Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to
an idealistic or notional idea of them.
Reality includes everything
that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or
comprehensible. A still broader definition includes that which has
existed, exists, or will exist.
Philosophers, mathematicians, and other ancient and modern thinkers,
such as Aristotle, Plato, Frege, Wittgenstein, and Russell, have made
a distinction between thought corresponding to reality, coherent
abstractions (thoughts of things that are imaginable but not real),
and that which cannot even be rationally thought. By contrast,
existence is often restricted solely to that which has physical
existence or has a direct basis in it in the way that thoughts do in
Reality is often contrasted with what is imaginary, illusory,
delusional, (only) in the mind, dreams, what is false, what is
fictional, or what is abstract. At the same time, what is abstract
plays a role both in everyday life and in academic research. For
instance, causality, virtue, life, and distributive justice are
abstract concepts that can be difficult to define, but they are only
rarely equated with pure delusions. Both the existence and reality of
abstractions are in dispute: one extreme position regards them as mere
words; another position regards them as higher truths than less
abstract concepts. This disagreement is the basis of the philosophical
problem of universals.
The truth refers to what is real, while falsity refers to what is not.
Fictions are considered not real.
1 Related concepts
1.1 World views and theories
2 Western philosophy
2.3 Abstract objects and mathematics
Time and space
2.6 Possible worlds
2.7 Theories of everything (TOE) and philosophy
2.8 Phenomenological reality
2.9 Skeptical hypotheses
3 Jain philosophy
4 Physical sciences
4.1 Scientific realism
4.2 Realism and locality in physics
4.3 Role of the observer in quantum mechanics
4.5 Scientific theories of everything
Virtual reality and cyberspace
5.2 "RL" in internet culture
6 See also
9 External links
Truth and Fact
World views and theories
Further information: World view
A common colloquial usage would have reality mean "perceptions,
beliefs, and attitudes toward reality", as in "My reality is not your
reality." This is often used just as a colloquialism indicating that
the parties to a conversation agree, or should agree, not to quibble
over deeply different conceptions of what is real. For example, in a
religious discussion between friends, one might say (attempting
humor), "You might disagree, but in my reality, everyone goes to
Reality can be defined in a way that links it to worldviews or parts
of them (conceptual frameworks):
Reality is the totality of all
things, structures (actual and conceptual), events (past and present)
and phenomena, whether observable or not. It is what a world view
(whether it be based on individual or shared human experience)
ultimately attempts to describe or map.
Certain ideas from physics, philosophy, sociology, literary criticism,
and other fields shape various theories of reality. One such belief is
that there simply and literally is no reality beyond the perceptions
or beliefs we each have about reality. Such attitudes are summarized
in the popular statement, "
Perception is reality" or "
Life is how you
perceive reality" or "reality is what you can get away with" (Robert
Anton Wilson), and they indicate anti-realism – that is, the
view that there is no objective reality, whether acknowledged
explicitly or not.
Many of the concepts of science and philosophy are often defined
culturally and socially. This idea was elaborated by
Thomas Kuhn in
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). The Social
Construction of Reality, a book about the sociology of knowledge
Peter L. Berger
Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, was published in 1966.
It explained how knowledge is acquired and used for the comprehension
of reality. Out of all the realities, the reality of everyday life is
the most important one since our consciousness requires us to be
completely aware and attentive to the experience of everyday life.
Philosophy addresses two different aspects of the topic of reality:
the nature of reality itself, and the relationship between the mind
(as well as language and culture) and reality.
On the one hand, ontology is the study of being, and the central topic
of the field is couched, variously, in terms of being, existence,
"what is", and reality. The task in ontology is to describe the most
general categories of reality and how they are interrelated. If a
philosopher wanted to proffer a positive definition of the concept
"reality", it would be done under this heading. As explained above,
some philosophers draw a distinction between reality and existence. In
fact, many analytic philosophers today tend to avoid the term "real"
and "reality" in discussing ontological issues. But for those who
would treat "is real" the same way they treat "exists", one of the
leading questions of analytic philosophy has been whether existence
(or reality) is a property of objects. It has been widely held by
analytic philosophers that it is not a property at all, though this
view has lost some ground in recent decades.
On the other hand, particularly in discussions of objectivity that
have feet in both metaphysics and epistemology, philosophical
discussions of "reality" often concern the ways in which reality is,
or is not, in some way dependent upon (or, to use fashionable jargon,
"constructed" out of) mental and cultural factors such as perceptions,
beliefs, and other mental states, as well as cultural artifacts, such
as religions and political movements, on up to the vague notion of a
common cultural world view, or Weltanschauung.
The view that there is a reality independent of any beliefs,
perceptions, etc., is called realism. More specifically, philosophers
are given to speaking about "realism about" this and that, such as
realism about universals or realism about the external world.
Generally, where one can identify any class of object, the existence
or essential characteristics of which is said not to depend on
perceptions, beliefs, language, or any other human artifact, one can
speak of "realism about" that object.
One can also speak of anti-realism about the same objects.
Anti-realism is the latest in a long series of terms for views opposed
to realism. Perhaps the first was idealism, so called because reality
was said to be in the mind, or a product of our ideas. Berkeleyan
idealism is the view, propounded by the Irish empiricist George
Berkeley, that the objects of perception are actually ideas in the
mind. In this view, one might be tempted to say that reality is a
"mental construct"; this is not quite accurate, however, since, in
Berkeley's view, perceptual ideas are created and coordinated by God.
By the 20th century, views similar to Berkeley's were called
Phenomenalism differs from Berkeleyan idealism
primarily in that Berkeley believed that minds, or souls, are not
merely ideas nor made up of ideas, whereas varieties of phenomenalism,
such as that advocated by Russell, tended to go farther to say that
the mind itself is merely a collection of perceptions, memories, etc.,
and that there is no mind or soul over and above such mental events.
Finally, anti-realism became a fashionable term for any view which
held that the existence of some object depends upon the mind or
cultural artifacts. The view that the so-called external world is
really merely a social, or cultural, artifact, called social
constructionism, is one variety of anti-realism. Cultural relativism
is the view that social issues such as morality are not absolute, but
at least partially cultural artifact.
A correspondence theory of knowledge about what exists claims that
"true" knowledge of reality represents accurate correspondence of
statements about and images of reality with the actual reality that
the statements or images are attempting to represent. For example, the
scientific method can verify that a statement is true based on the
observable evidence that a thing exists. Many humans can point to the
Rocky Mountains and say that this mountain range exists, and continues
to exist even if no one is observing it or making statements about it.
The nature of being is a perennial topic in metaphysics. For, instance
Parmenides taught that reality was a single unchanging Being, whereas
Heraclitus wrote that all things flow. The 20th century philosopher
Heidegger thought previous philosophers have lost sight the question
Being (qua Being) in favour of the questions of beings (existing
things), so that a return to the Parmenidean approach was needed. An
ontological catalogue is an attempt to list the fundamental
constituents of reality. The question of whether or not existence is a
predicate has been discussed since the Early Modern period, not least
in relation to the ontological argument for the existence of God.
Existence, that something is, has been contrasted with essence, the
question of what something is. Since existence without essence seems
blank, it associated with nothingness by philosophers such as Hegel.
Nihilism represents an extremely negative view of being, the absolute
a positive one.
The question of direct or "naïve" realism, as opposed to indirect or
"representational" realism, arises in the philosophy of perception and
of mind out of the debate over the nature of conscious
experience; the epistemological question of whether the world we
see around us is the real world itself or merely an internal
perceptual copy of that world generated by neural processes in our
Naïve realism is known as direct realism when developed to
counter indirect or representative realism, also known as
epistemological dualism, the philosophical position that our
conscious experience is not of the real world itself but of an
internal representation, a miniature virtual-reality replica of the
Timothy Leary coined the influential term
Reality Tunnel, by which he
means a kind of representative realism. The theory states that, with a
subconscious set of mental filters formed from their beliefs and
experiences, every individual interprets the same world differently,
Truth is in the eye of the beholder". His ideas influenced the
work of his friend Robert Anton Wilson.
Abstract objects and mathematics
The status of abstract entities, particularly numbers, is a topic of
discussion in mathematics.
In the philosophy of mathematics, the best known form of realism about
numbers is Platonic realism, which grants them abstract, immaterial
existence. Other forms of realism identify mathematics with the
concrete physical universe.
Anti-realist stances include formalism and fictionalism.
Some approaches are selectively realistic about some mathematical
objects but not others.
Finitism rejects infinite quantities.
Ultra-finitism accepts finite quantities up to a certain amount.
Constructivism and intuitionism are realistic about objects that can
be explicitly constructed, but reject the use of the principle of the
excluded middle to prove existence by reductio ad absurdum.
The traditional debate has focused on whether an abstract (immaterial,
intelligible) realm of numbers has existed in addition to the physical
(sensible, concrete) world. A recent development is the mathematical
universe hypothesis, the theory that only a mathematical world exists,
with the finite, physical world being an illusion within it.
An extreme form of realism about mathematics is the mathematical
multiverse hypothesis advanced by Max Tegmark. Tegmark's sole
postulate is: All structures that exist mathematically also exist
physically. That is, in the sense that "in those [worlds] complex
enough to contain self-aware substructures [they] will subjectively
perceive themselves as existing in a physically 'real' world".
The hypothesis suggests that worlds corresponding to different sets of
initial conditions, physical constants, or altogether different
equations should be considered real. The theory can be considered a
Platonism in that it posits the existence of mathematical
entities, but can also be considered a mathematical monism in that it
denies that anything exists except mathematical objects.
Main article: Problem of universals
The problem of universals is an ancient problem in metaphysics about
whether universals exist. Universals are general or abstract
qualities, characteristics, properties, kinds or relations, such as
being male/female, solid/liquid/gas or a certain colour, that can
be predicated of individuals or particulars or that individuals or
particulars can be regarded as sharing or participating in. For
example, Scott, Pat, and Chris have in common the universal quality of
being human or humanity.
The realist school claims that universals are real – they exist
and are distinct from the particulars that instantiate them. There are
various forms of realism. Two major forms are
Platonic realism and
Platonic realism is the view that universals
are real entities and they exist independent of particulars.
Aristotelian realism, on the other hand, is the view that universals
are real entities, but their existence is dependent on the particulars
that exemplify them.
Nominalism and conceptualism are the main forms of anti-realism about
Time and space
Philosophy of space and time
A traditional realist position in ontology is that time and space have
existence apart from the human mind. Idealists deny or doubt the
existence of objects independent of the mind. Some anti-realists whose
ontological position is that objects outside the mind do exist,
nevertheless doubt the independent existence of time and space.
Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, described time as an a priori
notion that, together with other a priori notions such as space,
allows us to comprehend sense experience. Kant denies that either
space or time are substance, entities in themselves, or learned by
experience; he holds rather that both are elements of a systematic
framework we use to structure our experience. Spatial measurements are
used to quantify how far apart objects are, and temporal measurements
are used to quantitatively compare the interval between (or duration
of) events. Although space and time are held to be transcendentally
ideal in this sense, they are also empirically real, i.e. not mere
Idealist writers such as
J. M. E. McTaggart
J. M. E. McTaggart in The Unreality of Time
have argued that time is an illusion.
As well as differing about the reality of time as a whole,
metaphysical theories of time can differ in their ascriptions of
reality to the past, present and future separately.
Presentism holds that the past and future are unreal, and only an
ever-changing present is real.
The block universe theory, also known as Eternalism, holds that past,
present and future are all real, but the passage of time is an
illusion. It is often said to have a scientific basis in relativity.
The growing block universe theory holds that past and present are
real, but the future is not.
Time, and the related concepts of process and evolution are central to
the system-building metaphysics of
A. N. Whitehead
A. N. Whitehead and Charles
The term "possible world" goes back to Leibniz's theory of possible
worlds, used to analyse necessity, possibility, and similar modal
Modal realism is the view, notably propounded by David
Kellogg Lewis, that all possible worlds are as real as the actual
world. In short: the actual world is regarded as merely one among an
infinite set of logically possible worlds, some "nearer" to the actual
world and some more remote. Other theorists may use the Possible World
framework to express and explore problems without committing to it
Possible world theory is related to alethic logic: a
proposition is necessary if it is true in all possible worlds, and
possible if it is true in at least one. The many worlds interpretation
of quantum mechanics is a similar idea in science.
Theories of everything (TOE) and philosophy
Theory of everything
Theory of everything (philosophy)
The philosophical implications of a physical TOE are frequently
debated. For example, if philosophical physicalism is true, a physical
TOE will coincide with a philosophical theory of everything.
The "system building" style of metaphysics attempts to answer all the
important questions in a coherent way, providing a complete picture of
Aristotle could be said to be early examples of
comprehensive systems. In the early modern period (17th and 18th
centuries), the system-building scope of philosophy is often linked to
the rationalist method of philosophy, that is the technique of
deducing the nature of the world by pure a priori reason. Examples
from the early modern period include the Leibniz's Monadology,
Descartes's Dualism, Spinoza's Monism. Hegel's
Absolute idealism and
Process philosophy were later systems.
Other philosophers do not believe its techniques can aim so high. Some
scientists think a more mathematical approach than philosophy is
needed for a TOE, for instance
Stephen Hawking wrote in A Brief
Time that even if we had a TOE, it would necessarily be a
set of equations. He wrote, "What is it that breathes fire into the
equations and makes a universe for them to describe?"
On a much broader and more subjective level,[specify] private
experiences, curiosity, inquiry, and the selectivity involved in
personal interpretation of events shapes reality as seen by one and
only one individual and hence is called
phenomenological. While this form of reality might be common to others
as well, it could at times also be so unique to oneself as to never be
experienced or agreed upon by anyone else. Much of the kind of
experience deemed spiritual occurs on this level of reality.
Phenomenology is a philosophical method developed in the early years
of the twentieth century by
Edmund Husserl and a circle of followers
at the universities of
Munich in Germany. Subsequently,
phenomenological themes were taken up by philosophers in France, the
United States, and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from
The word phenomenology comes from the Greek phainómenon, meaning
"that which appears", and lógos, meaning "study". In Husserl's
conception, phenomenology is primarily concerned with making the
structures of consciousness, and the phenomena which appear in acts of
consciousness, objects of systematic reflection and analysis. Such
reflection was to take place from a highly modified "first person"
viewpoint, studying phenomena not as they appear to "my"
consciousness, but to any consciousness whatsoever. Husserl believed
that phenomenology could thus provide a firm basis for all human
knowledge, including scientific knowledge, and could establish
philosophy as a "rigorous science".
Husserl's conception of phenomenology has been criticised and
developed not only by himself, but also by his student and assistant
Martin Heidegger, by existentialists, such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty,
Jean-Paul Sartre, and by other philosophers, such as Paul Ricoeur,
Emmanuel Levinas, and Dietrich von Hildebrand.
A brain in a vat that believes it is walking
Skeptical hypotheses in philosophy suggest that reality is very
different from what we think it is; or at least that we cannot prove
it is not. Examples include:
The "Brain in a vat" hypothesis is cast in scientific terms. It
supposes that one might be a disembodied brain kept alive in a vat,
and fed false sensory signals, by a mad scientist. This is a premise
of the film series, Matrix hypothesis.
Dream argument" of Descartes and Zhuangzi supposes reality to be
indistinguishable from a dream.
Evil demon is a being "as clever and deceitful as he is
powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading me."
The five minute hypothesis (or omphalos hypothesis or Last
Thursdayism) suggests that the world was created recently together
with records and traces indicating a greater age.
Matrix hypothesis or
Simulated reality hypothesis
Simulated reality hypothesis suggest that we
might be inside a computer simulation or virtual reality.
Main article: Tattva (Jainism)
Jain philosophy postulates that seven tattva (truths or fundamental
principles) constitute reality. These seven tattva are:
Jīva – The soul which is characterized by consciousness.
Ajīva – The non-soul.
Asrava – Influx of karma.
Bandha – The bondage of karma.
Samvara – Obstruction of the inflow of karmic matter into the soul.
Nirjara – Shedding of karmas.
Moksha – Liberation or Salvation, i.e. the complete annihilation of
all karmic matter (bound with any particular soul).
Scientific realism is, at the most general level, the view that the
world described by science (perhaps ideal science) is the real world,
as it is, independent of what we might take it to be. Within
philosophy of science, it is often framed as an answer to the question
"how is the success of science to be explained?" The debate over what
the success of science involves centers primarily on the status of
entities that are not directly observable discussed by scientific
theories. Generally, those who are scientific realists state that one
can make reliable claims about these entities (viz., that they have
the same ontological status) as directly observable entities, as
opposed to instrumentalism. The most used and studied scientific
theories today state more or less the truth.
Realism and locality in physics
Realism in the sense used by physicists does not equate to realism in
metaphysics. The latter is the claim that the world is
mind-independent: that even if the results of a measurement do not
pre-exist the act of measurement, that does not require that they are
the creation of the observer. Furthermore, a mind-independent property
does not have to be the value of some physical variable such as
position or momentum. A property can be dispositional (or potential),
i.e. it can be a tendency: in the way that glass objects tend to
break, or are disposed to break, even if they do not actually break.
Likewise, the mind-independent properties of quantum systems could
consist of a tendency to respond to particular measurements with
particular values with ascertainable probability. Such an ontology
would be metaphysically realistic, without being realistic in the
physicist's sense of "local realism" (which would require that a
single value be produced with certainty).
A closely related term is counterfactual definiteness (CFD), used to
refer to the claim that one can meaningfully speak of the definiteness
of results of measurements that have not been performed (i.e. the
ability to assume the existence of objects, and properties of objects,
even when they have not been measured).
Local realism is a significant feature of classical mechanics, of
general relativity, and of electrodynamics; but quantum mechanics has
shown that quantum entanglement is possible. This was rejected by
Einstein, who proposed the EPR paradox, but it was subsequently
quantified by Bell's inequalities. If
Bell's inequalities are
violated, either local realism or counterfactual definiteness must be
incorrect; but some physicists dispute that experiments have
demonstrated Bell's violations, on the grounds that the sub-class of
inhomogeneous Bell inequalities has not been tested or due to
experimental limitations in the tests. Different interpretations of
quantum mechanics violate different parts of local realism and/or
Role of the observer in quantum mechanics
See also: Quantum decoherence
The quantum mind–body problem refers to the philosophical
discussions of the mind–body problem in the context of quantum
mechanics. Since quantum mechanics involves quantum superpositions,
which are not perceived by observers, some interpretations of quantum
mechanics place conscious observers in a special position.
The founders of quantum mechanics debated the role of the observer,
and of them,
Wolfgang Pauli and
Werner Heisenberg believed that it was
the observer that produced collapse. This point of view, which was
never fully endorsed by Niels Bohr, was denounced as mystical and
anti-scientific by Albert Einstein. Pauli accepted the term, and
described quantum mechanics as lucid mysticism.
Heisenberg and Bohr always described quantum mechanics in logical
positivist terms. Bohr also took an active interest in the
philosophical implications of quantum theories such as his
complementarity, for example. He believed quantum theory offers a
complete description of nature, albeit one that is simply ill-suited
for everyday experiences – which are better described by
classical mechanics and probability. Bohr never specified a
demarcation line above which objects cease to be quantum and become
classical. He believed that it was not a question of physics, but one
Eugene Wigner reformulated the "Schrödinger's cat" thought experiment
as "Wigner's friend" and proposed that the consciousness of an
observer is the demarcation line which precipitates collapse of the
wave function, independent of any realist interpretation. Commonly
known as "consciousness causes collapse", this interpretation of
quantum mechanics states that observation by a conscious observer is
what makes the wave function collapse.
The multiverse is the hypothetical set of multiple possible universes
(including the historical universe we consistently experience) that
together comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time,
matter, and energy as well as the physical laws and constants that
describe them. The term was coined in 1895 by the American philosopher
and psychologist William James. In the many-worlds interpretation
(MWI), one of the mainstream interpretations of quantum mechanics,
there are an infinite number of universes and every possible quantum
outcome occurs in at least one universe.
The structure of the multiverse, the nature of each universe within it
and the relationship between the various constituent universes, depend
on the specific multiverse hypothesis considered. Multiverses have
been hypothesized in cosmology, physics, astronomy, religion,
philosophy, transpersonal psychology and fiction, particularly in
science fiction and fantasy. In these contexts, parallel universes are
also called "alternative universes", "quantum universes",
"interpenetrating dimensions", "parallel dimensions", "parallel
worlds", "alternative realities", "alternative timelines", and
"dimensional planes," among others.
Scientific theories of everything
A theory of everything (TOE) is a putative theory of theoretical
physics that fully explains and links together all known physical
phenomena, and predicts the outcome of any experiment that could be
carried out in principle. The theory of everything is also called the
final theory. Many candidate theories of everything have been
proposed by theoretical physicists during the twentieth century, but
none have been confirmed experimentally. The primary problem in
producing a TOE is that general relativity and quantum mechanics are
hard to unify. This is one of the unsolved problems in physics.
Initially, the term "theory of everything" was used with an ironic
connotation to refer to various overgeneralized theories. For example,
a great-grandfather of Ijon Tichy, a character from a cycle of
Stanisław Lem's science fiction stories of the 1960s, was known to
work on the "General
Theory of Everything". Physicist John Ellis
claims to have introduced the term into the technical literature in an
Nature in 1986. Over time, the term stuck in
popularizations of quantum physics to describe a theory that would
unify or explain through a single model the theories of all
fundamental interactions and of all particles of nature: general
relativity for gravitation, and the standard model of elementary
particle physics – which includes quantum mechanics –
for electromagnetism, the two nuclear interactions, and the known
Current candidates for a theory of everything include string theory, M
theory, and loop quantum gravity.
Virtual reality and cyberspace
Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-simulated environment that can
simulate physical presence in places in the real world, as well as in
Virtuality Continuum is a continuous scale ranging between the
completely virtual, a Virtuality, and the completely real: Reality.
The reality-virtuality continuum therefore encompasses all possible
variations and compositions of real and virtual objects. It has been
described as a concept in new media and computer science, but in fact
it could be considered a matter of anthropology. The concept was first
introduced by Paul Milgram.
The area between the two extremes, where both the real and the virtual
are mixed, is the so-called Mixed reality. This in turn is said to
consist of both Augmented Reality, where the virtual augments the
real, and Augmented virtuality, where the real augments the virtual.
Cyberspace, the world's computer systems considered as an
interconnected whole, can be thought of as a virtual reality; for
instance, it is portrayed as such in the cyberpunk fiction of William
Gibson and others.
Second life and MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft
are examples of artificial environments or virtual worlds (falling
some way short of full virtual reality) in cyberspace.
"RL" in internet culture
On the Internet, "real life" refers to life in the real world. It
generally references life or consensus reality, in contrast to an
environment seen as fiction or fantasy, such as virtual reality,
lifelike experience, dreams, novels, or movies. Online, the acronym
"IRL" stands for "in real life", with the meaning "not on the
Internet". Sociologists engaged in the study of the Internet have
determined that someday, a distinction between online and real-life
worlds may seem "quaint", noting that certain types of online
activity, such as sexual intrigues, have already made a full
transition to complete legitimacy and "reality". The abbreviation
"RL" stands for "real life". For example, one can speak of "meeting in
RL" someone whom one has met in a chat or on an Internet forum. It may
also be used to express an inability to use the Internet for a time
due to "RL problems".
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Jain, S. A. (1992). Reality. Jwalamalini Trust. Archived from the
original on 2015. Not in Copyright
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