My community paper includes a new agey column written by seemingly sincere woman who wants to increase the happiness in the world, with the help of her spirit guides. Now most of the time I have no problem with it as it makes no definite claims, advocates no particular action to it’s readers and generally just seems to focus on good vibes. Actually most of the time I can’t make head nor tails out of it, it’s like candy floss* for the mind, mostly without substance but full of sugary sweetness. But recently the subject was one dear to my heart, reality. It was presented as the answer to an exam question by one of her students (Disciple? Initiate?) Anyway, the question was “What is Reality” and the answer contained concepts like whatever I wish for, believe in my heart, nothing is real, and similar such sentiments. Now I’m all for people making the most of the world around them but if I develop a deep abiding belief in my soul that I can fly by stepping off a high rise and flapping my arms then reality has a harsh lesson for me at the start of my next overseas holiday.
The consequences needn’t be that immediate, or messy however. The answer cuts to the heart of how the world works and how we determine facts within it. If your position is that reality is changeable and only your perspective on it is relevant then this is going to have a strong impact on how you make decisions and evaluate claims. You will not be swayed by scientific evidence, medications and medical treatments all become interchangeable and equal. If there is no reliable way to tell the difference between them then the only criteria is which one you like the sound of or feel most comfortable with. At best this would lead to a random selection of conventional and alternative treatments in your repertoire, at worse it will bias you against evidence based medicine altogether and set you up for a possibly fatal final consequence. Consider this story : Trade in albino body parts. While not an inevitable consequence of magical thinking like this it is a graphic example of where a disrespect of reality can get you.
Now don’t get me wrong, pondering the nature of reality is a noble task and the answer contained allusions to sophisticated arguments about how we can know if what we experience is really happening, reminiscent of Descartes. Lest I give undue credit, the article quickly veers into a dead end philosophy of complete solipsism. So, final thoughts, magical thinking bad, evidence based reasoning good. Most people whether they know it or not fall somewhere in the middle, this is not necessarily a bad thing, it can make life rich and provide good emotional connections. The trick is knowing when to apply each side of your thinking in life, good luck with that.
*Cotton Candy,fairy floss, insert equivalent here