Forest Bump

JW commented on my previous letter “The BlaXon Files” that the hardness of trees to which I referred as proof of the hardness of reality proves nothing, because one’s senses might be so deficient that one couldn’t feel the trees, and one could walk blindfolded through a forest if a friend was calling out directions. He further questioned why I had so far not proposed a test for the existence or otherwise of gods.

I guess it’s an occupational hazard of dealing with Mensans that one runs the risk of having an illustration of the hardness of reality treated as a puzzle on how to run through a forest without running into the trees!

However, all JW’s arguments (Jan/Feb 97) to avoid the hardness of reality (trees in this case) simply illustrate my point. By “hardness” I don’t mean physical hardness vs softness: I mean that things in reality are what they are, irrespective of what we think. In this case, if a tree is standing somewhere, it is standing there, whether we know it or not. Hence the danger of running blindfold through the forest: our ignorance will not protect us. As Mr W himself accepts. How does someone calling out directions help? Because they tell him where the trees are. And if he loses his sense of touch, he may not be able to feel them: but they would be “obstacles”. He still can’t walk through them, because they are there. Furthermore, if being unable to feel or see, he persisted in running through a forest, he would soon become so injured as to die. QED, RIP.

My main point about the trees is that everyone knows that reality has an objective existence that they must take cognizance of, and this is in fact how they live their lives: whatever blather they might say to the contrary. There is a simple test of whether a philosopher is serious when he says there is no reality, or one can’t know what it is. Ask him to walk off a cliff. Or take a pay cut for that matter. If he refuses to live according to his own claims, why should you take them any more seriously than he does?

Regarding Mr W’s final point about a test for the reality or otherwise of gods, this has all been covered in the earliest Philosophical Reflections. In reality, things either exist or they don’t. But in our minds, propositions about reality are not either true or false, because we are not omniscient. They are true, false, arbitrary, or meaningless (with gradations depending on the quality of the evidence). The arbitrary is whatever “might” be true, but for which there is no evidence. It has at best no value to a conscious mind, whose task is how to live and be happy in reality. And that which has no effect on that reality (which is what “no evidence” means) is of no relevance. Indeed, acting as if it were true is at best a waste of time and resources better spent on the demonstrably real, and at worst a danger to your well-being. The question of gods falls into the realm of the arbitrary. May they strike me down right now if they exist. No? Gee, what a surprise.

The “meaningless” covers things like self-referential paradoxes, and don’t concern us here.

For my original discussion of the hardness of reality, see “Smoke and Mirrors“.

© 1997 Robin Craig: first published in TableAus.