by Robert Wheeler

Life would be chaotic and quite difficult if we did not have faith that certain things would happen at certain times, that the sun would rise tomorrow morning and that my car would start when I needed to go to work. This involves our view of reality, what is consistent, can be expected, and is true. It involves more the just starting my car. It involves why I go to work, why I’m here, and how can I succeed in life.

Reality is formally defined as the quality of being real, fixed, permanent, or immovable. It is what we can count on as being true and what explains our existence. Is there a reality that is the source and sustenance for our existence?  Did God or some other divine type of power start and maybe still influence life? Is our universe just one of many universes or alternate realities? Is what science knows about our universe all there is to reality? These perennial questions have dominated history and driven the development of civilization and culture forming the bases for religions and ideologies that continue today. Because of the success of those religions and ideologies in providing comforts, entertainment, and technologies, it is no longer popular to think about these deep questions, about the reality underneath our world.  Just use things if they work. But civilization is now in turmoil. Crime, violence, terrorism, mental illness, and global destruction are increasing, while sense of satisfaction and well-being are decreasing. We need to think once again about the source of our existence, the nature of reality, what important is going on, and what is reality. If reality is the result of a divine power, we should do a better job of cooperating with it. If there is no divine power, we need to do a better job of figuring out and enforcing ethical social norms and standards of behavior.

Because of our uniquely human thinking ability, we naturally formulate ideas about the unknown. Since science cannot answer these ultimate questions, we resort to speculation. There must be a “first cause,” a reality out there somewhere. There must be a moral authority out there whose judgements are more just than those of vacillating humans. There must be out there somewhere an object worthy of our devotion and worship.

`Because our knowledge and thinking are limited, we usually adopt the assumptions already developed and accepted in our social environment. These assumptions evolved because they ameliorated concerns about reality, met needs, and improved society. But these assumptions formed dogmatic beliefs that had to be accepted on faith in a transcendent source, something metaphysical or supernatural. In Western culture God has become a catch-all term for this source, however sometimes more descriptive terms are used such as Great Unknown, Master Spirit, Great Architect, Great I Am, or Creative Force. To be more meaningful, symbols and other representations are adopted. Anthropomorphic is a term applied to representing God with human characteristics that we can more easily understand. God incarnate in Jesus is more meaningful than God as the Great I Am. Jesus, Mohammad, or Buddha are more effective objects of worship than abstract Spirits. So, it is not surprising that symbols and icons take on divine powers that conflict with scientific findings and modern experiences. The trade-offs become major issues. Which is better: belief in a reality that can be conceptualized with certainty and fills needs but conflicts with objective knowledge and modern experiences, or belief in a reality that is consistent with objective knowledge and modern experiences but are currently beyond understanding and subject to uncertainty and continual revision?

The first part of the book Climbing Higher (Wheeler, 2019) presents explanation of reality as an innate human need. Then four categories of reality views are developed. The most common view, “personal reality” is what we personally perceive that forms our opinion and belief. Thsi varies among societies and individuals. It is usually a personal interpretation of a view learned in childhood. Since personal reality is known to be variable and subject to controversy, the question of a universal or ultimate reality is raised. The possibility of a “universal reality” that may have a divine type of power is the basis of most religions and has been important in the advance of civilization. Recent scientific findings and modern personal experiences have created big questions about a universal reality that has shaken the foundations of traditional religions.

A third view of reality grew out of the need to account for the occurrence of bad things such as World War I and II and how they can be prevented. This is “existential reality” which faces the good and bad experiences in everyday life for which we must take responsibility and actively manage.

A fourth view is “pragmatic reality” which is how we deal with immediate daily situations here and now despite personal views, beliefs, and difficulties. This is recognition that effectively managing daily activities may be more important than theorizing about reality.

All views may be valid. We do not really know, however subscribing to all provides the best explanation for existence. There may be a mysterious realm with a transcendent intelligence that empowers our existence, but despite the comfort of faith, it is helpful to shoulder responsibility for the outcome of personal activities without depending on help from a transcendent power. We best live in the world as it presents itself to us here and now and strive for sustenance while also pursuing advancement and explanation of existence. Living in the here and now while also pursuing ultimate concerns would facilitate a constructive meaning and sense of purpose to our activities.

How to know reality has been a perennial issue that developed the philosophy of epistemology, study of the nature, origin, and scope of knowledge and how we know what we know. There is a question of whether it is possible to know reality or even if there is such a thing. The respected contemporary philosopher David Chalmers insists in Reality+ (2022) that we may exist in a virtual reality that may be a simulation created by an unknown force that could be called God. In any case, though, for day-to-day functioning we all need to have a feeling that there is a consistency in our environment that enables continuing management of needs and activities. And, if more people were concerned about this issue understanding, cooperation, satisfaction would overpower competition, greed, and aggression.


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