We have no need for science
– not even its most prestigious discipline, physics – to be able to perceive, think and know that the world we live in every day is real. Whether as a result of natural physical substances that comprise rocks, water, dogs and trees or those objects and structures that we have designed and made, brick and steel, books and cell phones, we are completely immersed in this world. This is true whether you believe in the preeminence of non-material worlds or not. We know, then, that falling down and car accidents can result in harm to our bodies as well as pain, so we go out of our way to avoid them.
Adding science and physics into the mix, we will certainly learn more about the details and processes of this world but this neither adds nor subtracts from our experience of everyday reality, especially from the perspective of our bodies.
But once we add in our built world and the sociocultural sphere that operates it, then reality becomes much more complex and correspondingly more difficult to take in and process. Knowing how the sociocultural sphere operates and affects you requires, digesting the findings from dozens of disciplines, many of them well past our level of comprehension, then you must sort them out, critique them and weigh the evidence.
Of course, we could turn to the explanations written for non-specialists, but this often adds to the complexity because you have to sort out opposing viewpoints. Meanwhile, each expert, regardless of how well he writes and explains his field, rarely addresses it in an integrated or wholistic way.
This is the reason why simple and coherent models of reality are so important.
While a single model is ideal, I divide them into three to facilitate learning about it: physical reality, the fabricated world and the psyche. I will begin explaining physical reality in the next section but first I want to lay down some ground rules:
- Emphasizing every human being’s limitations in perception, forming pictures in the mind, memory, recall, feelings and cognition as a reason for preventing us from constructing a model of reality, is not allowed. While the version of the world that we take in and construct in the brain, heavily influenced by our culture and the built world surrounding us, is only a distorted approximation, we are still interacting with reality.
- Subjectivist arguments that we are incapable of knowing the larger world will never die out, but they are far from persuasive, or useful. Bishop Berkeley’s investigations back in the 17th century, for example pretty much ruled the existence of everything out except for the Trinity, the soul and heaven, and other versions are not much more palatable. As for the science fiction scenarios, if we are just a brain up on some alien’s shelf, the world we would then be imagining would not change anyway, as long as we did not know about it. (Besides, having a brain is still evidence of physical substance). But, I wonder, how much would change if we could see and know that, at least one time? Let’s say we received a powerful impulse from some juvenile delinquent alien that allowed us to really see that were up on that self. Our assembled brains would be horrified, but soon enough, the presence and immediacy of the world we were perceiving would cause us to question the legitimacy of that experience. This speculation provides a useful insight. If, despite our firmly attached beliefs about gods or spiritual worlds, we found out one fine day that they were conclusively wrong – a message so persuasive that we could not deny or negate it – how many days would it take before we would return to our former beliefs?
- In a subject that I will be forced to return to and dispute many times, the not uncommon idea that the limitations of language prevent us from having the capacity to understand reality could not be more wrong. Yes, it is an imperfect vehicle for communication whether to ourselves or others, but for my purposes that is a big advantage. We can use this “fact” as a prompt or a reminder to always strive for both precision and not to overstate matters beyond what is known. You would think that a postmodernist or deconstructionist or whatever label the rogue is assuming would be the first to call for clarity but what does she actually do? She invents hundreds of indigestible terms, throws them at the printed page like Jackson Pollock throwing paint onto a canvas, and then sees what sticks.
- Closely related to this objection is the tactic, frequently used by Buddhist scholars, of distinguishing between the “conventional level” of truth (or how we understand things in our daily lives) and an “ultimate” level where, with proper reflection, we can see how things really are. While it is strictly true that in the hustle-bustle of everyday life, we are not pausing to consider metaphysical verities. But arriving at truths with time and quiet repose is no guarantee this will happen, but the Buddhist scholar, usually wants you to understand, with proper training and engaging in the “practice”, you can achieve the Buddhist conception of the truth, the one from the beyond, in the invisible world.
The other thing to watch out for,
which I believe occurs unconsciously on the part of expositors, is going back and forth between these two levels without announcing (or knowing) when this is happening. I will provide many examples later. There are more objections but four of anything is usually more than enough, wouldn’t you agree?