Reality, and Other Strange Notions

“What is Real?” asks the velveteen rabbit in one of my favorite stories. Not a bad question, coming from someone with stuffing for brains. What, indeed, is real?

Carl Rogers said,

“The only reality I can possibly know is the world as I perceive and experience it at this moment.”

Which implies that if tomorrow I experience something different, then reality has changed. If reality is truly real, then shouldn’t it remain the same? If today’s reality is not the same as tomorrow’s reality, which of them is really the REAL reality?

For that matter, even today’s reality could quite possibly exist in billions of varieties, one for every individual. I generally have a pretty good idea of what is real for me, but how can I possibly know if it’s the same for you? I can’t even say for sure that the color I experience as green looks the same as your green, or that the flavor I associate with peanut butter isn’t what you taste when you eat honey-baked ham. My grass might be the same color as your sky. Perhaps in your world, daffodils are the colors I think of as pink and purple, instead of the ones I see as yellow and white. How would we know any differently, when all we are able to experience is our own version of reality?

R.D. Laing’s take on the situation was kind of depressing:

“I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience is man’s invisibility to man.”

Then again, this was the same guy who said

“I am not who I think I am. I am not who you think I am. I am who I think you think I am.”

How confusing is THAT? In my reality, thankfully, I’m just who I am, which is a good thing. If I lived in Laing’s world my head might explode. But I digress….

People are always saying, “In the REAL world…” What real world? IS there a real world? And if so, whereis it? According to Carl Rogers,

“Every individual exists in a continually changing world of experience of which he is the center.”

That’s gotta make “real” pretty hard to pin down!

R.D. Laing speculated that perhaps if we could somehow experience the realities of people who behave irrationally, we’d actually find their actions to be perfectly rational, viewed against the backdrop of their experience of reality.

Jean Piaget theorized that we each construct our own version of reality, constantly adapting and expanding and adjusting it to accomodate or assimilate new experiences as we move through our lives. That brings to mind my parents’ house. Over the years, rooms have been added and others have been remodeled; furnishings have changed, fixtures and appliances have been replaced, and walls have been repainted. But despite the many changes, there’s still plenty left of the old familiar home I left so many years ago. It’s just been expanded and rearranged and improved upon, a house built for middle-aged parents with four teenagers that has evolved and adapted so that now it serves the needs of a pair of grandparents with four adult children plus sons and daughters-in-law and a dozen or so grandchildren.

The house metaphor works well for me. When I visit my friends’ houses, I often come away with new ideas I can incorporate into my own home. A new gadget, a different arrangement of furniture, a daring color combination, perhaps an entirely new use for an old room. There’s a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from rearranging the furniture a bit, updating and redecorating, or adding an extra living space.

When I shop at Home Depot I love to wander the aisles, looking at all of the parts and pieces and asking myself “hmmm, what ELSE could you use that for?” In the same way, when I explore new concepts and ideas, I turn them this way and that, examining them to see where they might fit into my version of reality. Maybe if painted a different color, or arranged in a slightly different way, they’d actually fit right in. Or perhaps I’ll run across an idea that just totally works better than one I’ve been using, in which case I’ll toss the old one out and replace it. And every once in a while, I come across something completely new that I simply must have. Then it’s time to add on a room to my reality structure.

Over time, my reality grows and changes and evolves to fit me, as I grow and change within it – just like my family‘s home has adapted to fit our growing and changing family. When all is said and done, though, it still feels and smells like home.

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