I stroll into the Starfish cafe, the delightful smell of coffee rolling out the door to greet me. It isn't long before I have my 'usual' in hand and am making my way to a widow seat. When I have my nose to the glass I realize a well known Socrates sits just outside, the cool Dunedin wind whipping his hair and beard across his tragic face. I take today's News Paper, the headline reading 'Today's Reality', and approach the aged man. "Hello, Sir. Such fine Dunedin weather is it not," He nods his assent and I take it as an invitation to sit, "What a topic to print, wouldn't you say? You're a philosophical man, what do you make of this?"
"Well now young, ah…"
"Argeddion… hmm, such an unusual name for modern man… No, Argeddion; the question is, what do you make of it, what do you believe today's 'reality' is?"
"Come on man. You cannot expect to approach the wisest man and have no debate to put forward: What is reality?"
"Uhhh... I believe reality is life..."
He contemplates this for a few minutes... "What do you study, Argeddion?"
"I have finished my studies and have entered into the surgical practise, sir."
"Well then, would you yourself not be familiar with life and death?"
"Why yes, sir.
So answer me with an explanation young man for I know nothing of your practise, help me to understand life, 'definitions are essential for understanding'.1
Well, aahh... Life is everything living, it is what I see, feel, smell and taste. I am living, sir, I have life in me, this is the only way I can explain reality because it is all I know, all I am, all we are.
Are you saying that when you operate you can put life into your patients? If you are saying that you have life in you, then surely you aid people in keeping the life in them.
Well, no, sir...
Then what is it you are saying?
When I operate I am merely preventing the course of death - stalling it, if you like. In no way am I adding life to my patients.
So can you evade death? If you help others to, then surely you will be able to as well?
What is your surgical practise, Argeddion?
So you know about the mind?
Then use yours to answer me this - if life is reality, what about life makes life a reality? You cannot say that life is reality and leave it at that. You said that life is everything living and that it is what you see, feel, hear, smell and taste.
Then you are saying to know that life is reality, you need the senses. Or rather, to know, wholly, that you are in a reality you need to see, feel, hear, smell and taste. But tell me, young Argeddion, what about a blind man? His sense of sight is impaired - so would it be right to say that he is not in a reality as he cannot experience life the same as you and me? Now take a deaf man or a man suffering from paralysis, both has not all the senses to experience life, therefore they are not in reality. What if we came across a man who was impaired on all accounts of the five senses - is he wholly not in reality, is he nowhere; but he will still be living, yes?
Then surely it will be wrong to say that reality is life experienced through the senses as the senses can be faulty and/or nonexistent. What makes life reality young man?
I understand life, it is tangible, I use my senses to determine this - I am living, therefore I am real.
So you are saying that you have to be living to experience life as a reality?
But what about the dead, those in the spiritual reality. If we are saying that life is reality we are there for justifying death as unreal. But we would be horribly wrong to say that death is not real as we are surrounded by death all the time. Look at a cemetery. All those that are buried there are dead, are they not? They have stopped breathing, stopped living therefore they are dead. Now if we were to say that death is a reality, how could that be?
Well... you and I are mortal, death is inevitable. Yes we can prevent it, or stall it, but we all will eventually die, it is inevitable. Death is something we understand and...
No, my friend. Nor you or I or anyone can wholly grasp the concept of death nor understand it. If you are saying that death is reality because it is the ending of life, therefore the ending of reality, surely you are wrong?
How so, Sir?
Yes it is the ending of life, but wouldn't our belief in an afterlife mean that we do not end as our reality is continuous. We, as mortal physical beings die and go into the earth but our spirit, which is the essence of us, goes on to live with better men - as I believe. What is your belief Argeddion my friend?
Then you believe in an afterlife, do you not?
So then death cannot be the ending of a reality as our belief in an afterlife would mean that we live on for eternity in another reality. In saying this, would it be right for me to say that death and life could be a plausible example of reality? Whether we are alive or dead we are in reality; that is why death is only one example and life the other. But what is the essence of these realities, we only have examples. So what if we do not consider the death of life, but the death of a concept... what do you make of that?
Very confusing, Sir.
Is it? I thought that your knowledge of life and death would suffice as you are the expert here, are you not?
Then lets discuss this further - reality is the death of a concept... do you follow?
Maybe. So are you suggesting that when a concept, let's say Democracy dies, that that is reality? Because once it is dead it is gone.
Right and why would that be?
Uh, because it happens. Because it is something experienced, something tangible… when a concept dies, that is reality because it is gone, it is no longer existent, and it is gone from our world which is real.
Could be. But when a concept dies are we not more likely to repeat it, as we do history if it is not revised? In saying this, would it be right to say that the concept never truly died - that it had only lain dormant?
I guess so. But what would make death a reality? If you say, with good reason, that it cannot be a reality because of our afterlives; or the death of a concept cannot be reality because a concept never dies, could death then be the belief in an afterlife?
Possibly. So you believe that reality is the belief that our dead will go on to live with 'good and wise men'2- or whoever depending on your belief - therefore you are saying that reality is belief, are you not?
Can you give me an example?
Belief is reality because, as humans, we feel a need to believe in something bigger than us. A need to believe in a fixed point to build our lives around. Therefore our belief becomes our reality. Look at those who go to church every day. Their reality is that consistency, that routine.
But our beliefs can be altered. There are so many variations of religion and belief that our perceptions of our own belief could be altered, could it not? If a religious man went to church every day of his life, then doesn't for some unforeseen circumstance, does that mean that he is no longer in reality as he had not kept up with his routine? Now let's say that that 'unforeseen circumstance' was his shift in belief - maybe he had a sudden provocative thought that caused him to realise that his life had been wasted on a belief that provided him with nothing. So, in saying this, we would be wrong to suggest that reality is belief, right?
Possibly. But what about the impact of our belief? My belief is Christianity and that Christ died on the cross and three days later rose again. We celebrate this on Easter - even those who do not believe - meaning that, on some level, our belief has an impact on, not only us, but also those around us.
Quiet right. You are impacting on my perceptions of reality by clouding it with your Christian views, are you not? So could you not alter my belief by pursuing that fact that 'everyone' celebrates Easter, meaning that everyone to some extent is Christian? This supports my earlier refutation that belief could be altered - and now you are saying that reality is the impact of belief, yes?
Correct - but I do not appreciate your insolence towards my religion…
Oh no, my friend. I do not in any way want to infer that your religion is any less than mine or anyone else's. But what you have just demonstrated to me, my friend, is the impact your belief can have on others, or rather the impact your belief demands you put forward as a defence. Though, would I be right to say that it is not the impact of the religion or belief that effects others, but the way we act. You acted from the morals drilled into you by your religion. And look at the religious people today. Search them on the internet, you will surely find them advertising their religion as the best; even Christianity advertises itself through the disciples. You are encouraged by your God to save the 'sinners' and bring them to Christ, are you not? So in doing this you are pressing your beliefs onto others.
Mmm... So are you saying that reality is the impact of the morals derived from our religion that affects other including the impact of advertisement? But it still has an impact.
Yes, but the morals are the essence of the impact therefore we cannot say that impact portrayed through our beliefs is reality, but the essence of it - morals.
Okay - so the concepts portrayed through our belief is reality?
It could be…
Why, my friend, why do you say this, what do you mean?
Well I guess our lives are governed by what we believe is right and wrong therefore it must be a reality because we use it, and experience it daily. Our lives revolve around our morals. For example if my morals told me to pick up a piece of rubbish, which is most likely, then I have portrayed my morals to any onlooker and if I had seen that man do a similar thing, then he has shown me his moral intensions.
Mmm… but what about a man who has been brought up on a different belief, therefore a different set of moral and he thinks that to kill a man who has done wrong on any account, no matter how large or small, is the right thing to do, he would believe that it was morally correct, right? Though this is right for him, would your own morals not tell you that that is wrong?
So if a man does not do wrong willingly, then surely he would not be in the wrong, do you follow? I had a discussion with a dear friend of mine about his father who had apparently murdered a man. We talked briefly on the matters but the essence of it was that he was going to prosecute his father as it was against his morals.3 But wouldn't it be wrong to prosecute your own father? This is the discussion we had though we drew to no conclusion.
Yes, but in today's society we believe that people do wrong willingly. They know the law, they are aware of morals but still do wrong.
Exactly, so how could reality be morals if we do not know or stand by our morals in everyday life? Yes this could be a reality for some, but not all because the lines for what is right or wrong is blurred by different religions, beliefs and cultural ethics. If we do say that morals are reality, it cannot be so because we have not considered an immoral or amoral man. He doesn't live his life governed by laws or morals, therefore we will be saying that that man is not in a reality, or that he is not real yet we can see him and he is there. Also, morals can be altered and/or conditioned either through our beliefs of the way our fathers have brought us up. Through this we cannot wholly know what a good or bad moral is as it is different for everyone. The man who killed the wrong doer was morally correct by his standards, though not yours. Do you see?
Yes. So then could it be the effect morals could have on others, the emotional impact?
Well, the impact of morals, to any degree, would be emotional. An action driven by one mans morals may not be morally correct for us, therefore we feel compelled to punish them. This is the emotional impact as our morals drive us to feel the need to cause the other harm.
Yes. And you have just proven for me why emotional impact could not be reality because they can be unstable, irrational. Look at a man who has the same morals as the man you punished. Would he not then see you as a wrong doer and want to punish you? Emotions can also be altered. Look at 'Hitler'4for example. Did he not 'Brainwash', for lack of a better word, his people into despising the Jews. Did he not per sway them to blame the Jews for all that went wrong in their lives, effectively creating hate for the Jews amongst his people that he could then use to dispose of the Jews he thought of as impure. Therefore it will be ridiculous to say that emotional impact is reality because we cannot know if it is our emotions that we are feeling, or others. Meaning that we cannot truly know that what we are experiencing is our reality. Am I right?
It will seem so. Then could it be that reality is the awareness of emotions and the things around us? We are aware that we feel anger, happiness, hurt; though it may be altered or manipulated by others, we are still aware of it; both physically and emotionally. And through this awareness do we not adjust accordingly?
Rightly so… Now tell me, Argeddion; have you ever taken debating?
Yes, for a short time in my first and second year of study.
Do you not find this an interesting topic to debate? And are you not 'aware' of what I am saying? Are you not 'aware' of my argument?
Yes, I am.
Then you would be surprised to learn that unknowingly you have taken to defending your conjectures for reality and I to refute them.
Yes. Yes, that seems so...
Then would you not agree that our awareness can be altered or tripped into what someone else wants you to be aware of? Take a cinema for example. Have you seen a three-dimensional movie?
And is that not an alteration of your awareness? You see things jump out at you, you are aware that you are trying to dodge what is not really there, but you still do it, therefore I can rightly say that our awareness can be altered, manipulated, changed meaning we cannot define it as a reality because we cannot say that what you are aware of now is reality. We cannot justify what awareness as a reality is because it isn't any one thing.
I guess... but what about my knowledge of what I am aware of?
What are you saying?
I'm saying that could reality not be the knowledge of things around us and what we know about those things?
But again knowledge can be conditioned. What we are taught is what the Head of Curriculum 5wants us to learn therefore we can never wholly know everything.
But are you not the wisest man? You said so yourself.
Yes, I am the wisest man alive, 'for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.'6
Right... But could knowledge still be considered reality as knowledge makes our world. We don't have to know everything or know that we know nothing to be able to make a difference in the world; we are still able to make a change. See, you say you know nothing yet you are still making a difference.
You're right, and we learn all the time. For example, 'instead of lecturing you like a traditional school master' 7I am discussing - this gives you the impression that I am wanting to learn from you, and that is correct. I want you to tell me what you think the essence of reality is. You believe that limited knowledge is reality, and any difference made from it. But could it be knowledge alone that makes our world?
I think so.
Why is that?
We wouldn't be living if we didn't know to keep ourselves warm or feed, for example.
But that is not knowledge that is instinct. We do not know to breath, it is automatic. This is the same for hunger and cold. When we are hungry we know to feed ourselves because of what our instincts are telling us. We know to put more layers on when we are cold as it is instinct. These are the most basic survival instincts. These are not of knowledge; they are built into our makeup. Look at a baby. A new born does not have any knowledge of the world but it knows to cry when it needs to be feed. Do you see?
Yes, but what if I put knowledge this way. We would not have the sky scraper in Auckland if we were not knowledgeable. The building was not a necessity, so it wasn't done on instinct.
I see, and you're saying we used our knowledge to build it...
But we do not know how to build it. It was done collectively. A builder does not know the skills of a carpenter, as does a painter not know the architects practise, yet all knowledge was needed.
So the building of it was shared?
Yes, and is our society not shared. Ones knowledge of butchery, for example, means that a flouriest will have meat. The flouriest is only specified to dealing with flowers, not meat. We are in a shared reality that can only support itself through a balance of knowledge. For example, if all the people of the world were only knowledgeable in architecture, who would build the houses? We cannot survive without balance and another example of why knowledge cannot be reality is as follows: take into account a simple man, with barely any knowledge, is he barely in reality? What about what we do not know? It would be our own fault as we did not have the courage or inclination to sought it - then without that knowledge are we as far out of reality as our knowledge does not stretch? "If you love knowledge, you will be a master of knowledge. What you have come to know, pursue by exercise; what you have not learned, seek to add to your knowledge, for it is as reprehensible to hear a profitable saying and not grasp it as to be offered a good gift by one's friends and not accept it. Believe that many precepts are better than much wealth, for wealth quickly fails us, but precepts abide through all time."8 Let me put it another way. I know the alphabet and nothing else. Am I only in reality to the extent of my knowledge? If I come across someone who only knows half of the alphabet, is he less of a reality than I am?
Of course not.
There you go. That is why knowledge cannot be a reality, but what is?
We were discussing before that shared knowledge lead to a well structured society, so what if we look at a shared reality?
Well reality cannot be one thing - you said so before in our conversation - so we could say that reality is shared. And this could be reality because reality wouldn't be able to support itself if it was not shared: again these are your words.
You are right, our reality is shared. We are impacted upon by many. Through this conversation we have discussed reality as being life, death, belief, morals, emotional impact, awareness and knowledge. Though I do not like to dwell on what we have already discussed, this time I believe it will be beneficial to us as, if we corroborate them, we can see that we have, at some point, discussed the impact of each conjecture. Reality is all of these things and the impact it has. But what is the essence of a shared reality? Not forgetting what we have already talked about we need to consider what one major point could determine reality as being the benefits of a shared reality.
I'm not sure; we seem to be going in circles. Whatever I put forward as a possible reality, you say why it could not be. Why would I want to keep supporting you in refuting all that I say, why would I support you in making me feel like I know nothing?
Ah ha! This is my impact on your reality. I dispute your reasoning, helping you to realise the limits of your knowledge. I only seem to be wise because I ask questions. As I said before, I am only the wisest man because...
Yeah, I get it. You are only wise because you know nothing.
Not quiet. It is that I know that I know nothing. There is a significant difference.
But why won't you answer my questions. I ask you what you think reality is but you say that I should answer.
That is right. I do this because I know nothing, remember? I ask you so I can learn. I want you to tell me what reality is. I believe that is it not any of what you have said thus far, but I do believe that we will eventually meet a justification.
Okay, okay... So, shared reality...
Yes. Shared reality cannot be the definition or essence of reality because it is only a form of reality. For example we cannot say that 'best friend' is the definition of friend because it is a form, rather than saying a friend is 'a person with whom one is on terms of mutual affection' 9- that is a definition, the essence of friend, the uniqueness, do you understand?
Then you understand that reality cannot be 'shared reality', correct.
So what is reality?
I don't know...
Reality can be shared, but to be shared there has to be others and to be others there has to be...
Life. There has to be life. But we have already discussed this and you convincingly refuted it.
Correct, but could we now say that reality is life because it is shared.
No! No, Mr Socrates, Sir. I will not engage with you any longer, we have gone around in circles; we have no essence, or whatever, of reality.
I'm sorry to have displeased you; I was only looking for a single universal standard of reality...
No. Good day sir, and may your soul...
My harsh words were lost to the wind as I hurriedly made my way to my car. As I got in a feeling of conflicted unease settled over me, and there it remained for the rest of the day.