I am in the process of writing my guidebook for living . This is a project that I’m in no rush to get done because it can never be finished. My ideas about dealing with life change all the time, I see this as a good thing, and my guidebook will need to reflect this. There are a couple of core ideas that underpin everything else in this work though, and I’m not expecting these to change. These fundamental principles are to do with the nature of reality.
What is Real?
I do not believe that it will ever be possible for us to know anything for sure about this thing that we call reality. For all we know it could be one big dream or elaborate hoax, and there is no way that we could ever tell if this is the case. This is not something that science can test because the tests will be taking place within the delusion (if it is a delusion). Science works on the assumption that what is being tested is real, but this is one hell of an assumption to make even if it is something we take for granted. Spiritual seekers do claim to have experienced the ultimate reality, but unless we have experienced these things ourselves we just have to take their word for it. We have to at least consider the possibility that the spiritual seekers are mistaken, or that they have come in contact with a delusion within the delusion.
When we view the outside world as real we are taking a leap of faith, and any knowledge that we accumulate will be based on this shaky foundation. It does not matter how much information we pick up or questions we answer because it won’t bring us any closer to knowing if any of this is real. This is not to say of course that this gathering of knowledge is a waste of time or that it will not make our lives better – it probably can. It will benefit us in the same way that it would help us to know how things work if we suddenly found ourselves living inside a video game, but it says nothing about ultimate reality. If we lived inside this artificial world we could use tests to find out things about that place, but our knowledge would be limited to inside of the video game – for all we know there could be an update to the game later that changes these rules.
How to Annoy People with Stupid Questions
I’ve been bothered by this question of “what is real?” since early childhood. It sometimes got me into trouble with teachers and people who don’t like to think too much about stuff. It fueled many debates in bars with the scientific and religious minded. The majority of people seem to find this topic unsettling and annoying. When I bring it up it can cause the person I’m speaking with to become angry, or to back away from me as if I have some type of contagious mental disease.
The question of “what is real?” probably seems completely pointless to most of us. We can make the valid argument what we see is what we get, and that to question reality is either mental masturbation or the road to madness. It is a question that can’t be answered so why ask it? Doctor Samuel Johnson is reported to have responded to such concerns about reality, which were being put forward by the Irish philosopher Berkeley , by kicking a stone and saying, “I refute you thus” – all Johnson actually did was prove that stones feel real, but this is still the most common argument used to defend reality. In order to stay functional in this world we do need to treat it as real, but there are definite advantages (for me at least) to remembering that ultimately it is all one huge mystery. So while there is no answer to the question of “what is real”, it is still worth asking.
The Mystery of Life Keeps Me Humble
My reason for pointing out our uncertainty about reality is not meant as an attack on science or anyone’s spiritual beliefs. It is just the truth as I see it. I’m not claiming to know more about the nature of reality than anyone else – I have no real idea about what it is all about. My motives for making this uncertainty such a core part of my guidebook for living is that it keeps me humble. I’m at my worst when I become obsessed with beliefs that I feel the need to defend. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is all ultimately unknowable, so what is there for me to defend? I’ve grown to love the mystery of life and the uncertainty, and I’m comfortable with not knowing.
I’m not using my uncertainty as to the nature of reality as a means to dismiss other people’s beliefs. By admitting that “I don’t know” it opens the door for endless possibilities. This humility means that I can’t dismiss other people’s ideas as “woo woo” or delusional. By opening my mind to the mystery of life it does not put me on a collision course with anyone’s beliefs because I have to accept the possibility that they could be right. Of course, this does not mean that I have to take on their beliefs or ignore what is obviously harmful in this reality.