Understanding Multiple Realities and Observations

Sid

Ask this question that “The sun rises in which direction?” to any 6 years old and you will get a very predictable reply. Even most adults would give the same one-word ‘objective’ reply considering that it is an absolute truth.

Think only a little deep and we find the logical fallacy in the answer. And the fallacy is profound.

Does the sun rise from the east everywhere? No. The axis of rotation on Venus is opposite to that of the earth, so technically, the sun rises in the west on Venus. At the international space station, the sun doesn’t rise or set. Now we know for the fact that there is not even ‘The’ sun. It is ‘A’ sun in-universe. The rising of the sun is understood as the morning. Is the understanding of the morning same for everyone? Ask the question to a Japanese and a person in the Arctic and they have a hugely different understanding of the phenomenon of the morning.

So, what is the point I am making?

Sun doesn’t have any need to rise! It is the humans who have a need for meaning and consistency. To make sense of the world, we named the direction in which the Sun rises as East!

The recent discourse in social science and philosophy predominantly states that nature is on its course. There is no distinction in ‘nature’s mind’ about planets, sun, moon, morning, etc. There is no ‘separate’ phenomenon happening in the nature of ‘the sun rising’. However, humans have a deep need for meaning and to satisfy that need we attribute characteristics to things we observe. Yes, the attribute is consistent. Doesn’t mean that the attribute is a complete reality! (Sun is consistent in rising from a direction every day. This doesn’t mean that Sun is doing the act of rising from the east!)

There is an acknowledgment of this even in physics with the theory of relativity. The experience that we have, measurements that we make, even our experience of time and space are relative. However, this relativity and subjectivity become even starker when we are trying to understand ‘non-physical’ phenomenon — The phenomenon in which we are a direct part. Especially in these difficult times. There are a lot of subjective phenomenon going in each one of us.

Phenomenon around our feelings, thoughts, ethics, our impact on others etc. Here the meaning each one of us gives’ to our thoughts/feelings is different and thus our experienced realities are also different.

Let me take a very simple example. I am a foodie and a movie buff. In my early twenties, I had a habit of asking for reviews before trying any new restaurant. Over time, I realized how futile this exercise was for me. A friend would give me a review that a particular restaurant was “just amazing” and “It has like a crazy dish that one must try in this city”. I would get overzealous hearing this review, go and try that place. Only to get disappointed.

I am not making the point that my friend and I have different tastes and liking. I do like what she recommended however there is a huge difference in the degree. The understanding I have about the feeling ‘just amazing’, ‘crazy dish’ is very different from her understanding. The image I drew in my mind listening to her about the movie or the dish is different from my lived experience. The feelings I see on her face when we together taste the dish are very different from the feelings I get on my face.

The point is no movie or food dish is inherently “amazing” or “crazy”, good or bad. My experience of that food or movie is “amazing or crazy”. I am attributing meaning to the food dish by calling it ‘amazing or crazy’. This meaning is very different for me and my friend.

It may seem a trivial example at first and without any consequences. However, this line of thinking has tremendous application in helping us understand our relationships, conflicts, education, etc. much better. It can even make us better negotiators to show tangible business outcomes. Acknowledging our unique subjective experience is also a key to personal resilience. Having this mindset limits comparison and values everyone. When I am able to do that, I can take responsibilities for my needs. This is a major step towards being more resilient.

At a larger level, I am also not making a point about empathy or seeing things from other’s perspectives when talking about subjective realities. That is a subset of what I am telling. My main point is that reality just exists.

I have a need to make meaning. To fulfill that, I take a small part of reality and make it as a separate phenomenon. I assign attributes to this phenomenon. However, the attributes I assign are very limited to my experience. They are not the same for others. And most importantly they don’t capture reality entirely. This is a second important point that helps us build resilience. This gives us opportunity to accommodate multiple realities and make our own meanings. A concrete personal meaning is a bedrock of resilience.

Applying this mindset to understand world requires deliberation and slowing down in our mundane life. In the rush, I want to consider my reality as ‘The’ reality and my opinion as to ‘The’ best opinion.

I wish the next time I get in an argument with someone or I am trying to limit myself in a label, I will try to take a pause and ask “in which direction did the Sun rise today?!”

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