In philosophy class the other day, an interesting thought came to me when discussing the concept of reality. Someone stated that reality may be different from individual to individual, that what I am experiencing may be fundamentally different somehow from what the person next to me is experiencing. But of course, my professor clarified, undeniable facts would remain facts.
That assumption dressed as a certain truth made me wonder; what makes a “fact” absolute?
If an individual is raised and dies in total isolation, never learning or being able to grasp the concept of arithmetic, is 2+2=4 an objective fact of their reality?
Bear with me here.
“Reality itself” is quite the complex and intimidating concept to attempt to cover as the third post ever on my infant blog. Yet, it has been on my mind since the thought formed itself in my head about a week ago. I cannot shake this apparent discrepancy. What specifically of universal facts insinuates that they, above anything else, transcend the possibility that reality differs person to person? For the sake of this article, I’ll be using the basic mathematic concept that 2+2=4, but know that this can apply to a plethora of facts from all different sciences and studies.
Important Disclaimer: I am by no means trying to discredit science or math, or attempting to corrupt the minds of the youth. I am no flat-earther, no climate change denier. As a philosopher, I simply find the thought fascinating. If reality is individual, as it very well might be, how closed off could it be? If information of facts never reaches a certain person, do they ever become real?
The easiest way I can think of to simplify this is with a common question people ask; if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Sure, you might say, of course it does. Just because no one heard it, does not deny the fact that the impact occurred, and the sound reverberated. However, can anyone prove it? The definition of “fact” according to Google-dot-com, is “a thing that is indisputably the case”. Where is our proof? Where is our evidence? How, then, can we truly deem this “indisputable”?
When I brought this concept up with my friend Nick, he found it difficult to envision a scenario in which one would never need to add. For example, even someone isolated and in the poorest of conditions may still see two rocks on the ground, then two more, and the total amount, whether or not comprehended as mathematical, is technically four. However, when I contemplate this question, I think of this individual as a blank slate.
Take feral children for example. Over time there have been a few notable examples. Children raised by wolves, bears– hell, even an ostrich. Particularly, I consider the case study of Genie. Those faint of heart who are unaware of her story may wish to stop reading now (kudos for even reading this far!). Genie was a girl who’s father basically decided that she was mentally incapacitated at a young age, and kept her restrained, isolated and in a dark room for thirteen years before she was rescued. When psychologists analyzed her after her release, she had the mental development of a thirteen month-old child. She could hardly walk and would never truly be able to speak, as she had missed her developmental window to learn a first language. From what I’m aware, Genie is usually regarded as the prime example of a feral child due to the nature and extent of her captivity. Psychologists did quite the extensive case study. For those curious, as I was, I encourage you to read more.
To tie this all in, say a child like that was never rescued. Say a child was stuck in a dark room from their first year of life to their death, hardly nourished, hardly exposed to any contact at all. What, out of our reality, would simply not be a part of theirs? We may never find out the answer to this question, or perhaps it’s fundamentally flawed. I like to think of our perception of reality as fluid, and phenomena such as the placebo effect tend to back me up, but there are many ways one could think about what is or is not real. Even this is merely a potential outcome, in a world where there are endless ways to interpret who we are and where we stand.