"What is the nature of reality?" is the question that the Stack Exchange Philosophy Metaphysics page explicitly says should be asked.

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And one presumes, an answer sought.

However. When I asked exactly and only exactly, that specific question, at first only asking only:

  • "What is the nature of reality?"

It got closed as "too vague and non-specific". Before I got the chance to answer. I tried adding "Metaphysics..." but it remained closed.

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So, I need and ask for your help, determining what the better question would be? How do I make the question more specific, less vague?

My one thought might be: "What is the specific, exact, exhaustive, exclusive, fundamental composition of reality, existence, the observable universe, the rest of it, and everything else?"

But, a wordsmith I am not. So, I appeal to the community to see if I can find a "Best non-vague, specific question about fundamental reality that will have the least chance of getting closed?"

ChatGPT offered up these thoughts... individually highlighting this first:

  • "What is the ultimate nature of reality?"

Maybe adding "ultimate" indicates, specific and exact and conclusive well enough that fuzzy answers need not apply?

ChatGPT also offered up these options that weren't bad:

  • "Is reality fundamentally material or immaterial?"
  • "Does reality have an objective existence independent of observation?"
  • "Can reality be described by a unified theory or framework?"

And there were a few I found less inspired and unhelpful.

Einstein is quoted as having said:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

Helpful input and thoughts appreciated.

What is the best way to phrase the best (specific and non-vague) question about the ultimate nature of reality?


8 Answers 8


Since this question is highly opinionated (as evidenced by the variety of mostly unsourced answers), I'll offer a classical account, namely that of Kant.

In his first Critique, he formulates three central questions that summarise any philosophical inquiry:

  • What can I know?
  • What should I do?
  • What may I hope?

He also points out that there is a single question that encompasses all the other ones:

  • What is the human being?

Knowing Kant and the three questions, it becomes clear that "the human being" means "beings like us in all their relation(s) (necessary and otherwise) to the world", which is an infinitely more intricate question than asking for a dictionary definition.

Therefore, at least this philosopher (and, indeed, quite a few after him IMHO) do not think that "the ultimate nature of reality" but "the relation of us to the world, both epistemological and practical" should be the core question of philosophy.

As a matter of fact, it may well be that the ultimate nature of reality cannot be known by us nor make any practical difference for us. In other words: It may well be a misguided question to begin with as long as other questions are not answered.

  • "As a matter of fact" followed by "It may well be"... was an interesting choice. Grins. And mayhaps it is true. You also said "nor make any practical difference for us." I fear the opposite actually, we may find out things we don't want to know, and they will kill some of our hope and inspiration... like if, we found out there are zero options for "shortcutting" or "zipping" or "wormholing" through space... would be a buzzkill. Or if the answer changed our understanding and shattered some beliefs. That would be hard on some individuals... an unfortunate side effect. Commented Mar 5 at 12:47
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    @AlistairRiddoch The problem with your whole endeavour is that you cannot decide whether whatever we make out as basic entity of physical reality actually is (metaphysically) the basis of reality or just how we can make sense of the slice of reality we can connect to at this moment through whatever means are available to us. The history of science shows that the latter is much more probable. Reality is shaped by the means through which we have access to it and vice versa. That is not a one-way thing.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Mar 5 at 13:54

A dictionary is intended to give the meaning of every word. If you asked the question 'What is the meaning of every word (dictionary)?' do you suppose you would get an answer?

The problem with your question is not that it is vague in the sense of unclear, but that it has too broad a scope. It is rather as if you had seen a definition of 'History' as being 'the subject that sets out to answer the question of what happened in the past', and you then posted the question 'What happened in the past?'. The scope of the question is far too broad to allow a meaningful answer.

  • If I find a question fuzzy, I will sometimes parse it via dictionary... replacing words as needed with their actual definition, so I can leave myself no ambiguity as to what is being asked "per accepted interpretation on a word by word basis"... because sometimes questions include words with "popular conception" that doesn't always match actual definition. Interpretation matters. Grin. Thx for the insight. If I took it the right way. Commented Mar 2 at 22:36
  • Like "universe"... some take it to mean something other than "the cosmos and all within"... when I hear a question about "multiverses" or "observable universe"... I wonder what definitions they are grasping from? Or people refererring to "the" universe, as though it is a thing, and not "the cosmos and all within", as opposed to "a" thing. Language, gotta love it. I call the popular misconceptions... "baggage" on the word. Commented Mar 2 at 22:38
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    @AlistairRiddoch -- in natural language, there are multiple definitions of words, AND definitions drift over time. Dictionaries report on usage, they do not set rules.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Mar 4 at 16:22

"What is the nature of reality?"

What are you talking about if you don't know what you are talking about?

Reality does not have a nature.

Reality is by definition whatever exists, and whatever exists is what it is.

The nature of water may be described, among other things, as that it is H₂O, a compound made of hydrogen and oxygen, that it boils at 100°C under one atmosphere and freezes at 0°C. All the characteristics involved are normally taken to be what we think of as nature. Thus, we explain the nature of water in terms of things which are not themselves water and are part of nature. We cannot do that with reality itself.

There is by definition nothing outside reality, so there is nothing that we could use to explain reality with. Nature itself is by definition inside reality, so we cannot use anything which is part of nature, or even nature itself, to explain reality.

What we can do, however, is to explain what we mean by the word "reality", for example "All that there is" etc. However, to do that, we presumably don't need to spend 2,500 years pondering the nature of reality. We only need to help ourselves with a dictionary and perhaps reflect a moment on what it is that we ourselves mean. Presumably, we do mean something, for if we don't, then we are not going to know what we even mean when we ask a question about the nature of reality.

What is the best way to phrase the best (specific and non-vague) question about the ultimate nature of reality?

When you ask what is the nature of reality, what are you talking about?

To discover how reality works, and whatever is fundamental, at the bottom, is presumably just the job of science, not metaphysics.

What reality is not made of anything for there is nothing outside reality it could be made of.

Further, the question of whatever is part of reality, atoms, quarks and what not, can only be less fundamental than reality itself, for atoms, quarks and what not are nothing outside reality. They are nothing if not parts of reality.

  • Questions tagged [metaphysics] Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the essence of things, of the fundamental nature of being and the world and the principles that organize the universe. Metaphysics is supposed to answer the question "What is the nature of reality?" Commented Mar 3 at 15:25
  • Exactly as stated... "The nature of reality". The one you have said I cannot know. And the one you have said cannot exist. The goal of metaphysics and philosophy in general. It only becomes difficult to understand what is being talked about if the reader makes it that way. If the reader (such as yourself) just reads the question as is, and doesn't throw in their own biases and assumptions... the question becomes straightforward... What is THE nature of reality? Not complicated. Not vague. Quite specific, since the word "the", is used (purposely),. Commented Mar 3 at 15:30
  • youtube.com/watch?v=szFKZz64bMQ Commented Mar 3 at 15:34
  • @AlistairRiddoch "Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the essence of things" The essence of reality is presumably just to be real. You are not going to find anything more substantial than that, I don't think. What else do you expect? 42? Commented Mar 4 at 10:31
  • I expect there is a findable (and found) final answer to the composition of the fabric of reality. Completely physical/mechanical... nothing happening at a distance, and no "charges" or "forces" or "dualities" needed... just straightforward mechanical interactions. That will be found compatible with all real phenomena with no exceptions and be recognized as acceptably... "the answer" like... "done". Because of its built in properties and characteristics... "inherent explicatory powers". But it is hard to have discussions about that which people assume cannot possibly exist. Commented Mar 4 at 11:28

Nathaniel Branden says there are two questions everyone asks in psychology:

How am I to understand myself?
How am I to undertand others?

Philosophy in One Lecture (Daniel Bonevac):


In this video the theme is that the skeptical philosophers question the relation or connection of the mind to: (1) the minds of others; and (2) external reality.

To me the ultimate question of philosophy is how am I to understand myself in relation to other humans and the natural world? How am I to deal with other humans and the natural world in the context of drama?

In my case there are always moral, natural, supernatural, and mysterious attributes of my relation of self to so-called external reality. The self is just one cause among other causes but all causes are woven into the nature of reality. So it is as if one attribute of reality, myself, wants to know its own nature!

  • A question, if in a moment of fortuitous circumstances, you had an epiphany and by chance stumbled upon an answer to the nature of all things, I mean, like absolutely all things... ending all mysteriousness about the nature of reality and what is and what can be real... so we become a species that actually knows and understands how reality works... but, the natural side effect is... we lost the opportunity to be dreamers, and fantasizers about some things that will just never be so... like interstellar travel, eternal existence in a heaven, time travel... ruled out... would you.. Commented Mar 3 at 19:27
  • would you consider suppressing it, so as to not end that journey of inquisition that so many love, thinking there were no final answer to ever actually find?? I upvoted your answer. It is a common position held "There can be no answer". I am sincerely curious about your thoughts. Commented Mar 3 at 19:28
  • See Holography: hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/optmod/holog.html#c1 in which every portion of the image contains the whole image. See also The Holographic Universe: amazon.com/Holographic-Universe-Revolutionary-Theory-Reality/dp/…. The human mind could be something arising as the product of a unconscious process in which consciousness is not a universal property of reality or what exists outside the mind. Or the mind could be a subdividision of reality that does not contain the whole image. Or the mind could be holographic reality. But is each mind also unique? Commented Mar 3 at 19:40

I think, instead of asking about 'reality', you could ask what is real. ​ Or, to narrow down a bit, what is real outside your perception?

Are atoms real? Is God real? Is your life real?

When you ask it that way, you will quickly see that these questions don't have an answer right now. And they will never have answers in the future.

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    The +1 is for the 1st two paras, especially the second. The last dilutes it a bit — What is now/future? Do you know the nature of time? Do you know that you de-exist when you die? Do you know for sure that after your death God will not kindly and patiently answer all your deepest questions?
    – Rushi
    Commented Mar 3 at 3:05
  • @Rushi - Thank you, Rushi. Did you watch The Metrix? Did the Architect sound convincing for you? Do you believe that the equation of power(s) has to balance itself out? For me, God - is a programmer(s) who designed our simulator. They make rules, they decide if your life's character will be reincarnated. They can restart the simulator at an earlier date to try something different. Commented Mar 3 at 5:07
  • The question "What is the nature of reality?" is NOT "Alistair's question". I copied it word for word from THIS WEB SITE. This web site directly suggests that the question "SHOULD BE ASKED" and yet... nobody had ever asked it. I asked it... and in less than 24 hours it got closed. I find it odd that the same web site that says : "The question should be asked"... is so intolerant to the existence of the question., So.... I am seeking a reqording of the question that would be the toleratble revision to the original "What is the nature of reality" that our site says "SHOULD BE ASKED" Commented Mar 3 at 15:40

The ultimate philosophical perspective is an attitude. It is to learn how to identify, and question, and evaluate whether we want to keep, the assumptions that we are basing our understandings of ourselves and the world upon.

The second issue in philosophy is how to justify assumptions and conclusions. This is how to do epistemology.

The open-minded, self-questioning attitude, plus the development of an epistemological approach (with recognition of its limitations, unjustified assumptions, etc.), are prerequisites to arriving at valid answers to any further philosophic questions.


"What is the most ultimately natural philosophical question? If not 'What is the nature of reality?'"

No, that's not the ultimate philosophical question. Here it is:

How do we get ourselves out of the intellectual rut we find ourselves in?

Some sources are provided in this answer.


The fundamental question of philosophy is this:

What is the nature of man's relationship to the world?

All philosophical investigations are inherently a form of reified self-reflection: an attempt to discover and verbalize or actualize the relationship between subject and object (sentience and that which seemingly lies outside it).

This is why, for instance, there's such friction between science and religion. Religion doesn't care one way or the other about the fruits of scientific investigation, and science has no real opinion about faith or God. Instead — under conventional interpretations — religion and science pose dramatically different philosophical understandings of human relationship to the cosmos.

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