Philosophy: What is Real

By:  Damien Knight

How do you know what is real and what is not? Specifically, how do you know that dreams are only dreams and that there are no such things as ghosts? In answering these questions, draw upon and demonstrate some understanding of the views of George Berkeley and Rene’ Descartes

What Is Real?

What is real and how do we know this world is not a dream after all? I shall start with a story much like our book does. When I was a child I feared ghosts I could see things others did not and it frightened me. Unlike the tale in the book instead of my father or siblings saying they were not real they told me that I could tell the ghosts to leave. To this day I believe in the reality of ghosts but that reality is apart from mine.

So if spirits are real and I can tell them to leave me alone what does this mean about reality? Is it fragmented into multiple planes? How can I be certain that where I am is the true reality? To be honest, I have come to the determination that there is no true reality that all of my experiences as a whole are all real. That both the world I dream in and the world I wake in is real. To explain this, I have to tell another story which will explain my view.

When I was a child I lived with my Abuelito. He was a very kind old Mexican man who did not speak English and he use to tell us stories of life. One day Abuelito sat us all down and told us this piece of wisdom:

“When we dream we do not just see visions dancing in our heads, we travel the world with our spirit. Sometimes we even travel to another world a place that is wonderful and filled with magic. You can do anything there. This place is as real as here, you can feel pain and loss and love. Learn to travel in your dreams and you will live fully.”

I have since learned to harness the power of my dreams and have indeed both felt love and loss and pain there just as I do here. So what is reality than if for me it is not just material. If reality is not the matter in front of me as some have claimed than reality must be more. For materialists like Thomas Hobbes reality comprised the items we saw, the physical objects that took up space and had mass. Dreams by themselves do not have mass but when I am dreaming the objects in the dream do take up space in the world of that dream. I can touch and feel the sword I carry. I feel the weight of the armor I wear and the drink I drink appears to have volume and mass. If the dream appears just as real as when I wake up what makes this reality superior?

What if than reality is just in the mind after all? I fall asleep in my dream world and awake in this one and in both worlds they both are real because reality is dependent on my consciousness and I effect it with my thought.

George Berkeley put the idea that reality is perception. Nothing exists unless it is being perceived. So what we experience is reality as we experience it. This is a part of how I view reality. Everything we see, touch, hear, and think is real at that moment whether it is the voice of a spirit speaking to me or the kiss of a lover who is only in the world of my dreams. As I perceive them they are all real.

With Berkeley he states that when things are no perceived that it ceases to exist unless we believe that there is a supreme mind conceiving all. Perhaps there is no need for a mind to consistently conceive all. Perhaps because there are so many consciousness’ that all exists because when one mind stops perceiving another starts.

René Descartes tears down existence entirely by realizing that everything he sees could perhaps not be real at all that it all is in his mind. The entire world is perceived by our senses and if perchance our senses are wrong than what have we left but the mind itself. In this way at least we are our reality. To accept that reality is not just what has mass and takes up space we accept that we have both a mind and body. Descartes noticed that we could conceive of ourselves existing without a body and so we are not the body leaving the mind to conceive and perceive all which is real.

Even though I am a scientist who prefers to deal with mass and measurement to answer questions reality cannot be answered in that way. Reality is complex, and the mind is obviously more than the processes of biology. In the end how do we know what is real, the answer is we never will know but for me all that is in my mind is real.

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