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What does the word real mean?

  1. Jul 12, 2004 #1

    What do we mean by that word? I ask a friend whether Pegasus exists, she says "no"...then I ask what it is to which I'm referring, and she says "Pegasus". So, if I'm referring to it then there must be some "it" to which I'm referring. At this point, my friend says "the concept of Pegasus exists, but Pegasus isn't real".

    Does that just mean that there is no physical construct which meets the criteria of the "concept of Pegasus"?

    Many Idealist philosophers have said that we have a "natural" perception of the world that is not bounded by physicalism until after we are taught it...in other words, we are indoctrinated into a Physicalist world-view, though this goes against our natural inclination. Yet, the "Pegasus" example seems to bare out the opposite conclusion.

    Are we naturally biased toward Physicalism? If so, why?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 12, 2004 #2
    I think the concepts of descriptions and designations help out here.

    Descriptions can be constructed as complexes from language. The terms and relations within descriptions can come from "real" prototypes, but essentially they arise from language and the imagination. So:

    "His Most Serene and Most Excellent Highness the Grand Duke of North Dakota"

    . The terms and relations of this description tap our knowledge of history and similar constructs that do apply, but the description still remains just a construction.

    Designations are proposed to identify and tag objects of our experience and consciousness. But the temptation within fiction is to create designations for the characters and things of fiction. So we get some crossing of the lines.

    "The Governor of North Dakota during July 2004" - a description
    "John Hoeven" - a designation

    Both of these happen to stand for a person, but that must be verified separately.

    "Pegasus" - a designation, derived from
    "Horse with wings, capable of flight, riden by the Greek hero Bellerophon" - a description
    "Bellerophon" - a designation for a Greek hero of mythology

    Whether either Pegasus or Bellerophon stand for a horse or a man that did live once must be verified separately.
  4. Jul 12, 2004 #3
    we are because we base our reality on our five senses, we define real as somethign we can feel touch smell, etc.
  5. Jul 13, 2004 #4


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    Given that it took so long for humanity to develop the idea of physicalism (or at least to widely accept it), I think it is safe to say that there exists no special bias toward such a worldview innate in our nature.
  6. Jul 13, 2004 #5
    My two cents worth.

    The word real has been bandied about for centuries by so many scholars that it has lost it's meaning..in that the word "real " is no longer real, some how getting lost in all the words used to try and describe it.

    To me what is really real is something that is capable of being shared by all and sundry.
    For example I am holding a brick of cement in my hand. I would invite all persons in the world to come and witness this brick. If one living conscious and realatively normal person can not experience this brick then it's reality is suspect.
    So you ask what it relatively normal? And I say pooh pooh.....you know exactly what I mean......or do you :rofl: :wink:
  7. Jul 13, 2004 #6


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    "What about the inside of a brick?" -R.P. Feynman

  8. Jul 13, 2004 #7
    Like I said, we base our reality on the five senses, on a diffrent note, what if there were ten people who were colorblind, and one wasn't and they were the only people in the planet, would the reality of colors change because they were the majority?
  9. Jul 13, 2004 #8
    for me, physical reality is an agreement to percieve certian material and phenomena in a way that can only happen (as far as we know) here on earth.

    what is real? that which we agree to accept as real. in all probablity, we will find that everything is some form of energy that we can experience in this unique way.

    olde drunk
  10. Jul 13, 2004 #9
    Well, that's really the interesting point, isn't it? After all, there may well be a naturally tendency towards a more transcendentalist, idealistic philosophy; but this inspite of the fact that (as the theriddler pointed out) all our knowledge comes from objective, physical stimuli, interpreted through the senses.
  11. Jul 13, 2004 #10

    Les Sleeth

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    Possibly it would be more accurate to say all your knowldege (and probably the physicalists) is derived from sense data. I myself, however, also experience something within that is non-sensual, and which gives me self-knowledge. If you were to look within yourself in the same way, I believe you'd experience the same thing. So in terms of if we are naturally "biased toward physicalism," it is more (in my opinion) that we are born with easiest access to the senses, and since they only experience the physical, it's what we naturally first become aware of. Whether or not we take our experience any deeper than the senses depends on what we come to value as we mature.

    Regarding "real," we can obviously define it any way we please, but after all, the word is linked conceptually to the term reality. Reality is any and all that exist. If it exists (and can potentially exist) then it is real; if it does not and cannot exist, it isn't real. Getting back to what I think you are trying to get at (which I guess to be if anything other than the physical real), a person looking only at physical stuff is only going to see physical stuff, right? If one only wants to experience the physical, that's fine, but it is another issue to say the only thing that's real is what I choose to experience.
  12. Jul 13, 2004 #11
    Since we're defining a word I would expect everyone to have slight differences in the way they define and use that word. This one doesn't appear to be much different. When I use the term "real", I'm saying that something exists in the way that the definition of the concept claims it does. So I agree with the example in the initial post. A horse with wings is simply a concept of physical characteristics. None of which physically exists so horses with wings aren't "real". But as to whether a winged horse exists as a mythological character I would say 'yes' it is a "real" mythological character. It all depends on the context of exactly what concept we are referring to and whether that concept actually exists in the way the concept demands.

    I 'm not sure there is natural bias toward anything. I'm not even sure what is meant by natural bias. To me, bias is generated from experience or lack thereof. It is the result of egocentric thinking which all of us are guilty of to some degree or another. In a world that demands attention be paid to physical things in order to survive, it makes sense that there would be some initial bias to those things. But as Maslow's hierarchy of needs illustrates, it is also natural for our attention to focus on other things as the lower needs are met.

    I think the quote above is an example of bias but I believe it is the result of life experiences and choices; nothing innate. For example, I could respond to this part of that quote:

    "all our knowledge comes from objective, physical stimuli, interpreted through the senses"

    with a quote that was sent to me from someone we all know :smile:

    "What is ironic is that such thinkers take it as a given that the objective is what is concrete and certain and that the subjective is just an illusion, but in reality the inverse is closer to the truth. The subjective is concrete in that it is, by definition, our only direct epistemic means of knowing about anything, whereas the objective is ultimately an abstract extrapolation from intersubjective truths. We can never know the objective in the same epistemically grounded way that we can know our own direct experiences. It forever remains behind a curtain we cannot penetrate. At the most fundamental level, the subjective is what is real and objectivity is just a conceptual model of what is revealed through subjectivity."

    To me personally, this last quote is clearly true. Knowledge comes from experience and not anything "objective". But it requires some thought beyond hunting for the days food to come to this understanding. If the first quote above was true, it would be hard to explain where bias comes from to begin with.
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2004
  13. Jul 15, 2004 #12
    As Les said, if by real you mean existing in reality, then, yes, a pagasus is real, as a mythalogical character, an imaginary creature, painting, statue, symbol etc. If you mean real as in physically alive, or once living, in the material world, then I would have to say no; and, so far as I know and there has been no physical evidence, such as fossils or skeletons of such an unlikely creature, found on earth. This lack of evidence of course does not prove that a pagasus does not and never has existed somewhere in the material universe.

    So to answer your question, Mentat, yes, no, maybe, I don't know and why are you always asking me these crazy question that don't have an answer, young'n.
  14. Jul 16, 2004 #13
    Interesting issues you raise, Les. Can one take experience any deeper than that which s/he is capable of sensing? How does one do so? What do we call the realm that is deeper than the physical, and how does it interact with the physical?
  15. Jul 16, 2004 #14
    So, different realms of "reality"?

    And are these higher things refined versions of the lower things, or are they qualitatively different?
  16. Jul 16, 2004 #15
    Not exactly. It's just a demonstration of how complex the use of language is. Like Wuli always say...the meaning of words change depending on context. As I have said many times, semantics and reality are two very different things. But it's so easy to confuse the two.

    You tell me. Once I have plenty to eat I begin to wonder about the nature of my consciousness and notice how it is a very different thing from everything else that I had previously paid attention to. If these things are refined versions of each then I hope you will show the connection. No one has been able to yet.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2004
  17. Jul 17, 2004 #16
    Now here we are talking about what is real......semantics vs reality...hmmmmm....I like it :wink:
  18. Jul 17, 2004 #17
    I like this quote:

    Having failed to distinguish thoughts from things, we fail to distinguish words from thoughts. We think because we label a thing that we have understood it.
  19. Jul 17, 2004 #18

    Les Sleeth

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    Hi Mentat. I don't want to bore the members . . . I've been posting about "union" experience a lot lately. If you were to read the thread asking if anyone has experienced enlightenment in the religion archives, we had some interesting discussion there. Also, I talked about taking things deeper, and extensively modeled (for a forum thread anyway) what that deeper realm is in my thread on panpsychism.

    Exactly how the deeper thing interacts with matter is the toughest question for me. I don't understand it though I did suggest a way consciousness might be joined to biology through the automomic system. In the panpsychism thread Radar cited some links to people investigating the possibility of quantum interactions with consciousness.

    I saw your thread on emergence, and I know that is a theory popular with some physicalists. In my panpsychism thread, I adjusted the term to "transemergence" to signify that while consciousness does emerge in the material realm, it starts in a "pool" of preexisting non-material consciousness and then is drawn into the CNS by biology. So that is another way of seeing the "deeper" think.
  20. Jul 17, 2004 #19
    I think if he said "the complexed concept of Pegasus exists, but Pegasus isn't real" , it would have been clearer. Pegasus is a combination of our simple ideas. Of a Horse and Wings. Read some introduction into David Hume.
    I don't think we are biased here at all. Pegasus is just a child invented image. You make a lot of image like that of other things, like a Golden Mountain.
  21. Jul 17, 2004 #20
    Semantics are part of reality, thus the assertion demonstrates how contradictory and meaningless it is without a specific context.
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