40 Hours of Television

The class is over, but the discussion continues. Does the media shape reality, or does reality shape the media? Art can imitate life...and life can imitate art. "40 Hours of TV" will explore the media and its impact on us all.

Monday, July 04, 2005

What Is Reality?

"Reality," as a philosophical concept, is something that isn't easily defined. After all, reality is what we observe, and from that we apply our own life experiences and biases. Reality is subjective, different to each person experiencing it.

The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant is one of the best explanations of what "reality" is. This version is from the Buddhist canon.

A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, "Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?"

The Buddha answered, "Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, 'Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant.' 'Very good, sire,' replied the servant, and he did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, 'Here is an elephant,' and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.

"When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, 'Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?'
"Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a pot.' And the men who had observed the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a winnowing basket.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.

"Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' 'Yes, it's like that!' and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.

"Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.
"Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus."

Then the Exalted One rendered this meaning by uttering this verse of uplift

O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
For preacher and monk the honored name!
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.
Udana 68-69

When you watch television, or a movie, try to notice how "reality" is presented. What messages are being delivered through advertising? How are men and women portrayed? How accurate is that portrayal?

Some people think television is a mirror of society. Or is it the other way around? Is society shaped by what we see on television? It's a hard question to answer.


Blogger Graham said...

The thing is that the extent to which we all interpret and dilute the absolute truth is a fundamental facet of what comprises reality. The best example is any long term relationship that breaks down (which I imagine most of us experience), where eventually over time miscommunication grows, and the two people involved develop a completely seperate interpretation of the events that have passed.

This for me was really difficult to deal with, because I always thought I generally always saw clearly the truth, but forced to confront the ways in which my ex and I couldn't agree or see things the same way was a painful admission that the absolute truth was beyond us... we each had different realities... I thought she was wrong, and likewise her of me... and inspite of neither of us being 100% right... both of our realities were important. Because both contributed to what our reality as a couple really is.

The same is true in society, people's prejudices,
judgements, and diverse interpretations of life are
all vital parts of our reality, our communcal consciousness. Our shared awareness of ourselves and each other as human beings is where reality resides, not aside from such dilutions of absolute truth.


Very cool blog entry, Scott

2:30 PM  

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