Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Real Question by Rebecca Clippard

Yes I am referring to the classic question, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound?’How do we know this world is real? By this world, I am referring to the surroundings, information, and sensations that can be corroborated. For example that the sky is blue or that The United States of America was founded in 1776. Both of these facts are assured by culture and what is referred to as ‘common sense’, a fact or idea generally considered to be unquestionably true. But ‘real’ is a more difficult definition.
Something does not have to exist to be real. For example feelings are not a tangible object but most humans agree that emotions feel real (animals cannot be asked their opinions at this point). And our senses generally tell us that our surroundings are tangible. While something does not have to be tangible to be real, these intangible ideas and feelings help to corroborate what most people think of as the ‘real world’. Sometimes senses and information do not match up and this can affect perception of the real world. Not only that, but senses can be confused and memories overwritten.
Our perception is fallible. Studies have been done with witnesses looking at a staged incident and they are later asked to repeat what they saw. Slight differences in wording or how they incorporated the memories changed how they remember the accident. If a witness was asked where the debris from the car fell, they were more like to remember a more violent crash. If no mention was made of debris or wreckage, the witness remembered a much less violent incident. Sometimes this even means creating memories that were not in the staged video. And science also changes our perception of the real. Science tells us that there is more space than material in an object, that tiny molecules create something we feel as a solid object. I can knock on a desk and feel that its solid, but theories will explain this as one of the qualities of a solid, as opposed to a liquid or a gas. Does this mean senses do not always tell the truth? Or is the real world always coloured by perception? These thoughts are really asking if the real world has to be justified by perception.
For instance, take the fact I mentioned in the beginning about the colour blue. Historians debate whether ancient civilizations had a name for the colour blue. Most of the ancient epics did not describe the sky this way. The Greeks used the term wine-dark. Does that mean their perception was different than ours? What would change about the world if the sky was not blue. Honestly for me, probably not much. For one, how would I know it had been anything else? My perception would only be noticeably changed if the sky changed colours right now. Even then, everyone has different perceptions and I am sure some would still argue that the sky was blue even if I saw it completely differently.

If the real world can hinge on perception does that mean people who hear voices or believe they are Marilyn Monroe or Jesus are correct in their beliefs? Most of these people truly believe in their ideas and cannot be easily swayed. The difference here is that the real world has facts and ideas in a majority that contradict their personal beliefs. This would have perception be less important to the real world. The opposite of this would be to question everything your senses and others’ ideas tell you. The philosopher Rene Descarte tried questioning everything and finally concluding that thinking or the ability to think, warranted a real world. He tackled the question of whether or not reality was a purposeful deception by a controlling evil demon. He summed this up with “cogito ergo sum” which means ‘I think, therefore I am’. Because I can think, I am real, but what about the world or everyone else? I can only personally know my own thoughts even if thoughts and ideas can be communicated and corroborated in other ways.

Up next: Real World vs. Virtual World

An article where the colour blue is discussed in depth.

Interesting article on how the five senses are not the only ones we have.

Article about three men who thought they were Jesus and how they interacted with each other without connecting it to their own beliefs.


  1. I think this xkcd comic is really relevant here in the idea of how people might perceive things differently. https://xkcd.com/32/

  2. "What would change about the world if the sky was not blue" - well, classic songs and stock cliches would have to go: "Blue Skies smiling at me, nothing but blue skies..."

    But seriously, the pragmatists got this one right: without a detectable practical difference, the whole issue of perceptual variation is a non-starter. What matters more is how we cut through our differences in order to establish inter-subjective agreement about things more important than the hue of the sky.

  3. I really like your comment "Something does not have to exist to be real". You are right in that we as humans can experience some very "real" emotions. I think PTSD could be considered here possibly? Those who suffer this are being forced by their minds to relive their traumatic experiences, and in that moment the memories are very real. If not, then at least their anxiety and stress are. As you also said, it can all be about perception. Awesome job!

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