Some physicists say that reality doesn’t exist in the sense that we all think it does. That what we perceive as real is real only while we are perceiving it. Otherwise, what we consider to be our lives–existence itself–is just an illusion.
All of this has to do with the mathematics of quantum mechanics and the methods by which scientists explore the laws of nature to explain the basic building blocks of life, matter, and energy–how we and the universe operate.
I don’t understand much about mathematics beyond some basic everyday stuff, but it is so successful in explaining and predicting how things work that it must be accurate. I wouldn’t be able to encode my ideas on my computer otherwise, or make them available to others to read.
Yet when I am confronted with a situation that demands a judgement from me, the very first thing I seem to ask myself is, “Is this real?” Is my perception of what is happening and how it affects me accurate? Especially when I anticipate expressing anger, I often doubt the veracity of my interpretation: Do I see this correctly? Do I have the right to say this? What will be the consequence?
I have believed–more often than I like to admit–other people who told me that I have completely misunderstood their words or intention. That the reality was very different from my explanation. I just didn’t know how things work.
OK. Do I live in an alternate universe, at the wrong spot of one of those strings other physicists believe are the basic elements of matter? Am I perennially stupid? Or, am I just so afraid of eliciting another person’s anger that my foremost response is to doubt myself?
My mother, unfortunately, was mentally unstable for most of my childhood and adolescence. As a person with narcisstic personality disorder, she was so self-absorbed that she rarely saw beyond her own needs or her own interpretation of what was real (i.e., normal); we lived with her persistent temper tantrums and threats to leave home. She often changed facts to fit her version of events. Yeah, she lied. And as a good Catholic-school student, the idea of a parent who lied was just not possible. It could not happen. Anymore than a nun or a priest could be wrong or tell a lie. So I grew up doubting myself. Actually, I was trained to doubt myself. To deny that what I believed I saw or heard was real.
Doubts about how I interpreted life around me translated into doubts about how I perceived myself, about what I have, or could, achieve. My chronic struggle with depression is probably based, at least partly, on those doubts.
So, physicists, please continue with your mathematics and your quest to know what makes the universe, and us, tick. It’s important. But while I am here, looking and hearing and thinking, I’m important too. I am real. I am capable. And no one can convince me otherwise.