Levels of Reality

Our hardcore realists, that is, folks who argue that reality consists exclusively of physical things like sticks, stones, and other material objects they can see, touch, weigh, and measure, omit most levels of what is humanly real. Consider some examples. Nobody has ever seen love, wisdom, courage, or cowardice, but everybody has known lovable, wise, courageous, and cowardly people. We abstract these qualities and convert them into classes of things that are real to us, yet cannot be seen, touched, weighed, or measured like sticks, stones, and other physical objects.
     Laws represent another level of reality. But here the process is reversed: the laws must first be enacted by humans before we can speak of law-abiding persons. Laws are immaterial abstractions, yet we know they are real by the effect they have if we break them. Think of the consequences if we run red lights or ignore the IRS. We also speak of natural or scientific laws, and neither do such laws exist in the touchable way of physical objects, although we demonstrate their validity through experiments, evidence, and rational deductions. They are abstracted from predictable physical behaviors and verified by human observation.
     Today politics is probably the most intense level of abstractly constructed human reality. It does not exist naturally; animals are not political creatures, nature is indifferent to political ideology, and we ourselves cannot see, touch, or taste it. But based on experience, most of us can readily attest to its enormous powers of attraction and revulsion even though it has no physical substance.
     The reality of money is even more universal and enduring than politics. It is also a strictly human creation to which we attribute value. Nature is indifferent to finance; animals could not care less, or even know, whether we are rich or poor. The categories rich and poor are human classifications that do not apply to other creatures.
     Similarly, except for Antarctica, every square mile of land on earth belongs to some humanly designed and mapped jurisdiction. And frequent wars and tensions attest to the reality and importance of these boundaries. Countries themselves are manmade realities. In Nature there are no national borders or, for that matter, square miles, which is why human creations tend to be more impactful than the natural world.
     These are some of the levels of manmade realities. There are many others that deal with art, engineering, philosophy, science, and language. So many, in fact, that if these humanly created levels of reality were removed from the world, our life would be too impoverished to be called human. Yet modern anthropologists, laboring under Darwin’s giant shadow, have done their best to persuade us that we are still mere eccentric primates under Nature’s supervision. But if true, how true is it? If we still have one foot in Nature, the other is outside it. A separation is evident: the greater class of humanly created realities begins and extends far beyond where natural realities end.

Harold Raley