Reality: Does it exist? And if it does, are there cookies?

“It’s been six hours.  Dreams move one one-hundredth the speed of reality, and dog time is one-seventh human time.  So, you know, every day here is like a minute.  It’s like Inception, Morty, so if it’s confusing and stupid, then so is everyone’s favorite movie.” – Rick and Morty

Pugsley after trying to figure out quantum mechanics on his Quantum Mechanics Lego® set.

Phillip K. Dick wrote multiple stories about reality being fluid, or, in many cases, entirely misleading.  The tricks that memory can play were multiplied, and often the memories you recalled weren’t yours at all.  You can see that in titles of his stories, such as “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” and “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.”  You might recall the movie versions of these:  Blade Runner® and Total Recall™.

Dick had a certain sense of paranoia that pervaded him, with a nearly constant theme of an eroding reality falling apart around him in both his life and in the characters that he wrote about.  In The Man In The High Castle, Mr. Dick alludes to this reality being a different one, and that there are nearby realities that were close enough to impact ours in real and permanent ways.

So, if you’ve ever felt this reality was just a little bit off, remember, that sometimes even paranoids are right . . .

The Boy and I went to go see Blade Runner: 2049 today.  He didn’t like it.  Too long, music was overpoweringly loud.  I agree it was too long – it probably would have been an awesome 90 minute or 100 minute movie.  And, as a dude getting older, louder things don’t bother me too much.  I liked this movie better than the original and would recommend 2049, though I must admit to not being a big fan of the original.  The Thing®, Fast Times at Ridgemont High™ and even First Blood (Rambo)© were better films, I thought.  (Odds are you won’t remember the film that won Best Picture® that year:  Chariots of Fire.  I’ll save you the time.  Booooooring.  Ben Kingsley plays Gandhi, who starts a film production company with Burt Reynolds where they concentrate on creating movies about quality footwear from India.  Again, my mini-review:  Boooooooring.)

But Mr. Dick brought the question forward:  what’s real?

I know that there’s a pretty big consensus that this universe that we inhabit is real, it has substance, objects are made of matter, your senses tell you the objective truth, your memories are reliable, and that the whole thing follows a set of understandable logical rules.  Time is linear, and goes just one way.  You can understand the things that are local, that are near you, but you have no perception of things that are very far away, unless you have a cell phone or a radio.  If a tree falls in the forest, well, it falls in the forest, whether you heard it or not.

This is the best way to get through a day.  Guessing that a train has mass and that mass times velocity will turn you into a fine mist if you ignore it is probably the safest way to consider reality.  Ignoring that one is pretty much an “at your own risk” sort of thing, though there’s anecdotal evidence that none other than George Washington had two horses shot out from under him, and four bullet holes in his jacket during the French and Indian War.  So, did reality change around Washington (LINK)?  Scott Adams thinks that reality might be very malleable (LINK) and he is a millionaire cartoonist, so I’d take whatever he says seriously (seriously).


But we all agree that baking bread smells good, and poo doesn’t.  So our senses are right on track.  But flies . . . seem to like the smell we don’t?  Are our senses lying to us on what is good or bad, or are they finely tuned to present a picture of reality to us that is most advantageous for us our long term survival?  All evidence is that sugar tastes sweet and good to us, not because it is good for us, but because it has a high energy content.  A sucrose or dextrose or lactose or maltose or fructose (note the trend) molecule all taste (more or less) sweet.  That would tell a primate to eat more of the sweet stuff, and much less of his own poo.  Flies?  Not so much, I’m sure poo smells like fresh-baked bread to them.  In no way does your sense of smell tell you the objective truth, though it’s got some pretty good programming built in for your survival.

But surely, your sense of sight doesn’t lie?  Well . . . why is a rose pretty?  Why is a pretty girl pretty?  While much of the reality you see might be (at least somewhat) accurate, even the filters your sense of sight puts the world through are far from objective.  Plus, a big portion of what you see during a day is just your brain filling in details for you.  Your effective actual visual area is much smaller.  HD camcorders now pull in far more data than the human eye.

I am generally sure my memories are good, though.  But one night while watching a television special on stupid game-show moments, The Mrs. and I were wondering when it had been narrated, since the narrator was Richard Dawson.  I remembered vividly reading about him dying in 1990 or 1991.  The Mrs. recalled the same thing, from the same timeframe.  Even the cause of death was the same: cancer.  We hit up Alta-Vista® or some other search engine.  Yahoo® maybe? It showed clearly that Richard Dawson was alive, and had not died the way we both remembered he had.  (He has since passed on.)

We’ve since come on to a few more things that we both remember that were counter to what Google® says when we ask.  So are our memories what changed, or was it reality?  Are The Mrs. and I slowly slipping through a myriad of potential John Wilder and The Mrs. personas throughout multiple, closely related universes?  Could it be that every time we part from one another, we don’t come home to exactly the same person we left?  I slipped left, The Mrs. slipped right?  I’m one step closer to a universe where the Kardashians are poor, unknown grifters operating out of Wal-Mart® parking lots, and The Mrs. I left this morning slipped towards a universe where the Kardashians have solidified control of a world government?

Let’s pretend there’s only one reality.  Does it follow rules that we can understand?  In the famous double-slit experiment, the answer really is:  No.  It doesn’t.  Let me give a description of the experiment:  There are two slits on a piece of paper.  A photon, or particle of light, can go through either one.  But if light is a wave, it will go through both, and create a diffraction pattern on the back.  Sure enough, we can prove that light is a wave!  It creates a diffraction pattern on the back, as shown below (source: Wikimedia, Jordgette, CC By SA3.0)

It does it because waves of light behave like this (source, Wikimedia, Lookang, CC By SA3.0):

But if you look to see where if a photon goes through a particular slit?  The diffraction pattern disappears.  You know enough about the photon that it no longer behaves as a probability wave, but now has to be a particle.  It forms a boring old line.  Diffraction disappears due to knowledge.

Whose knowledge?  Your knowledge.  If you observe it, you make the photon choose where it is.  Observation changes the nature of the phenomenon, and, in this case, determines reality.  No, reality has rules that conform to your observation.

So, is time a linear one-way street?  This (LINK) experiment shows that there just might be reactions to stimuli . . . before the stimuli occurs.  Beyond that, there’s more than anecdotal evidence that just shortly before his death, Lincoln had a dream that detailed his body lying in state.  So, there’s that.

And being able to understand only things that occur locally?  Here is a study (LINK) that admittedly is more on the fun side – this lady’s dog knew when she was coming home.  At a random time.  When she was at least 8 miles away.

As far as superpowers go, these would be awesome.  I mean, seeing is way better, but seeing the future would be awesome.  Especially seeing into the future for the next thirty seconds or so.  Imagine the saber-tooth tigers you could avoid by halting before you cross just that spot on the way to the watering hole.

Oh, and the tree falling in the forest?  It hasn’t.  And it has.  Until it’s observed, it exists only in a state of quantum superposition – it hasn’t fallen/has fallen but it won’t until it’s observed, and that observation in the future triggers the quantum collapse of the superposition state into a fallen tree or an upright tree.  Just like the dual slit experiment, the very nature of the reality we observe on a day-to-day basis is dependent upon the observer.

So, reality, when viewed a little closer, maybe conforms more to Philip K. Dick than we’d normally, comfortably like to see.  I mean, we like the comfort of assuming that everything is as it seems, but it may be that we develop more of our own reality than we think we do, as both actor and observer in our life.

And when it comes to observers, The Boy says skip Blade Runner: 2049 and instead go read The Man in the High Castle . . . .

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom - How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.