“Reality, what a concept.” – George Carlin
Today there is a lot of interest in alternate realities. But first, what exactly is reality? The obvious answer is that reality is that which is “real”, but this definition only forces one to then define “that which is real” – and, if human history is any indication, this is much easier said than done.
Philosophers have been arguing the “nature” (definition and/or description) of reality for ages. Western philosophers have embraced many views and definitions of reality. However, three schools of philosophy provide a fair measure of the main distinctions western philosophy makes when attempting to define and describe reality.
Solipsism – I think therefore I am
Most people know who Plato was – even if that knowledge is limited to knowing he was a philosopher who lived in the time of ancient Greece, most of us know that his philosophical views influence our thinking to this day. Of course, this would include Plato’s ideas on the nature of reality. Plato actually built his view of reality around the ideas of a philosopher named Gorgias whose idea of reality was based on is view that a person can only be sure of one thing – and that one thing is the fact that they exist.
Other philosophers expounded on Gorgias’ view of reality, including a philosopher named Descartes who is famous for his statement, “I think, therefore I am.” This statement represents the most important aspect of a solipsistic description of reality, anything outside the mind (such as the world we live in) cannot be proved to exist because reality is completely subjective. In other words, what one person perceives as real (also referred to as “true”) is not necessarily true for another person.
Determinism – My reality is determine for me
Determinists understand reality to be determined by a continuum of previous events. In other words, reality is determined for us – be it our present or future reality. This includes everything we think (our intellect) and everything we do (our behavior). Of course there is little agreement as to “what” it is that determines our reality. For instance, theological determinism declares that a god or gods determines reality while environmental determinism states that it is our physical environment (geography, climate) which predetermines reality.
Positivism – The reality of science
Positivists view the only valid reality (or “truth”) is that which can be proved using the scientific method. Rather than being subjective (or held in the mind), what is “real” are only those theories created in the mind that can be recreated and observed in the external world. Of course, it is positivism that is embraced by the vast majority of scientists – or is it?
Scientists rely on numbers to describe or narrate the results of their experiments. These experiments are designed according to strict adherence to scientific method, meaning that theories are proved with evidence found in the “real” world.
Most often, scientists must include in their proofs not only observable evidence from the “natural (external) world”, but also mathematical evidence. And this is where it gets interesting – especially when the scientific theory comes from within the scientific discipline of physics – because some theoretical physics can be proved only using mathematics.
Learn more about accessing alternate reality by watching this video
In his book, The Grand Design, eminent physicist Stephen Hawking suggests that physicists who have worked to discover the laws of the universe have discovered that there is perhaps “no single mathematical model or theory that can describe every aspect of the universe.” Hawking suggests that it is a “network” of models and that our ideas as to what constitutes “reality” changes when these new theories within physics that cannot be proven in the observable world are proven mathematically.
One can interpret Hawking’s position as supporting the position that each mathematical model designed to describe the nature of physics in effect creates an alternate reality. In particular, quantum physicists have a mathematically proven model for the existence of parallel universes. This model provides not “just one” alternate reality – but an infinite number of alternate realities.
Physics is the study of the ways matter, energy, force, and motion interact with each other – often called the “laws” of physics. The mathematics of quantum physics appears to prove that solipsism, determinism, and positivism are all correct definitions of reality because they would all exist as alternate realities where matter, energy, force and motion interact in ways that follow the laws of their respective universes.
Human beings do not escape from these laws as we are composed of the same particles that comprise all matter. It therefore follows that the model for alternate realities described via quantum physics is applicable to human reality. In other words, each of us exists simultaneously in alternate realities (universes).