The Nature of Reality, and the Reality of Fiction

What is the true nature of reality? Is reality simply the state of things, as they exist, discretely and objectively, separate from our potentially flawed perceptions of them? How then, can we know what is real, if in the act of perceiving such reality, we must admit that such subjective perception has created an infinite possibility for error? The data we receive from our senses is not always interpreted correctly. It often falls victim to certain cognitive biases, which distort the truth. Does this then change that which was real before we perceived it, once perceived, into something inevitably unreal? But then again, can something truly be real, if it has not yet been perceived? Does our reliance on our own simple individual minds to process reality guarantee that reality, therefore, simply cannot be guaranteed as really real? Or, miraculously, does our mind create true reality, wholly by perceiving it to be real? Can reality even exist, without a mind to perceive it? Perhaps perception IS reality. Perhaps illusions or even hallucinations are completely real, even though they exist solely within the minds of those who perceive them.

How much, then, is your reality dependent upon your ability to perceive it? Is a bug’s reality more simple than a humans being’s? Does the reality of a genius have more depth than the reality of an idiot? Is it more real?

Most beings burdened with consciousness would probably agree that any experiences they actively partake in are certainly real, as they occur. Say you were to fall down a flight of stairs. You trip over the laces of your untied Reebok Classics, miss the handrail and you are suddenly in free-fall, hurtling toward an unforgiving tile floor. This experience is certainly real, isn’t it? It feels real. All your senses are engaged as your body responds to an actual, ongoing, physical change. You feel things, like pain.

What about after the experience is over? You have stood up from the tile floor, brushed yourself off, and gone on about your day. The pain has faded. For all intents and purposes, that experience only exists now inside your mind, as a memory.

Are memories real? Surely, your memory of an event must be real, since the event was real. So then, must other peoples’ memories of events. So reality is not bound exclusively to the present. As historians love to remind us, the past is real. Memories are real.

What about false memories? Are they any less real once they have altered your perceptions, and dictated how we respond to subsequent experiences? If a false memory has the power to change the real future based upon how you react to it, mustn’t it then be real? Can the consequences of it make it real, yet still untrue?

Is reality truth? Is truth the only reality? What about true memories of non-real experiences? Are those memories real? I’ve never met Mona Lisa. Hell, I’ve never even seen the original painting. But I have seen pictures of the painting. I know what she looks like. If I actually saw her in person, as a person, I could identify her. So is my knowledge of her real? Technically, the Mona Lisa painting is just a smearing of product on a two-dimensional medium, and yet what we perceive when we gaze upon it is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Geniuses like Shakespeare, Proust, and Chaucer really only left behind near-arbitrary squiggles of ink on paper, and yet somehow in viewing those squiggles other humans recreate entire personal universes. Universes which some people devote their entire lives to, universes which can make us laugh, or cry as much as being tickled by a feather or kicked in the balls would. Great fiction, like great art, forces us to live outside the moment; it adds to our depth of experience, it makes us think and feel, and in affecting us so, it becomes real.

Many of the places I have read about do not exist in this universe, and yet in reading about them, I have travelled to them. While there, I have felt pain and hunger, heat and cold, joy and sorrow. I have taken part in glorious adventures. I have experienced epic successes, and wretched failures. I have wielded the powers of the gods themselves. Do not tell me that this is impossible. Do not tell me these experiences cannot be real.

My mind has made them real.

About Max T Kramer

Max has been better than you at writing since the third grade. He currently lives in Connecticut, but will someday return to the desert.
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1 Response to The Nature of Reality, and the Reality of Fiction

  1. b00kreader says:

    I too read fiction as if I were a living breathing spectator just outside the view of the author. So I agree fiction is no less real than the pain I all to often perceive after knocking my elbow on a door frame. Great use of circular rational, keep up the devil’s advocate things it works for you. At the cost of possibly coming off as a dork (self proclaimed) let me offer a quote to go along with your post, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” ~Spoken by Albus Dumbledore written by J.K. Rowling


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