The Meta-Reality Problem
We're all familiar with the reality problem:
What is reality? How can I know for sure? How do I reconcile my personal view of reality with what's actually happening? How do I reconcile my view with the views of others? Why is there suffering? Why must I die?
And—why can't I answer these questions?
Reality, it seems, wants to keep its better secrets.
Yet—what other than something like reality could provide truthful evidence about the nature or purpose of existence? And sure enough every moment of our being is a definitive answer to many possible questions—and in special moments reality affirms existence with such power, depth, and beauty that it overwhelms the basic hubris we need to doubt any of it.
So why does reality, with all its promise, seem so cryptic—so problematic? What’s really going on?
There’s reality, irrefutable, both known and unknown to us. Then there’s meta-reality—consciousness about reality that we carry around in our heads in the form of thoughts, questions, beliefs, and useful but imperfect knowledge. Meta-reality is the conscious modeling of reality. The problem—the real problem—is that we conflate the two—though reality and meta-reality are not at all the same thing. Moreover, unable, or perhaps just unwilling, to resolve the two in our mind, we give meta-reality precedence—counting on it to accurately reflect our circumstances and make our wishes and dreams come true. And then, most problematic of all, when meta-reality proves to be unrealistic and we find ourselves suffering the consequences of our misperceptions—we blame reality!
It’s maddening—literally. Insistence on the reality of meta-reality is a precise definition of insanity. Regardless of our reliance on a personal frame of reference, meta-reality can’t supplant reality because reality is the objective context that allows the phenomenon of subjective meta-reality consciousness—like biology is the context of both chicken and egg, water is the context of waves, and sleep the context of dreams. But more important, favoring meta-reality is maladaptive. It impairs our ability to recognize and understand reality—and hence sabotages our capacity to anticipate and effect the conditions needed for a favorable existence. We exist in reality, so attempting to inhabit a meta-world that exists only in our heads isn’t just crazy, it’s a predestined path to nonexistence.
In simple terms, we can’t solve the reality problem, let alone exist, in spite of reality.
On the other hand, letting reality take the lead, informing and shaping our meta-reality experience, is existentially optimal. After all, existence could happen in nothing other than reality, only real consequences could prove the wisdom or foolishness of past choices based on meta-reality, and our fate could be influenced in no other moment than the present. Ongoing reality with all its latent possibility offers the only solutions, for better or worse, to the human reality problem, and only reality could guide us to our best possible fate—if along the way we’d give reality, and not so much meta-reality, the attention it deserves—faith and appreciation too.
In summary—on the subject of asking and answering questions—being immersed in reality but having a very local and limited view, we’re in an excellent position to have and ask many questions; but with reality being the only source of definitive answers, we can’t actually answer our own questions! Alas, the answers we entertain in our heads, convincing as they may be, are meta-answers, and still just part of an unanswered question. Real answers come with the experience of the unknown becoming known—with consciousness of what actually happens. So using our rightfully inquisitive minds to distinguish between reality and meta-reality, seeking truthful understanding and not settling for questionable answers, gives reality a better chance of improving the meta-version of itself—giving us a better chance of fulfilling reality’s investment in human consciousness.
With this in mind:
What is reality? Reality is the context of existence.
How can I know for sure? By discerning and accepting my context.
How do I reconcile my personal view of reality with what's actually happening? By recognizing that reality is precedent to my personal view.
How do I reconcile my view with the views of others? By recognizing that reality is the shared context of everything and everyone that exists.
Why is there suffering? Suffering is intrinsic to existence in a shared context—anything that exists must bear the conditions that make its existence possible. And suffering serves a vital purpose: pressure to evolve. Human suffering arises latently from a failure to understand, accept, and nurture the extraordinary context of human existence—as pressure to evolve from our reliance on quasi-realistic consciousness.
Why must I die? Because an eternal singular life is inconsistent with the forever renewing and evolving context of life.
And finally, why can't I answer these questions? Because I won't let reality answer them for me.
More intriguing questions and meta-answers:
Why should I care? Because failure to solve the meta-reality problem is the basis of all human conflict and mental suffering—and our latent extinction.
How does meta-reality cause conflict? All human conflict is based on the absurdity “My reality (read “meta-reality”) is better than yours”—when the astounding context that allows individual existence is precisely the same for us all.
How does it cause mental suffering? Mental suffering is based on the absurdity “Reality should be what I think it should be (meta-reality)”—when my actual context could only be precisely what it is, including the painful notion that it could be different.
Am I sane? All psychological dysfunction is based on the absurdity “My sense of reality is beyond reproach.” Conversely, sanity is based on the admission “My sense of reality could use a little improvement.”
Who am I? I am my context—an aspect of everything. But my identity is an aspect of meta-reality—and once established, will do all it can to ensure it continues its meta-existence—often in spite of the reality of who I am.
What is consciousness? To be conscious is to discern the context of existence (reality). Thus even an Amoeba, sensing food, experiences consciousness. The more we discern, the more conscious we are. Our challenge, experiencing an evolved self-reflective human consciousness, is to discern not just the alluring content of our own consciousness, but the context that makes consciousness itself possible.
What is love? Love is the affirmation of existence. We experience love under any condition whereby reality affirms our existence. We feel love when we become conscious of it happening. And we express love when we affirm the existence of anything we encounter. Love for humanity is affirmation of our shared existence. Personal love is an endeavor two people share whereby each uses their own existence to affirm the miracle of the other’s. And love for our children is reality’s hopeful endeavor to teach us how to love, whereby we may affirm a more auspicious human existence.