PHILOSOPHY: What is Reality?

David Musick (
Fri, 24 Jan 97 06:32:18 UT

Mike Cowar simply asks, "What is reality?"

This is a very difficult question to answer. Especially since it's not really
clear what the question is even asking. Usually, when we ask "What is...?"
questions, we are asking it about a particular object or phenomena. For
example, if I asked, "What is an apple?", you could present me with an apple
and say, "This is an apple." Then I could study the apple in various ways to
gain a deeper understanding of its properties.

You ask, "What is reality?" So, I present you with reality. Here is reality;
it is right before you now. Here it is. What do you want to know about it?
Do you want to know what color it is? What it weighs? How big it is? All we
can do is study the properties it exhibits to us and make inferences, based on

All we have is our experiences. Nothing more. Our experiences are basically
sensory data patterns. The sensory patterns interact in various ways in the
large bundles of nerves that make up the nervous system, and produce thoughts
and consciousness. All any of us has is sensory patterns flowing in,
regularities building up coherent patterns over time. Certain types of
sensory experiences are repeated in consistent ways, and we learn to
anticipate them, to expect them. We learn, over time, to influence our
sensory environment is somewhat consistent ways. Certain types of thinking
influence the patches of color we call "hands", and we can position those
patches of color near other patches of color, and by modulating our thoughts
in certain ways, the patches of color in our visual field change in certain
ways as our "hands" "move" "objects".

Over time, we learn how to modulate our thoughts in various ways to achieve
the results we want in our sensory environment. We learn how to walk and move
things around, how to make patterns of sounds, which cause other sensory
objects, called "people" to make sounds in certain characteristic ways and to
move in certain ways. Over time, we build up a representation of the way our
sensory reality works and of successful strategies for influencing it to
achieve the results we are driven to pursue. As our minds adjust to the
regularities of the patterns of sensory information, we call this "developing
an understanding of reality".

What is reality? I don't know. All I have is my experiences. I've noticed
certain regularities to my experiences, and I can group things into
categories, according to similarity. I can use these regularities to make
inferences about the underlying structure of my experiences. Sort of like if
I am given a sequence of numbers (e.g. 1, 3, 7, 13, 21, 31, 43, 57, 73, 91,
111...) and I find an underlying pattern to the whole thing. Then I can
reduce this list of numbers to a more simple statement of the underlying
pattern, which can be used to regenerate the sequence of numbers. All I was
given was the numbers; that was like my sensory data, and I looked for and
found an underlying pattern to that data. When I have that underlying
pattern, I would say that I "understand" the sequence of numbers.

All we have available to us is sensory data. To "understand" that data, we
must find consistent regularities in it. We are looking for the underlying
pattern. For example, we can study the way objects fall, looking at how their
velocities change as they fall. When we do this, we notice a consistent
pattern among falling objects. We notice that they accellerate as they fall,
and that, when there is no air resistence, they all accellerate at the same
rate, towards the same large mass. Science is basically a matter of finding
patterns in sensory data.

We have no idea what is generating the data we experience. All we have is the
data itself. We don't even know what the data itself *is*; we just have it,
and we find patterns in it. We don't know why there actually is data, rather
than no data, or why there is this particular set of data patterns that we
encounter, rather than another, or what kinds of data patterns are possible
and why.

We really don't know what's going on here. We just sort of find ourselves
here and we try to understand it the best we can and try to make things be the
way we want them to as best we can. That's all we can do.

- David Musick

-- All I have is this moment of experience; I *am* this moment of experience.