Operational Reality

Note: A video version of this article is available on YouTube.


Some people say that the universe was created five seconds ago, with everything where it is, doing what it is doing, and with our memories the way they are now. They do not claim that science can prove this assertion.

Some people say the same thing, except that it didn't happen five seconds ago. Rather, they say it happens repeatedly, far less than a billionth of a second apart (about 0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 01 second, in case you're wondering). They do not claim science can prove this.

Some people say the universe was created by a god. They do not claim science can prove this. What's more, some say that God Himself (as we can perceive Him) is created by a complex process of Oneness differentiating into separate aspects of the One. They don't claim that science can prove this.

They do, however, insist that it's true.

There are all kinds of ideas about what reality really is. Is all reality actually just something in your imagination? Is reality truly made of pure consciousness and all matter is illusion? Do we, as a popular movie suggested, live in a computer simulation? If so, is that simulation inside another simulation?

There is no way for science to prove or disprove any of this.

On the basis of the foregoing, some people conclude that science sucks. It simply can't do the job it needs to do! Thus, they conclude, we must find a better way to find out about reality.


Some have proposed a substitute for science that they call “faith”. Now, there's nothing wrong with faith in some cases. I have faith that my wife won't kill me in my sleep — that's why I'm able to get a good night's rest. When I drive my motorcycle toward a green stoplight, I have faith that my fellow human will stop at the corresponding red. My faith is so strong that occasionally I don't even bother to check that it's so.

There is no way for science to validate these choices of mine. Sometimes wives do kill husbands. Sometimes people do run red lights. But we have our faith because otherwise we would be paralyzed by fear. It's an accommodation we must make with reality. But the sheer necessity of faith doesn't mean that it can teach us about the Ultimate Reality.

Ah, yes, the Ultimate Reality. Is there a Supreme Being named God or Jehovah or Zeus or whatever? The short answer is No. At least, if such a being exists it is not going to be anything like the way our silly human stories portray him, her or it. There are indeed higher levels of organization and intelligence (as described in my earlier articles, such as the one about tsotls). But our everyday experience of these is still part of our universe. As such, they are not Ultimate Answers.

Optional Note for the Detail-Oriented: Please note that I said “everyday experience” above. This article would be vastly more complicated if I had to also bring in quantum strangeness, relativity, cosmology, and the metaphysical nature of pure information (about which I'll write another day). These seeming exceptions don't really affect the message of this article, so please bear with me.

Some people say that our universe is part of a multiverse — that we exist because our universe had just the right physical settings out of countless billions of trillions of quadrillions of quintillions of other universes.

This could very well be true. It makes sense. It explains almost everything, really. But at the moment we have no way to find out if it's true.

So what do we do? Give up?


Look: even if you don't know how the universe was created, even if you can't prove that your best friend is conscious the way you are, even if you can't guarantee that the laws of physics will remain constant during the next hour, you do recall that you've enjoyed a nice cookie, right?

No matter how the universe actually operates — whether there be gods or multiverses or realms of pure consciousness — it is not unreasonable to expect that you can fetch yourself a nice cookie. And if we have good shoes and reasonable health we can go for a nice stroll. If you like dogs, you can watch a puppy play. If you like sports, you can toss a ball around. In fact, if you have time to spare you can even read interesting (though sometimes long-winded) articles about reality.

In other words: It is reasonable to act as if the reality we treat as real really is out there in some way.


No matter how we philosophize, the reality in which we actually operate is one of consistency. We might never be able to know what the Ultimate Reality is, but we certainly do put our faith in the regularity of the Operational Reality we inhabit. And that very simple trust in the universe, substantiated or not, has apparently worked out quite well for humanity.

It's not that we shouldn't grow and improve. We could, for example, stop being so nasty to one another. History shows us that we can change, and our lives can become more enjoyable, when we stop claiming to know what we do not know. And what do we actually know?

We can see, with quite astonishing accuracy, how things operate. And just as we did with our faith in fellow humans, we can pretend that that's all we need to know. That's the principle of Operational Reality.

Of course, in the back of our mind we will retain the knowledge that our reality-model is incomplete. It would be insane to forget that! But there does come a point where we have to actually live. We make friends, we trust loved ones, we drive in traffic ... and we eat cookies that may or may not be poisoned by invisible demons.

They probably weren't.


Incidentally, if you who think that someday a god will hand us the Answer, get ready to ask it this question:

“How do you know you weren't programmed to forget that even you were created?”


Next time somebody tells you something like “All reality is actually a projection of the Ultimate Oneness of Beingness,” ask them how they know. If they tell you it takes years of study to realize that, ask them if it's possible that they've simply conditioned their minds to see what their assumptions imply. If they don't understand what you mean by that, maybe it's time to walk away.

There is much about reality we can still learn. But...

We are not compelled to complicate life with beliefs we cannot possibly test. 

Yes, we're keen to know how things truly are. And as time progresses we do learn more. But until the day arrives (and I doubt it ever will) when we little human animals have The Absolute And Certain Knowledge Of All That Is Real — we can live by the principle of Operational Reality.

Enjoy your cookie!

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