mind, matter, meaning and information


What does it mean to say that something is real? Webster, again (see the word), has, among other senses, “not artificial, fraudulent, illusory, or apparent: genuine” and “occurring in fact.” As an example of what is clearly not real, we might take a desert mirage. But say what was taken to be a mirage turns out, on closer examination, not to be one after all. It could be some other kind of illusion, or perhaps even an actual body of water where none was believed to exist. So is this an unreal mirage? It seems to me that it is, and that the concept of reality is context-dependent. [That argument probably requires expansion, but the basics are there.]

The notion that reality is not context-dependent is sometimes called "naïve realism". It tends to be associated with certain other assumptions, for instance that different explanations for a given phenomenon are necessarily mutually exclusive. (This is highly deserving of discussion, and I will write something on it quite soon, I hope.)

Having said which, the context is often quite obvious, and it seems fairly clear that what “reality” generally means is, what's “out there,” or objective, as opposed to what merely seems to be out there, and is subjective. Unfortunately, where subjective experience is the focus of interest, that approach just does not work—see objectivity and the human point of view.

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Last modified 23-Feb-2005 14:36:17 by Robin Faichney .