I finished reading 1984 by George Orwell, A Beginner’s Guide of Reality by Jim Baggott, and halfway through Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.
I find the underlying common theme of the three books is about the existence of absolute reality or the lack thereof.
The Orwellian universe in a state called Oceania is ruled by a Party which defines and fabricates the reality throughout the news. They are able to banish the pieces of evidence of past events and recreate a totally new course of history as they wish. Party does this to ensure the continuous war against other states to absorb the excess in production, to hinder the middle-class revolution. This dystopian society happens after the Party learned that people’s lives are more comfortable and people can accumulate wealth and luxury items, now that the economical functions run undisturbed by external forces like wars. Peace, according to them, can only be maintained by keeping the class system, not by abolishing it. Henceforth, they establish the Big Brother as a face that governs their reality. We know that from the famous slogans of Oceania:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTHOrwell, G. 1950. 1984.
A Beginner’s Guide of Reality talks about — unsurprisingly — the clashing schools of thoughts whether absolute reality exists or it is just the result of our mind. In the flow of the book, we also learn about the quantum entanglement to tear down the concept of physical reality. Baggott cleverly presented his concept in the journey of Alice in the Wonderland style, whereby Alice fell down the rabbit hole and followed to the multitude of thoughts.
This book’s epilog leaves the readers to their own device. The last paragraph here:
Where are you right now? What is real? How do you know? The answers are here, but to understand them you must first choose what to believe.Baggott, J. 2009. A Beginner’s Guide to Reality.
hits home. There is no definite answer to the questions since it depends on our internal belief system.
Lastly, I’d like to talk about one chapter in Sapiens. Despite the book does not primarily focus on reality or more philosophical notions, chapter 10 The Scent of Money states explicitly that
…money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.Harari, Y.N. 2011. Sapiens.
The author took that chapter to explain that money is completely reliant on mutual trust. The actual value of the paper is just a tiny fraction of the monetary symbol printed on it. And yet, we still transact using it and people acknowledge the banknotes as a valid method of payment. People globally believe in the validity of money despite the medium varies. It is a means to enable universal trust between strangers to conduct transactions. It brings the consequence that the trust itself is invested in money itself, and not the human values that build it. Money unites the world and people of different backgrounds, but in doing so, it becomes impersonal and disregards the distinction that makes humans.
Money is an example of a constructed reality. Baggott also explained about this in his chapter 2. Money, among other things such as marriage and politics (unsurprisingly two of the three pillars that unify mankind according to Harari), exists only in collective minds. If reality is derived from the consensus and whatnot, then does absolute reality that stays untouched by human’s interpretation exist?
We come back square one to the title of this post. I don’t know what is real or not anymore, honestly. I just use whatever explanation that helps me to function as a human being in daily basis. Or, the best is not to think about it at all.
Not everyone is Neo who is willing to wake up from the Matrix. Sometimes, we’re just indeed tiny specks of an indifferent universe and the reality doesn’t revolve around you.
Note: in the last paragraph above, there is a hint of what topic I’d like to write about next. But in order to do that, I need to read another book.