Monthly Archives: May 2014

Reality Is Very Imaginary

How imaginary is reality? Our shared reality is more thought than it is seen or touched, more conceived than it is perceived. While many confuse the imaginary with the unreal, thinking that imagination is merely fiction, it is fiction that is merely imaginary. Reality, unlike fiction, is both imaginary AND real.

Imagine we are out walking and see a bush move suspiciously. It could be a tiger, putting us both in danger, or it could be our friend who enjoys foraging for berries and screwing with people. Both are real possibilities. The reality we share includes possibilities and projections, which we imagine together.

It is wise to believe that tigers are dangerous, in spite of the fact that no one has seen or will ever see all tigers. When we think about tigers, we are imagining all tigers as a group, bringing them together as a concept. While each of us has a slightly different experience and understanding of tigers, our conceptions largely overlap. We imagine that there could be tigers that are tame and harmless, but also imagine that tigers are generally dangerous.

It is useful for us to share concepts, as we imagine that they correspond to reality, but we must imagine the correspondence. Reality as a whole, beyond our perceptions, is itself a concept. We can perceive particular things at particular times and in particular places that correspond to our concepts, but we must conceive that our concepts correspond to reality as a whole, and to things in general. Our reality is always far beyond what we each can see.

What about the things we can see? Because we have eyes in the front of our heads, we see half of what surrounds us with both eyes open, and we touch and hear very little of what we see. We imagine everything outside this, what is behind us, above us, beneath us, and what is hidden from view. If we move closer to things, we see more detail, and if we move farther away, we see more of the situation. We must imagine everything outside this scope. We must even imagine ourselves, using a self concept to be self conscious, seeing everything other than our hands only occasionally in reflections.

The past, the future, and the majority of the present, all of which we share, is almost entirely imaginary and conceptual, a representation that we share in consensus with little debate. All of this, we imagine, is very useful. All of this, we imagine, is very real. The question is not whether or not our reality is imaginary, but how useful our imaginations are. What we imagine can limit our reality, but it can also be used to change and expand our reality, making even the impossible real.

Preferring Certainty

Arabic AristotleOne of the many strange things encountered in studying Aristotle’s work on logic is the ability to derive the truth of a particular statement (some or some not) from a universal statement (all or none).  If we know that all cows have horns, we also know that some cows have horns, and if we know that no cows play the accordion, we also know that some cows do not play the accordion.

While we know that this is technically true, many a student of logic becomes lost here, as it sounds odd to make a statement only about some when we could make a statement about all.  If I know that cows never play the accordion, it almost sounds like a deliberate misrepresentation to say that some cows do not.

Black Swan

However, if we are strictly empirical, and investigating things with the idea that there can always be counter examples we have yet to encounter, we can only say that some cows, those we have encountered, cannot play the accordion.  Aristotle himself believed that all swans are white and all crows are black, and used these as examples of universal statements, but he was wrong, as both black swans and white crows existed at the time in Australia.

White CrowWhy, then, do we feel more comfortable making the universal claim then the particular one?  The particular statement, only about some, is more cautious than the universal statement, about all.  When we make universal claims, we are stating with confidence that there are, effectively, no counter examples, much as one could say, in Aristotle’s world, there effectively were no black swans or white crows, as Aristotle’s world did not include Australia.  When we are skeptical and doubt we are cautious, only feeling safe making particular claims, but when we are dogmatic and believe we are confident, feeling safe in making universal claims.  This is why making a cautious particular claim about some sounds odd when we have already assumed the universal claim about all to be true.