The first page of results for images of reality was people looking through virtual reality glasses. I find it fascinating that, to a large extent, our concept of reality is filtered through what we think is better, or conversely what we think is worse. Is what they’re seeing through the glasses the true reality? The people exist, in these images, without a context, without a grounding reality.
What makes something real? Is it something that we touch? What about those motion master rides that make you truly feel like you’re racing through the stars and you duck when the 3D spaceship shoots out at you from the screen? That always feels pretty real even though we know it isn’t. If our emotions are tapped and we have feelings and responses to something – is that real? Even if what created the feelings is fictional? How it that different from the emotions I feel when I read or view something online created by someone I don’t know in real life? The dog in the dam rescued by the human chain or the colour blind grandpa trying on glasses that let him see colour for the first time always make me feel happy and tearful, but I don’t know any of these people. It isn’t much different, when you think about it, from watching a movie or reading a book about the same thing. So which one is more real?
Reality is popularly said to be 90% perception. Certainly our reality is informed by what we see and what we accept. I use the term ‘Cultural Baggage’ in my classes. Everything that makes up who we are within our cultural framework, our values, beliefs, and our world view, dictates how we see things – whether they’re things in the past or today. What I choose to explore or select or give weight to when looking at a historical event or era is influenced by my values and experience. The same is true of today – we tend to call it ‘confirmation bias’ and ‘living in a bubble’. Even the phrase ‘world view’ indicates that reality is predicated on perception.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
― Oscar Wilde
Plato discussed reality in detail. His metaphor of the cave centred on the idea that we are only aware of the flickers of shadows on the back of the wall of the cave, believing them to be real, when they are simply reflections of the real world behind us. I played with this concept in one of my earlier manuscripts; the boundaries between what is real and what is unreal. And whether, by becoming more ‘real’ the boundaries between worlds begins to fade. In the end, my heroine realises she creates her own reality.
Reality is created by the mind. We can change our reality by changing our mind.
We create narratives and fictions about our lives. Hence the carefully curated social media feed with highlights of our daily existence and the carefully constructed witticisms that we hope will gain us affirmation and applause, that in turn will validate our existence.
Pics, or it didn’t happen.
I was taking photos at Christmas and when someone demurred I told them I wasn’t going to put them up online. I remembered the days when photos were developed and put in albums or frames if they were good enough, but hardly anyone outside your family or those in the event ever saw them. Now that’s almost unthinkable. But does greater exposure lead to trivialisation? Does it validate the experience more? Or does the fact that my kids don’t have albums of their childhoods to peruse mean their reality is lessened because their memories aren’t aided by physical evidence?
Many people believe in an afterlife. I was always captured by C.S. Lewis’ concept of the afterlife in the final Narnia book – The Last Battle. The idea that this afterlife was the ‘real’ England, and the ‘real’ Narnia, and the others that people lived their lives in were just shadows of this ‘real’ place, was highly appealing to a child who hated the thought of ever leaving the world that she loved. Now I wonder how much thinking that where we are doesn’t count because the reality is somewhere else, contributes to a sense of purposelessness.
Reality is a funny thing. We cry over fictional characters and over famous people we’ve never met. We walk around trapped in our own heads, driving down crowded roads in these big metal beasts surrounded by others we will possibly never meet who all have their own story, their own reality, and for whom we don’t exist.
This is why fiction and art is so important, whether it be books, poetry, paintings, movies, because it allows us a glimpse at other realities. It makes the experience of others’ lives more real for us. This increases our empathy and understanding for those who exist in this real world with us.
“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
― C.S. Lewis