So, I think reality is really very simple. It's physics. The exact nature of what this "stuff" is and how it
behaves might be tricky for us to understand - but it's some simple stuff doing what it does.
Various thoughts about this:
* Most people enjoy a good sunset. Many know that a sunset is "really" light being refracted by particles in the atmosphere. For some, I've heard, this knowledge can make a sunset less enjoyable. I don't get that. To me they are no less beautiful because of this knowledge. In fact for me that knowledge adds to the beauty; it's another entire level of amazement that there is a reason and that we humans can enjoy something that just IS. Same goes for rainbows.
* There is an issue in this thread about what we even mean by reality. Are we talking about one's internal understanding or about something else, something more pervasive that exists outside or Jack's understanding. I'm not going to tell anyone they read the question wrong, but knowing Jordan and reading his posts here, I'm pretty sure he wasn't initially talking about "what is your reality" but something deeper. Anyway, that's how I am choosing to think about his question.
* I have an example I keep in mind when thinking about these things. It's of a movie playing on my television. The "reality" is that all that is happening is dots of color are flickering on a screen and pressures of air are being created by the speakers. At some level, at what some might say it "technically" happening, that's it. But this is not true. First, of course, we can do deeper. We can say that even the dots of color are not happening but that "really" some photons are moving. Some quantum physicist might even say something about "string" vibrating. But it's also true that we can com up many levels. It's also true that plot and dialog and emotion are happening. Anyone suggesting that the "reality" of it is only dots and varying pressures of air is, well, missing other things that are just as real.
* And this brings us to language. When we start to think about "reality" our use of language gets tricky. It's not "impossible tricky" and it's not even all that deep. But we do have to keep in mind (and in language) what we are talking and thinking about. The difficulty comes because we are IN reality while trying to describe reality. Our language and our thoughts are symbols that represent other things. Some say -- and it's been said above -- that maybe we can't understand reality because of this. I disagree. We can understand it. We just have to take precautions.
* The main precaution is to always keep in mind our frame of reference. In most of the thinking and conversations that we have on a daily basis the frame of reference is a given. That is not to say we are always in just one frame of reference. No, we jump frames of reference constantly. Back to the movie analogy, when we talk to a friend about what happened in the movie, we talk about the characters as if they were real. We know they aren't, but we put ourselves into a frame of reference where they are. And, with no trouble at all, we can also jump to talking about how the actor played that character. We usually don't even have to define to the other person that we have switched gears; it's easy and natural. The same happens when we are talking about the TV set. We can talk about the lighting of the movie -- or if something is wrong with the set we can switch planes and talk about the physical TV set. No problem.
However, in discussions about "reality" this natural ability to know which frame of reference we're in can get a little fuzzy. It is not an insurmountable problem. It's not even that hard. But we do have to be willing to take the time to define where we're at -- what we're talking about.
* Another precaution is to define terms. For example, in the discussion in this thread it would be handy to have different terms for a single person's internal reality and for this other, bigger, deeper reality. I suggest "Personal-Reality" and "Actual-Reality" and "Ultimate-Reality". I further suggest that "reality", when not qualified, means "Actual-Reality".
Why do I have "actual-reality" and "ultimate-reality"? I mean roughly the same thing by the two terms. I mean for "ultimate-reality" to be the deepest furthest truest statement of it. I mean "actual-reality" to be just a little fuzzier. A way we can still talk about "reality" without having to get into every sticky detail that, really, we just don't know yet. "Ultimate-Reality" will only come into play when someone is pushing hard on being supper concrete.
But for now we can just use reality.
* I forgot to mention an important point about the TV-Movie metaphor. It's important to realize that the difference levels don't contradict each other. They are inclusive, not exclusive of each other. That is to say, even when we're talking about plot of dialog or love or hate or action in the movie -- nothing being said is made up or more or less than the dots and sound waves.
Again, like defining terms or stating frames of reference, this is obvious once it's done. And because it's obvious it can seem burdensome and even unnecessary to do it. But as soon as you try to skip this step...big confusing trouble awaits.
* Now, if reality is so "simple" then were do we get consciousness, love, flowers, and all this really complex stuff? The simple answer is that these are emergent features of reality. These things seem complex to us. We don't understand what "consciousness is" even though we are intimately familiar with what is like to BE conscious. Well, most of us do anyway
* Let me step away from ultimate or actual reality for a moment and get into a higher (but still deep) frame of reference. Here I want to give examples that show that complex things can emerge from "simple" beginnings.
* First though, I need to do something else here: I am not trying to present a proof that what I'm saying is correct. I do believe it to BE correct, but right now and here I'm not trying to PROVE it. Some might read this, as I would, with a skeptical mind. What I'm suggesting is a suspension of disbelief for a while. I'm not saying don't question it but only to do that later, after.
Consider this, for a while, more like you are learning something from someone that you trust knows the answer. Like if you didn't know how an internal combustion engine works or how a computer functions. The person telling you about it would have a much bigger burden if you insisted that they prove every step. But if they are an expert, you can save them and yourself a world of explanation by believing them. By listening (or reading) to understand rather than to question.
You can (and should) come back later with the critical mind. But for now, just follow along.
* Okay, back to examples that show that complex things can emerge from "simple" beginnings. The easiest of these to reference is evolution. I trust that most people here are both familiar with what that mean and agree it's "true". If you don't that's fine too. I'm not going to try to prove it to you, certainly not here. So if you don't believe it, well, this may be where you and I part ways.
My point in bringing up evolution is that is shows that really complex things can emerge out of much simpler things. A book I love is, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution the the Meanings of Life. The relevant thing for this discussion is how Dennett shows in layman's detail how "simple" elements can form to molecules and to life and to animals and to humans.
In the other great book I love, Consciousness Explained, also by Dennett, he shows how consciousness can "emerge" from the brain. -- I'll be coming back to this later in the post.
My point here is this: If life can emerge from molecules and consciousness from the brain -- I believe all of our complex reality that we don't understand can also emerge from some relatively simply physics.
There is another aspect of this too.
Before people knew (assuming you're with me on this) before people knew about evolution, we had some really complex far-out ideas about life and where it came from. Same goes for consciousness for many people today. But the answers are right there. It's not so complex. Well, it is complex but not -- flailing for words here -- mysterious, unfathomable, inexplicable.
Same goes for reality.
* Now another question: If life is emergent from atoms and molecules, if the mind is emergent from the brain, does that mean that life and mind were part of, were inherent in, those atoms? Since there is love, life, and flowers, are they inherent in "reality". In a way I want to say no. In a way I want to say yes. I think we'll leave this for further thought later.
* Lets get back to personal-reality and consciousness. Now this is not, strictly, on the topics of "What is Reality" anymore. But since it was mentioned in the thread and since it interests me greatly, let me give you my answer (with any props going to Dennett). Consciousness is a map of reality that is in your head. Life can do much better when it can react to it's surroundings. A first level of this is simply reacting to the now: moving toward sunlight, moving away from extreme heat, etc. But if life can predict what might happen it's even better off.
Picture a big cat hunting on the savanna. It sees it's prey, say a gazelle. It's following it's movements. Suddenly the gazelle walks behind a large outcropping of brush. With no memory and no model in it's mind of how the world works, the gazelle just disappears. Think about this. We are so used to having our own maps that I want to stress this point. The gazell is not just "gone from view" but, in a being with no internal model, it's gone. Not even like, "Hey, where did it go?" as you might see a dog do when you slight-of-hand a ball our of view. Rather like, the moment it's out of view...it just never existed. THIS is the level that life would be on with no mind.
Consciousness evolved because it's very, very advantageous to have a model in our heads of the external world. We can access and manipulate that model even when the real thing isn't accessible.
* So a little side note here. People talk about living in the now. I submit that this is a horrible idea, at least if carried to the extreme. We would be little more than amoeba if we really did this. So, of course, that is not what people really mean. I just wish they would say so.
* Anyway, lets get back to maps and talk about a few features and flaws. First, a map will never be 100% accurate. We can not actually HAVE the entire world in our minds. The world is almost infinitely detailed and, just by the fact of pure physics, by the fact of the number of neurons and atoms and stuff in our heads, we can not represent something that has MORE "things" than we do in our heads. (sorry, not worded well there).
But we don't let that stop us. Consider a road map, or a GPS for you millennials. They are exceedingly useful, but they never represent everything. We abstract certain details that we find are important to our goals. We have distances and route numbers but leave off the elevations and the colors of the houses. And for other purposes we build other maps. I hiker may well have a map that does show the elevations. But the map still does not show how each particle (or wave) of light glitters off the dew drop on the leaf.
The maps are great, but they are not "reality". The only way to experience reality is to be there.
For people, in our minds, we make many kinds of maps. Some are of words. Some are of feelings. Some are so automatic we don't have direct access to what they are or how they operate; these feel to us like intuition. And thank evolution they do, else we'd be overwhelmed in every waking moment.
And maps can be wrong. Our thoughts can be mismatched to what's "really" happening. Our feelings about someone can be wrong. It's important we learn how to build accurate maps and critical we find ways of continually validating them.
* What about that feeling we have of a "someone" that is conscious, of an "I" that is reading these maps?
That's a false question. We ARE these maps. There is no mystical *I*. What you experience as consciousness IS what it is like (is what it is) to be a "map".
* New topic: It was talked about above that we, as humans, can not sense everything. For example, we (most of us) can not sense magnetism for example. We also can not see all the wavelenghts of light (like infrared and ultraviolet) and we can not hear all the frequencies of sound. Does this mean we can't understand reality? No. It does not. It means that we can't directly SENSE all of reality.
* Of course, that begs the question, "What does it mean to understand something?" This brings us back to what I was just talking about. We will never have within us a total representation of all reality. We can't. It's impossible. But "understand" is not the same things as "being". This, again, is another question that we can ponder more about later.
NOTE: At this point I'm running out of steam and just want to throw out a few thoughts for more discussion.
* What about quantum mechanics and all the strangeness that happens at that level? Well, first off, I'm very skeptical of anyone that says the emergent features we notice (consciousness, love, etc.) are due to or act in ways that are related to how quantum particles act. It's as if someone said that we as humans could be categorized as the periodic table is since, after all, we are made of particles. It's as if someone watching a movie tried to write or understand plot by the rules that govern how signals are sent over TV frequencies or by how routers work to move the bits for NetFlix.
The features that emerge are based one (and, remember, not contradictory to) the underlying reality -- but that does not mean we (the emergent features) act or can be understood by the rules and actions of the underlying reality. Besides, as I understand it, most or all of the quantum strangeness does NOT apply in the frame-of-reference of larger (newtonian) objects -- and we are levels up even from that.
In fact, doesn't that show exactly what I'm trying to say: molecules, bullets, planets -- they are emergent from the quantum world -- they don't contradict the quantum world, but the best way to understand them is NOT with quantum mechanics.
* Okay, last point for now: What about the fact that we interact with the world? Isn't there something to be said that mirror the Heisenberg principal that a thing changes when is it observed? Yes. Yes. Our world (the human frame of reference) as well as the entire Actual-Reality is a complex adaptive system. There is feedback. We are not just observers, we have weight and action in the world. What we do does effect it. This makes for a situation that can be very complex to understand.
A door latch is a simple and direct system. Easy to understand.
A Swiss watch (the old type with gears and springs and such) is a complex system, but not adaptive. So is most software. These are complex but still relatively easy to understand.
An economy or a human body or a bio-sphere though are both complex and adaptive. Each little change results in numerous other changes. Making a model for these things is very difficult. But still, if we abstract enough, not impossible.
Okay, that's what I have on that.