What Is Reality?

Some people feel that it is cruel to keep goldfish in curved bowls, as they think that because the bowl has curved sides, when the fish gazes out it will get a distorted view of reality.  Hawking thought that humans might have a distorted view of what is outside our world and that we might also be in one giant goldfish bowl: “There is no unique picture of reality.  The goldfish’s view is as valid as our own.”  Hawking felt that it doesn’t make any practical difference to the fish whether the bowl is curved or straight, because in either case they will adapt their responses to what they perceive as being reality.  Fish don’t see the water they swim in.  Their behaviors are automatic, and they may not be able to see outside their fish bowls.  Evolution has given them the ability to produce their own picture of reality.

Psychedelic advocate Dr. Timothy Leary is known for saying, “Any reality is an opinion-we make up our own reality”, as he described an ego-generated perception of self and the world as a ‘reality tunnel’, where one’s concept of reality depends on the mind of the perceiver and I guess that he had taken enough drugs and experienced enough hallucinations to be able to create his own reality.  Reality tunnel is a theory that, with a subconscious set of mental filters formed from beliefs and experiences, every individual interprets the same world differently, hence ‘Truth is in the eye of the beholder’.  According to those doctrines, the world we know is constructed by the human mind employing sensory data as its raw material and is shaped by the interpretive structure of our brains.  It is similar to the idea of representative realism, which is the philosophical position that the world we see in conscious experience is not the real world itself, but merely a miniature virtual-reality replica of that world in an internal representation.

One of the earlier ideas pertaining to this is a philosophical concept referred to as ‘Solipsism’, which in essence states that nothing in our reality can be absolutely confirmed to exist except our own mind, with the reality of the material world we see all around us and interact with impossible to be reliably verified as real beyond our own experience of it.  This basic idea was first contemplated by Greek philosopher Gorgias, who came to the conclusion that any objective knowledge outside of our own personal experience was effectively impossible.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, he imagined human prisoners chained to a wall looking out at shadows produced by figures behind them that they cannot see.  The figures hold up objects that produce these shadows.  The prisoners are convinced that the shadows are reality.  When one of the chained members escapes and visits the outside world, he then returns to tell his brethren about the real world and they cannot be convinced.

In Descartes’ ‘Discourse on Method’, he decides to call into doubt all his former beliefs and opinions, holding on only to certain guiding principles and certain moral maxims that would help him live productively during this period of doubt.  He finds he can doubt pretty much everything except the fact that he exists.  The very act of doubting suggests to him that he must exist, or else he would not be able to doubt.  He concludes, “I am thinking, therefore I exist.”

Alternative reality entered mainstream in the science-fiction film The Matrix, where the human race is unknowingly living in a simulated virtual reality created by intelligent computers to keep them pacified and content while the computers suck their bioelectrical energy to feed their power cells.  Human beings are floating in pods as they live out their lives in an elaborate shared virtual reality created and controlled by our machine overlords unless they take the red pill.  Reality is also an underlying concept in the movie ‘Avatar’, where avatars, which are artificial bodies the main characters operate wirelessly by thought alone.  The bodies in question resemble the native blue-skinned humanoid race, the Na’vi, although they are hybrids that incorporate the DNA of their operators.  I guess it is possible in the far future or with some alien technology, that people could exist as a simulated avatar within an interactive virtual world, for an extended space journey, after which we would wake up into our real bodies aboard the spaceship when the trip to another world is over.

The goldfish certainly have a different view than us, as they are on the inside of the bowl looking out.  If their curved bowl distorts their perception of what is outside, they could still formulate scientific laws from their distorted frame of reference that would always hold true and that would enable them to make predictions about the future motion of objects outside the bowl.  Their laws would become a valid picture of reality for them.

The fish bowl is an environment with little or no privacy, as the goldfish can be seen from all sides.  A fish in a fishbowl has the world staring at it, but from the perspective of the fish, nearly anyone can stare at it with curiosity, but it cannot really reciprocate, and has no place to retreat.  The fish doesn’t recognize that it’s underwater because it has only known the world from that perspective.  From the perspective of a human, these fish are not nearly as intelligent as we are, they don’t do anything except swim around and look for food.  However, from the perspective of the fish, they might consider themselves very smart.  They could never and will never know anything differently than the life that they have been given.

The world of an aquarium fish is the constructed reality of the fish tank which we created for them to live in.  Their reality is the aquarium with its plants and maybe a cave for them to sleep in.  This fish is likely to be very happy with its home, it is very content with where it is at, as long as the essentials are provided for it.  Studies suggest that just as we enjoy peering into their underwater world, the fish are enjoying their view of us as well.  Reports say that fish are able to detect what is in their surroundings and although they don’t have a large brain capacity they are able to detect obstacles in their path and they will make a mental map of their surroundings and commit it to memory for future use.

Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war?
‘Cause when we stop and look around us
There is nothing that we need
In a world of persecution
That is burning in its greed

Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door?
Because the truth is hard to swallow
That’s what the war of love is for

It’s not the way that you say it
When you do those things to me
It’s more the way that you mean it
When you tell me what will be
And when you stop and think about it
You won’t believe it’s true
That all the love you’ve been giving
Has all been meant for you

I’m looking for someone to change my life
I’m looking for a miracle in my life
And if you could see what it’s done to me
To lose the love I knew
Could safely lead me through

Between the silence of the mountains
And the crashing of the sea
There lies a land I once lived in
And she’s waiting there for me
But in the grey of the morning
My mind becomes confused
Between the dead and the sleeping
And the road that I must choose

I’m looking for someone to change my life
I’m looking for a miracle in my life
And if you could see what it’s done to me
To lose the love I knew
Could safely lead me to
The land that I once knew
To learn as we grow old
The secrets of our soul
It’s not the way that you say it when you do those things to me
It’s more the way you really mean it when you tell me what will be

Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war?
When we stop and look around us
There is nothing that we need
In a world of persecution
That is burning in its greed

Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door?

Written for Randomness Inked Scribbling the Unspoken Let it Bleed Weekly Prompt Challenge 24 where the prompt is “a photo of a goldfish in a bowl”.

9 thoughts on “What Is Reality?

  1. I truly enjoyed this post. I wrote a while back that I consider myself to be a sort of pseud-solipsist in that I believe that if I didn’t exist, nothing would exist — for me. So everything that exists for me is dependent upon my existence.

    And, for what it’s worth, you selected one of my favorite Moody Blues songs for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

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