What is the Nature of Reality?
I have recently added some new content to my “Decisions” presentation and have been asked to include some of it here. So, over the next several blog articles, I will be doing just that. Please consider this a “test run” for some ideas I’m currently incubating. I share them and invite you to prod, poke, challenge and pressure-test my thinking. All of us are smarter than any one of us. So, I ask you to read and comment. It is how we all become smarter.
The nature of reality is something that psychology, as a field, considers within its expertise. Psychologists and psychiatrists often diagnose psychosis — a mental and emotional disturbance so severe that the person loses touch with external reality. While this is a broad brushstroke, you do not need to be a psychologist to understand that the term “reality” is much more nuanced. Understanding the nuances of reality can help us all to improve our personal and professional lives.
I offer for your consideration that there are three types of reality:
Our individual reality is created from the beliefs and experiences we have but cannot share directly. We can share them through verbal expressions, gestures or even props, but there is no way for us to know that others are having or can have the same experiences. For example, if we look up at the sky on a clear day with no clouds, most people are likely to say the sky is blue. That is what we all have been taught. But is there any way to test or confirm that the hue of the sky that I see is the same hue that you see? We can describe it for each other, find colors that replicate or represent it, but there is no way for you to experience the same color I am experiencing or vice versa. That is an individual reality.
Our social reality is created from the beliefs and experiences we create and share in our cultures and, in some cases, subcultures. Business, the exchange of goods and services for a form of currency, is a social reality. The belief that a U.S. dollar has a certain value is a social reality. Mission statements, vision statements and cause statements are all social realities that businesses create in an effort to share their beliefs and create alignment with their employees and other stakeholders.
Social reality is complex because it can be different for different people based on group participation, the subcultures to which people belong, and/or the information they consume. For example, the vast majority of people believe that Earth is round. It is a social reality that has been considered true and accurate for millennia. Yet there is a subculture of people who believe the Earth is flat. Don’t believe me? You can find them here, The Flat Earth Society. They have a different social reality based on the beliefs they have been taught or developed on their own, as well as the information that they consume.
Before you allow your mind to drift into judgment about their sanity, I would offer you this: Being a part of a belief system that is different or outside of the mainstream can happen to any one of us. In the U.S., a larger percentage of people believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Another large percentage believe it was legitimate. Similarly, a large percentage of people believe that climate change is real, and another large percentage of people believe it is a hoax.
When we see large swaths of people disagreeing on important and controversial issues, we can identify these differing views as different social realities, created within a group or subculture based on their beliefs and the information they consume.
Independent realities exist whether we believe in them or not. They don’t care about what or how we think or feel. They do not change based on our experience, power, influence or the information we consume.
Independent realities are often uncovered or revealed to us by science. There are independent realities that we suspect exist but do not fully understand. And, certainly, there are independent realities that we have yet to uncover.
The process of bacterial infection was not well understood until the mid-1800s. Bacterial infection existed before that time, but it did not care what we called it or didn’t call it, whether we knew about it or not, or whether we believed in it or not. The existence of bacteria and the process of bacterial infection is an independent reality.
Legend has it that Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity in 1665 or 1666 by watching an apple fall from a tree. Gravity existed before Newton identified it. It doesn’t care if we believe in it or not. It is an independent reality.
Independent realities exist whether we know about them or not and believe in them or not.
What’s Ahead on the Blog
- Over the coming weeks I will be delving into the nuances between individual, social and independent realities, and how they shape our thinking, emotions and behaviors.
- As leaders of organizations, we serve ourselves, our organizations and the people that we work with best when we align individual, social and independent realities.
- As humanity, our path becomes smoother when we align individual, social and independent realities.
I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.
Buen Camino! (Have a “good way”!)