More To That

An illustrated, long-form blog that delves deeper into the things that make us who we are.

Reality Is Never Strange. We Are.

The strangest thing about reality is how un-strange it actually is.

Let me explain.

When Newton discovered the laws of gravity in the 17th century, this was a fundamental departure from the prevailing paradigm at the time. Prior to Newton, people believed that celestial bodies orbited around one another in a “natural motion” without understanding why.

We like to believe that Newton updated the nature of reality, and that we were all better off for it.

But here’s the thing.

Reality itself didn’t change one bit as a result of Newton’s discoveries. The world was always governed by gravity, whether we knew about it or not. While he helped to update our view of reality, the fundamental structures of the universe had been intact for billions of years before him. And the universe continued to do what it always did, long after his last breath was taken.

The same thing happened after Einstein came into the picture. He observed that Newtonian gravitation was only a small part of a greater narrative. This led to the theory of general relativity, which launched another paradigm shift that updated our view of reality.

But of course, nothing about reality itself changed. It was always governed by general relativity – or at least that’s what the prevailing view is as of today.

people debating einstein

I like to remember this every time I think reality is weird.

In actuality, reality is never strange. The only reason it appears to be is because we interact with it through the lens of human consciousness, which itself has its own predispositions and attributes. We view reality with certain expectations, many of which are built over time by personal experience and our logical intuitions.

If I throw a baseball toward you, I expect it to traverse a certain arc and land in your glove. If you throw it back at me, I expect it to do the same. We take what we observe and extrapolate those conclusions to construct our view of reality. It becomes difficult to imagine a world in which that baseball doesn’t travel in a way we’re used to seeing.

But of course, if we throw this baseball around at 200 miles above the Earth’s atmosphere, things change. All of a sudden, our expectations cease to hold weight, and any time that happens, things feel strange. We will marvel at how counterintuitive everything feels, and will give one another incredulous looks as we wait an hour for the baseball to land in our gloves.

throwing a baseball in space

But is reality any less real up here than it was down there? No. Reality is just as intact and omnipresent. Our expectations of what we thought it’d be were shattered, which created the mere illusion that reality was strange. But of course, it’s not reality that’s weird.

It’s us.

Why do we think reality can be explained through the lens of logic? Why do we think we can find patterns in things when no such order exists? Why must we draw the lines of cause and effect for every concept we touch?

Is it curiosity?

Or is it hubris?

Regardless of how you view it, one thing is certain. We have an insatiable desire to fit reality within the limits of our understanding. If we don’t comprehend something, we strive to make it comprehensible. “I don’t know” is a less acceptable answer than “I will figure it out.” It’s unclear whether this attitude is culturally mediated, or if it is drilled deep into our genetic code.

When we try to make sense of reality this way, we put an immediacy toward finding solutions. Whenever we discover a blind spot in our thinking, we want to fill it in as soon as possible. This makes us quick to frame reality in a “sensible” way so that we’re no longer confused with what we’ve found.

This haste to discover solutions is the root of misplaced certainty. And when you mix this with an unwillingness to change your proposed solutions, you develop a hardened expectation of what reality should be.

This is why the Church imprisoned Galileo for believing that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Or why surgeons refused to listen to Joseph Lister when he called for the usage of antiseptics. The people on the wrong side of history couldn’t fathom a reality as strange as the one that these minds were proposing.

But of course, it’s not reality that’s strange, it’s our expectations of it that is.

reality is weird

So knowing all this, what is actually going on when we believe reality is weird? After all, when I read about quantum physics, the first word that pops into my head is either “bizarre” or “ridiculous.” There’s an element of surprise that introduces itself, whether I want it to arise or not.

Well, here’s how I frame it.

Whenever I feel that reality is strange, I’m essentially saying one of two things:

(1) I haven’t done the work to see it for what it really is, or

(2) Reality is so beyond the limits of human understanding that all I can do is be grateful for it.

Most of the time, I fall under category #1. Quantum mechanics is only strange to me because I haven’t done the requisite work to see how it might be an accurate model of the world. My surprise comes from the fact that I haven’t tried to align it with my sense of what’s true.

In this case, reality is strange because of my willful ignorance.

Other times, I fall under category #2. However, in order to know that something is beyond the limits of human understanding (and not just mine), I have to make sure that no one else has figured it out either.

A classic example of this is the Big Bang. No one knows exactly how it happened, but it’s the prevailing theory of how the universe started. Despite the lack of concrete proof, it’s the idea that the scientific community has taken in as gospel.

The Big Bang is strange to us all, but that’s only because we can’t align it with the models we’ve constructed about reality.

Reality, on the other hand, sees nothing strange about it.

reality is boring

Regardless of how the universe started, I can say this with 100% certainty:

I’m immensely grateful that it did.

The fact that I’m here today, equipped with all these senses, working on this post, having people to love, enjoying this delicious apple on my plate… all these things are made possible because of some strange thing that happened a long, long time ago. And rather than try to hunt down the answer to resolve its weirdness, I can instead sit with it and be thankful that it has imbued me with the gift of life.

sitting and appreciating the sky

Reality appears incredibly nuanced, but it’s only because the lens in which we view it through comes in infinite shades. Reality itself has just one shade: the shade of omnipresence. It exists with or without us, and anytime we discover something “new,” we’re only updating what little we know about it, while its fundamental nature remains the same.

You can either update your model of the world, or be grateful for what humanity is incapable of knowing.

These are the only two options you have when reality is never strange.


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Related Posts

Another post that reveals how strange our intuitions are:

Do You Really Believe What You Believe?

Consciousness is the lens we use to view the world, so make it a good fit:

The Right Side of Thought

A reminder to stop overcomplicating reality:

Philosophy Has Lost Its Way

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