Another Matter of Perspective - Viewing Reality

  I recently re-watched James Burke's excellent video series, The Day The Universe ChangedA very interesting and enjoyable series, and well worth watching, and/or reading the companion book that came out with it.Basically, Burke notes how changes in how people perceived reality caused dramatic changes in society, often in unexpected ways.  However, Burke wasn't merely trying to entertain the viewer--he was trying to make a point.  Ultimately, he seems to be holding to a relativistic view of reality:  "The universe is what we say it is."  I believe this is not correct.

While Burke correctly points out that knowledge is man-made, he mistakes our view of reality for reality itself.  Yes, our understanding or perspective on reality affects our lives and our lifestyles, but it is merely our view or perspective of reality that has changed, not reality itself.

"Starbuck's Pebbles", from the Principia Discordia, a book written by Greg Hill and Kerry Windell Thornley, illustrates this distinction between reality and one's view of reality, I think.

"Do these 5 pebbles really form a pentagon? Those biased by the Aneristic Illusion would say yes. Those biased by the Eristic Illusion would say no. Criss-cross them and it is a star."

My point here is that both views, as a pentagon and as a star, are an illusion, a matter of one's perspective imposed on reality.  The reality is that there are simply five pebbles in a particular arrangement, each in a certain relation to the other four pebbles.  It may help to view them as a pentagon or as a star, but it is a mistake to believe that the pentagon or star are, in fact, reality.  This is the mistake that Burke makes.  He would say that it is a pentagon if you say that it is, or it is a star if you say it is, when neither is true.

Truth and reality are not relative, and do not change simply because our perspective on truth and reality have changed. We can make changes to particular parts or circumstances of reality--we cannot change reality itself. Our perspective of reality may indeed be relative, but that hardly means that all views of reality are equally valid or true.  It is important to learn how to assess the value of different perspectives, and since value is subjective, that means deciding which view will best let you accomplish what you want to accomplish.

It's a mistake to consider everything as either relative or fixed, subjective or objective.  There is a complex, interactive dynamic between objective reality and our subjective views and desires.  If truth seems relative, it is because we mostly spend time in society with other humans, all attempting to gain their own subjective values.  But objective reality is firm, and some people are better able to achieve their desires than others because they have chosen a more appropriate, objective means towards their desires than the others did. Only you can decide what you value, but having determined that, reality forces you to choose an appropriate means, or else you will fail to achieve your desires.

You want to be a millionaire?  You can do it, IF and only if you are willing to do whatever it takes to become a millionaire.  Many people, whether they admit it or not, are simply not willing to go that far; they have other goals and desires that they value more highly.

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