The Nature of Reality

Philosophy - "1. (a) Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline. (b) The investigation of causes and laws underlying reality. (c) A system of philosophical inquiry or demonstration. 2. Inquiry into the nature of things based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods. 3. The critique and analysis of fundamental beliefs as they come to be conceptualized and formulated. 7. The science comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology. 10. The system of values by which one lives: a philosophy of life."

Reality - "1. The quality or state of being actual or true; 3. The totality of all things possessing actuality, existence, or essence; 4. That which exists objectively and in fact;   5. (Philosophy) That which has necessary existence and not contingent existence."

Real - " 1. a. Being or occurring in fact or actuality; having verifiable existence; b. True and actual; not imaginary, alleged, or ideal; 6. (Philosophy) Existing objectively in the world regardless of subjectivity or conventions of thought or language."

A "Self-Evident" Empirical Observation

The philosophical foundation of my understanding of Reality has its genesis in a simple personal experience of my youth. As a freshman in university, it was necessary for me to commute daily back and forth from my residence to my classrooms. This required me to cross a reasonably busy city thoroughfare. As it happened, the two buildings between which I needed to travel were on opposite sides of this street, exactly in the middle of a long block. I could be a proper and law-abiding citizen and walk to either corner, then cross with the traffic lights. Or I could jaywalk through traffic. Being a brash, self-confident, and always in a hurry freshman, I generally chose to jaywalk.

My journey into philosophy started when I began to ponder the significance of my repeated success at meeting the wondrous challenge of jaywalking across that street. Just consider how much is involved in accomplishing that task. I had to carefully watch the cars, and observe their regular behaviour. I had to form generalizations that cars travel in straight lines, with a relatively narrow range of velocities. I had to accurately (enough) predict their future course and position. And I had to observe that my predictions were indeed generally accurate (enough). I then had to make use of my predictions by stepping out into the street at the moment I predicted I could cross the street safely. Despite several educational near misses, I am still here. For the three years I lived in that residence, I demonstrated repeated success at being able to observe, predict, and take advantage of my accumulated knowledge of those cars. When you consider the implications of this success, it necessitates certain constraints on possible answers to "Where am I?" and certain constraints on the nature of Reality.

The Definition of "Reality"

The First Axiom: Reality is objective (independent of any observer), constant (permits repeatable observations) and self-consistent (does not exhibit mutually contradictory cause-effect relationships).

Reality is Objective

In the history of Philosophy, there are two quite distinct traditions about the nature of the relationship between what we think we perceive and what is real. They are the Idealist, or the "Inside-Out" tradition and the Realist or "Outside-In" tradition. (For the moment I prefer the more descriptive labels. I feel they are less confusing, since the Idealist/Realist dichotomy is used in many different ways and many different places within philosophy.)

The "Inside-Out" tradition is best exemplified by the famous quote from Rene Descartes - "Cogito, ergo sum!" - "I think, therefore I am!"   Philosophers of this tradition start with the incontestable premise that "I think", and deduce from that the inescapable conclusion that consciousness is the fundamental given of metaphysics. Their argument is that to deny the premise "I think", or that "I am conscious" is a logical contradiction. The very fact that one is denying it necessitates that one is thinking and is conscious - thus invalidating the proposition.

However appealing this approach is, it suffers from one fatal flaw that no philosopher has ever managed to bridge. Philosophers of the Inside-Out tradition maintain that our modes of consciousness and cognition modify or process the sensory inputs, so that what our consciousness is aware of as sensory evidence must be regarded as the products of our consciousness rather than unbiased evidence of reality. In that event, goes the inescapable logical conclusion, either we can know nothing about the nature of an alleged external reality, or anything that we can know about such an alleged external reality must be provided through other means than our senses. The proponents of the "Inside-Out" line of reasoning support their arguments with examples and analyses based on evidence from the senses. Which is, of course, a bit of a contradiction since they also argue that the evidence from the senses often cannot be trusted. They assume that consciousness, as prior and primary to the sensory evidence, must generate our understanding from the evidence of our senses. Since this understanding is not a pure product of our senses, therefore what we understand about our sensory perceptions cannot be trusted as evidence of an objective reality.

There is no logical line of reasoning that can proceed from the basic axiom that consciousness is the fundamental given of metaphysics, to the conclusion that there is a reality outside of one's own consciousness. Since there is no way to validate the evidence of the senses, there is no basis from which to conclude that the sensory evidence is valid. Philosophers of the Inside-Out tradition are therefore forced to conclude that all that is perceived, as well as all the contents of consciousness, is actively created by the nature of consciousness. As it is impossible, therefore, to logically derive the existence of an external reality, there can be no logical foundation for any constraints on the nature of the contents of a particular person's consciousness. And there can be no logical necessity for any standardization or similarity of the contents of consciousness from one person to another.  In fact, there can be no logical necessity that there exists anything other than one's own consciousness.   Any suggestion that there exists a reality, or that there exists other minds, is founded on untrustworthy evidence from the senses.   The pure version of Idealism inescapably drives the logic towards Solipsism.   And the only escape is to posit some unsupported additional premise (like Berkeley's addition of God) that can provide a loop hole.

So we have philosophers like Berkeley who argue that there is no external reality.   What we think of as "reality" is but ideas in some consciousness specifically God's consciousness.   And we have Kant who argues that our understanding of the nuomenal world (the un-perceivable and unknowable reality that is the foundation beneath our sensory perceptions) is governed by the structure of our consciousness.

For this reason, the Inside-Out tradition logically results in what is referred to as "Subjectivist" notions of Truth, Knowledge, and Ethics. The philosophies of Hume and Kant are the pinnacles of this school of thought.

There is also a sub-tradition maintained by those philosophers who start with the same "Inside-Out" premise, but despair over the subjective consequences and proclaim the "Nihilist" school - Truth, Knowledge and Ethics are impossible, illogical, and invalid pursuits for inquiry. Many early twentieth century philosophers (collectively called the "Logical Positivists") were more or less of this school. Which is probably a good explanation why Philosophy and Philosophers as topics of popular awareness are in such ill repute.

The Outside-In tradition is best exemplified by Aristotle. Philosophers of this tradition start with the incontestable premise that thinking and consciousness are processes not things. By the very nature of what a process is, in order for a process to "exist" (be in the process of processing) there must be something that is being processed. To think is to think about something. To be conscious is to be conscious of something. Philosophers of this tradition start with this premise and acknowledge that by the nature of processes there must first be something about which I can think or of which I can be conscious, and deduce the inescapable conclusion that the existence of something that I might be conscious of or think about is the fundamental given of metaphysics. The argument is that to deny the existence of such a something is a logical contradiction. The very fact that one is denying that something I can be conscious of or think about does exist necessitates that one is thinking about and is conscious of something - thus invalidating the proposition. This argument is most succinctly (if not most cogently) expressed in the basic axiom of Randian Objectivism - "Existence exists". You can't have a process in operation, without something being processed. You can't be conscious, without being conscious of something. Thus the premise of a reality that exists as the object of the process of thinking and consciousness, necessitates that such a reality is objective and independent of those processes.

If reality is not "real" (objective and independent of our consciousness), then the information provided by our senses cannot be a valid basis upon which to base conclusions about the nature of Reality. For Reality to be other than "real", would mean it would have to be "un-real". And "unreal" means just that something is imaginary, or ideal, or constituted by our consciousness. The approach that is more in keeping with "Common Sense" is the view that "out there" is not "in here". That there is a reality that is outside oneself, that does not respond to the whims and notions of one's conscious attention, and that does not disappear when one's consciousness is focused elsewhere. If reality is "real", then the information provided by our senses is a valid basis upon which to base conclusions about the nature of Reality.

There are numerous writers of the Outside-In (aka "Realist Metaphysics") school of philosophy, beginning with Aristotle, who have written excellent expositions on the 'real' and 'objective' nature of Reality. Most notable among the more recent of these are Michael Devitt(1), David Kelley(2), and William Alston(3). I can do no better than refer you to the works of these authors. They have done a much better job than I could possibly do, and at far greater length than this text would permit.

The Problem of Perception

The "Problem of Perception" arises when one views perception as a three step process:- (i) the reception of environmental stimuli at the sensory organs; (ii) followed by some extra-mind neural processing; (iii) and finishing with some form of presentation to the mind for evaluation and consideration.   The three step process almost demands the thinker invest all sorts of possibilities for deception and confusion into that middle ground between the retinal image of the chair and the mind's perception of the chair.   From a basis in this model, what one "Sees" at step (iii) can be, and apparently often is, different from the sensory impression at stage (i).   With this view as the paradigm, one cannot avoid talking about things "as they really are" as different from things "as they appear".   And from there, one is drawn almost inevitably into the sceptical paradox of denying the possibility of knowing anything about "Things as they really are" (if indeed such a thing exists) whilst driving the car to work during rush hour.

 The problematic three-stage model is a tempting error to anyone from the Inside-Out (Idealist) Tradition, or anyone with a penchant for viewing the mind as more than just neural processes within the brain (a Dualist).   To anyone with an overt or covert commitment to Idealism or Dualism, anything other than a three-stage model seems to be obviously wrong.   To an Idealist who must deny the existence of an external reality, reason can only confirm the reality of the Self, since everything else is experienced within and by that Self.   Existence is what we are and what we experience within.   For a Dualist, who must deny the identity of the Self and the Brain, neurological science has followed the nerves "back" from the sensory organs, and demonstrated that all there is, no matter how far "back" you look, is merely electrical signals between different sets of neurons.   So obviously, there must be some sort of "Theatre" where all these electrical signals get translated into some form of "image" that the mind can then understand and be aware of.   Obviously, the mind is not aware of the electrical signals that are being exchanged during all that second-stage processing.

With the three-step, Idealist or Dualist, model of perception, one can entertain all sorts of fancy thought experiments ranging from the Brain in a Vat to Descartes' Demon, where the mischief is located somewhere between the sensory receptors that receive the image of "Things as they really are" and the mind that receives the image of "Things as they appear".   One can then argue that what the mind "perceives" is not what the senses receive from the environment.   And therefore, even in the absence of mischief, what the mind perceives as the way the world "appears" is not necessarily the way the world "really is".   And since we can never know whether some perception has been the result of mischief along the way, we can never know "Things as they really are".   Or even if there is such a thing as "Things as they really are".

 Which raises the question of just what exactly would be the nature of some thing "as it really is" as opposed to the way that the thing "appears" if in fact there is such a thing at all.   The best answer that the Dualist can provide is Kant's.   The phenomenal world (the world "as it appears") is in some way regularly dependent on the nuominal world (the world "as it really is").   But that does not really address the question of just what it would mean for something to be "as it really is" as opposed to how it "appears".   The obvious intent of distinguishing between the two, is to permit that "Things as they really are" can be different from "Things as they appear".   But since we can never determine what that difference is, and can only ever determine how things "appear", it leaves unanswered the question of just how things could be "as they really are" if that is different from how they "appear".   And of course, it leaves unanswered the question of whether there is such a thing as "how things really are".   It leaves unaddressed the possibility that there is nothing at all outside of "Things as they appear".   But if they are in fact different, is it possible to conceive how they might be different?   Indeed, if they are in fact different, is it possible to conceive of any answer to the question asked?   It is even possible to conceive of "Things as they really are" in a way that is different from "Things as they appear"?

The significance of this question is highlighted when one considers just how one navigates when jaywalking through rush hour traffic on the way to school or work.   The tolerances that apply to when jaywalking are pretty narrow (especially on busy downtonw street).   It would not take much of a difference between the way things appear and the way things really are to cause an "accident".   Yet there are very few accidents that are attributed to such a difference.   Which seems to imply that there is no practical, operational, day-to-day difference between "Things as they appear" and "Things as they really are".   So why do philosophers make such a great to-do about such a difference if it doesn't seem to exist on a practical level?   The unanswerable nature of this question (given the three-stage model of perception), is an indication that the concept of a difference between "Things as they really are" and "Things as they appear" is not a clear one.   And that gives a clue to how to resolve the paradox.

The solution to this paradox is to avoid taking the first step.   Reject the Inside-Out (Idealist) Tradition in favour of the Outside-In (Realist) Tradition.   And then change the initial paradigm from a three step process to a two step process:- (i) the reception of environmental stimuli at the sensory organs; (ii) which is itself the presentation to the brain/mind for evaluation and consideration.   With a two-step model as the basis, there is no longer any room for a separation between "Things as they really are" and "Things as they appear".   The presentation that the brain/mind receives is the image of "Things as they really are".   That gives complete meaning to both phrases, explains the regular dependence between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds, and answers that unanswerable question.   There are no traffic accidents attributable to the difference between "Things as they appear" and "Things as they really are" because there is no difference.   "Things as they appear" just is "Things as they really are".  

To a Metaphysical Realist (of the Outside-In Tradition), electrical signals between different sets of neurons is what the mind is.   The "Theatre" where sensory data gets translated into some form of image that the mind can understand is just exactly the initial sensory receptors - the place where environmental stimuli first get translated into electrical signals.   The impact of certain wavelengths of light on the retina is a sensation of red.   The impact of a certain frequency of vibrations on the cochlear nerve is the sound of Middle C.   The retinal image of the chair is an image of the chair as it really is.   And the mind perceives that image from the retina.   The chair "appears" to the mind/brain "as it really is".   The problem of jaywalking across the street is just one familiar example of the evolutionary pressures that would ensure a seamless union of "Things as they are" with "Things as they appear".   Any differences between the two would have had a tendency to get our ancestors killed.   Since it is "intuitively obvious" that we are here, our ancestors were obviously able to avoid that source of error.   Hence the unavoidable conclusion that evolutionary pressures would ensure that there is no such difference.

Evolutionary pressures also, by the way, explain the point often raised by critics, that we are designed to perceive objects that are in some sense like ourselves.   At each stage in our evolution from simple replicating chemical molecules to complex multi-celled and conscious organisms, the economics of dealing with evolutionary pressures would ensure that we would perceive only those environmental threats that we could deal with.   An individual Escherichia coli bacterium would have little use for an ability to perceive the tiger hiding behind a bush and his intended lunch.   But would have every use for an ability to detect food, and react to a deleterious chemical environment by wriggling away.   In a similar way, the most significant environmental features for human beings - food and physical threats - are almost all on roughly the same physical scale.   It has only been quite recently (say the last 500 years) that the threat of micro-life has been greater than the threat of a tiger behind the bush or simple starvation.


Reality is Constant and Consistent

In addition to being objective, this "Reality" must have two very important characteristics in order for me to be successful in crossing that street. The first, and most important characteristic is that Reality has to be "constant". That is, "Reality" has to be such that we can repeat our sensory perceptions of it, as long as we are careful to repeat the conditions under which we are making our sensory perceptions. This means assuming, as a starting point, that "Reality" behaves in a predictably repeatable fashion, regardless of what our perceptions may superficially tell us. If we repeat our observing situation, we can accurately predict our sensory perceptions. If our perceptions are not as they were expected to be, then Evolutionary Pragmatism assumes that it is the parameters of the observing situation that have changed, not the nature of "Reality". Evolutionary Pragmatism assumes that "Reality" will not behave maliciously, deceptively, or in some other unpredictable manner.

The other important characteristic is that Reality has to be self-consistent. By self-consistent, I mean that "Reality" cannot possess attributes that are mutually contradictory. For example, "Reality" cannot not be both black and white simultaneously, regardless of what our sensory perceptions may tell us. This means that, regardless of our perceptions, our understanding about the nature of "Reality" must be based on an explanation (model, theory) that is also self-consistent. Otherwise, this axiom dictates that the theory is not a "good" (i.e. accurate and complete) explanation or understanding of "Reality". If we perceive some aspect of "Reality" that appears initially to be inconsistent with other perceptions of "Reality", either the observing conditions have changed (so that what we are perceiving is different aspects "Reality"), or that understanding of what it is we are perceiving is in some way inaccurate or incomplete. The self-consistent characteristic of "Reality" says that there must be other causes of apparently inconsistent perceptions.

Perception and Reality

I must point out one careful warning here, however. I am stressing the repeatability of our sensory perceptions, not necessarily of our understanding of what we perceive. And I am not saying that what we may perceive is necessarily an accurate, or the only sensory appearance of "Reality". Perceptions can always be fooled (the stock in trade of magicians and con men). This may not seem important now, but will assume greater significance later.

That this thing "Reality" exists, does not automatically imply that we can ever "know" its "True" nature. This objective, constant and consistent concept of Reality is based on the hypothesis that what we perceive, both personally and through experimental equipment, are reflections "Through a glass, darkly" of this thing Reality. What we are limited to is viewing the behaviour of Reality through a cloudy, distorting, and fairly small window. That window is a representation of our sensory receptors, and the way in which we interpret our sensory perceptions. With our senses, we can perceive only a limited aspect of the nature of Reality. The window is small, because each of us has a quite narrow focus of interest. Anything that takes place outside our current focus, goes largely ignored. As do things that happen that do not fit neatly into our expectations about what should happen. While observing the behaviour of one part of Reality, we may miss completely other areas. The window is cloudy because our sensory inputs are limited in scope. We can see only a very narrow section of the electromagnetic spectrum, can hear only a limited range of sound frequencies, can taste or smell only relatively high concentrations of a very limited number of chemical compounds, and can touch things only with a relatively insensitive and undiscriminating nervous system packaged in a highly damageable wrapping. With all of these limitations, it is actually surprising how much we do manage to learn about the nature of Reality. We are constantly inventing new methods of extending our senses and overcoming the cloudiness of that window.

Even as we reduce the cloudiness, the window retains its distortions, because what we think we perceive of Reality is filtered through our understanding and expectations of what we think we should see. "You see what you want to see" is a popular aphorism that is quite appropriate. Optical illusions are the most familiar example of this form of distortion. What the observer of Reality perceives is influenced heavily by what is expected, and by what has been experienced in the past. Should Reality display an unexpected response, the observer is likely to interpret and "understand" the sensory inputs in a way that would be consistent with previous experience and what is expected, despite any contradictions this may have with the way Reality "really" reacted. And if presented with perceptions that just do not fit the expectations or experience at all, the observer is just as likely to discount the inconvenient evidence of the senses as "random noise", "experimental error", or anything else that can be "Safely" ignored.

Thus, we can learn about Reality only through repeated observations and continual experimentation. The more we repeat our observations and perceptions, the more we experience and experiment, the better we are at accurately interpreting the data from our senses. As we continue to experiment and further our investigations, our understanding of the complex nature of Reality improves. Our mental picture (conception) of Reality approaches closer to the true nature of Reality as our knowledge and understanding increases. While we may be able to perceive only limited aspects with any one view, we may repeat our observations, and take observations in different ways, from different "angles". With the assumption that the underlying Reality is constant and consistent, we can combine observations made from different points of view, at different times. It is as if we were compiling an understanding of the architecture (both external and internal) of the Houses of Parliament by studying a number of photographs. Each single photograph (perception) is limited to specific view, angle of vision, exposure, and focal distance. By combining a large number of separate photographs, we can compile a quite detailed and accurate image of the Houses of Parliament. This exercise would not be possible unless it was assumed that the photographs could be combined into something we could understand, and that the basis from which the images were taken was not changing over time in some unexplainable and non-understandable fashion.

The Rationale - "Intuitively Obvious"

The rationale behind the First Axiom on the nature of Reality is comparatively simple. It is also "Intuitively Obvious".  Consider my introductory problem of jaywalking across a busy street. This, or something very like this, is a challenge encountered by all of us, every day. You are faced with a bunch of highly lethal steel monstrosities, hurtling towards you at (relatively) very high speed. Given a moderate level of traffic congestion, most people still feel relatively safe crossing the street, even if they are jaywalking. Now why is that? It is primarily because you can predict with reasonable certainty, just what the traffic is going to do - reality is observed to be constant. You know that if you are not paying attention and just walk out into the street, you will not get to the other side. The cars are real, and they are lethal if they hit you. You just can't ignore the reality of those cars and survive in the modern city - reality is observed to be consistent.

You have to be able to predict the behaviour of those cars, based on previous encounters with similar situations. And you have to assume that those earlier observations will be a good basis upon which to predict their near future behaviour. Otherwise, you would never venture out into the street at all. If you had never encountered a street and cars before, you would have no basis upon which to understand that the cars stop for red lights, letting you cross safely. Or that the cars tend to say traveling at relatively constant speed, in relatively straight lines, allowing you to jay-walk if you have a mind to. Or, when it comes to the finer detail, that the cars will be lethal if they hit you.   Likewise if you relax your presumption of constancy and consistency.

It is the lack of this knowledge about the nature of cars, and their predictable behaviour that causes parents to carefully teach their children how to cross the street - at corners, looking both ways, and with the green light if there is one. We all realize that children lack the understanding that cars are dangerous, and lack the experience to be able to accurately predict their behaviour in any but the grossest way. Jaywalking for a young child is a very dangerous activity. We know this, and take steps to minimize the risks for the children, while feeling reasonably safe jaywalking ourselves. The predictability of these kinds of situations is a real and constant reminder that perceptions are repeatable, and Reality is understandable. Really it is! You ignore this "intuitively obvious" fact at your very real peril.

Why this emphasis on Reality? The answer is two-fold. The first part of the answer is simple. As the dictionary definition quoted above implies, the subject of Philosophy is the search for underlying principles. This definition presupposes something that has underlying principles. Even those who are not philosophers have as one of their basic operating axioms, some assumptions about the constant and consistent nature of Reality. The editor of the dictionary certainly has. As do scientists, doctors, machinists, and taxi-drivers. And, of course, people who jay-walk. The First Axiom, therefore, defines in detail the characteristics that Reality necessarily must have to make a search for underlying causes and principles more than a fool's errand. And the way that Reality necessarily must be to enable me to successfully jaywalk across a moderately busy street. If there is no comprehensible linkage between what we perceive and some underlying cause, searching for causes or explanations for events is a fruitless exercise.

Besides, like it or not, the concept of Reality assumed by Evolutionary Pragmatism (that reality is objective, constant and consistent) WORKS. It is on the basis of this assumption that Man has walked on the Moon. Science and Medicine and Technology all depend for their very existence on the accuracy and usefulness of this basic assumption about Reality. There is just no getting away from it, unless you are willing to accept that all that we perceive is not Real, in the commonly conceived notion of what "real" means.

The Rationale - "Necessary Condition"

The second part of the reason for this stress on Reality, is a little more complicated. As a part of the dictionary definition implies, Philosophy is, in part, a critical examination of the grounds for fundamental beliefs. Now how does one go about doing a "critical examination"? There are, basically, two approaches to take. First, one can explore the consequences of some fundamental belief to see if there are any lines of reasoning that can be made to result in a self-contradictory situation, decision, or conclusion. If such a situation can be found, the philosophical system based on those fundamental beliefs would be called "internally inconsistent". There are a number of philosophical conflicts that would be difficult to resolve if the philosophical system appealed to is internally inconsistent. The typical problem would involve getting both a "Yes" and a "No" answer to the question of whether or not a specific situation or choice is Ethical or Moral. Or, to put it in terms we have already met, an inconsistent set of fundamental beliefs would yield ambiguous and/or multiple-choice and/or conflicting answers to the question "What should I do?". This tends to make good Moral choices difficult (if not impossible).

The basic axiom that Reality is self-consistent makes "incomplete" or "erroneous" any theory about Reality that is not also self-consistent. It may be a usable theory, within limits, but is none-the-less, not a complete theory. It cannot be a "good" theory about Reality unless it is as self-consistent as Reality is assumed to be. The consequences of this basic assumption about Reality severely constrain the "freedom" of the development of any philosophy that pretends to be an explanation of the underlying causes or principles of Reality. Evolutionary Pragmatism demands of its own philosophical arguments, therefore, that they themselves be self-consistent. (I realise that this argument is somewhat circular, but that is the nature of starting axioms. The importance of self-consistency is raised in many places throughout this work.)

The only way to structure a line of reasoning that is demonstrably internally consistent, is to base the development of the structure on axioms that force or demand self-consistency. The assumption that Reality is self-consistent, is one of the foundation pieces necessary to ensure Evolutionary Pragmatism develops in a self-consistent manner. A self-consistent Reality is, therefore, used as the basis for the development of the philosophical reasoning within Evolutionary Pragmatism, and is also used as the test bench to ensure that the conclusions reached during the course of the philosophical development of Evolutionary Pragmatism are mutually consistent.

The second way to do a "critical examination" of fundamental beliefs, is to explore for lines of argument that can be made to result in situations or decisions that are "clearly" (i.e. intuitively obviously, or self-evidently) detrimental, while being judged Moral or Ethical. I have used 'clearly' here in quotes, because the definition of what I mean by this concept must wait until we explore further into the principles of Evolutionary Pragmatism. The only way to determine whether a situation is "clearly" detrimental (other than appealing to one person's opinion), is to appeal to some objective source of information. Thus, in order to perform a critical examination of the fundamental beliefs of any philosophy, including itself, Evolutionary Pragmatism needs an objective outside source of information that can be appealed to for repeatable answers. The First Axiom defines such an outside objective source of repeatable information as "Reality", and defines in detail the characteristics that such a Reality must necessarily have to make a search for objective information more than a fool's errand. If objective outside information cannot be obtained, then a critical examination is nothing more than one person's opinion. It is a corollary to the first axiom of Evolutionary Pragmatism, that Philosophy is more than merely one person's opinion.

One Person's Opinion?

If I were to show you an amorphous lump of metal, and declare "This is a widget", an interesting discussion might result if you do not immediately agree with me. The course of the discussion would probably wander, but in essence you would be attempting to come to some understanding of what I mean by the concept "widget", and against what assessment criteria I classify this particular amorphous lump of metal as a "widget".

Suppose you disagree with my evaluation that this particular lump of metal is a "widget". Perhaps you do not understand or agree with my concept of "widget". You would explore my processes of evaluation and classification to determine what I believe constitutes a "widget". You would look for a point with which you could begin to convince me otherwise. If I offer no "meaningful" (in this context, this means "useful to you") assessment and classification criteria, you would normally feel perfectly within your rights to tell me "That's just your opinion! I don't think it is a widget!". The evaluation of the lump of metal would come down to merely one person's opinion, yours versus mine. Further discussion would be fruitless. There would be no grounds from which you could begin to convince me otherwise. With no objectively measurable assessment criteria behind the classification of "widget", you would have no opening from which to suggest that my evaluation or classification is other than correct. For this reason, the First Axiom defines an objectively examinable Reality, and establishes the logical corollary that Philosophy is more than merely one person's opinion. (After all, what fun would Philosophy be, if we couldn't talk about it).

Every system of philosophy about which a book has been published, or a class has been taught, or a speech has been made, appears to agree with the assumption that Philosophy is more than merely one person's opinion. And this despite the Metaphysical statements of these diverse philosophies that might contradict this appearance. They appear to agree, since the adherents of these systems of philosophy invest considerable amount of time and energy trying to convince others that their philosophy is "better" than any other. Surely, these people would not be engaged in this effort if they believed that Philosophy was merely one person's opinion. If it were, then how could they claim that their opinion is any more valid than someone else's?

Oddly enough, many systems of philosophy do not accept the existence of an independent objective Reality. Evolutionary Pragmatism is classified by students of philosophy as a "realist" and an "objectivist" form of philosophy, because of its base assumption of an independent objective Reality. But there are many schools of philosophical thought that are "Subjectivist" in nature, because they do not accept the existence of an independent Reality. Any philosopher who communicates with others from the foundation of "Subjectivist" metaphysics is being irrational and illogical. The attempt to communicate with someone other than oneself is inconsistent with the metaphysical belief that reality is a purely personal construct. But there have been, and are still, many philosophers who maintain that logic, rationality, and objectivity are no requirement for intelligent discussion of reality.

Three-Tiered Model of Reality

With the foregoing as foundation, I would like now to introduce three new terms. The philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism regards "Reality" with a three-tiered conceptual model. This is not to suggest that there are three different realities. It is merely to introduce three views or ways of thinking about Reality that will prove useful at later points in this exposition. There is, at the first level, "Perceptive Reality". At the second level is "Synthetic Objective Reality". And at the third level is "Existential Reality".

"Perceptive Reality" is the reality that we perceive with our senses. This is the level of understanding Reality that is part sensory input, and part expectation. For example, I perceive that the ball is that particular shade of coloration that I have learned to call "red". Or that the hands of the magician are at one instant empty, and at the next displaying fanned decks of cards. The three levels of this conceptual model are in no way independent. The expectations that influence what we think we perceive, comes from the next level of the model.

"Synthetic Objective Reality" is the way that we believe reality to be. We each of us construct our own individual mental model of how reality is and behaves. It is this understanding of Reality that allows us to generate a running expectation of what we are perceiving. Statements describing reality are statements generated from our Synthetic Objective Reality conceptual model. Our model of Reality is built out of a lifetime of personal experiences with Reality, and with the related experiences of others. The model is "Synthetic" because it is a synthesis of a multitude of perceptions of Reality, both over time and across observers. The model is "Objective" because it is based on the assumption that Reality is objective and permits us to incorporate the perceptions of a multitude of others - even when the model assumes an idealist/subjectivist metaphysical foundation.

It is this model of reality that allows us to understand that the ball is so chemically constituted that it reflects only certain frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, and can thus be called "red" even if it is in an unlit box and we cannot directly perceive it at all. Even if we ourselves are colour-blind. It is this model of reality that allows us to understand that the magician did not really materialise a deck of cards out of thin air, despite what our perceptions are telling us. (Or alternatively, it is this model of reality that allows us to understand that the magician really did materialise a deck of cards out of thin air, despite what our other perceptions of thin air and card decks might suggest.)

"Existential Reality" is the label that is attached to our concept of the way reality really is. This is the "True Reality" that our Synthetic-Objective Model attempts to comprehend. Hume's label for this was "Deep Reality". Kant's label was "Nuomenal Reality". But Hume and Kant were of the "Inside-Out" (Idealist Metaphysics) school of philosophy. It was Hume's and Kant's contention that we can never really know anything about "Deep Reality" because whatever we perceive is not about Deep Reality, it is about Perceptive Reality. And whatever we conceive or learn is not about Deep Reality, it is about Synthetic Objective Reality. According to Hume and Kant, therefore, we can never perceive or know anything about Deep Reality. But Evolutionary Pragmatism does not follow Hume's reasoning here. Evolutionary Pragmatism is of the "Outside-In" school of philosophy. That is why Evolutionary Pragmatism calls this level of the model "Existential Reality" instead of Deep Reality.   Existential reality is "evidence transcendent" in the sense that regardless of how much evidence we might compile to suggest that reality is one way, it is always possible in principle that it is not in fact that way.   Existential reality is the asymptotically approachable limit - no matter how closely we approach the limit with our evidence and knowledge as incorporated into our Synthetic-Objecive Model, it will remain always possible (no matter how unlikely) that reality is not the way that we believe it to be.

To Evolutionary Pragmatism, these are three levels of understanding of the same Reality. Thus whenever we interpret our sensory inputs as a perception of Perceptive Reality, it is also a perception of Existential Reality. And whenever we incorporate our perceptions into our Synthetic Objective model of Reality, we are modelling our understanding of Existential Reality. You may not be able to know whether or not, in Existential Reality, all swans are white because you have never seen or heard of the Australian black swan. And we may not be able to know, in Existential Reality, the exact length of the table because infinitely precise measurements are not possible in principle. But, I can know that it is true of Existential Reality that I have never seen a black swan. And we can know that in Existential Reality, the table is between x and y centimetres long. So an Evolutionary Objectivist can indeed know something about Existential Reality. Knowing things about Existential Reality is what our Synthetic-Objective Model is all about.

As we incorporate more and more perceptions of Reality into our Synthetic Objective understanding, we gain a more and more accurate knowledge of Existential Reality. If all of our experiences, and all of the experiences of others we can learn from, are consistent with the Synthetic Objective model that the ball is red, then it is more and more likely that the ball is indeed Existentially red, and less and less likely that the ball is not Existentially red. At a certain point in the scale of likelihood, probability becomes knowledge.


Axiom 1:- Reality is objective (independent of any observer), constant (permits repeatable observations) and self-consistent (does not exhibit mutually contradictory cause-effect relationships).

Corollary 1.1:- Philosophy is more than merely one person's opinion.

Based on the nature of this first axiom, the metaphysics of Evolutionary Pragmatism is generally classed by students of Philosophy as a "Realist", "Objectivist", "Deterministic", and "Newtonian" system of metaphysics.

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Footnotes & References

(1) Devitt, Michael;  Realism and Truth, Second Edition, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1991.

(2) Kelly, David; The Evidence of the Senses, A Realist Theory of Perception; Louisiana State University Press, 1986; ISBN 0-8071-1476-6

(3)   Alston, William P. (Ed.). Realism & Antirealism. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2002. ISBN 0-8014-8790-0.

                        -- -- -- -, A Sensible Metaphysical Realism, Marquette University Press, Ashland, Ohio. 2001. ISBN 0-87462-168-2.

Miller, Alexander;  "Realism" in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL=<>. 

Khlentzos, Drew; "Challenges to Metaphysical Realism" in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL=<>.