Here’s a rather important question about life, the universe and everything: How do we know what is real? What’s the truth about our existence, and in our experiences of the world?
I’m going to suggest something that may not be too apparent to some. I’m going to suggest that we find ourselves in the contemporary world, amidst all the latest discoveries and technological progress, that we’re further and further out of touch with the true reality; artificial belief systems and environment of the contemporary world tends to make difficult the search for the truth about what’s real, since we’re less exposed to what is truly real. It’s almost as if we’ve constructed for ourselves a highly comfortable and even more effective versions of Plato’s cave, and think ourselves more enlightened for it.
There is possibly a danger of seeing science as the only way to encounter the concrete reality and relegating philosophy to a real of abstract speculations that have nothing to do with our concrete experiences. While science is a very good way of seeing the quantifiable world, Realist philosophy of Aristotle (with background in Socrates and Plato) can help up in jogging us to being awake to the reality that’s been in front of us all the time.
It’s quite helpful to realise that, in a sense, the experiences that are most “concretely” real to us are not experiences of the scientific sort at all, but experiences of the everyday reality; the sort that we end up expressing in the grammar and ways of talking about things. We never say, “a previously encountered carbon-based biped produced high-frequency aural outbursts toward this set of aural receptors at 1132 hours GMT” – we say, “my annoying little sister was screaming at me this morning” (well, some of us might 😉 ). The qualitative and holistic ways of looking at things is the most real to us – the quantitative is real, yes, but only secondary. A person is seen as a whole person that is living (life being the source of that wholeness) and does meaningful things, not as a mere collection of bits of flesh and chemicals operating as a clever but lifeless (because lack of life means lack of any real unity and wholeness) machine that only does mechanical (and hence meaningless) movements and actions in space and time.
We don’t wonder enough at the mysterious reality present in plants, animals and human persons, and in the fact that they exist as unities (an animal is one real thing, which also contains within itself many bits). The difference is apparent in the change when a thing comes to be, or dies. In coming to be, it start almost from a point, and expands out of itself, actually accumulating more matter into itself (and so transcending the parts it’s made of), all the while remaining the same actual thing (a baby and a teenager are both human beings – the difference is in their stages of growth). When it dies, there’s no longer that unity, but only a collection of bits (which is seen more readily as it scatters as dust). This is why when a person dies, we know (even when we’re looking at the body) that he or she is no longer there.
It’s a funny society that we have today. We tend to think the deepest reality is to be found in the artificial deconstruction of what’s in front of us, little realising that a real, living thing dies when it’s dismembered from its wholeness. We must learn again to look at the reality holistically, and recover the art of preserving living and holistic realities when studying their complexities.
[Compiled and edited from my posts in a Being Frank thread]