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The uestion what is real is not some esoteric puzzle that only philosophers ponder Scientists also ask this uestion when they investigate whether candidates for the fundamental constituents of matter are actually out t. Oftentimes the simplest ideas and concepts are the ones that are hardest to understand This is certainly true with the concept of reality In our everyday lives we take it for granted and even in most professional and scientific contexts this is an almost entirely unproblematic term However when we push against the frontiers of our knowledge as is the case in many subfields of physics psychology and philosophy we uickly encounter situations where reality has to have a very precise technical meaning if we want to understand some of the most fundamental phenomena of the world that we live in Reality A Very Short Introduction tackles many such exceptionally tricky consideration and brings the ideas from the forefront of science and philosophy to the general audience In relatively few pages this very short introduction manages to bring forth some of the most enduring problems that have stymied philosophers scientists and other thinkers for centuries The book is divided into four chapters each of which addresses one aspect of our understanding of reality The chapters are 1 Dreams and simulations 2 Is matter real 3 Are persons real 4 Is time real These chapters provide a general overview of the topics that have framed our discussion about reality The author relies on variety of disciplines for his assertions and findings but the primary source of ideas about reality come from physics philosophy and psychology In a sense these disciplines may be though of as representing three aspects of reality that we encounter in all aspects of our lives psychological physical and metaphysical The weight that we assign to each one of these aspects will probably depend on our own ways that we think of reality but it is fair to say that all of them play a fundamental and important role This book is very well written and all explanations are lucid and clear However this is not a book that you can easily wade through The nature of reality is a complex subject and the means of analyzing it and the kinds of arguments that this analysis employs reuire a reasonably high level of intellectual discipline and appreciation for abstract thinking If you are willing to invest some of it then after reading this short book you ll come away with a renewed sense of appreciation for the world that we live in at its most fundamental level

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Reality A Very Short Introduction

Is matter real Are persons real Is time real This Very Short Introduction discusses what if anything is real by looking at a variety of arguments from philosophy physics and cognitive science Jan Westerhoff shows that. Another short introduction from the Oxford University Press series In this case we have an analytical philosopher with a good understanding of the latest developments in the sciences of matter and mind explore the meaning of reality in a number of guisesAnalytical philosophy can appear to be an elaborate language game This in itself may have little relationship to reality so it is to the credit of Westerhoff that he makes every effort to take us through variant definitions of reality from different perspectivesWhat is clear is that like love or so many other general terms what we mean by reality is highly situational Debates on issues of reality can become heated a waste of time simply because the participants in the discussion have not defined their terms or their stance Unfortunately constantly defining terms as analytical philosophers are wont to do can soon take the fun out of things This makes this book especially valuable It is a crib sheet for all those theories of reality that should perhaps be outlined before we even start considering what we mean by a particular instance of the real Thus Westerhoff looks at the reality of our own existence are we dreaming ourselves at the reality of matter at the reality of ourselves as persons and at the reality of time itself through the lens of five general theoriesWe can see something as real if it appears to us as real if it appears as real to most other persons as anything not imagined as what is there if we were not there or as what is left after everything has been reduced to core of being by analysisAny of these is plausible but none are definitive and they are not fully compatible with each other as a wholeMy own view is the relaxed one that the term reality as descriptor of anything specifically meaningful is as useless as the terms love and freedom These are rhetorical terms where the meaning lies not in the word but in the use of it to assert a position without full explanationIt is also an introducer word it is useful for introducing us to something that does exist for us functionally by acting as a portmanteau folder for many things that are mostly not like each other but which have similarities being like each other than they are like anything elseThe introducer word far from representing something real certainly not the nonsensical Platonic Ideal represents an attribute of all things within its folder Reality really means a word used to bring a lot of related ideas together through the shared attribute of presuming that they describe the nature of the world as existing Any flaw in the book is simply the inherent flaw in analytical philosophy Having been given a word the analytical philosopher feels that he must discover its meaning through the language game of analysis The folder must it would seem be obliged into meaning to make sense of the academic or intellectual world Naturally all that happens in this book is that our very capable analytical philosopher can come to no conclusion that is finally plausible providing merely a menu of intellectually coherent possibilities which we probably chooose between on grounds of aesthetics than logicThere are small points of analysis where I find myself disagreeing with Westerhof while appreciating the crispness of his reasoning and the depth of his knowledge of science and the clarity of his exposition only because he simply cannot not rely on a given language that maybe a false friendOne area of discomfort is the way that the coding theory of ultimate reality is allowed to remain in the air as a gateway to a logic that may not be there It is as if the academic community simply cannot cope with the possibility that Platonism logic and mathematics the intellectual might break down at a certain point and that this must not be allowed to happen at any costsThe paradox is that the determined attempt to ensure that all things can be encompassed within the intellectual results in a door being opened to the non intellectual in a way that is disturbing than the mere unknowable absolute irrationalism of the abyss This is the problem of theory which has plagued humanity with often murderous results since the class of priest and intellectual first emergedEvery description of ultimate reality is so concerned to extrapolate human scale thought process into the abyss of unknowing beyond the limits of current science that it falls into the trap of allowing space for spirit or a code from outside It is as if a deep irrationalism at the base of reality is so terrifying that the intellectual of whatever background must be prepared to accept a rationalised irrationality rather than accept that there may not be anything rational there at allWesterhoff to his credit cannot be accused of going beyond his brief but I worry than a little about leaving a gap where logic or mathematics ends and then not debating what might fill it on terms that say positively we simply cannot know The silence leaves a gap into which anything may flow as if it knew the answer to the implicit uestionThis is rather dangerous because it is allows an irrationalist spirituality in through the back door as those who are desperate for meaning seize hold of the fact that something has it would seem to fill the gaps left by say the limits of uantum mechanicsThe constant desperate attempt by New Age fluffies to link uantum effects to the existence of some universal consciousness is terribly sad but is not helped by scientists who start extrapolating ancient myths into the territory that defeats their best endeavours at final knowledgeAs a result culturally we find ourselves with increasingly hysterical appeals to the spirit in order to explain what is simply not understood matter Instead of continuing to use a rational language of materialism to describe the unknown the unknown gets reinvented as God or worsePerhaps what is lacking in the book is simply the courage to leap ahead and say that not only do we not know X or Y we may never know and in that gap we can either admit our lack of knowledge and remain embedded in material realities which function for us as we are or we can engage in the fluffy thinking of filling what we do not know with copies of our thought processes and then reinventing what is known as some sort of spirit or consciousness an absurd tautology loaded with socio political threatsA second area of cultural interest is in the continued attempt to denigrate our sense of self simply because of the logical truths of our own perceptions and biology that lead to uncertainty and the insistence of taking some reified permanent self at face value as supplied by history as our Aunt Sally This is bound up with a third issue the reality of time where again a non issue from our perspective as humans in the world the subjective reality of the arrow of time is exploited to create functional uncertainty in ourselves in relation to our perception of the presentThe point is that our primitive view of self and of time as real in the fixed sense reuired by our historic culture may be entirely false without it diminishing the reality of ourselves as Selves and of Time not merely to us but as a functionally useful and consistent social realityThe problem lies in the conventional separation of Past Present and Future Westerhoff falls into the trap of taking it face value as if he can only communicate with his readers by accepting their givens But there never is a Present for human beings because of their perceptual apparatus What we have is a currently being processed immediate past that we call the present that is anticipating from experience an wholly unknowable future and matching the most recent data to not only internal memories and habits but the fixed capital of society and the material worldOnce we think of things in this way then our position as conscious beings becomes less passive less of the instant loss of the future into the past through an unknowable but apparently perceived present and the creation of the future through the immediate past s fast moving and creative dialogue with the inherited pastThe Self thus becomes a very real entity as the processing unit creating immediate futures out of the dialectic of recent pasts and out of the materiality and history of the given the real past to all intents and purposesThe continuity that creates the Self is this process of moving forward at a rollicking pace until death or some other disruption such as severe mental illness or incapacityThe fact that much of the recent past is lost into the given albeit that some of this becomes embedded in the sub conscious unused memory and somatic symptoms does not make the Self any less real It ensures that it is making choices often sub conscious about its own futureThe arrival of uncertainty at the margins of science combined with the desperate desire to imagine meanings and seek certainties where none are to be found offers profound cultural threats to humanityThe idea that there is gap in what we know that must be filled with something when there is no reason to fill it with anything creates the space for the new obscurantism now leaching out from a troubled America into Europe This is the New Age nonsense of insisting on spirit without evidence except as lack while the idea that we are not selves but fluid objects in the given environment without free will is dangerous when governments and authorities are looking for excuses to deprive us of that free willThe fact that the assault on freedom is given a false scientific basis should worry us exceedingly because scientists are now far too ready to jump from what they do know through scientific method to what they do not know but is politically convenient to knowHere is an example from the Neuro Scientist Head at the NIDA in a recent interview Dr Volkow generally forswears any interest in politics per se but midway through a long day of meetings last month she sighed and acknowledged science and politics are intertwined We think we have free will she continued but we are foiled at every turn First our biology conspires against us with brains that are hard wired to increase pleasure and decrease pain Meanwhile we are so gregarious that social systems whether you call them peer pressure or politics reliably dwarf us as individuals There is no way you can escape She is wrong worryingly she is in an influential position in being wrong Her scientific expertise is not in doubt but her judgement on society and politics is as flawed as that of an autistic Soviet engineerIn fact we can and do challenge societal norms and we can rewire our plastic brains through the exercise of will and thought in ways that are not simple matters of pleasurable or painful instinct We can even unlearn pain and revise our pleasures What is going on here is that a desperate scientific and political elite subconsciously if not consciously wants the tools to ensure that we never uestion norms that are convenient to themPerhaps a particular vision of our late liberal society in despair demands that we never exercise the free will and reason that our masters increasingly wish to claim is deficient or even non existent This attitude is dangerous because we are being persuaded to trust that scientists are right about things that are outside their competence This is a new liberal totalitarianism which echoes how Darwinism was once used to justify racial politics in its use of the new neuroscienceIn these two areas the creation of the aware and free self through its mastering of data in time expressed as an arrow despite the analytical theoreticians and the construction of humanity without recourse to mystification the over reaching of science and analytical philosophy is in danger of letting in the dead weight of obscurantism and tyranny by the back doorNaturally this book cannot be held responsible It remains a superb little guide to the various way we interpret reality and how scientific discovery has to taken us to the limits of understanding what it is that we mean by reality in any objective senseIt is true that objectively reality is a very wobbly concept It does not stand up to scrutiny without constant addition of explanatory clauses but this does not mean that one particular kind of reality the reality of the individual is not generally adeuate to the taskSomething like seven billion realities compete to build a multiple of social realities that are all engaged in dealing with wants and desires in the context of a given material reality based on the laws of physics operating at a human level and mediated through communications and technologyRealities are thus constructed instantaneously seven billion times every living moment with collaborative or tyrannically imposed projects bringing increasing levels of complexity into some kind of working order tested against facts on the groundAnything outside this reality of realities might reasonably be considered only of interest as a speculative curiousity or as giving us facts on the ground for billions of minds to play with It is either meaningless play or functionally useful ludic or pragmatic and centred on usBut all analyses of reality that take playfulness as seriously meaningful are on the edge of psychotic likely to make us unable to deal functionally with facts on the ground It would be disturbing to think that having escaped twentieth century neurosis we should fall into twenty first century psychosisAlternative realities that bring in gods spirit and God or which deny the creative role of each one of those individual consciousnesses striving like the animals they are for pleasure survival or personal meaning are albeit accidental enemies of humanity as a progressing species

Review ✓ PDF, DOC, TXT, eBook or Kindle ePUB free ´ Jan Westerhoff

Here or just a mere abstraction from a successful theory and cognitive scientists ask it when trying to find out which set of the bewildering array of data processed by our brain could constitute the basis for the self. A Very Short Introduction and obviously not a complete discussion of the subject but not a bad summary of the arguments in this complex field


10 thoughts on “Reality A Very Short Introduction

  1. says:

    This is a great little book about philosofy than physicsIs a book that opens the mind to the most bizarre interpretations of realityThebook has four chaptersThe first Dreams and simulationshere exposes all of the possibilities in the relation of us with the reality solipism antisolipismseveral levels of dreamare we simula

  2. says:

    Another short introduction from the Oxford University Press series In this case we have an analytical philosopher with a good understanding of the latest developments in the sciences of matter and mind explore the meaning of reality in a number of guisesAnalytical philosophy can appear to be an elaborate language game This in itself may have little relationship to reality so it is to the credit of Westerhoff that he makes every effort to

  3. says:

    If one has an inuisitive nature and finds oneself with a bit of time on one’s hands one is likely to uestion reality eventually What is rea

  4. says:

    Oftentimes the simplest ideas and concepts are the ones that are hardest to understand This is certainly true with the concept of “reality” In our everyday lives we take it for granted and even in most professional and scientific contexts this is an almost entirely unproblematic term However when we push against the frontiers o

  5. says:

    I came to this book expecting to find an outline of the philosophical debate between realists and anti realists but ended up rather disappointed The author has chapter headings on Dreams Idealism Matter Persons and Time wh

  6. says:

    What seems obvious is almost always not so obvious when scrutinized carefully Our day to day conception of reality is falsifyable both

  7. says:

    It was so good So informative and written in such a fun way Made me very excited especially the chapter about time

  8. says:

    A Very Short Introduction and obviously not a complete discussion of the subject but not a bad summary of the arguments in this complex field

  9. says:

    I remember this excellent series from the time in College when I tried to wade my way through them Always clear but simult

  10. says:

    An excellent entry in this series both challenging and supremely engaging The book wastes no time with historical context only giving what is necessary to understand the staying power of the uestions it asks How do we define real and using these definitions are matter minds and time real? That’s it The book is a knife applied to these uestions; I found the most convincing argument to be the argument that the mind is an

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