How Do We Know What Is Real?

When you look at the world, you believe that you are see reality. Seeing is believing, as the saying goes. But what is reality?

Reality is often contrasted with the imaginary, and in the context of Being Human that is how we are using the term. For example, trees are real, but magical trees with eyes and ears and the ability to speak—like those in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels—are not.

Reality then is what we can prove or logically infer is true or existent. Science posits that the universe began with the Big Bang, and even though we can’t go backward in time and watch it happen, we can infer that it actually happened from a wealth of evidence (such as the cosmic microwave background radiation). Religion may insist that a God created the universe in six days, but we cannot infer the truth of this from any evidence that’s provable and objective.

Many creation myths sprang from human dreams and imagination. Since we don’t have the ability to prove or disprove such creation myths, we‘re better of labeling them metaphysics and putting them aside for now. Science tells us that complex life forms are the result of evolution, not creation by a deity, and there is an enormous wealth of data to support this idea. If we want to make progress in our understanding of human beings and human experience, it is very useful to stick with provable facts.

Religions used to be accepted as the authority to validate reality. Then beginning in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the new field of science promised to discover the secrets of the universe. Science has delivered on this promise in many ways. Yet even today we understand very little about the nature of reality. Most of the universe is remains shrouded in mystery.

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  • Our Take

Our Take on Reality

What's Really Real? Being Human ,

Have you ever wondered what is really real? There are people who claim with great seriousness that there is a God in the sky, that we are all just a simulation in a computer, that aliens visit the earth regularly, and a host of other things. Is there any foolproof way to prove them right or wrong? Unfortunately, there isn’t. Anybody can claim anything, and there is no solid method for proving them wrong. Why not? Because they can always add more exceptions and loopholes. If I say there is an alien spacecraft in my garage, and you don’t see it, I can just add that the spacecraft is using technology that cloaks it from you. If you don’t see a God anyway, believers just claim that he is intentionally hiding himself. It’s an impasse, and there’s no way out. Except that’s not how proof works. It goes the other way around. If I claim that there’s an alien spacecraft in my garage, it’s my job to prove it, otherwise everyone else is correct to just ignore me. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof,” or as the Romans put it, “He who makes the claim must prove it.