Question
Asked 29th May, 2011

Nature of reality

Do we physically exist?

Most recent answer

3rd Jul, 2012
Greg Kasarik
Community of Infinite Colour
Taking the map metaphor one step further, I'd say that we have some of the map and seem to do a good job of navigating our way around, but have no idea of "where" the territory sits with respect to anything else, or even what the territory is made of.
From a day to day perspective, we all agree that "reality" exists and certainly act as if it is 100% real and our very real experiences of pain and loss as we navigate it gives us a practical reason for complying with the dictates of the reality that we perceive.
With few exceptions, we act as if the desks, cars, buses, people and animals that we encounter are real, but scratch a little bit deeper and ask the sort of questions that empiricists hate and you find that there are no guarantees. There simply is no way of knowing if our perceived reality is "real" in any externally objective sense, rather than being a computer simulation, construct of a disembodied brain in a jar, or a reflection of something far beyond our comprehension.
Descartes demon is well and truly alive! :-)
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Popular Answers (1)

15th Aug, 2011
Richard Clow
U. of A.
Since I have followed Donald Palmer's advice and read at least the first two chapters of Thomas Brody's book The Philosophy Behind Physics, I believe that I can make at least a small contribution to this discussion. My first suggestion is that at least the first two chapters of that book should be required reading for those posting to this group. Brody makes two very important points.
The first is the analogy between the relation of a map and the terrain it depicts on the one hand and the relation of the predictions of a physical theory and the reality of the space-time events it predicts, on the other. He uses this analogy to show the limits of our knowledge with a beautiful discussion of a map of the London subway. This map has little if any resemblance to the actual steel rails of the physical system, and yet is very useful to those traveling on that subway. The map describes some aspect of reality but is not reality.
The second important point is the necessity of considering the space-time events thus predicted as part of an external physical reality which is common to all those communicating about the scientific theory. If the knowledge cannot be communicated it should be considered as a skill of a craftsman or athlete rather than a part of science. If someone considers reality as being created in their own mind, then that person is talking about their model or map of reality which is, indeed, created in that person's mind. The problem is in confusion of the model and reality. If it was strongly believed that there was no other external reality, there would be no reason for ever talking to any other person. It would be like talking to yourself. Nor would there be any benign reason to read or post to this research group.
With regard to future more powerful mathematical tools, it has been suggested that Clifford algebra (sometimes called geometric algebra) may be such a tool. That algebra contains both complex numbers, quaternions and differential forms as subalgebras and surely has very good prospects, but I think it will not reach its potential until it is extended to include products defined by a general quadratic form rather than only cannonical forms as in the early (and present?) versions. If that extension has already been made, I would greatly appreciate references.
Finally it must be recognized that no matter how clever and efficient the mathematical tools may become, there will always be a fundamental distinction between the mathematics and the reality it represents. A good way to keep this in mind is to recall Einstein's famous quote: "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality".
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All Answers (28)

Deleted profile
Physically means what?
We are definitely not like the objects in our dreams. Are we?
29th May, 2011
Omar Fathy
Military Technical College
what if there is no reality ..it's only in our mind !!
Deleted profile
If mind generates everything then mind has to be reality but mind belongs to whom? Mind is not a physical entity. It is a feature of a physical entity.
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29th May, 2011
Eduard Ferrando
There is one ABSOLUTE REALITY that was created at the Big Bang and milions of RELATIVE REALITIES formed by each observer. I think you are right Mr. Fathy, the relative realites are nor true and are only an ilusion of our mind. These words are only pixels, whatever you do with them is each observer's problem. If you don't believe me observe how I vanish FOR ALL THE ETERNITY (or not, time will tell) from you relative reality......
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Deleted profile
I have discussed in detail the concept of reality in the following thread....kindly check it. There is no point in repeating it in a new thread.
Theory of universal relativity and symmetry ( or Quantum theory of gravity and time)
30th May, 2011
Eduard Ferrando
The relative reality is a sub-state of the absolute reality. Mr. Clouston, have you ever thought that a conversation between two intelligent beings inccurs in a violation of the principle of relativity? The relative reality that we can create while we talk does not exist in relation to a non-conscious inertial coordinate system, natural phenomena then do not happen with the same physical laws for both types of coordinate system. It is imperative to define an absolute reality (Einstein's space-time continuum) and multiple relative realities to avoid the violation of the fundamental principle.
The goal of my theory is to respect the Principle of Relativity. Our violation of the principle is not absolute but relative. The key is in the concept of "time".
Pictures 3e and 3f of my theory show that the force of gravity can not exist <at the same time> as gravity for one observer and subjective time for the scientist who is looking at the tree, therefore gravity and time must be the same existing entity. Gravity converts continuosly in time, this happens in the gravity-time continuum (Einstein's space-time c.) and is defined as the <abolute reality> which exist in the same way for all kinds of coordinate systems.
I am aware that my exposition is a little bit confusing at the beginning but eventually it gives you a very simple view of the concept of "reality". Remeber Einstein's quote shown in my front page about simplicity. We need to make it simple so everybody can understand the nature of reality, not only a few privileged observers, including us in relation to non-intelligent living organisms and other human beings.
8th Jun, 2011
Raja gopalan
IBEXI in India
I want to re-write your question in a more clear way and then tell me whether i am right or wrong...? We are perceiving the outer world through our senses. Now our mind creates the images within ourselves. Now manifested image exist in our mind is relative. Our existence relative because manifested image within our mind always keep changing according to our view. Now your question is, is our
Mind creates the image by perceiving the outer world OR creates the images without perceiving(illusion of perceiving)...? This is your question am i right...?
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12th Jun, 2011
Donald G Palmer
IQVIA
EF: In looking over your paper, You appear to merge the tools used to investigate the universe (e.g. mathematics and equations), the models used to represent and understand the universe (e.g. Einstein's general relativity), and the reality of the universe itself.
The equations of physics and the mathematical tools, in particular differentiation and limits, are tools by which we investigate the universe. To take them as actually representing the universe is to believe the model is the same as that which is being modeled.
This is a mistake that seems to be made more often these days. As 'Theory of Everything physics' has become mostly untestable theory, this tendency has become rather pervasive.
Please do not make this mistake.
Differentiation in mathematics may currently be an assumed aspect of the trade, however a large 'battle' raged about this mathematical technique developed by Newton and Leibniz. In terms of the theory of limits - how could something that got infinitely small become something - with a positive value - and not become 'nothing'? How could something with no width be 'integrated' - even an infinite number of times - to become something with width?
(Carl Boyer's 'The History of Calculus' is one source)
There are still mathematicians who do not take these concepts as given - and the theory behind limits evolved to a 'if this value gets arbitrarily small, then that dependent value can be contained to an arbitrary level'. So the current theory of limits avoids the infinitesimals used by Newton and Leibniz.
The mathematical tools used by physicists have developed and evolved. They are not a priori given to science as complete and immutable tools.
Please do not mistake the tools with the model or with the reality they were developed to measure.
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12th Jun, 2011
Richard Clow
U. of A.
In the very interesting article "The Man Behind the Curtain" in the May-June American Scientist , the author, Tony Rothman, makes this point in the last Parqagraph. One coulld add that the models must be simple enough for our brains, with a limited number of neurons, to understand and which we can communicate to each others for verification. We need these models to survive in our everyday life, but they can't possibly be the same as reality. All this gives rise to the problems cited by Rothman and Palmer. Nietzsche said it most concisely "untruth is the condition of life".
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18th Jun, 2011
Donald G Palmer
IQVIA
RC: Good article.
Traditional teaching methods, in physics and mathematics, tend to be deductive and logical. This is usually a far cry from how the theories came into being - usually inductive and intuitive. I have found historical perspectives give a more realistic view of theories - and their warts. The battles fought for centuries around infinitesimals in mathematics are not taught in any Calculus class I know of. The epsilon-delta argument for limits (the compromise that finally became the main-stream explanation) is all that is taught.
The late Thomas Brody wrote a book 'The Philosophy Behind Physics', in which he takes the traditional scientific method and infuses it with the reality he experienced as a working physicist. This includes multiple overlapping and sometimes mutually contradictory small theories built for specific experiments. The Standard Model of quantum physics quickly becomes fractured with these small-domain theories devised for specific experiments. He expresses a much deeper perspective of how science evolves than the simplistic scientific method I was taught in elementary school (and never questioned thereafter except in philosophy courses, which considered the history of the method).
As a secondary comment, Dr Brody is the only person I have read (and there is much I have not read) who seems to appreciate the theoretic and philosophic problems of applying probability and statistics to physical phenomena. An important aspect of probability theory is the Law of Large Numbers. We consider a large set of objects and use probability (and statistics) to derive equations about the collection of objects. However the Law of Large Numbers says we must use the average of some characteristic(s) of the collection of objects. In so doing we explicitly or implicitly say there is some characteristic we cannot (or do not want to) determine the specific value of - for any of the objects in the large set.
We are then amazed when we arrive at equations with uncertainty aspects; of limits to our ability to measure a characteristic; or which say we can determine this or that characteristic - but not both. It is quite possible this theoretic result (our inability to measure some characteristic beyond a certain precision) is a consequence of the mathematical tools used for the theory (with the implicit or explicit averaging at the smaller scale) - and not an aspect of the underlying reality that theory models.
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29th Jul, 2011
Senthil nathan cb
#H1-427. Reality.
Donald G Palmer, Jun 18, 2011 10:09 am. Your writings almost always contains insights which i must envy.
<<It is quite possible this theoretic result (our inability to measure some characteristic beyond a certain precision) is a consequence of the mathematical tools used for the theory (with the implicit or explicit averaging at the smaller scale) - and not an aspect of the underlying reality that theory models.>>
@*. Will you consider if a combination of probability and outliers will be able to reduce uncertainty in the built result?
2nd Aug, 2011
Donald G Palmer
IQVIA
Senthil: Thank you for your comment.
It seems to be part of my bias to look for and ferret out the biases and limitations of the tools we use to build our models, our image, of reality. Currently there are a number of such limitations and biases that can be identified. Getting beyond these might take us to a 'hole nother level', although it might require a full-scale re-evaluation of what we know. There will likely always be more to ferret out (assuming we continue to exist).
The use of probability and statistics are such biased tools, as they inherently cause us to average out measurements at one scale, in order to gain insights at another level. While these tools have proven extremely useful, they do have there limitations and biases. We appear to be running into these 'negative' aspects as we try to use these tools for other than their primary purpose. Probability and statistics are not cause and effect tools - and explicitly not on an individual object level for which we have inherently averaged out measurements for. However, we seem determined to continue using these tools regardless of whether we have crossed the line of proper use, from a mathematical perspective.
They have, after all, proven so widely effective that they MUST be part of reality - or at least near enough for a Theory of Everything to be considered tenable using them. We seem to feel the Unified Field Theory will explain all - even if it only does so via mathematics and leaves us dumbfounded for an understanding of how it works - of a explanation that 'makes sense'.
But mathematics is far more than what we have so far uncovered. And this means even 'explanations' that are entirely mathematical can change and expand with new mathematical tools. This is where I am headed. Science can feel it has come near to a full explanation - yet it is all based upon mathematics and we are still Sorcerer's Apprentices when it comes to mathematics.
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14th Aug, 2011
Senthil nathan cb
#H1-432. In the new RG how to Like,? and where to see list of my discussions? Actually, in the old itself, i thought a provision for seeing all the comments of any particular contributor would be good, but now even seeing one's own list also appears difficult.
Donald Palmer: <<of a explanation that 'makes sense'.>>
@*. Can you expand on this, regarding the "equation", E = kT, if this is an "explanation", what is the "sufficient sense" it makes?
Because i find your related obervations meaningful; but there arises another question also: to what kind of people such such delineated details are must, ie is that possible to be narrated at a common folk level, or not.
I may not exactly address your interests, but i had always thought, in the context of mathematical equations, what knowledge or idea they contain, should be possible be dealt through merely with language too, and in that context is my question; will not such a translation afford better comprehension for lay people?
I am not answering the question if lay people may usefully spend time wanting to comprehend such.
14th Aug, 2011
Donald G Palmer
IQVIA
Senthil: There are Number systems and there are Numeric representational systems. The distinction is very important.
For most of recorded history, we have had relatively simple numeric systems. These systems, like Roman numerals, really only mapped to whole numbers (Integers > 0). The Greeks and others had the concept of 'ratios' - which map to Rational numbers and we now call fractions. Passing from India (possibly from China) through the Arab world to the western world is the system we call the decimal numeric system. This maps, at least theoretically, to the Real numbers.
So there are Number systems (Integers, Rationals, Reals, Complex, Jacobean?, others?) and there are systems to represent values of a number system (e.g. Roman numerals, fractions, decimal numeric system). It has been only recently (the last couple hundred years), that we have realized the two are not identical. The decimal numeric system has reigned supreme, in science at least, for the last 5-6 hundred years. To this day, the decimal numeric system - with some variations like logarithms and scientific notation - remains the highest numeric system we have developed. Yet it only maps to the Real numbers.
The question needs to be asked: Why should we believe the decimal numeric system is the end all of numeric systems? Science deals with equations involving Complex numbers, however we only have numeric systems up to the Reals. We do not have a complex numeric system - which represents a complex number as a single representational value.
E=kT is an equation without values. To understand what will change, you might find it helpful to introduce values into the equation. Multiplying two decimal values gets another single decimal value - with the same complexity as the two original values (e.g. 12.1 * 4 = 48.4) Not the same with complex numbers as there is always one part which is not a true value (e.g. [12.1 + 4i] has an undetermined part - 4i). And manipulating complex variables increases the complexity of many equations - simply due to the use of the complex numbers with an undetermined 'i' part..
This is the next major step for mathematics and will impact most of science as well: A complex numeric system with a value for 'i' = sqrt(-1). It will change the look of equations involving complex numbers (we will not need a two-part complex number which complicates the equations and manipulation of them). So, even if science remained the same, the equations of science will change. These changes will change our interpretations and understanding of those equations - changing scientific understanding. It will also provide the means to make measurements we cannot make with our current decimal numeric system. This will expand what science can 'see' and do - which is far the more important aspect than changing current equations.
It is not a huge step to consider systems beyond a complex numeric system - beyond where we do not quite see yet. So we are still in the early stages of understanding the extend of what mathematics can provide and science can utilize.
If we do not annihilate ourselves, or kick ourselves back to a much earlier state of knowledge, bickering about which is the true God and which nation and/or 'tribe' is the supreme one, it is possible to see a horizon of knowledge that will take us the next thousand years to work out. I fear we do not have the wisdom for this next step.
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15th Aug, 2011
Richard Clow
U. of A.
Since I have followed Donald Palmer's advice and read at least the first two chapters of Thomas Brody's book The Philosophy Behind Physics, I believe that I can make at least a small contribution to this discussion. My first suggestion is that at least the first two chapters of that book should be required reading for those posting to this group. Brody makes two very important points.
The first is the analogy between the relation of a map and the terrain it depicts on the one hand and the relation of the predictions of a physical theory and the reality of the space-time events it predicts, on the other. He uses this analogy to show the limits of our knowledge with a beautiful discussion of a map of the London subway. This map has little if any resemblance to the actual steel rails of the physical system, and yet is very useful to those traveling on that subway. The map describes some aspect of reality but is not reality.
The second important point is the necessity of considering the space-time events thus predicted as part of an external physical reality which is common to all those communicating about the scientific theory. If the knowledge cannot be communicated it should be considered as a skill of a craftsman or athlete rather than a part of science. If someone considers reality as being created in their own mind, then that person is talking about their model or map of reality which is, indeed, created in that person's mind. The problem is in confusion of the model and reality. If it was strongly believed that there was no other external reality, there would be no reason for ever talking to any other person. It would be like talking to yourself. Nor would there be any benign reason to read or post to this research group.
With regard to future more powerful mathematical tools, it has been suggested that Clifford algebra (sometimes called geometric algebra) may be such a tool. That algebra contains both complex numbers, quaternions and differential forms as subalgebras and surely has very good prospects, but I think it will not reach its potential until it is extended to include products defined by a general quadratic form rather than only cannonical forms as in the early (and present?) versions. If that extension has already been made, I would greatly appreciate references.
Finally it must be recognized that no matter how clever and efficient the mathematical tools may become, there will always be a fundamental distinction between the mathematics and the reality it represents. A good way to keep this in mind is to recall Einstein's famous quote: "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality".
5 Recommendations
9th May, 2012
Judit Camacho
TRANS TECH PUBLICATIONS LTD
Hi Omar,
I asked the same question in yahoo forum:
Does Objective Reality Exist, or is the Universe a Phantasm?
universe is at heart a phantasm, a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram, here you have an interesting lecture:
20th Jun, 2012
Wei Fan
Northeastern University
The question relating to what is reality is a deep philosophical question and it is hard to answer. From the old Greek to now the prominent philosophers are trying to give their own understanding of this question. Various theories of thought are put up by them, but we still do not know what is the truth about this question. Perhaps this question would be kept as long as human exists.
Philosophy is not the only subject trying to resolve this question. After the Renaissance, the natural science rises and gets developed, who gives an understanding of the world that can lead to practical results, e.g., the advanced technology that benefits us today is based on the natural science.
But we still do not know what the reality is from the most fundamental level. The most advanced theories of natural science is the theories of theoretical physics. We know that there are lots of fundamental particles now, which is the basic constituents of our world. But we could not say that they are the reality of the world, because no one 'sees' or 'feels' those particles directly. What we can say is that the theory of the fundamental particles is correct.
What we are sure of is the theory, not the true reality. When the theory explains the experiments, we say that it is a correct theory about the phenomena of nature. The experiments give some results, but what happens in this process is a black box. To obtain results in experiments for something (e.g., particles), that thing has to react with our device via the electromagnetic interaction or via direct Newton force interaction. We 'see' them only by these indirect effects. Our theory is just an explanation or a conjecture of what happens in the black box. No matter what your explanation is, it should give the results obtained in the experiments. You can say that there are fundamental particles there, and they interact with each other, and after a series of complex processes the system interact with our device in a specific way that gives the experimental results. Maybe there are other theories that could explain experimental results, but they are based on strings rather than particles.
Just as what is explained in Richard Clow's posts, we have a map, and the map functions correct, but we still do not know the 'reality'.
I do not know what is reality also.
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