Get Real: What is ‘Reality,’ Really?

This is a question often discussed among people, especially during their formative years and during some parts of their formal education—or over a libation at one’s favorite watering hole.

Great thinkers have propounded their ideas on this subject, some of whom I quote immediately below, after which I will proffer my formulaic creation and solicit your ideas and arguments.

“One of the most basic realities is the definition of reality. All of the rest of philosophy depends upon it. Therefore, philosophy hasn’t gotten to the starting point until reality is defined properly. Of course, it never is.”— Gary Novak

“Reality: • noun (pl. realities) 1 the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. 2 a thing that is actually experienced or seen. 3 the quality of being lifelike. 4 the state or quality of having existence or substance.”—Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press, 2005.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”—Albert Einstein

“Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”—Arthur Eddington

I report; you decide

“Reality is not protected or defended by laws, proclamations, ukases, cannons and armadas. Reality is that which is sprouting all the time out of death and disintegration.”—Henry Miller

“I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.”—Groucho Marx

Now I expose the formula I have created for myself:

Measurers of things such as (some) physicists, engineers and accountants will argue there is an objective universe which constitutes reality, but one can’t get outside the universe to view it “objectively”. Therefore, we must rely on philosophers and other thinkers, including ourselves, to think it through, to use our intuition, to trust a revelation, or all of these.

I stand by my formula, above.

What say you?

Responses will appear under “Comments,” below.


Immediately after I published this article I came across a discussion of “reality” which buttresses, I feel, what I have written above. I am re-reading Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals, by Peter Matthiessen. I recommend you read the journal entry of October 9, 1973 in Chapter 7, which includes this passage:

The mystical perception (which is only “mystical” if reality is limited to what can be measured by the intellect and sense) is remarkably consistent in all ages and places, East and West, a point that has not been ignored by modern science. The physicist seeks to understand reality, while the mystic is trained to experience it directly.

All are nothing but flowers
In a flowering universe