Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

Are the things that exist only in our heads real?

Asked by wundayatta (58727points) February 8th, 2010
35 responses
“Great Question” (6points)

Pretty much all of us have fantasies all the time. Some people practically live in these fantasies. They get involved in video games or rpgs or virtual interactive spaces, and can spend hours of each day there. Some people think that’s an addiction or unhealthy, mentally speaking.

On social sites where strangers meet, the only thing they know is what the other person says about themselves. The other person could be lying, of course, or misrepresenting themselves. Pictures could also be misrepresentations. So what you know, quite possibly, has little representation to the reality on the ground, so to speak.

Still, all this creation of a fantasy vision of another person or another place, as when we read a novel, is real inside our heads. No one could prove it is there, but we would probably all agree that we can “picture” things we’ve never actually seen. I am using “picture” loosely, as a metaphor for all senses.

Who are we, when we present ourselves here? What is “here” anyway? Is an imagined thing a real thing? And what relationship does all this have to do with what we believe to be the “real” world?

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jfos's avatar

Being hungry doesn’t make what you’d like to eat real, otherwise there would be no such thing as famine. All health issues aside, thinking of something makes it a real thought. It does not make it existent in a material sense.

Trillian's avatar

@wundayatta I think that in a forum like this we’re pretty honest in terms of who we are, what kind of people we are. We’re cloaked in anonymity to the extent that we cannot be FTF, but our personalities are consequently that much more “out there”.
some of us choose to put our pictures as our Avatars. Some, like dpworkin, for instance, just are that way, some, like the younger females for instance, want that stroke of reassurance of people saying “Well, aren’t you the pretty little thing.”
Some use various pictures that have meaning for them and some just picj something at random..
This one simple thing reveals something about us.
We are “here” in cyber space. We meet, interact, argue, discover each other and new ideas. Some of us jump in and declare out ideas in a loud voice, defying anyone else to have an opposing point of view. Some simply look to see what others think. By the nature of how we interact and address each other, we create an honest picture of who we are.
Our demographics show up in our perceptions and how we relate to each other. By the nature of the answers we give we tell the community much about ourselves, and any sociologist would find in our writings and musings a treasure trove in group interaction and dynamics.
We develop friendships, affections and dislikes solely by the words and expressions used by what we read.
This “place” is as real as your kitchen table, and right now we’re sitting at it with you. Would you please go get me some more coffee?

ETpro's avatar

How real is what is in someone’s fantasies only? If some spectre existing only in a madman’s head pushes him to jump off a cliff, isn’t he just as dead as another man pushed by a very real attacker?

janbb's avatar

@Trillian Would you be my Fluther same-sex crush? I think I’m falling in love with you!

stump's avatar

The things we imagine are real on their own plain. In other words, they are real in relation to other imaginary things, the same way material things are real in relation to other material things. And although we think of imaginary things as unreal compared to material things, we all know that imaginary things can have immense power in the material world. Ideals like Truth, Justice, Divinity, Evil, etc., are imaginary, but are extremely powerful in the material world, and are in a sense more real than material things, since they are far more enduring than material things.
Cyberspace, like the world of a novel, is both material and imaginary. But unlike a novel, it is interactive, changing and growing with the minds that inform it. All of human history can be seen as a process of making imaginary things material. Humans have the ability to translate what we imagine into physical objects, more than any other animal. And we have gotten better at it all of your history. But what things we imagine!

jfos's avatar

@ETpro Respectfully, I think that yours is a very hopeful, accepting, arms-wide answer. The difference is that the spectre in the madman’s head did not touch his body and exert pressure on his body resulting in the force that moved him off of the cliff.

nebule's avatar

When Rilke said “we are unutterably alone” I believe this is partly what he was talking about. Yes I do think it is real in our imaginations, minds…whatever you want to call it.

Incidentally I was talking to a fellow student of philosophy the other day, who is also a doctor and she was telling me how a study of blind people (who have been blind for life) has revealed that when reading a book in braille the visual cortex begins to light up as if it were “seeing” what they are imagining….even though they have never experienced the actually sensory act of seeing the world through their eyes. Interesting I thought and perhaps has a contribution to make to this discussion in terms of what is real and what is not.

CaptainHarley's avatar

It’s perfectly acceptable to have a rich fantasy life, but when it begins to affect your decision-making ability in our shared reality, there is serious pathology involved.

Merriment's avatar

As real as you allow your actions ,based on those things in your head, to make them.

Janka's avatar

Depends completely on your definition of “real”.

the100thmonkey's avatar

They’re real, if you accept that mental phenomena supervene on physical phenomena.

life_after_2012's avatar

The fantasies in my head do not becaome a reality untill i put them on paper or canvas. Even then its just fantasy with a visual refrence. The things in my head that are real are realities like, the light bill, credit card baill, car insurance, mortgage note, ect.. i make sure those are in check then ill pick up a graphic novel, or book and get lost in fantasy

CMaz's avatar

We are all self delusional. We just need to find someone/others that is/are riding the same crazy train as ourselves.

Dr_C's avatar

If it exists for you then it’s real for you.

wundayatta's avatar

The fantasies in my head do not becaome a reality untill i put them on paper or canvas (@life_after_2012)

If some spectre existing only in a madman’s head pushes him to jump off a cliff, isn’t he just as dead as another man pushed by a very real attacker? (@ETpro)

As real as you allow your actions ,based on those things in your head, to make them. (@Merriment)

hen [a rich fantasy life] begins to affect your decision-making ability in our shared reality, there is serious pathology involved. (@CaptainHarley)

Humans have the ability to translate what we imagine into physical objects, more than any other animal. (@stump)

What a number of you seem to be suggesting, it seems to me, is that the imaginary becomes real when we take action to make it real. This implies that before we try to make it real, it isn’t real.

So clearly, online, we make the imaginary real in the sense that it becomes pixels on a screen. We make images.

But I guess there’s another thing we make real, which is emotions. The things we imagine create emotional responses in us, and they are real emotional responses.

So this leads me to my next question, which is found here.

stump's avatar

@wundayatta I wouldn’t say we make imaginary things real through our actions. I would say we make imaginary things physical through our actions. Imaginary things are already real IN RELATION to other imaginary things. If you define the word ‘real’ as physical then I would agree that we make imaginary things real through our actions.

wundayatta's avatar

@stump Good point. Although the two realities seem to have a different import. Imaginary reality is potential—sort of a potential energy. Real reality has been physicalized. But it gets confusing when the expression of the idea (the symbolic form of it) is real, but symbols stand for things that may or many not be real.

Some people take the imaginary reality just as seriously as the physical reality. They believe that motives are important, not just what someone did.

Trillian's avatar

@the100thmonkey interesting. That bears further investigation. @lynneblundell, as I was reading your post I was reminded of a short story of which I can no longer remember the name. Told from the perspective of an adult whose older parents were both blind and deaf. They had moved to a commune with other blind and deaf people and they all started to invent thins to assist them with living. Robots, I believe. Anyway, they all started saying lets *****! There was no word for *****, it was something they did together. The story teller was worried and when he went back they had all gone. The implication being that somehow they had found a path to an elevation of consciousness which they were able to achieve/attain due to being blind an deaf. I hadn’t thought of that story for years, but your concept made me remember it. A bit of Zardoz, a bit of Powder and Celestine Prophecy (Movie, not book). Thanks. This is what I like about this place where we meet.

Trillian's avatar

PS. @janbb, Hehehe, I think we can work something out. ;-)

janbb's avatar

You’re on!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Trillian excuse me but I completely think @dpworkin is a pretty little thing, :)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

People, online and offline, can always lie to us – but they can also tell us their truth – I know because I’ve done it, I’ve shared myself, I’ve been vulnerable. Is it all in my head? Well, sure, but some of you had to put it there.

Trillian's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir yes he is, but he’s secure and doesn’t need us to tell him. ~ ;-)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Trillian lol, oh I know…I was just playing around with you

Trillian's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Thought you did. Do ya think he’ll blush if he reads this? ;-)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Trillian nah, he’ll prob just tell me he thinks the same of me

janbb's avatar

Nah – he doesn’t blush.

CaptainHarley's avatar


I responded to your other question. I hope that what I responded to was appropriate to what you asked. : )

RAWRxRandy's avatar

It’s a real idea? oh god this is confusing…
Wait, no…its a REAL thought. uhm…Yah…sure its real

ETpro's avatar

@wundayatta Looking at the meaning of real, yes; things imagined aren;t real outside your own mind till you act on them and bring reality to bear on them.

adjective: actual, true, genuine, veritable, virtual, factual, very, authentic, substantial
adverb: very, truly, badly, indeed, actually

1—Something that is real actually exists and is not imagined, invented, or theoretical. ADJ
Antonym imaginary
No, it wasn’t a dream. It was real.
Legends grew up around a great many figures, both real and fictitious.

2—If something is real to someone, they experience it as though it really exists or happens, even though it does not. ADJ ADJ-GRADED usu v-link ADJ
Whitechild’s life becomes increasingly real to the reader. + ‘to’

3—A material or object that is real is natural or functioning, and not artificial or an imitation. ADJ usu ADJ n
Synonym genuine
…the smell of real leather.
Who’s to know if they’re real guns or not?
Desmond did not believe the diamond was real.

ratboy's avatar

Brains are in our heads. If they are unreal, that explains why we see so few zombies—they all starved.

Janka's avatar

@ETpro However, people also use real in expressions like “Do you really think that, or are you just joking?” implying that there can be a real thought in our head even before it is actualized.

My point being, there is a way to define “real” in a way that thoughts are not real, and a way to define “real” in a way that they are. Both usages/definitions are valid. There is no point in arguing which one is more correct or more real (haha).

mattbrowne's avatar

Everything exists in our heads only. When you hit a key on your keyboard, do you actually think your finger feels the touch of reality? It doesn’t. Our brains perform a sophisticated simulation. Who or what exactly observes this simulation is still a puzzle, called consciousness (mind/body problem).

the100thmonkey's avatar

@mattbrowne: see my previous post about supervenience.

mattbrowne's avatar

@the100thmonkey – I’ll check out the article.

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