I have been reading a great deal about the modern notion that there is no ‘objective’ reality. By that, I mean a state of reality that exists independent of our own perceptions or beliefs. Discoveries in the field of quantum mechanics have lead many to believe that reality is not fixed until we actually observe it. These people believe that, before we observe it, reality is nothing more than ‘potential.’ And that this somehow means there are no universals in this universe; that ‘truth’ is determined by the perceptions of the individual. Now, I understand that this is not a subject that the average person will find interesting, let alone exciting, but it is crucial to the notion of Natural Law. And, luckily, there is a ‘devil-in-the-details’ that those who are now arguing against objective reality seem to have overlooked.
I’ll try to keep this as simple as I can (especially since I am just now starting to make a serious effort to work through this subject, myself). When I say that ‘objective’ reality exists, I am saying that the universe has a real existence that is set and does not depend upon you, me or any person to define that existence.
At the same time, there are people working in the field of quantum mechanics who have performed experiments that — to them — suggest this is not the case. You may have heard of the experiment where they pass a single photon of light through a plate with two holes on it. When someone actually watches the experiment, the photon behaves as a single particle, appearing to go through only one of the two holes. However, if no one observes the experiment, the photon behaves as a wave, appearing to pass through both holes at the same time. From this and other experiments, the people working in this area have started to argue that there is no set reality before we observe it. In other words, a thing does not exist until after we observe it. Before that time, it is only a potential of some sort, which means there is no such thing as ‘objective’ reality, only ‘subjective’ reality: a reality that is real only to the individual.
Here is the ‘devil’ I mentioned earlier. Lets just give these people everything they argue and say that the universe exists in some sort of quantum flux of pure potential, and that it has no fixed. definable form until after someone observes it. Does this mean there is no ‘objective’ reality? NO! In this case, all they have done is described reality as a ‘state of quantum flux of potential,’ but that is a fixed state. True, that state of potential may change after someone observes it, and true, we may not be able to ever describe this state of potential accurately because we change it by observing it, but that does not change the fact that the state of potential exists. And if it exists, and it results in a set pattern of observations when it is observed, then we can infer that this state of potential operates by some sort of rules. Now, if we can say that there is a per-observation state of quantum potential that changes and becomes fixed when it is observed by a human, then that is an objective reality.
But I do not want to stop there. The people who believe reality is subjective will most likely counter by saying that no two people will have the exact same perception of an observation, and that this means we cannot know that an objective reality exists. They will say that we will each create reality at the moment we observe a thing and that what you see will be true for you, and what I see will be slightly different from your observation, yet it will be just as true for me as your observation is for you. In other words, we will have two different but equal ‘truths’ for the same thing. Therefore, they will claim that, because we each see something slightly different but equally real, this means reality cannot be objective: it cannot have a true form independent of our observation. Rather, reality must be subjective: it is dependent upon our observations. But again, the people who argue for this have over-looked that little devil in the details.
So you look at something and you see green. I look and I see red. A third person looks and sees blue. By observing, we have created three different realities out of the quantum potential. For the people arguing there is no objective reality, this is proof that ‘reality’ is only real for one, specific individual. After all, we just supposed three people observed the same event and saw three different things, so how could that event have an existence independent of our perception? The answer is simple: because we did not perceive it clearly, or the exact same way. Maybe I am color blind, and maybe the third person was looking from a different angle that caused a refraction that altered the color they perceived. Maybe you were the only one who saw it clearly, as it really is. Well, guess what? This means there is a reality that does not depend on our observation, and you saw it as it really is! Just because we did not all agree in our perception, that does not mean the thing does not have an objective reality. We might nor be capable of perceiving a thing as it really is but that is a very different thing from saying that we make our own reality.
It’s like when a major event occurs, and there are a bunch of different witnesses. They may have all seen what happened, but when the police interview them, they will all describe different perceptions of the event. Some witnesses will even contradict each other. However, this does not mean the event did not have an objective reality, because it does. We just have to gather the pieces, figure out which ones fit and which ones do not and then put the pieces together so we can determine what actually happened. Once we do that, we can better explain the objective reality of the event even though we may never know every detail of that event. This applies to everything. Therefore, to say we cannot completely describe something as it really is admits our limitations, which requires wisdom and humility. But to say that we create our own, individual reality through our personal observations… Well, there is a hubris in that line of reasoning that can easily take us out of the realm of science and philosophy and into the realm of playing god. One must be very, very careful not to cross that line. It is far better to say ‘We cannot be sure‘ than to say ‘It does not exist.’
I’ll end by making an observation, and that is to point out that even the people arguing that we create our own realities know that this is not quite true. I know this because I just spent a night reading their papers: papers that all argue the claim that reality is created by the observations of the person perceiving it. If that were true, why did they bother wasting their time writing their arguments down? By their own argument, they have to know that no one reading their papers would perceive it the same way they do. Therefore, no one reading their papers could possibly understand what they were saying. In order to understand, a reader would have to be able to perceive a reality that exists independent of the reader or author’s perceptions. There would have to be a fixed law that could be known and which does not depend on any person or group of people — a law like that governing language (not to mention the laws governing the logic and reasoning). However, since the reader would be making a new, different reality when they read the papers, the reality the author was trying to describe will have changed, thereby making the whole effort a waste. And yet, they still wrote lengthy arguments — every one of them. Why? If we create reality by perceiving, why would anyone who believes that bother to write or even verbally explain that which they are saying cannot be explained or understood by anyone but them? Now, I fully expect that these people would try to tell me I am not getting the point, but the moment they opened their mouths to do so, they would be making mine. 😉
Remember, not being able to know the true nature of a thing does not justify saying that thing does not exist. It just means we do not know, and might never know, and it is far wiser to accept this possibility — along with everything it implies — than to reject it and risk accepting a falsehood of our own creation.