name, we can be sure of the one characteristic which must be present, by logical deduction. Existence.
This pure and abstract existence, which is the only thing that we ever can be totally sure of, can never be reduced into a state of existence where it is revealed to our senses. And yet it is the only reality we can be completely certain of. To say it has any traits at all is to betray our certainty of it, and destroy it, for it is pure essence, above and beyond any specific categorical facet.
So what is more rational? To believe in something that you can never touch, see, taste or hear, and yet it is the only reality you can be absolutely certain of, because it is impossible for it not to be real. Or is it more rational to believe in the clothes you put on your back before you go out your door? The toast you eat in the morning, the shower you take, or even the loved one you kiss before you leave?
You know these things in your life, and though they be multitudinous, you canít ever be sure of any of them. For you may be mistaken in where you thought you placed your keys, or, although you remember that your paintings looked pleasing when you bought them, but now they do not appear to your senses the same way. Were you not then mistaken in how you saw this painting? The first chip in a bag of chips might be delicious, but by the end of the bag, you may feel you are eating a greasy ulcer. How do you explain these inconsistencies in your senses? If, even after being confronted with the inability of your senses to perceive reality, you still insist on believing that your senses do indeed see what is real, then you have great faith indeed.
September 14, 2007
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