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What does it mean to say reality actually exists? Is it a product of society? If time - the fourth dimension is a societal construct, then shouldn't reality also be one?

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  • "Does reality actually exist?" Yes, it is the "realm" of facts. We have several philosophical analysis of Facts but for sure there are facts. Have you have tried to open the door with the wrong key? It (usually) does not: facts (i.e. reality) rule. Jan 9 at 13:01
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    You may find David Bloor of interest
    – Rushi
    Jan 9 at 13:15
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    Two good books to start with: Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What? (2000) and John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (2010) Jan 9 at 15:38
  • In order for it to be a societal construct, wouldn't society have to exist? And if society exists, doesn't that mean it's real? And if it's real, doesn't mean that there's a reality?
    – TKoL
    Jan 9 at 16:16
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    There are several notions of reality. It is often used as a synonym for the physical world, but it is refers to a person's beliefs and experience. Confusion about differentiating between the two uses of 'reality' is the source of much wasted effort.
    – J D
    Jan 9 at 16:43

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What do you mean by "reality"? The thing is, what we experience as "reality" is not actually what is really happening, but is already data that is preprocessed and interpreted when it hits our consciousness.

Let's go outside and look at the sky. What do you see? Suppose you see a blue sky, is that "blue" real? Is the sky really blue? And what does that mean?

First of all, there's a lot more than we can see. Light is apparently an electro-magnetic wave/particle that propagates through space and we are only really able to "see" that when it's wavelength is between 400nm and 700nm. So a room could be full of light and we'd see it as pitch black if it doesn't have the right frequency.

Beyond that narrow gap of wavelengths, we might also indirectly "see" or at least feel light, like idk infrared light might be felt as warmth and ultraviolet light might cause sun burn but there's still a whole lot of light that we simply don't see unless we look at something that shows a reaction to light in that frequency domain. Is it therefor less real because it is not part of what we see as reality? Well no it apparently exists and is measurable just not by us (at least not directly).

But even if you had a sensor for a specific wavelength of light, that basically just gives you an "on/off" signal as to whether there is light or there isn't. So what you would see is light and dark. You'd still need to identify the intensity of it and set it in relation to the intensity of other light sources, that you can perceive, to even get shades of gray.

Also if we say we can see between 400 and 700nm then that, is a simplification as well because actually we have 3 types of cones in our eyes that have different ranges where they are receptive and which together roughly span that range, but not uniformly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cone-fundamentals-with-srgb-spectrum.svg

These 3 ranges roughly conform to what we like to label red, green and blue, where "green" really takes the cake. And the thing is how we label them and where we make boundaries might actually be influenced by social constructs as well as what is going on in our environment and what we're forced to pay attention to. So idk if you look around, you might find some furniture or whatnot, does it have a uniform color? Even if you were to say yes, if you'd take a picture of it due to the lighting and whatnot you'd probably nonetheless get different pixel values for different parts of the object, but due to the fact that you identified the thing as one object with the same color property you largely ignore those difference.

So what do you mean by reality? The world as it really is or how we perceive it to be.

Another really trippy example is the equivalence of inertial frames of reference. So you cannot tell a resting and a continuously moving frame of reference apart. There is no physical experiment that you could do in the one but not in the other and get the same result. So think about a train ride. Despite the fact that you are moving with relatively high velocity does it feel like you are moving? Sure if you look outside the window you'll see the world pass by, but that this is an indicator that you are moving (because the world around you is usually meant to stand still) is a learned concept not necessarily a result of physics. If you blocked the windows and used artificial lighting you wouldn't be able to tell. Or think of when you enter the train station, you look outside the window and there's another train on the other track (your vision is blocked so that you can only see that train). And suddenly that train starts moving and you can't tell whether it's you that is moving or whether it's the other train until you look through the other window and see the train station being stationary and thus deduce that you must also be stationary, but if you look again at the moving train your brain gets confused again.

So there is really movement between the two observers, but who is moving and who stands still is a subjective matter.

So unlike color this is not even an "illusion", the observer really can't tell unless the observers have found an agreement to consider something as standing still or some point as the origin of a coordinate system. But even if they do, if they would move at different velocities with respect to each other they would still perceive time and space differently and not due to psychology but physics.

So which of these realities do you refer to?

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It depends upon what you mean by exist, of course, but the world seems to go around the Sun, and it is hard to see how society makes that happen. Moreover, it seems as if the world was going round the Sun long before there was a society to make it so, ergo it seems unlikely that society could be the cause of that particular effect. Finally, if reality is caused by society, and society is part of reality, presumably, you seem to get into the type of argument frowned upon by some pedantic types, the radius of which is in proportion pi to its circumference.

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    It's funny which example you choose: For most of recorded human history at least unti Galileo, the sun went round the earth
    – Rushi
    Jan 9 at 13:30
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    @rushi that's what happens when society explains reality- it gets it wrong! All the best. Jan 9 at 14:42
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How do we understand reality? The general idea seems to run roughly as follows. If I see something, it may be real. If two of us see the same thing then it is more likely to be real. If the same thing, where 'thing' may be the demonstration of a scientific principle rather than a shared event, then it is commonly believed to be 'real'.

There are several wobbly bits to this reasoning...

For us to agree on the reality of a thing, I would have to describe it to you for you to agree. For you to understand me, we will have to have commonly understood values for the words we exchange. There is no absolute way for this collection of word definitions to bootstrap itself. Are the integers 'real'? The common experience of number seems reliable, but it still depend on a poorly-understood collection of pattern matching processes we call 'intelligence' to set itself up in a consistent way. Put this way, 'real' seems to be a close to 'familiar'.

Reality does not need consensus. The planets were (probably) real before humans. A single planet-spanning intelligence would probably have a good grasp of reality by itself. Something would be just as 'real' if it was never witnessed. If we all shared a false experience, that would not make it real: believing that the fossils were placed in the Earth by God in 4004 BC to test our faith does not make it so to any degree. What we seem to be discussing is not 'reality' itself, but our shared perception of reality. There is a general hope that there is something out there that we all agree about.

Are integers 'real'? What if existence was subjective: suppose God exists for some of us, but not for others? In the last half of the 20th century, some philosophers concentrated on the means we use to communicate to refine these processes of debate and consensus. This lets us determine whether 'cogito ergo sum' is a a truth, a definition, or just a snappy soundbite that sounds 'deep'.

Me? I still find words that I mis-spell or mis-pronounce after perhaps 60 years of use. These are not bad faults, but they show that faults can persist. I have hopes that computers can fix some of these for me. Maybe they can do more for our collective view of reality.

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