Reality exists in the mind: How does that work?

Much debate in everyday life centers around what is ‘real’ and what not. This context makes the quote, “reality only exists in the mind” very relevant.

The quote stems from the philosophical/ spiritual and quantum-level realms, and I agree to it, because in my view, claiming ‘THE truth’ stands model to the current level of polarization in the world.

‘The Facts’ or ‘Reality’ are robust-sounding terms used by truth claimers, who tend to see the world from the materialistic view point.

stones_png13608To the materialist, reality is limited to ‘matter’, the visible/palpable/measurable stuff . How this stuff is interpreted by people is simply not considered part of the materialist’s concept of reality.

a stone remains a stone, regardless your perception, Q.E.D.

..accurately summarizes the materialist mindset.

Scientifically/technically, the materialistic line of reasoning is 100% proof,  but philosophically not quite.

Nietzsche for example, denies objective reality by pointing out man’s dependence on interpretation. However, I prefer to keep things practical to avoid an overly theoretical discussion. I don’t deny objective existence of the stone: I simply find the objectivity of the stone not that interesting. After all, people rarely disagree on whether a stone is a stone, they disagree on the interpretative aspects. Is the stone beautiful/ugly, mine/yours .. stuff like that often turns out much more relevant then the stone itself

Therefore I consider interpretation being part of reality, because people follow up on their interpretations with action. We all know that differences in interpretation have quite measurable effects in the physical world: Discussions/quarrels & even war zones. Additionally, every object can be interpreted differently as many times as it is observed, which shows that the interpreted part of reality adds up to the largest chunk of it.

Words like ‘Reality’ or ‘The Facts’  sounds firm & robust, but taking a closer look shows that they are rather nebulous concepts. .. I’ll elaborate below

All of Reality is a lot to take in

Reality is is a lot to take inThe amount of information that all aspects of reality add up to is truly staggering. Taking all this information into account with every move we make is impractical, as even the smallest decision would take way more time then we have at our disposal.

Certain aspects of reality should be considered ‘more relevant’ then others. For example, when you you want to meet someone on the other side of the street, you better be aware of the cars while crossing the street, otherwise the cars might make you aware of their relevance to your reality.

So we could attempt to determine the ‘most relevant’ subset of everything and assign that as being ‘reality’. When choosing this path we immediately create several problems. First of all we don’t know what ‘everything’ is. Second: What is not relevant now might change which adds fluency to reality. Only reality is often referenced as some immutable rock: It isn’t. Third: People can select different aspects as ‘the most relevant’, which happens often. Differences in relevance is a common reason people get in to an argument about.

Another way to go is to outsource reality to science.

That which can be observed, and preferably measured somehow, exists, and the rest not.

Now, in many cases I’m all for science, but it doesn’t solve the problems on the philosophical level. Bottom line, scientific research is about averages and therefore produces probabilities at best. Let alone the influence of funding, goal setting, variable selection etc, of which non-scientists have generally little knowledge of, and for sure no control over. additionally, 200 years ago, science would have laughed at bacteria/molecules because that time they were no instruments available to verify those. What makes you think that in the (near) future the same won’t happen again?

Again, in many cases I’d go with science, but not like

The science is there -> It is true

Because I don’t reference science as the next bible. I keep evaluating/matching each case with my own experiences/ intuition.

The Facts

The same accounts for the the facts, because what is a fact?

->Something that is verifiable real.

Can you always verify? I mean:

Can you(yourself ) verify everything you consider a fact?

My guess: Probably not 😉

Yes, you see hear & feel stuff around you, but you also miss a lot. Science only looks at ‘interesting'(their choice) and measurable subsets of reality. Additionally, it is done by people you don’t know, for reasons you cannot be sure of, and in a way you probably don’t understand, let alone can verify.

If you look closely enough, you can see that you’re constantly go with hear-say, or make assumptions/best guesses about reality. Only the fact that you’re still alive proves that your ideas about reality match with the real world least so far ..or maybe you were just lucky  😉

I don’t know about you, but I’m a pretty clever guy myself, and when I go all the way, I arrive to the point of Nietzsche

There are no facts, only interpretations

Our Human need for simplification

To stay up to speed making decisions, evolution has provided us with strategies to simplify reality.

Taking less variables into account makes it easier to make up your mind, we can all relate to that. For this reason, everyone, including you, uses simplification strategies throughout the day. Efficiency, a thing we all need to some extend, requires it.


We can divide the strategies into roughly two groups: Filtering & Generalizing

Filtering consists of ignoring (large) chunks of data, because they are not relevant to the task at hand.

It works very well, but the downside is that you’re making choices, only they’re often not that conscious. It is quite easy to forget you’re filtering at all, as unconsciously filtered information doesn’t enter your awareness anymore. That means the way you look at the world influences what you see. This is also how beliefs are able to influence the perception so strongly. We can focus on certain aspects, and not focus on others, it’s a choice. If you don’t want to see something, don’t look at it. Now, doing this consciously can be quite difficult, but unconsciously it can just happen to you 😀 isn’t it a miraculous world?

[in progress] read more on Filtering

Generalizing consists of making a group, and attributing characterizations based on individual cases to the whole group.

It can be a group of people/ things/  ideas .. really anything. The upside is that it creates overview, but it can also do a lot of unjust. Generalizing has many forms, to name a few

  1. Labeling is a a technique used in PR and public debate, it has a rather negative connotation.
  2. Stereotyping is seen as a more benign form of generalization, but it can get pretty nasty to those who don’t fit into  the standard stereotypes.
  3. Discrimination, a nasty form of stereotyping.
  4. Conceptualization comes from the scientific and technical context. Its goal is to capture the essential elements within a complex whole in order to develop a higher level of understanding.

[in progress] read more on Generalization


We as humans have a collective need to simplify reality, in order to be able to get through the day. However, simplification harbors potential for problems.

Main problem with ignoring-type simplifications is that we tend to forget about it, which leaves us wondering why people complain or why things went the way they went.

Main problem with generalizing-type simplifications (like labeling and stereotyping) is the REDUCTION of complex matters or people to simplistic labels or stereo types, creating a false illusion of clarity. The perspective narrows, nuance is lost, and no longer is acknowledged that people are layered, e.g. a man/woman can still be much more then just the male/female stereo type, even when they fit the stereotype. Richness in expression is willingly sacrificed in exchange for overview and an illusion of understanding.

Both filtering and generalizing are very powerful techniques. They shape the perspective from which a situation is perceived, and as such are able to influence others. Be aware that simplifications can be used to influence others, which happens a lot. Simplification techniques are so powerful I believe, because they plug into a vital and basic human survival need: To simplify the complexity that reality confronts us with.

People that consciously simplify reality, e.g. lobbyists/politicians/advertisers do this to sell something, or control/manipulate the (public) discussion by creating the illusion that their view on reality is the only one with merit. Framing is the technical term for this practice and it holds a mix of filtering & generalizing simplifications. Framing draws a box where the presented narrative appears very plausible. To pinpoint it, a thorough understanding of the technique in all its nifty variations is required. Seeing through it requires the capacity to detach from the presented frame. The moment to start reconsidering your perspective is easier: When the presented story hits the emotional spot or appears super-plausible 😉

So be aware of our collective need to simplify, and build awareness on how YOU simplify reality. Such self-gained knowledge allows you to catch yourself when you’re simplifying /over-simplifying an issue. This knowledge of self will help you to handle simplifications presented to you by others.

Photo Credit: diana_robinson Flickr via Compfight cc


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