QR6.3.14 What is Real?

People have wondered “What is real?” for a long time, but most of what has been written on the topic boils down to three basic questions:

1. Is there a reality out there that exists whether we observe it or not? 

Yes. Realism: There is a reality that exists apart from our observation of it, so we see a common reality because there is one out there.

No. Solipsism: The physical world is created entirely by our minds, like a dream, so each person constructs their own version of reality.

2. Does observed physical matter exist by itself alone?

Yes. Physicalism: Matter is an objective physical substance that exists whether it is subjectively observed or not.

No. Idealism: Physical matter is a manifestation of something else that is not physical.

3. Does the observer exist as a form or aspect of physical matter?

Yes. Physical realism: All reality is just matter interacting with matter, so the observer must either be a physical result, a physical combination, a physical property, or just an illusion.

No. Dualism: When we observe reality, a non-physical mind substance in a mental realm is observing matter substances in the physical realm.

    Maybe. Neutral Monism: A reality that is neither matter nor mind might create both.

Different answers give different problems. Solipsism can’t explain how we all dream the same lawful reality so most people prefer realism, that there is a common reality out there. Physicalism has a vanishing matter problem, that when examined closely, the substance of matter turns into virtual particles and quantum waves that aren’t physical at all. An embarrassing fact of physics is that 96% of the universe is dark matter and energy with no known particle cause. Idealism has a manifestation problem, that if something exists beyond matter, what does it do that matter doesn’t already do? Dualism has the problem that entirely different reality realms have no basis upon which to interact.

Current science embraces physical realism, that only matter exists, so all reality is particles interacting by physical laws. If so, it should be impossible to detect an object without physically touching it, but non-physical detection is now a proven fact of physics (3.8.4). And physics can’t explain observation, as if physical events are an unbroken causal chain, calling a physical event an observation breaks the chain, so nerves busy with physical acts can’t also observe them. That a physical entity can’t observe and know that it observes, as we do, is now mathematical theorem (Reason, 2018). Finally, there is no physical mechanism that allows dead matter to observe:

It is well recognized in the West that physicalism … has no adequate account (and many would say no account at all) of how consciousness could arise from the activities of non-conscious physical matter.” (Velmans, 2021) p25

As Russell concluded after many years:

“… we cannot say that ‘matter is the cause of our sensations’(Russell, 1927) p290.

This leaves neutral monism, that a reality that isn’t  matter or mind causes both, but neither Russell nor James  (James, 1904) could successfully define what that reality was.

Figure 6.40 shows the main reality theories at the start of last century. Reality was assumed to be something, but exactly what was unclear.

Figure 6.40 Theories of Reality

A century later, things are more complex but no clearer. Physical realists now use panpsychism, that all matter is conscious, to conclude that consciousness is a purely physical phenomenon (Strawson, 2008). Dualism has become property dualism (Chalmers, 1996) p165, that some matter has a consciousness property. Idealism now includes cosmopsychism, that we are dissociated parts of a great Mind that lets us see a common reality (Kastrup, 2019). Dual-aspect monism sees mental and physical as inseparable aspects of an unknowable primal reality (Vimal, 2018), so mind and matter are complementary just as electricity and magnetism are in electro-magnetism (Velmans, 2021) p192. But calling aspects complementary doesn’t make it so if their union is impossible, and what is impossible should be false not true. To argue that if an electron can be a wave and a particle, we can be a mind and a brain, is using one miracle to justify another, which isn’t how science works. 

That consciousness is fundamental lets atoms be conscious but doesn’t explain how we are. Properties like charge add when matter aggregates but if consciousness did that, mountains would be more conscious than us. Dual-aspect monism has to conclude that “’I’ and ‘Self” and ‘me’ are all plural terms (like the crew of the USS Enterprise.(Benovsky, 2016) p348, which contradicts the first fact, that we experience one observer not many.

To sum up, dual realities can’t co-exist, dead matter can’t observe and the consciousness of atoms can’t aggregate. A new approach is needed. Quantum realism avoids these problems by denying physicalism entirely, as only realism and observation are necessary for science. It then addresses the problems of other reality theories as follows:

1. Solipsism. Our universe has the same physical laws everywhere because they derive from quantum laws that are the same everywhere, so lawfulness is true.

2. Realism. What is around us is real but physical events just represent it, so realism is true.

3. Physicalism. There are no particles, only waves that look like particles when observed, so the “substance” of matter is expected to vanish when examined closely.

4. Idealism. The non-physical reality that causes physical reality operated long before minds arose, so what created the stars and galaxies doesn’t have a manifestation problem.

5. Physical realism. Future generations may mock current physical realism as a naïve belief in magical causes, just as we now mock fairies (Kastrup, 2020). The idea that a universe of matter made itself from nothing then observed itself is magical thinking to a scientist.

6. Dualism. That the same reality causes matter and consciousness avoids the problems of two reality realms, because if mind and matter have the same source, there is no duality.

7. Panpsychism. The activating principle behind physical matter can’t be a property of it because a cause can’t derive from its result, just as a projector of images can’t exist as one of the images it generates.

8. Dual aspect monism. That atoms are conscious doesn’t explain our consciousness but that quantum entities unite when they entangle is a fact of physics. If entanglement increases the observer, our consciousness could evolve from what came before.

Quantum waves can’t be observed because observing a photon wave collapses it to a particle that isn’t a quantum wave. It seems that we can’t observe what causes observation because that would be circular, like a hand drawing itself. We take observing for granted but the ability to observe isn’t free if quantum waves must restart for it to happen. Observation, like time and space, only began when our universe did. Being unable to observe quantum waves is the price we pay for being able to observe at all, as it is impossible to observe what creates observing!

Some say that what can’t be seen can’t exist but that isn’t true for a virtual reality, as gamers know that unseen programs create what they see. A gamer exploring a dungeon clicks on a door to reveal a new scene that replaces the old one, which then vanishes as if it never was. If the door reveals a monster, was it lurking there beforehand? Obviously not, as that a dungeon of monsters constantly exists in our laptop when it isn’t in use is absurd. The monster is an experience not a thing, as only the program that creates it exists constantly on the laptop.

If the physical world is a virtual reality, the same logic applies. We see an objective world of tables and chairs not quantum waves creating physical events on demand, but to think that they constantly exist is like thinking your laptop contains a dungeon of monsters.

A primal reality that causes everything must create both observer and observed. That both observer and observed exist is dualism, which is patently false. That only the observed exists is physical realism, which is also evidently false. That only the observer exists is solipsism, which denies the realism that science requires. That neither the observer nor the observed exist by themselves is quantum realism, that a primal reality created a virtual universe to observe itself.