Some light reading for you

Stephen Hawking has co-written a book entitled The Grand Design. In it he posits some relevant ideas – namely, as explained in Michael Shermer’s article, “that our brains form models of the world from sensory input, that we use the model most successful at explaining events and assume that the models match reality (even if they do not), and that when more than one model makes accurate predictions “we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.” Employing this method, Hawking and Mlodinow claim that “it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.””

Heavy going, but if you’re interested, read more here.


Would you like some prompts?

Context: Whose Reality? The Shark Net / Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind / Enduring Love / A Streetcar Named Desire
We need to hold onto illusions in order to cope with reality.
Our sanity depends on a clear understanding of what is real and what isn’t.
We believe what those who are stronger than us tell us to believe.
What we feel tells us what is real.
The answer to each of us to the question of “Whose reality is more important?” is mine.
There is a difficulty in maintaining one’s sense of self and of one’s reality in the world in which one lives.
Reality has the ability to crush the human spirit.
One person’s reality can make perfect sense to them, but little sense to anyone else.
People attempt to escape a reality that has become totally unpalatable.
One’s reality is influenced by various events.
The same event can provide very different versions of reality.
When competing realities clash the only result can be tragedy.
Memories make the person.
Truth itself is an illusion.
What we convince ourselves we don’t know, won’t hurt us.
The amount of power we have in a particular situation determines how we see it.
Our perspective on social norms has been filtered by our experiences.
“We can never attain a fully objective view of reality because we remain trapped in the prison of our subjectivity.”
“The line between illusion and madness is a fine one.”
“When we attempt to make order out of chaos then we risk distorting reality.”
“When the differing perceptions of people conflict, catastrophe is sure to arise.”
“The truth is sometimes difficult to discover”
“Some people’s versions of reality are more accurate than others’”
“Reality depends entirely on the individual and the context they find themselves in.”
“Differences in perceptions result from the differences of individuals.”
“A child’s world is shaped by their parents’ reality.”
“Writing is an act that always involves a revision of reality.”
“Every reality is open to interpretation.”
“Reality is beyond the understanding of mere humans.”
“Believing is seeing. The reality that we perceive is the reality that we want to perceive.”

Reality is not universal.

Songs that explore concept of reality

I have to admit that I am completely in love with I’m Sexy and I know It. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were so easy to live in a fantasy world of our own making? I think what I like most about this song is that he is just having so much fun!

I looked around for some other songs that deal with how we see the world. The film Cabaret, set in 1930s Nazi Germany, has a song called If You Could See Her Through My Eyes, that explores the idea that we see things differently depending upon our beliefs and experiences. The whole movie, quite dark and depressing, suggests that we are willing to ‘construct’ a reality in order to avoid dealing with a harsh reality. Overall, I think the film suggests that the ‘real’ world will ultimately catch up us, and at which point we have to deal with it. Or not.

Ugly Kid Joe, a band back in the mid 90s, released a version of Cats in the Cradle. It was originally released by Harry Chapin, but it’s been covered by Johnny Cash, a Norwegian band, Cat Stevens, and Guns’n’Roses. What happens when we see the world a different way? Or we dream of it being different? How does the father see the world – and how devastated is he when the roles are reversed? Overall, even though I love this song, it completely depresses me.

Give Me Your Eyes, whilst the title sounds quite gruesome, is an interesting song about how we can suddenly realise that we’ve been seeing the world differently. Does this change ‘reality’? Or does that change the ‘viewer’?

I couldn’t end this post without saying something about the construct that is Lady Gaga. Have a look at her official site and tell me that she isn’t constructing some kind of weird alternative world/reality for herself. This makes me think: Is this something we all do, to some extent?

Reality in movies

There are so many movies out there that deal with the notion of reality. In reaseaching for the Context, I came across a website that was looking at reality from a philosphical perpective (something that might interest a few of you). There I found a list of 15 movies that deal with the notion of reality and appearance. Any of these would be a useful reference/idea builder for the Context.

I’ve added some personal comments of my own. Look for  (MB:) which stands for (Mrs Bohni:)

1. The Matrix(1999)

“What is real. How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. This is the world that you know.”
Neo, a software developer by day and computer hacker by night, is recruited by an underground rebel named Morpheus. This leads a drastic change in his knowledge of reality and how he interprets his own observations.
(MB: Morpeheus to Neo: “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? “ )
This is a fun and thought provoking movie. (Would you take the red pill or the blue one? :-)) It could lead to many interesting philosophical discussions, including perception vs. reality, Plato’s cave, and the idea of a Messianic figure.

2. Vanilla Sky (2001)

David Aames takes all he has for granted, especially his relationships. It catches up to him when a friend/sometimes sex-partner can’t see their relationship the way he sees it. From that point, the movie takes a Lynchian twist that pulls us into Aames’ tortured psyche.
(MB: I haven’t seen this film, but I’ve looked up some quotes that relate to reality. At one point David says: “Even in my dreams, I’m an idiot who knows he’s about to wake up to reality.” And another character says: “What is any life without the pursuit of a dream? ” How many of us have been told to stop dreaming, live in the ‘real’ world, whatever that is.)
Harold Crick, an IRS agent, eventually discovers he’s actually a novel character. He begins to hear a voice in his head narrating his actions. At one point, he learns that he is going to die – he is not happy about this. (MB: I’ve seen this one, and it’s perhaps a nice film to watch, but it doesn’t necessarily say anything profound that you could use for our Context, as such. If you were interested in a creative piece, then perhaps…)
4. Total Recall (1990)
Screenwriter Ron Shusett describes Total Recall as a “thinking man’s action movie.” Based on a science fiction story by Philip K. Dick, it explores the question of appearance vs. reality. In the year 2084, Douglas Quaid tries to determine which of his experiences are real, and which are merely computer-generated fantasies implanted in his brain by a company called Rekall Inc. (MB: This is classic Arnie. Acting’s not great.)
5. Strange Days (1995)
A former cop turned street-hustler accidentally uncovers a police conspiracy in 1999 Los Angeles. Possible Spoiler: Like Total Recall, this movie delves into non-genuine perceptions offered for sale. (MB: I haven’t seen it, but based on some of the quotes, such as the ones below, it might be interesting in relation to memories and reality.Mace: These are used emotions. It’s time to trade them in. Memories  were meant to fade, Lenny. They’re designed that way for a reason.Lenny Nero: This is not “like TV only better.” This is life. It’s a  piece of somebody’s life. It’s pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral  cortex.)

6. The Truman Show (1998)
At birth, Truman Burbank is legally adopted by a major television network to be the unknowing star of a reality series. His life is watched by millions through an intricate series of hidden cameras. I love the way Truman gradually begins to question his assumptions about reality, including his own perceptions and memories. This leads to a dramatic broadening of his world.
7. Paprika (2006)
Christopher Nolan cites this as an inspiration for Inception, but in my opinion, Paprika is better. (MB: Wow, that’s a big call!) A machine allows therapists to enter patients’ dreams, and when it’s stolen, all hell breaks loose. This movie does have an authentic dream-like quality with dramatic use of color adding to the effect. I love the ambiguity in this film — I could rarely tell for sure whether I was watching a dream or “reality.” It reminded me a bit of Descartes’ discussion of The Dream. (MB: I haven’t seen it.)
I haven’t seen this movie yet, but it seems to deal with the gap between perceived reality and truth. Possible Spoiler: Douglas works for a company that has created a breakthrough virtual reality simulator modeled after 1930s California, in which the inhabitants are fully conscious.
9. 12 Monkeys (1995)
James Cole is a convicted criminal living in a grim post-apocalyptic future. The world has been contaminated by a virus so deadly the surviving population has to live underground. To earn a pardon, Cole lets scientists send him on dangerous missions to the past to collect information on the virus, thought to be released by a terrorist organization known as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. I haven’t seen this yet.
10. Dark City (1998)
A man struggles with memories of his past, including a wife he cannot remember, in a nightmarish world with no sun and run by beings with telekinetic powers who seek the souls of humans. I haven’t seen this yet.
11. Waking Life (2001)
Waking Life is an animated story about a young man trapped in a continuous series of dreams. He walks or levitates from one scene to another, listening to a range of theories by philosophers, intellectuals and crackpots. I haven’t seen this yet.
12. eXistenZ (1999)
Allegra Geller, the leading game designer in the world, is testing her new virtual reality game, eXistenZ. This leads to a strange adventure where reality is possible to determine. I haven’t seen this yet.
13. Solaris (2002)
A psychologist still reeling from the death of his wife receives a cryptic message from a friend telling him to join him on the space station Solaris which is studying a spatial phenomena. This was recommended as a film on solipsism, the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist, or the belief that nothing outside one’s own mind does exist I haven’t seen this yet.
14. Identity (2003)
15. 1408 (2007)

Making sense of our reality

Making sense of what’s been going on in class may seem like a challenge. I am hoping that with this blog we can share ideas and resources that will enhance what we’re doing in class.

It would be wonderful if you would add resources or ideas of your own – that way we can build a useful resource.

I’ve already mentioned what a wonderful resource the MHS website is, which you can get to here.

Here’s to a great 2012!