The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

How real am I? – I

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There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

– Hamlet Act I Scene V

Since time immemorial, man’s ultimate goal has been to understand the meaning of self, his reason for being and his quest for the ultimate, underlying reality. However, before any task is undertaken to consider the regarding the nature of man and whether he is real or merely an illusion, it is best that the more fundamental questions that these primary ones herald be answered first. What is reality? What is illusion? What is the difference between them? Is there a commonality between the two? And more importantly, on what basis do we tell them both apart?

By virtue of positive definition, reality is that which is real. But then again, what is real? The notion of reality is attacked from different directions by social sciences, empirical sciences and natural sciences by venturing to ask what is knowledge and how do we know what we know?

Even that, unfortunately, has proven to be a tough nut to crack. Most scholars from the ‘rationalist’ school of thought claim that most, if not all, knowledge is attributable to the internal inquiry of the mind while it is cut off or independent of sensory stimulus, i.e. through meditative phases. A natural consequence of this stance is the ‘absolute relativity’ of reality. Since everyone is using his own her own subjective yardstick to measure his or her own subjective world – the conclusion to any such inquiry will also be highly subjective. This approach smacks of the stance taken by most post-modernists who do treat reality to the relative rather than absolute – subjective rather than objective. However, there are also schools of thought such as empiricism which emphasize the priority of sensory stimulus as the primary, if not only, cause of knowledge and reason. John Locke went as far as to say that the human mind – at the time of birth – is tabula rasa or ‘blank plate/white paper’.



If we were to hold, for argument’s sake, the rationalist/post-modernist school of thought to be true then we would find ourselves in a real conundrum. The main problem, mentioned before, that hinders any progress on the question of the nature of reality would be that reality itself would be taken to be relative, that is to say, one man’s reality might not coincide with another persons. For example, if we have a thin sheet of paper suspended in air by some method and position two people such that person A would see the paper from the front and person B would see it from the side, then Person A would in fact see that the paper is in front of him where as person B would see no paper due to the extreme thinness of the paper itself. Hence there would be a difference in perception, regarding the same phenomenon and the same position in space and time of these two people. Or taking another example, if a person was to steal a loaf of bread from a shopkeeper for the sake of two children he sees are hungry for days, then there is a direct distinction in the understanding of that act i.e. the shopkeeper who the loaf has been stolen from will regard it as an infringement on his rights for economic prosperity and hence it would be to him, an immoral act. From the perspective of the children however, the same act would be one of extreme kindness. The very reality of these two groups would be diametrically opposite. If reality itself differs from one person to another, would it be fair to speak of reality in singular, or should we talk about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some realities more real than others?



Surely, this puts a stop to any and all progress on this line of inquiry if we were to use a purely subjectivist analytical toolkit.

If, however, we were to use a purely empiricist view – one which denies the existence of subjective forms of discourse and emphasizes the absolutist mode of knowledge then we also find ourselves in a lurch – how do we explain the examples I mentioned above?

This problem is solved in Marxist discourse by accepting the existence of both forms of knowledge – subjective and objective – but emphasizing that all subjective knowledge must be the outcome of objective interaction with sensory stimuli. That once this first contact is initiated a dialectical relationship is formed between objectivity and subjectivity and all knowledge henceforth is an amalgam of the two.

Man’s perception of the reality surrounding him is limited, just as one can only hear between a certain threshold of frequencies and one can only see in the visible spectrum of wavelengths, similarly, it is that there is a massive amount of “reality” around us, of which we only perceive, or are able to perceive a fraction. So, man, as a conscious animal, is not the be all and end all of reality, hence, there must exist an independent reality which may even include him in its independence. Such a theory has presented itself in the manner of the Pure-Consciousness Model of the universe, a theory which states that the universe is a conscious entity within itself, and in it, an abstract, mathematical reality which is independent of the observer does exist. The most interesting facet of this theory is that just like conscious thoughts emerge in our brains through the action and interaction of physical stimuli and process, similarly consciousness exists within the conscious universe in the form of man, he being the integral part, the essence of this conscious, real, and independent universe. According to E.J. Lowe, the concept of perception of thought is such that, an idea of what the reality is can only be formed after two steps are performed. Namely, a sensation is received and the internal mind gives meaning, or in other cases recalls meaning of that sensation. It is only then that the idea is recognized and understood.


Written by redtribution

January 24, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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