"What's real?" is a terrific question. There's no end to possible answers. It seems to me, though, that some things almost certainly are really real about reality.
For us human beings -- every species is different in this regard -- there's a shared reality. If there wasn't you woudn't be able to read these words that I've written, and I wouldn't be sitting in a downtown Salem coffeehouse writing them.
Science studies this shared reality. This "common ground" isn't comprised of isolated dusty dry facts, but of life's interwoven verdant richness.
What would existence be like if there was no one to share it with? If we were solipsistic creatures who only knew the reality of me, not we? Whenever science uncovers a publicly demonstrable truth about the cosmos, it adds to the common ground of humanity.
Here is love. Here is hate. Here is togetherness. Here is separateness.
Here is everything real that exists outside of our individual psyches. Here -- on this common ground -- is where we become more than ourselves, because we imbibe the richness of reality that is other than us.
Yet...you and I also are real.
We think, we dream, we feel, we imagine, we sense, we are conscious of all sorts of happenings that are ours alone, incapable of being displayed on the common ground of reality.
On this private ground lie the roots of art, music, poetry, religion, spirituality, mysticism, and so much else. When visible sprouts grow, some become organized belief systems that can be studied in a scientific (or quasi-scientific) fashion.
However, public isn't private. Common ground isn't private ground. Objectivity isn't subjectivity.
Each requires the other. But neither one is the other. Life, both individual and collective, requires both perspectives -- the outer and the inner, the scientific and the personal. We should honor both.
Unfortunately, religious fundamentalists often try to elevate the private ground of personal belief to a status it doesn't deserve, and can't be allowed to assume.
Believe what you want. Just don't expect me to share your view of reality. If I say, "there's a coffee cup on this table," we can determine whether I'm telling the truth. Coffeehouse tables are part of humanity's common ground.
But if you consider that Jesus saves, or your guru is God, that's private territory. Feel free to occupy it -- it's yours. Not mine, though. So don't try to drag me into your belief system.
A respectful invitation to explore what you find so wonderful is fine. Just accept my "no thank you" if that's how I choose to respond, as I need to accept your rejection of my own private reality.
As I've said before (quite a few times), I absolutely adore Philip K. Dick's marvelous single sentence encapsulation of a whole lot of philosophy:
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
That's because the sort of reality Dick is speaking about isn't ours. The coffee cup on this table isn't produced by me. It isn't held in existence by me. It's part of shared reality -- common ground.
However, reality has another side. A belief side. A private side. Our beliefs, whether religious or otherwise, are real.
Only for us, though. Only for us.