Reality is a human construct created because the concept of infinity (time and space) is difficult for most of us to comprehend. So we create a finite view of time and space to deal with living in the world practically. That view then becomes our reality.
What makes up our reality partly comes from creation myths that have evolved over time by humans trying to make sense of and function in the world. Reality based on myth, however, can have dangerous consequences. We see this currently as people take horse de-wormer to cure COVID. A reality that is based on scientific evidence assures us that actions taken will more likely lead to better solutions, not only for our current pandemic problems but for the many problems facing our world today.
Sorting truth from false information in today’s digital world presents a real challenge. Empirical evidence (by definition) is the evidence of the senses, of direct observation or measurement and humans have always relied upon it to sort out the meaning and implications of experiences and information. It helps us determine fact from fiction. But empirical evidence without objectivity is incomplete and all too often misguiding.
The nature of science is to be objective, to seek truth through a legacy of observation, testing, knowledge, experimentation, confirmation, and ongoing research. Scientific views offer an objective reality, and as such, alter the nature of what we call reality. This juxtaposition of viewpoints causes conflict between those with rigid mindsets and those willing to adjust their views based on science and technology.
Objective reality is vitally important to talk about because it exists outside of personal truth. It is factual. It is the basis of scientific exploration and all living creatures are subject to it. Two examples of objective reality are gravity and viruses. Each exists regardless of our beliefs or attitudes about them. Objectivity requires us to realize that personal truth and personal reality exist inside of, and are obedient to, a larger whole. This expanded awareness enables us to respond appropriately to real circumstances.
Societies make their view of reality on what is observable. In the past, what was observable was explained through religion. This has changed as science and technology created new exactness based on the scientific method. The understanding of objective reality creates a more expanded ground of being in individuals and is considered oppositional by those whose reality is based on non-scientific explanations. Currently, this conflict of perception – this argument between fact and fiction -- is showing up in everything from COVID to politics.
A large and looming example of this is Donald Trump, who is still spreading the Big Lie that he won the 2020 election to all who will listen. He claims that the latest recount in Arizona proved he won the election. He didn’t. The company chosen by the Arizona Republican legislature to conduct the recount reported that the result showed an actual increase in Joe Biden’s lead. Yet Trump persists in encouraging other states to challenge their election outcomes. He is operating on fiction. Objectivity (the science or the math) doesn’t enter into his equation. I’m not second-guessing his psychology here. I’m certain there are many power-grabbing reasons for his dissemination of fake information. My point is that those who believe their personal perception is THE reality are vulnerable prey for individuals and institutions that are power-hungry. The net result of perpetrating untrue information is to further divide the nation and undermine confidence in government. This same process is going on in other nations with dictators and would-be dictators distorting or lying to undermine the rule of law.
Variations of big lies are used to sow doubt and fear. All countries with high COVID rates and deaths – India, Brazil, Russia, the US – have, or currently are, experiencing misinformation from governments trying to avoid the expense and time needed to deal with a pandemic. Trump’s lies and incompetence led to many thousands of needless deaths and is prolonging the pandemic.
In our digital age, misinformation is dividing and killing us. Erroneous information and outright lies prevent us from making correct decisions. Abraham Lincoln was correct when he said a house divided against itself cannot stand. The division in our country, and the entire world, is severe.
For our survival of life on earth, we need to find a way to help clarify what are actual truths vs falsehoods found in religion, society, and politics. This can be done by creating laws that mandate information be vetted and verified by the scientific method. There should also be penalties for the perpetuation of lies and misinformation. In addition, the Western religious concept of humans as superior to other life forms needs to change to reflect the balance between exploiting the planet and being stewards of it.
The ongoing challenge is to get as close to the facts as possible. In our contemporary digital world, with its privatization of news channels, the storytellers’ biases must be brought to light and evaluated by those who seek the truth. Otherwise, what passes for truth is nothing more than privatized propaganda.
It is important that when we spot lies, we call them out. It’s essential that those with a broader worldview to educate others and speak out against narrow-mindedness. Anthropologist Margret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”