Many people use the word 'reality' as if they know what they mean, but do they? What is the meaning of 'reality'? Also, what is the principle meaning of the word 'reality'?

EDIT - I was looking for an answer that explains Webster's definition of imagination, as well as the phrase "your out of touch with reality," because I'm interested in the definition of 'delusional'. If you're delusional then you're out of touch with reality. Furthermore, I'm interested in any other uses of the word 'reality' that I haven't thought of.

Imagination (noun)- the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.


5 Answers 5


What has any effect is real.
Falsehoods, delusions, illusions, abstract concepts, the hypothetical have an effect above nothing. Therefore, they are real. Real by at least their effect.

Falsehoods and delusions shaped civilizations.
Sciences constantly dwell in the hypothetical to disprove statements.
Sciences apply incomplete models and approximations (e.g. mass points, Newtons mechanics) instead of correct representations of "reality" all over the place.
Still, one can not deny their effect and call these things unreal.

When people call these things unreal they usually identify real things by their expected essence, not their effect. This is a mistake. They will call it unreal but suffer its effect and act upon it anyway.

When Kant stated "I think, therefore I am.", he only experienced the effect of his thoughts onto himself. He did not identify the essence of his thoughts.

Here, also be aware of the differences between effect, utility and truth:

Effect is simply what causes a state difference between the world where the effect applied and the world where it didn't (and other things being the same aka. experimental conditions).

Utility requires effect but is highly subjective. An effect, that is good for you, may be bad for someone else.

Truth does not imply utility. A truth may be useful.
Falsehood does not imply utility. A falsehood may be useful.
Truth is overrated and does not define (complete) reality.

  • 1
    I don't want to know what the word 'real' means, I want to know what the word 'reality' means.
    – lee pappas
    Commented May 10 at 12:56
  • 1
    A set of all things real. On what is real see my previous comment.
    – retrospace
    Commented May 10 at 13:00
  • @retrospace - Great answer. Thank you! Commented May 10 at 13:37

"The world or the state of things as they actually exist"

I am surprised at how grotesquely wrong this official definition is. If "reality" dramatically changes with each generation, how can you claim objectivity about it?

Is theater a reality? Is a movie a reality? Is Trump rally a reality?

Reality is a set of norms, views and experiences that we build after our birth. We can share a significant portion of this reality with other people, but there will never be anything concrete or objective about it. One can claim that with the invention of cinematography, then TV, then the Internet, the shared portion of our reality became more uniform. But still, in practical terms, there are as many realities as people on Earth.


“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”

― Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi


I'll give it a try the other way: "delusional".

The example you mentioned:

If you're delusional then you're out of touch with reality.

This is the colloquial use of the term. It's synonymous with idiot. And as such it has no real meaning.

Let's compare. Delusions are an actual medical condition. Delusional patients can't grasp that their thinking process never will take any form in reality. Idiocy comes from IQ research. People below a certain IQ aren't able to understand coherences the way people with an average IQ do.

The example you used, will only be used in contexts where the person is rational but due to mistakes or lack of professional knowledge they overestimate their own capabilities. They are out of touch with themselves not with reality. Just like with the colloquial use of Idiocy.

The term reality has different roots in different languages. In English it comes from 'possession' in particular the possession of things of substance (like stone, like property build out of stone, like things that are self-evident they actually are there). So while in the beginnings it was just an illustrative term for that which you can't possibly miss, because it's so massive, it must be there, it evolved further. (my own conclusions as an non-native English speaker, when I look up the etymology)

  • thank you for your opinion that x is out of touch with reality if and only if x is an idiot. I have to wonder whether or not you know the etymology of the word 'idiot'. It originates with the Hebrew word for Jew.: ee-oo-dee. It then found it's way into ancient Greek, as the word ee-dee-awe-tee, and meant someone who does not know they are made of matter. I fail to see how a child is out of touch with reality, based on your equating idiot with delusional. Also, idiot carries with it a negative connotation, based on the etymological history, and its use in colloquial speech
    – lee pappas
    Commented May 12 at 14:51
  • As far as my memory is correct, the term idiot came to German from the Greek and it originally meant someone who lacks the skills or someone who is not professional. Later (that would be before ww2) it would come up as a scientific term on the IQ scale. That would have changed the meaning a lot, since from there on it would not just mean someone lacking skills but instead someone who will never be able to aquire skills. And from there it took on its own life and IQ scentists are probably still ashamed the term was ever used on their scale.
    – Slawek
    Commented May 12 at 15:50
  • in my Liddell-scott Greek+English lexicon we find idiots= 3) a common man, plebian III one who has no professional knowledge. But that isn't it's original meaning in Greek. The Jews believed the were an immaterial soul entity. Greeks who observed them thought they were stupid, altered the Hebrew word for Jew(ee-oo-dee), imported it into Classical Ancient Greek as (ee-dee-oo-tee) meaning originally STUPID, and later the ou sound became an o sound, morphing to (ee-dee-awe-tee) and acquired its semi classical meaning plebian or unskilled person.
    – lee pappas
    Commented May 12 at 18:58
  • The Greek original tranlated to one's own. I would interpret that as someone who keeps to himself. Etymonline has a diagram how it evolved from one language to another.
    – Slawek
    Commented May 12 at 20:25

To start off with a broad statement, reality can be defined objectively or subjectively. This is personally perhaps one of the worst possible routes of defining such a term, yet it occurs all the time. We hear individuals say "well that's your reality" or "take a peek into my reality" or even a personal "favorite", "you are just outside of my reality" perhaps even outside of "their world"...

With all of the above statements, we see a requirement of subjectivity, opinion in comparison to objectivity, fact. The fact of the matter is, regardless of stance, we all are typing these words on philosophy stack exchange within the cosmos. Sure, we could argue different universes, yet such arguments are fiction based and rarely do anything for the foundation of logic other than disrupt it and furthermore make definitions themselves fuzzy... that is until we agree to put our intelligence aside and accept any and all definitions for any and all terms.

Despite all of this, you can find definitions of reality in textbooks and online that attempt at the least to define objectively. The problem with this still erupts as the words themselves are still not defined consistently amongst all of the sources available. Thus, my go to is defined as follows:

Reality: The world or state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

This seems to me to be the most concise definition that allows for a debunking of "personal realities". This can be done via understanding idealistic and even ideals themselves. Comparing and contrasting, in turn choosing a "favorite", hint, idealistic things rarely line up principally with ideals, at least via the roots of the words. We then compare and contrast notional things or notions themselves, another hint, notions are irrelevant. They undermine ideals and even principles, in turn paving the way for idealistic "realities".

If this can be done properly, we may just see the path to gathering different philosophies and ideals in the effort of objectively knowing reality to a cosmic scale... perhaps.

Regardless, reality is something that requires an objective definition to even be relevant, as its relevance is used as a quantification to define the "active" state of existence. Within the cosmos, we see the universe or universes, then the galaxy or galaxies, even star systems, stars, planets, suns and moons. That is the reality of our existence, to argue this as nothing but "personal perspective" seems to be nothing but incompetent. With such an acknowledgment, I'd argue we at the least have a foundation to understand reality as objective and perhaps even fixed, as in not allowing a changing definition, rather, the definition itself defining perpetual changes that occur via existence.

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