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The sum of our perceptions make up reality

  1. Dec 9, 2009 #1
    The term "reality" is merely the sum of our perceptions, nothing more.

    What are your guy's thought on this above statement. Also, what are some ideas from other philosophers that support or oppose this statement.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 9, 2009 #2
    I'm in total agreement. I think the idea that there exists some independent reality outside of biological perceptions has been falsified by qm, though not everyone would agree with that.
  4. Dec 9, 2009 #3
    Let us define terms if we are to speak of this. I will use terms that are not made-up, but that are pre-existing. What you are describing is direct realism. Another name for that is "naive realism." Which is the view that reality is just as we would expect it from our senses, like you describe.

    The statement that QM has "falsified an independent reality outside biological perceptions" is totally false. Objective observations have actually proven the existence of things outside our biological perception for a very long time. And I don't mean because something is far away. You can not directly perceive but a fraction of the EM band. You can not violate the two postulates of special relativity. You would need something external to you to aid you in detecting what our senses can not.

    I happen to take the stance of indirect realism. I tend to believe in an absolute truth that is constant and objective, regardless of our ability to perceive it. This is also inline with logical positivism, skepticism, and the scientific method; we do not rule out anything until we can, and until we can we accept it as a possibility.

    Epistemology has some of the best clues as to what knowledge is, and that shapes how we define reality. In epistemology there is belief and truth, and knowledge is the union of the two. What is truth and what is belief define the relative purity of any knowledge towards the absolute truth, which is unalterable. Even if reality were found to be inherently chaotic, this would still be a truth, and epistemology can describe that.

    Sorry for the wall post, but you've asked a very big question and there is much more to it than I have even touche on here.
  5. Dec 9, 2009 #4


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    I'm not sure it is naive realism. To me, it could just as well be solipsism: reality is not "what we perceive" but the subjective perceptions themselves, in other words, nothing exists, but subjective perceptions (which are themselves illusions of an external world), including the perception of having biological sensations while we don't "really" have a body, but just sensations "as if" we had a body. A sentient being is then nothing else but a bag of subjective perceptions which are interpreted (erroneously ?) as corresponding to a material world.
  6. Dec 9, 2009 #5
    Vanesch, indeed, I did notice a hint of idealism (which is what you described). And this brings up a good point. Idealism is very close to naive realism in the presumptions it makes. The degree of separation between them is mostly in wording, but in practice they both rely utterly on human perception--which I why I reject them both. I tend to like the objective, and use the subjective with a grain of salt. Would you agree?
  7. Dec 9, 2009 #6

    Your "objective" is merely the sum of your "subjective" interpreted in way that you think makes sense. This naive interpretation is hard to maintain and contradicts our best tested theories in physics - QM, GR and cosmology.
  8. Dec 9, 2009 #7
    Just because one prefers a more subjective interpretation re qm, does not mean one agrees with puirist idealism or solipism.

    An anti-realism stance which i find perfectly sensible is that once a measurment or observation is made then and only then physical reality emerges. To say the particle had only a subjective existence prior to observation is not to deny the physicality of the real world. It just says that the real objective world we experience is a post-qm processed reality.
  9. Dec 9, 2009 #8

    I don't think anybody here will be willing to argue with you on a point that far removed from our knowledge. You could be right, or idealism could be right. Or another approach that hasn't been proposed so far. I am not taking a definite position, as I have no idea what reality is, so it would seem somewhat like a religious belief if i did, IMO.
  10. Dec 9, 2009 #9
    No. I feel there is an absolute truth that may or may not be asymptotic in our ability to reach it. When I say that naive realism is subjective, I mean that it does not factor in possibilities beyond the 5 senses, such as the very strange world of QM.

    Even if reality is random, and not just chaotic, but truly stochastic, then that is still an objective truth. Reality is irrelevant to truth; the absolute is a philosophical truth that presupposes any notion of any possible reality, which is a subset of the absolute. Our Universe is a subset of the (possibly infinite) absolute--whatever the absolute may or may not be.

    There is nothing naive about saying there is an absolute truth. In fact it is naive to assume we have any grasp at all on it. Reality I hold to be local; it is local to our universe, and absolute in and of itself as a truth, but does not constitute the absolute of all that might be. There may be fundamentals beyond our ability to even imagine. I like your view of not knowing what reality is -- this is really the only healthy way to philosophize about anything and upholds my skepticism ethics in philosophy, so I admire that quality you have. Few people are brave enough to say "I don't know" and know that it isn't from ignorance, but of the unknowable.

    There is nothing metaphysical about an absolute truth. Belief + Truth = Knowledge. How much of that knowledge is truth? We have to eliminate the impossible to find out, this is the basis of logical positivism. We can not assert truths, we must eliminate untruths. In order to claim omniscience we would need the entire sphere of truths, so as to be able to eliminate all impossibilities--highly improbable of achieving this anytime soon for h. sapiens.
  11. Dec 9, 2009 #10
    Regarding eliminating all untruths... it's more than highly improbable, it's impossible. Falsification has been falsified in a sense :wink:. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_holism. Being careful not to quote too much out of context, I'll pull out this one line regarding scientific or empirical knowledge:
    In other words, we can't even eliminate anything (empirical) as being "impossible" in the strictest logical sense.
  12. Dec 9, 2009 #11
    Since this is the philosophy forum, I'll point out the the term "reality" is merely the definition that we give it :smile:. The claim that existence is only the sum of our perceptions and there is no existence independent of perception is commonly known in philosophy as subjective idealism. George Berkeley, an 18th century bishop in Ireland, famously argued (quite well) that this is more of a common sense and consistent view than belief in a material external world. He ended up using this line of reasoning as an argument for God, but that can be treated as an entirely separate and secondary argument.

    Berkeley presented his view in a very readable form in his http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Three_Dialogues_Between_Hylas_and_Philonous" [Broken], which is basically required reading for philosophy students (it's probably more readable in book form though).

    Berkeley California and UC Berkeley were named after Bishop Berkeley, although the pronunciation has changed so that the two "Berkeley"s sound different now. Bishop Berkeley's name is pronounced bark-lee (ˈbɑrkli) rather than burk-lee.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  13. Dec 9, 2009 #12
    Three Dialogues in a nutshell:
    One other thing to note is that none of this has anything to do with denying science or any other weird ideas. In Philonous's last statement he compares the rationality that leads to idealism with the rationality of the "uniform law or principle of gravitation" at work on the water in a fountain.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2009
  14. Dec 9, 2009 #13
    And what of the absolute? Can't we reason that logic presupposes the material reality? For the record I am an indirect realist.
  15. Dec 10, 2009 #14


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    No, I think there's a reality independent of humans. It's somewhat egocentric to think reality doesn't exist without humans isn't it? Not that that makes it wrong, alone, but there's a general trend for us to be wrong when we think like that...

    Would you explain precisely how QM has done that?
  16. Dec 10, 2009 #15
    First of all you have willfully mis-represented what i said. I never said anything about human-centric. I talk of biological systems. Why do you do that? Do you really need to twist what i said in order to score some point based on a fallacy concerning something i never claimed? Please if you wnat to debate do it with integrity and honesty.

    Moving on though about your qm question. As far as we are aware, and all experiments so far back this up; there is no realism until a quantum state has been measured or observed, and prior to that interaction there are only abstract probabilities. So if you want to argue for realism prior to observation then you will have to prove it, and Im afriad Bohmian mechanics proves nothing, as it is based on assumptions about non-observables.
  17. Dec 10, 2009 #16
    I agree that there is nothing human-centric about any sort of serious idealism. For Berkeley, God was the necessary observer required for objects to have persistent when no individual is watching them. This was a logical argument and not anything theoretical though.

    The problem with reference to specific science, including biology or QM, in relation to this question, is that to argue from these points of view is to assume them as primary. In other words, if you assume a biological mind you are already assuming the existence of a material world. "Biological perceptions" are a physicalist concept. It seems circular to use biology (or QM) as a source of evidence against the ultimate reality of a physical world.

    I also think it's a little strong to say that any assumptions about an external world, like an assumption of realism, require proof. There are so few things we can prove in philosophy. One of those things is that we can't deductively prove anything empirical. There is no way to prove or disprove realism (ignoring pure rationalism) - it's all about what makes for the most coherent, self-consistent, overall metaphysical and philosophical framework.
  18. Dec 10, 2009 #17
    No, that's really not what was described. The word you are looking for is empiricism, or even phenomenalism. 'Naive realism' assumes that perceptions correspond 'directly' to an external reality. This is very different from the idea that perceptions are reality.
  19. Dec 11, 2009 #18


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    You're mixing my reply to the OP with my reply to you. Though, I suppose you did agree with the OP when he said:

    "The term "reality" is merely the sum of our perceptions, nothing more."

    I took "our" to mean us, as in human, since they'll be the only ones sharing the post. Either way, it's still, in my opinion, a completely ridiculous notion.

    Your post is an overreaction. I have not willfullly misinterpreted anything, and you'd easily had a chance to clear up any discrepancies without making ridiculous accusations. Instead, you've presented yourself as a bit of a nut.

    You've misinterpreted quantum mechanics. An observer does not have to be a human, or even a biological system. Have you ever studied qm formally?
  20. Dec 11, 2009 #19
    Its no overreaction to hold you to your initial misrepresentation of what i said. Its a cheap and intellectually dishonest approach to debate. You addressed your comments to me, and you unambiguously framed your question to me as if i was claiming that no reality exists without humans. Had you meant to take on the OP you would have addressed your comments to him/her.

    Why not just apologise instead of backpeddling with a really flimsy and illogical excuse. How am i supposed to take you seriously when you try that crap on?

    Easy answer is I will just ignore you until you apologise for misrepresenting what i said.
  21. Dec 11, 2009 #20


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    There is no absolute proof, or denial of any observation. We rely on observation and logic - which cannot be proven or disproven. We live in a fuzzy universe.
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