I smacked my penis with a hammer.
Not in reality, I just wanted you to click on the article to start reading it. Sorry, I’m kind of a bastard that way.
So, if you clicked here hoping to hear me explain all the horrid details of how my genitals swelled up larger than my head, turned black and blue, and exploded some days later, you’re going to be disappointed.
I guess I kind of did that already, so you should be satisfied with the imagery, since that’s all words are anyway. Of course, I’ve often said that I’d prefer to put my balls in a vice than to shop at the Mall of ‘Merica, or go to the dentist, but I suppose those are slight exaggerations, exercises in hyperbole, maybe. The vice might actually be less painful than a day in the mall, and definitely more enjoyable than a trip to the fuckin’ dentist. But I digress.
What I want to talk about is the nature of reality, or more importantly, of our un-examined language and underlying assumptions about what is real and not real.
We often say “In the real world” when arguing with someone who holds an unconventional point of view, as if to say,
“Yeah, sure, that’s a great idea, but there’s no way it would work in the world we live in.”
That’s what we usually mean by that statement. In other words, the world we live in is the real world. But is it?
How real is it?
What do we mean when we say real?
Have you ever thought about it? I do. I’m not alone of course; that question has existed for as long as there’s been writing, at least, and probably as long as there have been homo sapien sapiens, if not before that.
What is real?
Can you define it? Is it something that has matter?
What does that mean?
Does it mean it’s solid?
Because there isn’t any solid matter. Try finding some. I dare ya. You’ll never find it. It doesn’t exist. All matter is really vibrating energy, in some form. It’s not solid.
Aristotle argued that the entire universe was comprised of tiny, solid particles called atoms, which simply means, something that can’t be divided. But they can, as we know now. Just think, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and big mushroom clouds of vaporized buildings, trees, and people.
For much of the Twentieth Century, scientists believed that the smallest particles were electrons, within atoms, but now they know that isn’t correct, either. The more powerful the microscope, or particle accelerator, the faster matter runs away from us.
Where is Matter? Where is the Stuff?
I’ve used the example of a chair in some of the earlier parts of this series. Let’s return to the chair again.
If you were sitting in my office right now, and I asked you to point to something real, you might very well point to the chair I’m sitting in.
“Hey, it’s holding up your fat ass, so it must be real!”
True, it’s definitely straining to do just that, and for the time being, it’s winning. But eventually, it will fail, and I’ll be found on the floor in the pile of debris with an aching backside. Hopefully, you won’t be sitting in the office with me when that happens, though Murphy’s Law dictates that there will be an audience.
But is the chair really solid?
It might be real, but not solid. In fact, it is almost entirely comprised of empty space, between all of those atoms.
The only reason we can’t fall through it, or put our fist through it–unless you’re Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee–is because those atoms, and the particles they’re made of are vibrating too fast to allow the atoms and particles of your hand to pass through!
They bump into one another.
It’s like trying to put your hand through the blades of a fan when it’s on high speed, or on any speed. I wouldn’t advise it, unless you’re a Zen Master Martial Artist, like Bruce, or Chuck. We’re just too fuckin’ slow to pull that off. And the particles in the chair, or the desk, or the wall, are moving even faster than the blades on that fan. But just because we can’t put our hand through it, doesn’t mean it’s solid.
The more science looks for the ultimate building blocks of the Universe, the more they find forms, not matter. They’ve found quarks (whatever they are) and then found that light itself is just a fluctuation between particle and wave. One second it’s a particle, the next a wave of energy.
The same goes for the search on a macro scale, as well. The more powerful the telescope, the faster the galaxies run away from us, and the Universe expands to escape our gaze.
Is Anything Real?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that the chair isn’t real.
It has a certain reality to it. It functions, but it isn’t what we think it is.
It isn’t a static reality; it’s constantly working towards collapse, just like everything else in the Universe. The molecules of the chair are wearing out, spreading out, degrading over time, until I eventually break my ass on the hard-but-not-solid-wood floor. I covered this Taoish idea in earlier parts of this philosophical chain, if you want to read about that. (See, How I Write #6: Fear Itself, the Danger of Becoming a Noun)
So, be careful when you invoke terms like reality or real in an argument, especially if you’re arguing with me. I’m going to ask you to define your terms.
Of course, I’m just as guilty of throwing around undefined terms as the next person. But I’m not overly pissed off when that’s pointed out. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t rankle me for a few seconds, or sometimes days, but hey, I’m only human, whatever that is.
In conclusion, while things aren’t really things, or solid, that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. The hammer isn’t really solid, neither is my penis, but I don’t think I’m going to bring that tool down to find out how much space lies between the atoms of either.