What Is Reality?

What is reality?

You may say, ‘All that is real, is reality.’ And, by the word ‘real’, I understand, all that can be seen, felt or heard. So, for example, if I see a flower in front of me, then it is obviously real. No one can seriously doubt that fact! No one can seriously say that the flower is not ‘real’.


Is the flower you see really ‘real’? Are you so sure that it is ‘real’ simply because your brain, having received the required electro-chemical information from your rods and cones, tells you that the flower is ‘real’?

Well, yes, that would be sufficient evidence for most people, that the object they are seeing (the flower, in our example), is truly real. In other words, what the brain sees, feels, hears is enough evidence to categorize what is, and what is not to be classified as real.

Fine, and what about those that exist and we cannot see – are they real? Are electrons ‘real’? Yes, they are real, because most physicists have informed us of their existence. So, in other words, if I could shrink my size to the same size as the electron, then, presumably, I would be able to see the ball-shaped electron? I would say the electron in all its splendid reality!
Is that correct?

Actually, physicists do not say that electrons are ‘real’. Those days ended with the Quantum Physics revolution in the 1920’s, whereby the geniuses like Schrodinger, Bohr, Bohm, de Broglie, Heisenberg and so on, demolished the Newtonian view of what physical reality was meant to be. Even Einstein – who himself had played a major part in demolishing Newton’s laws when it comes to the atomic and the sub-atomic level – could not accept the facts and the implications of Quantum Physics.
Here we are in the year 2009, and the sad fact is, that a vast majority of people do not have the slightest clue about Quantum Physics and its implications. We are still living somewhere around the Newtonian world view. Even Einstein’s Theory of Relativity has hardly permeated the minds of most people – so, you can well imagine, that Quantum Physics is light years away from the minds of most people!

But, wait a minute, I hear you say! What does all this Newton, Einstein, Quantum gobbledygook have to do with our question concerning reality?

Well, quite a lot actually.

So, hold on, be patient, and allow me to explain the meaning of reality, and how it does connect with Newton-Einstein-Quantum Physics.

Let us take three people, each with a recorder.

The first person is sitting inside a moving train, and is recording the sound the train is making. Assume that the train is moving smoothly and that there are no stops or sudden movements – in other words, the sound of the train is constant. The second person is standing on a train platform, recording the distant, oncoming train. Clearly, he will record, at first, a distant sound, then with time, as the train nears the station, its sound will increase; then when it bypasses the station, the sound will reach its peak and thereafter, after it moves away from the station, the recorded sound will decrease. The third and last person is standing one kilometre from the moving train and yes, he too, is recording the sound of the train.

Sound is measured in Hertz (Hz), and so, we can say that for the man sitting in the train, he will record the same Hz level since, as we have said, there is no change in the speed of the train – relative to the observer sitting in the train. Therefore, we can say, that for the first observer, he records a constant 5Hz. The second observer will record a different measurement; it can start out as 0Hz, then 2Hz, going up to the peak of 4Hz, and then receding as the train leaves the station. The third observer will record a faint 2Hz since he is far away from the train.

So, what can we conclude here? Clearly, each observer records different sound levels for the train in question. Clearly, each observer records a sound that is totally different from the other observer. Thus, the first observer, or O1, records 5Hz. O2 records: 0Hz-2Hz-4Hz-2Hz-0Hz, while O3 records: 2Hz. That means we have conflicting and contradictory sounds that the train is emitting.

Where, then, is the ‘reality’ of the sound of the train? Can we say that only O1 is right? Or, only O2? Or O3? Obviously, that would not make sense, since each observer will not only swear that what they heard was ‘real’, but to prove it to us sceptical people, they duly recorded what they heard, and surely the tape recorded does not lie!
Can we then say that all observers are correct?

But how can we say that, when each observer records a completely different sound, and furthermore, how can the same train produce different sounds?!

To make matters more complicated, can’t we add, by stating that we hardly need to be restrained by having three observers – why we can have millions of observers, and guess what? Yes, every single observer – out of the millions -will still manage to record a different sound to this one train. So, now we have millions of recorded sounds that are all different to each other and we still talking of one single train!

So, we ask the question again: what is the ‘reality’ of the sound the train is making?

For those who may say, that there is no reality, then we can say that that is preposterous since what each observer hears is precisely his or her reality and no person can simply dismiss another person’s fact, or truth.

Can we say that every observer is ‘right’?

Is it possible that the train does indeed have a limitless number of mutually exclusive sounds, all depending on the observer?
And if we answer ‘yes’ to the above question, then what happens to the so-called ‘unity of reality’? Clearly, there would be no ‘unity’ anymore, since reality would be based exclusively on the observer.

But, wait a minute here – let us add by saying that the train had a mind, and said: “Look, I know my own sound and I obviously disagree with all these other silly observers!” Very well, we can then listen to what the train records for his own sounds. Very well, and now we have another recording, and, yes, it too will be different to the multitude of other recordings.

So, who’s right and who’s wrong?

Remember, when I talked about the electron? What exactly is the electron? Is it a negatively charged spherically shaped object? That is certainly a good enough definition for beginners in physics – but, in advanced physics, it just will not do. The fact is, quantum physicists discovered some truly startling facts about the reality of the electron. Without going into detail, I will simply and briefly state them: first, the electron is both a wave and a particle, and it becomes either a wave or particle, when the act of observation takes place. Second, as Heisenberg discovered, no one can precisely know the position and the momentum (or velocity) at the same time; you can know or the other – but not both. Thus, we have the famous Uncertainty Principle, whereby we simply cannot know the total reality of an electron’s measurements.

So where does that mean, when we talk about the reality of the electron? It means that we cannot say that there is a one, simple ‘reality’ of an electron. It depends on the observer, for, in the absence of an observer, the electron’s reality hovers in a contradictory manner – being both a particle and a wave! And, as we’ve seen, there cannot be precise measurements of the measurements of an electron. All these quantum facts, makes the reality of an electron extremely foggy and imprecise – not to mention baffling!

Now, without delving into greater details (in order to avoid complicating the story), I will stop here and conclude with the following words.

What is reality?

Reality is an observer based ‘truth’; this ‘truth’ is relative to the observer alone; there exists an infinite number of realities, that are all mutually contradictory to each other, and they are all observer based. There is no ‘one reality’ for ‘one object’ – that commonly held belief needs to be discarded.

Copyright © Ayad Gharbawi . All rights reserved.
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July 1, 2009

Ayad Izzet Gharbawi


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