What is real? Are things like tables, houses, rocks, trees and cars real? Are you real? Are other people real? Is God real? How can you tell if something or someone is real or not?
This is a book about a new understanding of reality, for the late 1990s and the 21st Century. The core claim here is that order is real, as real as energy, and that order, energy and God constitute everything that exists in the universe. Correctly understanding the reality of order provides a new bridge to understanding and appreciating the reality of God and other things once thought to belong to the "supernatural." This is a book for people who want to strengthen their beliefs and to resolve inconsistencies between their beliefs and their "ordinary world" view of reality. And this is a book for people who are undecided, who are not sure what to believe, not sure what is real and true and right.
The Great Benefits of Accurately Understanding Reality
A correct and accurate understanding of reality is essential to our functioning as adult human beings in the world. This book aims to give you a new understanding of reality that is both comprehensive and simple, an understanding that will help you:
As the author, I will be sharing with you knowledge and insights gained over a half-century of living, learning and thinking. Inevitably, this combination of information reflects one person’s life, as does any book by a single author. But in preparing to write it, I have attempted to fill the gaps in my existing knowledge with extensive research to achieve a truly comprehensive system encompassing basically everything that exists in the universe. Obviously this does not include every single thing, but it does deal with reality at many different levels of complexity, from sub-atomic particles to human civilization and religion.
What Do We Mean By "Reality"?
The word reality comes from the Latin res meaning thing or fact. Briefly, reality in this book means "things which actually exist and are essential and ultimate, not illusory, relative or fraudulent." Ultimate reality refers to those things which actually exist at the deepest, most fundamental levels of existence, the basic essentials beyond which there is no more reality. Although discussions of ultimate reality can be complex and abstract, especially among scholars, I have done my best to maintain a more down-to-earth, practical approach that strives for simplicity. As a professional writer for more than 30 years, I have devoted much of my career to communicating complex subjects simply and understandably. But let’s talk about you some.
Your Own Understanding Of Reality
Your understanding of reality may be largely conscious or unconscious, certain or vague, incomplete, partly developed or highly systematic. However your understanding of reality is structured, it controls your life more than just about anything else. It functions as a filter, constantly and rapidly monitoring incoming sensory signals and mental thoughts like radar, determining what will be accepted within the mind and what will be rejected as "unreal," irrelevant or meaningless. How you answer the question, "What is real?", is not just one of many questions. It is in many ways the ultimate question. It undergirds what you do with your life, how you think and feel, what you believe in, how you communicate with others and much more.
Most adults take "reality" for granted, and rarely think about it unless they have an experience of suddenly "real-izing" that their minds were functioning on false assumptions and a correction is in order. For example, a person might discover that a friend thought to be trustworthy has in reality been deceitful, and the adjustment in thought and feeling which this demands can be quite painful. While this relatively fixed adult view of reality may provide some comfort and simplify daily living, it also can mean greater resistance to change the older one becomes.
Young children, by contrast, are constantly refining their views of reality as their developing minds struggle with the reality or non-reality of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, God, the Tooth Fairy, cartoon characters, what they see on television, what other people from their parents to their young friends tell them, and much more. A healthy mind seems to have an inborn drive to test and discover reality and truth. Unfortunately some people lump God in with the imaginary beings of childhood and never develop an adult understanding of God that is utterly different from fantasy figures.
"Ordinary reality" in this book refers to the everyday world of objects, plants, animals and people, things we can observe with our senses and about which there is little disagreement among average people. Tables, houses, rocks, trees, cars, buildings, the sun, weather, food, exercise, our bodies, the clothes we wear, human beings, dogs, cats, flowers and millions of other things fall into the category of ordinary reality. Although there is much more to ordinary reality than most people realize, it provides a common ground of understanding that makes communication and everyday life easier.
It is more accurate to view "ordinary reality" from two different perspectives. At one level there are physical objects (both living and nonliving) and events about which there is relatively little disagreement. At another level, there are our perceptions of what these things mean and how we feel about them. For example, two people may disagree violently who was at fault when their cars wrecked, but they do not argue that their cars have collided or that they are now standing on the roadway in heated disagreement, or that the man approaching them in a blue uniform is a policeman, or that it is going to be expensive to get these cars repaired.
Although we may disagree about the meaning of things or how we feel about them, if we lose touch with what is commonly accepted as ordinary reality, we may be considered odd, weird, eccentric, neurotic or psychotic. If one of us bothers enough people with his or her "unrealistic" behavior, others may insist that the "disturbed" person be locked up in a mental institution. More often, the relatively minor misperceptions and misunderstandings which we all experience serve as irritants, to ourselves as well as others. Importantly, these common misunderstandings can block the possibility of making freer choices and enjoying a deeper experience of the meaning of life.
The Limits of Knowledge
To have a correct understanding of reality, it is very important to accept the limits of human knowledge. In the section above, I stated rather glibly that most people tend to agree about things they can observe with their senses. If you can see and feel a rock, hear the sound it makes when you drop it on a table, taste it if you dare to take a lick, notice that it is cool to the touch unless perhaps it has been lying in the sun, you have virtually zero doubt that that rock is real.
But consider this: The appearance and color of that rock do not exist "out there in the external world." Your eyes have received "bare" electromagnetic radiation of certain wavelengths, which caused bioelectrical pulses to emanate from the visual receptor cells in your retina. These pulses are repeated along the optic nerve and quickly reach the visual cortex of your brain, where the pulses are interpreted as "how the rock looks." The appearance and color associated with the rock are fabrications of your brain.
Or suppose the rock was lying in the sun when you picked it up. Again specialized cells in your hand, sensitive to heat and pressure, sent bioelectric pulses along the pathways of your nervous system, to be received and given "meaning" by the brain. While objects may be said to have certain temperatures as measured by a thermometer or similar instrument, the experience we know as warmth is a mental fabrication. Sound also does not exist in the external world – only the movement of air waves. To the old puzzle, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?" the answer is decidedly "No." It makes air waves but not sound—as long as no one, no single living thing, hears it.
It is a strange thought, but all the beauty and wonder of the external world, from shiny stones to brilliant flowers, from gorgeous sunsets to magnificent symphonic music, exist entirely within our minds. The external world is blank. In other words, reality is not "out there" as you usually think of it. Instead, reality is what you think, that is, your experience of reality is the result of your thoughts and your mental processes – not vice versa. Thus the title of this chapter, "Reality Is Not What You Think—Reality Is What You Think."
Whereas "ordinary reality" is immediately accessible by our senses and perceptions (even though it is something of an illusion), ultimate reality requires much more effort to grasp. By ultimate reality I mean reality at its deepest levels, peeling back the layers of experience and knowledge till we reach the inner core, beyond which one can go no further because there is no further to go. To understand ultimate reality, one has to consider some of the primary claims of the sciences, psychology, philosophy and religious faith. And one will have to step back from these traditional disciplines and view reality in an entirely new light, a view which may be hard to grasp not because it is terribly complicated but because it is new and different.
This book has been written in a focused effort to make your journey toward a new, more effective understanding of reality relatively simple, because ultimate reality is relatively simple. In fact, the more ultimate you go, the simpler it gets. But first, let’s look at the most prevalent view of reality today, a view so powerful and all-pervasive that it makes a new view of reality extremely difficult to attain.
The Prevalent View Of Materialism
The view of reality which dominates the Western World and other parts of the globe is commonly known as materialism. Materialism (matter-ialism) claims that only things composed of matter which can be observed with the senses or measured with instruments are real. Sometimes this view is called scientific materialism, which extends the "reality" of matter to include energy and space-time. This conception of reality is taught, explicitly or implicitly, in virtually all public schools in the Western World. It has become so widespread, and science so undisputed as the source of "truth," that very few people doubt it.
To be more accurate about the claims of modern science, in the 20th Century scientists have shifted from a literal materialism to a greater awareness of the importance of scientific models which are simplified visualizations, conceptualizations or symbols of what is considered a much more complex reality – ultimate reality, as defined above. Nevertheless science as it is practiced day to day is very largely materialistic. The remarkable achievements of science in recent years, from placing a man on the moon to creating new life forms by genetic engineering, have reinforced the power of the materialistic view of reality throughout our culture.
And how do we learn about what is happening in our world? Through the mass media, especially newspapers, magazines and television, which also insist on the observable, the objective, the material. Claims of non-observable realities are looked upon with great skepticism by most mass media, although they may take religion seriously, especially at times like Christmas and Easter, and may even feature articles by religious leaders.
Probably the force most responsible for widespread materialism in America and other Western countries is the public education process. What I call "naive science" teaches that the universe is composed of matter and energy in a space-time continuum . . . period. Evolution is presented as fact when it is only a theory. From the time children are very young throughout their whole education, an implicitly materialistic view of reality underlies everything they are taught, every course, every topic, every class, by every teacher. Little wonder that it tends to sink deep into the unconscious and affect thought, assumptions and perceptions at all levels.
The result for many people of faith is that life is compartmentalized. For most of the week we live in the secular compartment. When we go to church or synagogue, read the Bible, pray or dwell on spiritual matters, we shift into the faith compartment. Sometimes this shifting back and forth is very uncomfortable. Often it means that religious faith gets shut out of most of our days and hours, and our lives are significantly impoverished as a result. If you work in the world of business, you know how careful you must be about discussing religion with clients, customers or even fellow workers. You run the risk of offending them and suffering negative financial or career consequences.
The Inadequacy Of Materialism
Materialism as an understanding of reality leaves much to be desired. It reduces values such as justice, love and peace to either observable external circumstances or the influence of biochemicals on our brains. It excludes God and faith from most meaningful discussion. Materialism is so inadequate that, as far as I know, it is not actively advocated by any living philosopher or teacher as an effective or comprehensive system of thought or "world view." It is a view of reality by default, a view that results from the inadequacy of old beliefs which have been supplanted by the supremacy of science, technology and the pursuit of materialistic pleasures.
How did things get this way? In part because in our pluralistic society people disagree about more abstract subjects like politics and religion but can agree on more concrete things like "this is a rock" or the basic teachings of the natural sciences. Materialism reduces human discourse to the lowest common denominator. The phrase "get real" usually means "stop dwelling on irrelevant abstractions or fantasies and get down to the practical world of material reality." Materialism is simple and practical, and in that sense, it can be very appealing and functional.
But we pay a tremendous price for this oversimplifying. Materialism is so incomplete it can easily lead to disillusionment and despair. The pursuit of material pleasure can bring about an unhealthy emphasis on money, property, and "whatever feels good" – even to the point of drug addiction and crime, a particular risk for those who lack material possessions and resent those who have them.
Although it was satirical, the popular entertainer Madonna's song in the late 1980's about being "a material girl in a material world" aptly captured the attitude of millions of people. Life in this material world for many people boils down to "get yours while you can." Unfortunately so many people are unable to "get theirs" that life does not seem to be getting any better for them. And our materialistic view of reality, so deeply embedded in Western-World culture and imparted into the minds of each new generation, is partly responsible for the problem.
You almost cannot escape succumbing to the domination of materialism as you go about your workaday life. The materialistic view of reality underlies the whole world of public education, business and commerce, including the mass media. It’s everywhere. And "to get along, you've got to go along."
Other Views of Reality
It is not the purpose of this book to discuss all the other views of reality. At one extreme, for example, is solipsism, the belief that only one’s self is real – everything else is subjective. At another extreme is mysticism, which seeks transcendent union with divine ultimate reality. If you would like to learn more about different views of reality, you’ll need to consult an introduction to philosophy.
My purpose here is not to explain many alternate views of reality but to make a strong case for a new view of reality to take the place of materialism. Our world today needs a view of reality that is sufficient for the complexities of the coming 21st Century. We need to develop and adopt a new understanding that has a place for religious faith and for science, for technology and love, for the appreciation of all the enduring accomplishments of human life. Such an understanding must be not only comprehensive but also simple enough for average people to grasp, at least for those who care to learn more.
Introducing The System Of Ordergonics
In this book, I will introduce you to the system of Ordergonics, based on the concept that order (ordo) and energy (ergon) are equally real and constitute everything in our world of sensory experience. Ordergonics constitutes a new framework for also understanding the reality of God. Order, energy and God are the "ultimate realities" that constitute everything that exists in the universe.
The mistake which people have made for centuries is to think of order as a property of the material world, like redness or coldness. We have learned that redness or coldness don’t actually exist outside of our minds, but instead there is an external reality that includes electromagnetic energy at various wave lengths and temperatures. Likewise, we may think that some arrangement or organization that we see is orderly and that it, too, has no existence outside of our minds. But there is an external reality that includes order – an ultimate reality in which order is primordial, we might say.
By order I do not mean anything radically different from what the Romans meant 2500 years ago when they used the word ordo to mean row, order or arrangement. But I also emphatically do not mean order in the sense of rigidity or inflexibility. Ultimate order is very diverse, manifesting itself in many different ways, just as energy is manifest in many ways. The laws of nature, mathematics, probability, chance, the forces that bind atoms together, space, time, patterns, equilibrium, information, rules, the genetic code, knowledge, logic, music, dance, society, communication, history, organization, the Ten Commandments, Creation – all these and many more are forms or manifestations of the reality of order.
Once you understand the reality of order in all its rich complexity yet underlying simplicity, many of life’s "mysteries" will become clear to you. You will truly understand the meaning of life. There is one catch: You’ll have to read most of this book and really think about what it is saying to "get it." You may have to read it several times if you want to permanently adjust your understanding of reality. There are some surprising twists and discoveries as one works up the "chain" of order from the level of atomic particles through human civilization and on to the realities of religious faith.
It is also extremely difficult to change your view of reality because it tends to be buried below the surface like the roots of a giant tree. One book can open your mind to new possibilities, but you must think through these possibilities in great detail, investing a substantial amount of time and effort, before your view of reality can begin to change.
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