Does reality exist? Or is it just a delusion? A long-term dream that others appear to be sharing.
This is an important question, and the answer seems pretty obvious, but many people have thought themselves out of the obvious answer.
Primacy of existence is a crucial concept in the metaphysics of Objectivism. Peikoff puts it like this,
“Things are what they are independent of consciousness – of anyone’s perceptions, images, ideas, feelings.”
We are conscious of the world around us and able to decipher stimuli around us using our senses, but the things that we are sensing do exist, and they would continue to exist even if we could not sense them.
We can change the world around us, but we can only change it by acting. Sitting on a couch will not make your problems go away.
A common example used to bring doubt on our perception of reality is a colorblind person.
Someone who is colorblind is unable to see the difference between some colors. If we can perceive the same thing as being different, doesn’t that mean that reality is dependent on our perceptions?
Our ability, or inability to perceive stimuli does affect us, but it doesn’t affect the entity that we are observing. If one person sees a tree as green, and another as gray, it doesn’t change the fact that they are both perceiving the same entity reflecting the same spectrum of light.
Contrast primacy of existence against primacy of consciousness. Peikoff describes primacy of consciousness like this,
“In this view, the function of consciousness is not perception, but creation of what is. Existance, accordingly is dependent; the world is regarded as in some way derivate of consciousness.”
This is an idea that many people interpret as coming from many eastern religions. I don’t know anything about the metaphysics of Buddhism, but many people come away from eastern philosophies with the idea that since the only way we know the world around us is through our senses that it seems possible that if we were not sensing it might as well not exist.
Another common train of thought is about reality being drastically different than how we perceive it. That we may be in a simulation, that there may be invisible aliens, or that we may be emitting aura’s that only the spiritually enlightened can see.
None of this changes that there is existence separate from our consciousness.
Just because reality may be different than how we perceive, it does not mean that it does not exist.
We can use tools to expand our senses, and when we do we are able to identify things that exist that we were not aware of before. Like atoms, radio waves, or electricity.
The idea’s of pop-eastern philosophy can be very useful and productive. Recognizing the way you can control your perception of an event that was out of your control is a valuable skill, so long as it opens possibilities for action.
These are useful thought experiments, so long as they motivate you to take action. But the change you experience is not from your thoughts changing existence, but from you taking action and making change happen.
“A simple example of the primacy of existence orientation would be a man running for his life from an erupting volcano” – Leonard Peikoff
Many people claim supernatural abilities to influence reality, but put any of them in front of a lava flow, and they will all recognize that lava exists and that it is dangerous, and they will run.
So, how can you know for sure that what you are experiencing actually exists?
You know implicitly. From the actions that we all take. Anyone who denies reality will still act to avoid the lava. That should tell you all you need to know about their view of reality, regardless of what they say.
“We can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” – Ayn Rand