The following article was influenced by this Chasing Wild Geese article. Specifically, I want to comment about the question of whether reality is a majority opinion.
Not only do I think reality is a majority opinion, but I would go further and argue it’s a majority opinion about the least important subset of our experience. Let’s start with a thought experiment, a variation of Wittgenstein’s Beetle in the Box.
Let’s imagine two people (X & Y) who encounter a chocolate bar. What do they experience?
X sees a rectangular brown object, smells the aroma, feels a craving for the chocolate, and experiences fond memories involving chocolate.
Y sees a rectangular brown object, smells the aroma, feels nausea from hating chocolate, and experiences a memory of eating chocolate and puking.
Now when X & Y compare notes, agreeing to be “objective” what do they talk about? Well, they don’t talk about the most important part of their experience, the craving, aversion, etc…. Rather, they focus on the “objective” characteristics, namely the subset of their experiences which they believe are the same. This they take as “real”, never mind that it is also an experience, like what they discarded! So they compare notes on the color, shape, smell and perhaps that it is indeed called a chocolate bar.
But how objective is this? For instance, is the chocolate bar large or small? Well, X thinks it’s small because X loves chocolate and Y thinks it’s huge for the opposite reason. However, neither may realize their feelings about chocolate are playing a role and think they are being objective.
What about color? Let’s say the bar has a red wrapper and X is red-green color blind while Y isn’t. X can differentiate red from most other colors, but sees it as others would see a shade of gray and grew up associating that shade of gray with red. So X says the color is “red” and Y — who sees red as most people (apparently) do — agrees. They both think they see the same thing, but they don’t.
So what do X & Y really share? Possibly the relationships among the words “red”, “chocolate” and “wrapper”. However, their experiences of “red”, “chocolate” and “wrapper” may differ dramatically. So may the words denoting the relationships among “red”, “chocolate” and “wrapper” for that matter…
We live in a private world and can only share a fraction of our experience, and what we do share is the least relevant to what we really value — happiness. But at some point, we start to value this non-representative part as “the real thing”. We value it so much that we treat words — the flawed means of communicating this — as reality. Think how certain words alone can trigger emotions and how putting a label on things can give them an emotional content. For instance, even if something seems bad, labeling it can make it seem even worse and make it seem like “bad-ness” is its essence or identity. This may be a reason why silencing our inner chatter can do much to secure our happiness.
Wittgenstein wrote two books in which the analysis of language played a big role:
- Tractatus Logic Philosophicaus with a synopsis here
- Philosophical Investigations with a synopsis here
Charles Tart did a lot of work on altered states of consciousness, and had a dismissive attitude towards “reality”. In fact, he described it as a consensus trance. He also wrote a book on states of consciousness, which you can read online in its entirety.