QR6.3.14 What is Real?

People have long wondered “What is real?” but only three questions define most theories:

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 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. Is the observer a form or aspect of physical matter?

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

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

   Maybe. Neutral monism: A reality that is neither matter nor mind causes both, so both mind and matter are generated by some unknown other reality.

Each theory struggles with different facts. Solipsism struggles to explain why we all dream the same lawful reality so most of us accept realism, that there is a common reality out there. Physicalism has a vanishing matter problem, that when examined closely, the substance of matter becomes virtual particles or quantum waves that aren’t physical at all. An embarrassing fact of physics is that 96% of the universe is dark matter and energy that has no known particle cause. Idealism has a manifestation problem, that if a reality beyond matter exists, what does it do that matter doesn’t do already? Dualism has the problem that entirely different reality realms have no basis upon which to interact. Neutral monism struggles to define its “other” reality, as neither Russell nor James (James, 1904) succeeded in specifying what is distinct from mind or matter.

As a result, 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). Nor can it explain observation, as no physical mechanism 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

We observe and know that we observe but that no physical entity could ever do this is now a mathematical theorem (Reason, 2018). As Russell concluded after many years:

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

Figure 6.40 shows the main reality theories of early last century. External reality was thought to be something, but exactly what was unclear.

Figure 6.40 Theories of Reality

A century later, theory is more complex but no clearer. Some physical realists use panpsychism, that all matter is conscious, to argue that consciousness is a purely physical phenomenon (Strawson, 2008). Dualism has become property dualism, that some matter has a consciousness property (Chalmers, 1996) p165. Idealism now includes cosmopsychism, that we are dissociated from a great Mind that creates 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 as electricity and magnetism are in physics (Velmans, 2021) p192. But calling aspects complementary is illogical if their union is impossible, as the impossible should be false not true. Saying that if an electron is a wave and a particle, we can be a mind and a brain, is using one miracle to justify another, which isn’t science.

That consciousness is primal lets atoms be conscious but doesn’t explain us. Properties like charge add when matter aggregates but if consciousness did that, mountains would be more conscious than us. Dual-aspect monism concludes that “’I’ and ‘Self” and ‘me’ are all plural terms (like the crew of the USS Enterprise.(Benovsky, 2016) p348, contradicting the first fact that at each moment 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 combine. Quantum realism avoids these problems by denying physicalism entirely, as science only needs realism and observation. It addresses the 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 universal 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 quantum 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 arise from its result, just as an image projector can’t arise from 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 wave collapses it to a particle. We take observing for granted but observation isn’t free if quantum waves must restart for it to happen. We can’t observe what causes observation because it is circular, like a hand drawing itself. Being unable to observe quantum waves is the price we pay for being able to observe at all!

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 a created experience not a permanent thing, as only what 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 they constantly exist is like thinking your laptop contains a dungeon of monsters.

   In an observer-observed reality, which aspect is real? Dualism, that the observer and observed both exist, is patently false. Physical realism, that only the observed exists, is also evidently false. No-one believes solipsism, that only the observer exists, either. In quantum realism, neither the observer nor observed exist by themselves, as a primal reality generates both. It follows that quantum reality is both the world around us and the observer of it.