If you asked anyone what he or she thought “reality” was, you would be astonished at the variety of answers. Physicists and chemists today are looking for a unifying theory to explain the physical universe we humans think we see “out there.” In their modern theories these experts are seriously conjecturing about infinitesimal scraps of invisible jittering particles called “strings,” that are smaller that sub-atomic particles. Although these brilliant scientists and mathematicians are basically involved with the tangible, physical world, their human, physical senses are inadequate without sophisticated technical equipment and advanced math to speculate about the infinitesimal.
At the same time diligent physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists are investigating the more intangible world of the human brain, personality, and consciousness. Their studies mostly transcend the physical realm, except for the work being done to aid patients with physical and mental disabilities resulting from damaged brain tissue.
Their research fundamentally evaluates our responses to external stimuli, publishes statistical analyses of human behavior, and categorizes the anti-social, abnormal, neurotic and psychotic human behavior considered harmful to society. Included in this elite group should be the computer software and hardware designers and engineers involved with artificial intelligence who explore how the human consciousness handles, processes, and records the sense data considered to be “reality.” They are trying to duplicate with computers the sophisticated thinking processes we humans have developed to deal with environmental challenges.
Still, another dedicated group of intelligent and educated people are trying to find alternate paths to a greater understanding of a spiritual world which they feel lies beyond what the physical senses record. These “metaphysicians” are searching for some mystical world which has little in common with the “rational,” physical world we consciously experience each day in our routine activities. The lack of commonly shared and understood words defining a mystical, invisible world leaves many people uncomfortable with whatever is being discussed about any such transcendental realm.
Without commonly shared experiences in the spiritual realm, most of us have serious reservations about the authenticity of any “happening” in this unfamiliar metaphysical realm. Most examples provided by adherents of these mystical beliefs are considered anecdotal, since reproduction of the events cannot be statistically predicted.
When cause and effect correlations are lacking, scientists have serious doubts about what they are asked to accept. However, demanding physical proof about non-physical coincidences may not be a fair way to judge what is witnessed. How does musical creativity, for example, “happen?” Where does artistic virtuosity “originate?” What causes spontaneous healing? Why does any thought “show up” in the human mind? Where does a novel idea come from?
Like the five blind men who tried to describe an elephant in one of Aesop’s fables, experts who examine one piece of the reality puzzle are most likely doomed to misrepresent the whole. The difficulty from the start for anyone to describe reality is that each researcher brings a different experience, vantage point, and language to the job. Discussions about shared experiences seldom yield identical commentaries. Each explanation about what was observed usually shows the orientation of the observer. How the experience is related afterwards further reveals how the emphasis was placed by the observer in recording the event in his memory.
These differences of opinion in observing anything, however minuscule, can create a great variation of interpretation of the facts when recalled by a human mind and interpreted by a slightly prejudiced pre-observation attitude. Limitations to the accuracy in recalling the circumstances surrounding events witnessed by human beings are well documented. But a subjective distortion of an observed event or object may be minimal when compared with the errors of recording data that can result from using unfocused attention.
It doesn’t take a brilliant scientist to recognize that errors in the premise of a statement always lead to errors in the conclusion. So, we should look very carefully at the premises or the assumptions we use in exploring reality before any scientific investigation begins. In struggling to find a definition of “what’s out there” that is commonly referred to as “reality,” I went to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. There “reality” was defined as: “the quality or state of being real,” and “something that is real.” (“Real” was defined as: “1) authentic, genuine, 2) actual, true, 3) natural, 4) indubitable, unquestionable.”)
Further, “reality” is: “what actually exists: what has objective existence: what is not a mere idea: what is not imaginary, fictitious, nor pretended.” For all these helping adjectives, “what’s out there” works best for me as a definition providing we are being objective and accurate in recording our impressions of what we witness.
Yet, can we ever be objective about something we subjectively experience? Can we accurately document irrefutable evidence for observations that are made with our primitive senses? Even with a more specific definition, I found myself fumbling with concepts that are paradoxical, complex, counter-intuitive, and quite inexplicable in trying to pin down my own understanding or feelings about reality.
We all tend to view the universe with a slightly jaundiced outlook. Deeply buried or obscured in our psychological make-up is the belief that the human race plays some uniquely significant role. That we are second only to the Creator in importance. That the achievement we have made in progressing as a life form to a level of self-awareness in such isolated and inhospitable circumstances is superlative. That as a reward for arriving at this pinnacle of successful living and breeding, we might even be granted some special eternal existence, provided we pay proper homage to the eternal Creator.
Such latent arrogance must be extracted from any serious pursuit of a way or method to determine what constitutes reality. The scientific study of DNA seems to be something humans desire passionately in order to enhance their short earthly longevity more than to provide insight about how the overall universe works. This selfish attitude troubles me because any such strictly physiological progress aids us basically in promoting the disastrous population growth Malthus predicted rather than identifying and enhancing our human understanding of reality.
Because of our propensity to favor research that seems to economically benefit the decision makers and leaders of the human race, we plod ahead on projects that may not yield much real insight about how the “real” world works. Blinded by our conception that the purpose of this universe is to promote the human species, we ignore the great possibility that the purpose behind what is evolving “out there” should be evaluated at a totally different perspective than the human one.
The realization that the DNA molecule achieves so much without a “brain” ought to give us pause. Perhaps universal intelligence is communicated in ways we haven’t thought about yet. But we won’t begin to think about that possibility until we relinquish our belief that only highly “advanced” animals with brains full of neurons can think, use reason, etc. as humans do.
When scientists finally became convinced that the solar system was heliocentric, this knowledge didn’t immediately help the human race. When Columbus reached the Western Hemisphere, the result was initially disappointing because he had not reached El Dorado or the source of the spice trade. When the first Americans landed on the barren moon scape, there was little earthly exuberance beyond celebrating the bragging rights for beating the Russians to this uninhabited satellite.
Progress doesn’t always benefit humankind immediately. Knowledge about our universe is initially unfathomable. New ideas shouldn’t interfere with the general population having fun, I guess. Still, curious humans keep turning over rocks and digging up fossils wondering about what physical history could teach us. If we could find the secrets that underlie reality, the future might become less disconcerting and terrifying.
Where do we amateur sleuths begin our investigation of reality? The scientific professionals are consumed with their basic research in the three major directions I mentioned at the beginning of this article: the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. Humbly, I hope, we can proceed in a new direction with awe for a world infinitely more complex than we have ever imagined, certainly beyond the grasp of the five human senses, and possibly outside even the wildest extrapolations of our most celebrated science fiction writers.
Yet in this exotic swirl of perplexing details, multiple levels of thought or dimensions of perceptions, and exceptionally confusing paradoxes, I see a unity that has been ignored. To understand the underlying “glue” which binds everything “real” together, I think we need to use a more holistic approach. For this exercise I suggest you put on your Dilbert tie, and go with me to examine in depth two microcosms: one most of you will recognize as the corporate “world.” (It may not be your reality, but it presents many of the characteristics that construct a humanly perceived reality.) The other is my fantasy world of the DNA molecule.
So, let’s proceed to compare the two, bearing in mind that I am looking for similarities primarily. You are free to provide the dissimilarities and exceptions. By weaving together common threads, I hope to outline some new approach to be challenged and examined further. In setting up a dichotomy of similarities, I must establish the roles. The employee of the corporation is the counterpart of the DNA molecule. The corporation, as a legally constituted and freely functioning “person,” is the product of the actions of the employees. Likewise, the human “being” is the result of all the activity of the DNA molecules.
What can be observed immediately is that both the corporate entity and the human organism in our current perception of reality make plans, take action, have success, experience set-backs, and live longer than the individual employees and the DNA molecules that die off with their cells. The potentially longer longevity and assembled power these composite “persons” possess versus that of their constituents lend an aura of greater importance to the summary person (legal or physical) rather than the individual constituents (the human beings and the DNA molecules.)
The purpose of the two amalgamated persons transcends that of the employees and the DNA molecules. Although the actions of the corporation or human body may be destructive or counterproductive to the whole entity, and their purposes may be at odds with the desires of the employees and intentions of the DNA molecules, the “executive” in charge of the organization calls the shots. A successful “higher” level entity survives and prospers when the decisions taken yield beneficial results to the amalgamated organism. Such decisions, however. may not benefit parts of the organization which atrophy and fade away.
The two composite entities do not physically resemble their constituents. A corporation may have physical assets, concrete structures, and identifiable logos, but it really is an amorphous, transcendent, fictional being whose so-called life and unique powers are bestowed by outside legal entities. These other legal entities accept the corporation’s existence and permit it to participate in the market (or in the industry.) Likewise, the human bag of bones with its physical and mental talents or assets derives its self-importance from being born and protected by others who adopt them into their families. What is definitive, however, it that the organization created is endowed with a certain uniqueness and power to act independently in the eyes of external observers.
The two organizations, and all other organizations we are familiar with, create roles and rules for the constituents: 1) Play your part. 2) Do your best. 3) Follow the rules. 4) Help others in need. 5) Support the group’s mission (the organization’s “prime directive.”) For accomplishing all this, the individual participants are permitted to continue to do their jobs or play their parts. If not, they are counseled or dismissed. In the case of any rogue DNA molecules, they are tamed by enzymes or isolated and discharged.
Perhaps this is too simplified an analysis. Certainly, the processes are much more complicated, but the results are what’s significant here. The growth in complexity of the two entities is very similar. From a very simple beginning the DNA molecules somehow instruct other molecules before cell division takes place what their roles are and how to perform them to create the ultimate human entity. In the beginning of a corporation the founding employee forms a group which is expanded by teaching others the unique processes, etc., which create the product or service that makes the corporation “viable.” The self-dividing process of DNA molecules is duplicated in the corporation by hiring or training “copies” of employees who possess the experience and capabilities needed to carry on the various essential functions.
In “reality” then we have two superstructures composed of a multitude of participating elements that bring a certain intelligence to the organism, first in constructing it and second in providing a communicating system by which the organism can continue to function at a more sophisticated level outside of itself. These two complexly designed entities go out into a different “reality” and try to perform in environments that are foreign and strange to their many constituents. But these constituents are relatively intelligent and capable of learning from information feed-back so that they can teach their replacements the evolving “rules of the game.”
However, when these constituents fail to adapt the organisms/entities to environmental changes in sufficient time to maintain the organism’s viability, then the failing organism reduces its activities or ends operations (dies). The mission of the constituents could be summarized as: “prolong the existence and strengthen the structure of the higher entity at all costs.”
From the examples that I have sketched above, we can begin to understand what is happening “out there” to confuse us. The “reality” that we picture in our minds is more than a combination of the physical (bodies or buildings), mental (attitudes or intelligence sharing), and spiritual (mores or quality commitment) pieces. The wholeness of the human person or the legal person that is perceived or considered as part of “reality” must also include the unseen, imaginary, or theoretical “organizer” that directs the responses of the entity to the environment encountered and controls all the participants in the complex relationship. The resulting “wholeness” is more than the sum of the parts. Although we can acknowledge its presence by the results of its actions, we cannot yet identify the “intelligent commander” that assumes that role
The proponents of chaos theory have observed that the elements of Nature seem to respond to a universal law that everything sooner or later becomes self-organizing. With this propensity, proclivity, or predisposition for self-organizing, basic elements in Nature to “do their thing.” There also seems to be some latent, but powerful, motivation for stabilizing patterns, harmonizing groups, and designing symmetry. Much deeper insight into predicting results is necessary to better understand the exotic rules behind chaos theory.
Consistent, reliable projections require controlled experiments very difficult to establish. Unfortunately, an undisturbed environment is extremely unlikely. Accidental or deliberate disruptions are happening all the time such that trackable consequences are not very easy to identify. The preliminary evidence at this time, however, supports the theory of self-organization. Where we should put these studies in the pantheon of the sciences I leave to you, but I seriously suggest we begin to acknowledge that there are other areas to be examined before we can put together a better, more complete concept of reality.
The likelihood, then, is that reality is a universe made up of elements (and even ideas) that tend to get themselves organized for eventually fitting into some kind of whole. We humans are too ill-equipped to conceive of what this whole might be, but our analysis here certainly suggests they we should not limit our studies to one simple concept of reality (physical, mental or spiritual.) Instead we should be actively seeking to incorporate the potentialities of all our ideas into the fabric of the astounding universe.
Perhaps even the definition of reality should be changed to include what today might be considered imaginary and fictitious. We then would have a definition which could include the miraculous, the inexplicable, and the unpredictable results based on the famous law of unanticipated consequences. Such an expanded definition is necessary to cover the concepts of the “infinite” and “eternal” – so difficult for humans to handle being spatially and temporally limited – as well as the irrational square root of negative one. By enlarging the interpretation of reality, I may not have made it easier for humans to describe it, but I haven’t excluded anything that may eventually turn out to be “real” and substantial.
Reality would then be all of what the Creator thought of and made (or thinks of and makes), and not one iota less.