One reason I love to read is that a few sentences in a book can make me go Wow! or Whoa! to such an extent, I feel like it is worth reading hundreds of pages to be exposed to a single fresh thought.
That happened to me this morning as I was reading the "Criteria for Reality" chapter in physicist David Deutsch's book, The Fabric of Reality. Here's what grabbed my attention:
Galileo may have seen the world as a book in which the laws of nature are written in mathematical symbols. But that is strictly a metaphor; there are no explanations in orbit out there with the planets. The fact is that all our problems and solutions are located within ourselves, having been created by ourselves. When we solve problems in science we arrive through argument at theories whose explanations seem best to us.
Now if this is true of science, it is doubly true of religion -- because science deals with problems concerning the observable outside world, and religions typically deal with problems involving what almost certainly is an imagined supernatural realm.
Thus, for example, religions would have us worry about what will happen with our immortal soul, conveniently failing to mention that there is no demonstrable evidence for the soul, much less its purported immortality. Likewise, religions raise the concern about how we can be sure we're doing God's will, even though there's no evidence that God exists.
So it's good to keep in mind, as Deutsch reminds us, that all problems and solutions exist within the human mind, not out there in the world. This doesn't mean that our problems and solutions aren't real, just that they have a different sort of reality than, say, electromagnetism, the planet Mars, or jellyfish.
I've pondered this general notion in several blog posts, though not in exactly the fashion Deutsch has. Here's links to some of those posts, along with an excerpt from each.
I'm not sure whether ultimate reality can be known. Heck, I'm not even sure whether limited reality can be known.
Meaning, there may be no such thing as reality.
This might just be a word we humans use for our way of looking upon the world, a subjective viewpoint which has no resemblance to the way the world really is, because there is no really beyond the subjective viewpoint.
There's nothing wrong with believing. We all believe in things that aren't objectively true, because doing this makes us feel subjectively good. Believing is part of being human.
However, we should keep in mind that everything within our mind isn't part of objective reality. That's the beauty of Philip K. Dick's one-sentence metaphysics -- perhaps better termed ontology.
It reminds us that not believing in something is the best way to determine whether it is part of the reality outside our own head.
For example, stand on a first-floor balcony and get yourself to believe that an invisible floor extends beyond the railing. Which is equivalent to not believing in falling through empty space. Then jump off the railing. See what happens.
We don't see the universe as it is. We see the universe as it appears to us through the filter of a Homo sapiens consciousness.
Bats, snakes, monkeys, salmon, dogs, and every other sort of sentient creature see things differently, as does, in a non-conscious sense, a radio telescope and other devices that enable us to perceive aspects of the cosmos beyond our natural capacity.
However, since no one has ever had a non-human experience of reality, both our individual and collective view of How Things Really Are is inextricably biased toward anthropomorphism.
We need to scratch the "Really" in both science and spirituality.
On the other hand, thinking about how to experience something different from what is happening now often is necessary. If my computer won't start up, I need to think about what to do before doing it.
Religions, though, want us to think a lot about imaginary experiences. Prayers, mantras, ritual invocations, and such are designed to place true believers in a frame of mind where the here and now is made subservient to a fantasized there and then.
Sure, all this religious stuff can feel good. Sitting in church, surrounded by people who believe like you do, hearing tales of a heaven that is so much better than this imperfect world -- all this can produce highly appealing thoughts.
But that's all they are: thoughts. Reality is somewhere else, all around the worshipper. The sound of the preacher's voice, the hardness or softness of the pew, the brightness of candles, the sight of an image of Jesus on the cross.