Whether looking at a human maturing or the progress of civilization, the idea about what Reality is, keeps on changing. And mostly it changes toward the more complex, more elusive, more difficult to understand. The phenomenon is well known and has been expressed by children and philosophers alike, eg. "There are more questions than answers". George Musser expresses it thus:

The deeper that physicists dive, the more the concept of reality keeps swimming away from them. - https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/is-reality-digital-or-analog-read-the-essays-and-cast-your-vote/

One may be tempted to suppose that this very receding nature of ultimate answers is an ultimate feature of Reality, a phenomenon worthy of investigation even.

Question: Does the phenomenon itself tell us something about Reality? Is there any literature that explores this?

  • You can see Challenges to Metaphysical Realism. Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 15:05
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Thanks. I didn't actually make that connection in terms of the bigger debate. I was thinking of the "phenomenon" as something that a realist and non-realist would regard in the same terms. However their explanations would surely diverge greatly?
    – christo183
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 16:01
  • 2
    Where you are going with this is called pessimistic meta-induction:"the history of science furnishes vast evidence of empirically successful theories that were later rejected; from subsequent perspectives, their unobservable terms were judged not to refer and thus, they cannot not be regarded as true or even approximately true." This is one of the chief arguments against scientific (or any) realism, and yes, there is vast literature on it.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 19:08
  • 1
    Until very recently, bacteria didn't exist... true story. They just popped into existance when Leeuwenhoek peered into his microscope. They'll.disappear again I suppose.
    – Richard
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 1:22
  • 1
    It might tell us something that while the development you mention has been going on in some quarters the perennial view of Reality has not altered by a jot in three millenna, and it never was complicated. I feel the history you refer to tells us a lot about Reality or at least indicates where the truth lies.
    – user20253
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 11:12

4 Answers 4


Yes, currently it has been stated that reality can’t be described using the scientific method, at least good food for thought.

Read the following paper: “Experimental rejection of observer-independence in the quantum world” https://arxiv.org/pdf/1902.05080.pdf


You would have to know what Reality is, independently of our historical concepts of it, to know whether those concepts acquaint us in any way with its nature. But we only have the concepts, verifying which against Reality appears impossible : it would need access to an unconceptualised Reality to ascertain any difference or agreement between our concepts and Reality.

On the other hand, assuming that any concept of Reality itself is real, i.e. a genuine and existent mental phenomenon, we might reasonably claim to know that Reality is such as to admit conceptualisation - accurate or imperfect - of itself.

  • Now I'm thinking there are two possibilities: the "phenomenon" is a feature of Reality or, it tells us something about how we are going about conceptualizing Reality. - OR, does anybody get the idea that Answers are like carrots to an ass.
    – christo183
    Commented May 3, 2019 at 9:25

This is a very old and influential concept in the world of philosophy. In the west, Plato conceived of ultimate Reality as something that our ordinary reality only imitated imperfectly. In the east, Lao Tzu said the Dao that could be understood was not the true Dao. Ecclesiastes, in the Bible, describes the fullest capacity of human wisdom as "worthless vanity." More recently, Kant described the features of the universe that could never be grasped as its "noumenal" traits.

In contrast, the world of modern science has a history of confidence that the entirety of the important mysteries of existence would eventually come under its sphere of understanding. That confidence has begun to evaporate in the face of the new mysteries of quantum mechanics.

If this topic is of interest to you, I have an essay on it, here.

  • Not too fond of the gaps argument myself but: 1. the baffling, and well-known arrogance of humanity; who would say the gaps are small, even when those gaps have grown so much larger since first a scientist said there is nothing left to discover. 2. But suppose we could fill the gaps, and suppose God would so choose, then the tiniest crack in our knowledge would be a "divine domicile".
    – christo183
    Commented May 4, 2019 at 7:03

And mostly it changes toward the more complex, more elusive, more difficult to understand.

From this statement I believe your question is about the Ultimate Reality. If it is so, it will always be like this (as mentioned above). The main fault regarding your search is that you are trying to catch it with the organs that becomes formless or unreal (as per your above statement) after a certain period. If so how could you understand it? You should seek it within yourself.

Question: Does the phenomenon itself tell us something about Reality?

Of course, it (the present experience you mentioned i.e., the complexity, elusiveness, difficulty to understand etc.,) shows that our sense organs can never catch it. Since it cannot be controlled by mind or sense organs, understanding of the Ultimate Reality must be something more than understanding or experiencing. That is why it 'seems' to be complex, elusive and difficult to understand.

Is there any literature that explores this?

Advaita vedanta has already named that ultimate reality 'Brahman'. And this word is usually used synonymous to God. [He who realizes the Ultimate Reality won't see a second thing; even an external God] If we say 'Reality is Nothingness (or Nothingness is reality)', it certainly implies that it is no use seeking it. Advaita vedanta doesn't take you to that route. If Nothingness were the Ultimate Reality, Kathopanishad wouldn't have exhorted to awake to reach the goal.



  • Have not those who seek in themselves met with the same phenomenon? Perhaps the realization that answers are always receding, is a milestone in itself? Is there any particular mention in the Vedas of the "phenomenon"?
    – christo183
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 5:19
  • @christo183 - For the advaitan answers are not always receding but are regularly being reached. I would question the idea that 'Brahman' is properly used as a synonym for 'God' - otherwise the word 'Brahman' would be redundant - but either way this would be Ultimate and Real. This Ultimate is discussed at length in the Vedas and elsewhere. .
    – user20253
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 11:25
  • @PeterJ To clarify what I mean by "answers receding": When an answer is obtained, it creates many more new questions. That means that the ultimate/complete answer seems to recede, since our fraction of knowledge seems to diminish with each fractional answer... Just between us, I'm wondering if, should we be able to affect Reality, then this phenomenon may indicate that we are actually complicating Reality by looking at it in the wrong way. - 'Brahma' would be redundant?
    – christo183
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 12:51
  • 1
    @christo183 - I'd say the idea we're complicating Reality by looking at in the wrong way is spot on, We're only looking at one aspect of Plotinus' 'Simplex'.
    – user20253
    Commented Mar 6, 2019 at 13:06
  • 1
    I didn't like the usage 'many dimensional' because ( I feel ) the word 'many' indicates something countable. When he realizes it he realizes that this verse (holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/2/verse/20) is about the ultimate Reality (though the verse is about soul). He realizes that there is nothing to lose or gain. rkmdelhi.org/articles/brahmans-nature-remains-unaltered Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 8:06

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .