On Reality

I don’t watch much television so my knowledge of the historical background is shaky but lately I have become fascinated by a couple of television dramas, Lost and Heroes. Both have exceptionally convoluted plots in which reality itself is a main player. Lost is a show where I’m never sure precisely what the reality is and Heroes tells stories in which reality itself is constantly shifting through the actions of several main characters, one of whom can time travel and change the path of time itself.

I find in these stories a wonderful skepticism. If there is one dominant strategy or Nash equilibrium for the people in these worlds it is to never completely accept the reality in front of them: it may be imaginary (hallucination), it may be systemically unpredictable (particularly when invisibility or shapeshifting or any one of a dozen other idiosyncratic factors are at play), and it may be variable, as when the fabric of time is accidentally or willfully rewoven. In these worlds history and sensory knowledge are even poorer guides than the one I know and one must be willing to accept the constant possibility of delusion as well as a knowledge base that is terminally unstable. Survival means the ability to accept the fluidity of paradigms through which experience is optimized.

In a sense this is very minimalist. At the same time one is aware of the utter scale of possibility and learns that the worst enemy is not being aware of one’s cognitive biases and limitations. In a sentence, self-knowledge is the only meaningful currency for these realities (and by extension, our own).

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