The case against reality: Does what we see exist?

Chris Horrie attempts to answer one of the longest-running unanswered questions in philosophy

Thursday 22 April 2021 21:30
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<p>Inside a virtual reality game at a computer and video game convention in Los Angeles in 2017</p>

Inside a virtual reality game at a computer and video game convention in Los Angeles in 2017

D

o we see reality as it actually is? Well, unless you are currently in a state of complete mental breakdown or in the midst of an LSD trip (or both), then you are almost certainly going to answer this question with a categorical: “I don’t know. Do I?”

One reason you can respond in this manner is that you are a human being and not an Australian jewel beetle. The males of this benighted outback species have lately been rocketed into the centre of both philosophical speculation and big dollar Californian computer science because they were so certain that they were seeing reality – beetle reality that is – “as it actually is” that it brought them to the point of extinction.

As Franz Kafka once observed it is both dangerous and extremely unpleasant to place yourself inside the mind, let alone the body, of an insect. But as far as we can tell the picture of reality evolved over countless thousands of reproductive cycles by the flying male jewel beetle is centred on finding the flightless shiny, brown, dimpled glass-like females of the species and covering them in beetle sperm until dying from exhaustion. They will then make way for the next generation – some of whom, hopefully, will be mutants. All of this may not seem very edifying. But in evolutionary terms, it’s a living.

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