[This is part 1 of what I hope to be a series examining the Nature of Reality. You can listen to me read it, below]
What constitutes reality? How do we know that something actually exists, that’s it’s solid, a fact? What is the nature of knowing itself?
I know, I’m weird. I think about stuff like that sometimes. Like this morning I was supposed to be meditating on a fleck of dust on the top of my desk while absorbing the full-spectrum light from my happy light, but instead my mind was wandering all over the place, as usual. I suck at meditation, as I’ve mentioned more than once. So instead of Zen-mastering my thoughts upon that piece of dust, I looked right past it to the wood grain on the desk and began to ponder the permanence of the thing I call a desk.
“Is it a solid thing? Is it real? Or am I looking at the life cycle of a tree? Isn’t it still a tree? If not, why not? It’s more than a tree now, of course, but isn’t it mostly tree? or trees? There are probably more than one tree in there somewhere. Why can’t I just focus on that damned piece of dust?”
Then my mind drifted to the chair I’m sitting on right now. Chairs are popular items in the philosopher’s tool box, it seems. I’m not sure why. I almost always end up talking about chairs when I drift into the nature of reality. Maybe it’s because most philosophers spend a lot of time sitting on their ass thinking? I reckon. It’s convenient to pick on the chair. And so it is with my chair. Here’s how the conversation in my cranium went. Don’t get confused; it’s just me talking, to myself. Yeah, it’s weird but hang with me, it’s gonna get weirder.
“Is this chair a thing? Is it permanent, in other words?”
“Yes and no, I reckon.”
“It exists as a thing that keeps my butt from hitting the floor. Newton argued that it actually exerts force upward on my ass to keep it from moving downward. So it must exist in that respect.”
“But is it just a chair? Isn’t it more than that?”
“Well, for starters, it’s a tree, like the desk it contains a lot of wood. Ergo, it’s part of the life of a tree.”
“But the tree died long ago. Now it’s just wood.”
“But we know that the molecules of that wood are still vibrating in space and time, and therefore, not completely ‘dead.’ Isn’t death just part of the cycle of life?”
Remember, I’m talking to myself like some wacko in a mental ward…
“Okay, I suppose. I guess one could say that the tree is still in a process of decay, or dying. It will eventually return to the soil and help to feed a new tree and other living things.”
“Yes! It is in a process of decay. It is not solid, or fixed in time. It is still living, or dying. It is transforming before our very eyes, or more accurately, under my ass. But it’s not only a tree in the process of decay. It’s also a cow.”
“Uhh okay. Now the bullshit is gettin’ deep.”
Get it? Cow, bullshit? This is sophisticated humor here, people.
“What is the chair covered with?”
“Oh yeah, leather!”
“A.k.a, a cow. And that cow is still in a process of decay as well. The more you sit on it, the faster that process moves along. Not to mention the more times that Squishy Kitty and Punkin claw on it. And there are more things within that chair. There are comets, meteorites, and magma. There is iron, copper, and brass in the chair, some of which may have originated in space, billions of years ago, only to come crashing into our Earth sometime in the distant eons. Maybe it was in the form of a meteorite that crashed into the jungle next to a dinosaur!”
“Commmonnn man. Now you’re stretchin’ it!”
“Not hardly. Many of our metals arrived here that way. The planet itself is formed from star dust, which means you and I are also fragments of obliterated space material. So put that in your pipe n smoke it! Not only is that chair a meteorite, but it’s probably a dinosaur, too.”
“Okay, what the fuck?”
“That’s a simple one. Somewhere on that chair, either in the glue holding some part together, the dyes in the leather, the stain on the wood, the oil in the casters, is a petroleum product. Oil was once, billions of years ago, organic matter. The dye in that leather, or that cow, was once a dinosaur, and/or some fern that he was munching on when some of that space material I just mentioned–probably in the form of a massive meteorite–hit him on the big toe, interrupted his lunch, liquified not only his toe and himself, but all of his kin, as well as 95% of all living species on the planet, and blasted a massive fuckin’ hole in the Earth that was later to be named the Gulf of Mexico.”
“So my chair is a tree, a cow, a comet, and a dinosaur?”
“Yep. It’s at least all of those things, and probably a few others.”
“So everything we think is solid, permanent, fixed in time, is really something else, or a conglomeration of things which are all in a process of transformation or decay?”
“Jelly Beans! You got it. The ancient Chinese philosophy of Dao or Tao, would argue that nothing is permanent. Things aren’t really things; they are events, if you will, processes that we take little snap shots of with our minds. Then we assign these snap shots a name, like chair, to fix them in time. In a sense we have just created a chair by the simple act of calling it ‘chair.’ We have become creators of reality.”
“But I thought that was God’s job?”
“Hmmm. Yes. Isn’t it?”
Click HERE for Part II, where I’ll mesmerize you with B.S. about the nature of reality and it’s relationship to language.