What is 'Real'?

Our capacity to experience anything depends upon our minds, and on our senses.  Because of our sense of self, we normally see the world from a 'third person' perspective.  We think of the world as being objects 'out there', and ourselves as another object: a body-mind.  Typically, this external view represents all of that which we call 'real'.  But when we seek to fully experience and express our humanity, we invoke an inner dimension of reality.

What makes our lives rich are the moments of great joy and inspiration, such as sublime or uplifting music, or the beauty found in nature or art or architecture.  Alternatively, that richness is found outstanding acts that express our humanness: love, courage or achievement.  Times of fear or even terror, such that all personal resources are shown to be inadequate, can also move us deeply.  Reflect too on our human appreciation of meaning, consciousness, feelings, relationships, values, mutual understanding, life itself.  All of these are real.

In addition to these personal experiences, reality has cultural and societal aspects, including traditions and beliefs: not one of us is human without our connection to others.  Thus, our reality is multi-mimensional.

Yet our capacity to observe reality is limited.  Our senses detect only a small part of a vast electromagnetic spectrum.  And our brains construct a part of what we see and feel.  Other creatures detect things that we're oblivious to.  Whatever reality is, it's far more than we can perceive and conceive.

Existence: the External World

We tend to think that which we can see or feel or touch - physical matter - is the best indicator of what is 'real'.  Yet what appears solid is made up of atoms: each atom a tiny particle in a vast space.  Further, we often overlook events such as storms and heat waves.  Yet it is events, forces and energy that have power.  And many of these are unexplained.  Science can tell us about the effects of gravity, but not why gravity exists.  Similarly with the two nuclear forces, and with electromagnetic force.  For most of us, our appreciation of reality is partial.  Time too may not be what we think.  Relativity theory tells us that space and time are inseparable.

Our usual explanations for existence fail to account for what is known as 'the mind-body problem'.  We accept that both matter and consciousness (or mind) exist, but cannot explain how mind and matter can function together: for example, how our thoughts can initiate bodily movement.  Of the possible philosophical explanations, panpsychism - that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe - is the only one which is tenable (unless we believe in miracles, or in unexplained and unknowable 'forces'.).

The 'Energetic' Nature of the Universe

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that each element of the universe is 'a vibratory ebb and flow of an underlying energy or activity'.  Science tells us that electrons circulate around the nucleus of their atom.  Quantum physics reveals the contingent nature of elementary 'particles': depending on how they are observed, they can be waves or particles.  Matter is not the solid unmoving entity that we usually think it to be.  Further, things are impacted by other things and by happenings: everything is interconnected.

We tend to forget the mystery that underlies existence.  Alternatively, we adopt supernatural beliefs, including interpretations arising from more primitive understandings.

Reality as a Unity

Part of our difficulty in accepting the interconnected nature of everything is the result of the way we see or experience the world.  Because of the development of our minds during childhood, we tend to see the world in terms of 'opposites'.  It's crucial to our development (and to the preservation of all life) to distinguish 'me' from 'not-me'.  Seeing things as opposites is also the result of our use of language to name things: we give each perceived entity a name, a symbol.  And because we can manipulate the symbol, we fall into the illusion that these opposites are separate entities.  But in doing that we mistake the symbol for reality itself.  The apparent opposites are part of each other.  Pain and pleasure are inseparable, the crest and trough of a single wave of awareness.  Ultimate reality is a union of opposites, where there are no boundaries.  Reality is 'not-two'.'


The aim of this website is to encourage you to question, to think differently, and to clarify what you understand - and to encourage you to keep exploring.  No matter how we view things, all we have is our interpretation: as Kant says, 'We cannot know the thing in itself'.  At best, we 'know' only the messages from our nervous system.

The integral view of reality provides a more in-depth discussion.  Those who want to explore further might try to find a new way of 'seeing' (and being): invert your normal way of seeing.  If you're primarily a thinking person, get in touch with your body.  If you're a feeling person, realise that your feelings need to be interpreted - so cultivate your mind, your discernment.  And there's a wealth of material elsewhere, just waiting for you to open to it.

When we know the universe is unified, that apparent opposites are in harmony, we can take delight in the play of our vibratory existence.  We can then begin to accept everything just as it is, instead of futilely seeking the good and avoiding what we believe to be undesirable.