Suppose, for example, that you look at a sunflower. You experience the yellowness of the sunflower. Plus, if you touch the sunflower, you may experience the smoothness of sunflower petals. You may also experience the aroma of the sunflower. In short, you experience different qualities of the sunflower. Now, where are these different qualities such as the yellowness, aroma, and smoothness? In the sunflower or in your mind or in both? According our natural way of thinking, qualities of the sunflower are both in our mind and in the sunflower itself. We assume that our experience or our internal world is a representation of what is out there. We naturally assume that sunflower in our mind corresponds to a real sunflower in the external world. We take for granted that our internal world is a carbon copy of the external world. We also take for granted that there is an external world or an objective reality.
If we close our eyes, we may no longer see the sunflower. However, we have no doubt that the sunflower exists. What if we suddenly die? Does the sunflower also cease to exist? It seems, no. Because, we assume, that the existence of the sunflower is independent from our experiences of the sunflower. That is to say, we assume that there is this sunflower – in the objective reality – independent from our mind. Such assumptions are natural. Humans, by default, take the existence of external world for granted. That’s the default condition of human beings. Most of our sciences are based on this default assumption. Our sciences, our knowledge systems, presuppose that an objective reality exists, and aims to discern the nature of this objective reality.
However, philosophers have asked, is this default assumption really correct? Is there really an objective reality? Such questions have troubled humankind for many years, and they still continue to do so.
We may dream about a sunflower. We may see a sunflower in a dream. In such instances, what we experience is not what is out there. In such instances, what we experience is just a construction of our mind. So, the question arises! Can all our experiences be constructions of our mind? Some philosophers say yes. Irish philosopher George Berkeley is one of the philosophers who said that all our experiences are constructions of our mind. According to Berkeley, only God is what exists out there. All other things, such as sunflowers, frogs, fellow human beings, rain drops, and volcanoes exist only in the mind. Nalin De Silva’s view that there is no objective reality is so close to Berkeley’s worldview. Only difference is that Berkeley leaves some room for Judeo-Christian God and Nalin doesn’t.
Nonetheless, there are some issues with the position that there is no external world. For one thing, if there is no objective reality, it follows, there would be no difference between dreams and reality – or illusions and reality. Everything exists only in the mind, and everything is like hallucinations. However, this is not the case. We know that there are illusions. We know that there are hallucinations. Therefore, it follows, that there is an objective world out there independent from our thoughts. If there is no objective reality, we will never be able to separate an illusion from reality. But, we have separated illusions from reality. We have identified illusions and we have given different names for different illusions. Further, if there is no objective reality, we may never be able to distinguish between a dream and reality – for everything is nothing but figments in the mind. However, just after we woke up from a dream, we realize that what we just saw was a dream. This implies that we are in a position to demarcate reality from non-real dreams. Argument can be laid down as follows,
1.) If there is no objective reality, then we can’t distinguish between dreams/ illusions and reality.
2.) We can distinguish between dreams/ illusions and reality.
3.) Therefore, there is an objective reality.
Moreover, the view that there is no objective reality undermines ethics. It discards ethics as something unimportant. For example, we don’t care about if our behavior is ethical in a dream. However, in reality, we do care about if our behavior is ethical. Problem is, according to the position that there is no objective reality, everything is like a dream, and therefore, ethics does not matter. However, this is not actually the case. Ethics is important to build a just society. Ergo, it follows, there is an objective reality.