You’re probably not reading this right now. That’s not a philosophical statement about the number of non-readers a given news article has. It’s a declaration of the literal. This article might not exist.
You, me, TNW’s Neuralvertical for artificial intelligence news and analysis, our offices in Amsterdam, your favorite T-shirt: it’s quite possible that none of these things actually exist. Or that they all exist but the reality they exist in doesn’t. It’s complicated.
But it’s not as counter-intuitive as it sounds. We just need to take a trip through the wacky world of quantum physics, tap into some genius intellects, and strip away our preconceived notions about what reality is.
What is real?
Reality is a lot like pornography in that people tend to know it when they see it. Is the chair you’re sitting on or the floor you’re standing on real? Intuitively, we think “yes.” If it weren’t real, we assume, we’d fall down.
But every single one of us knows that there are situations where what seems real isn’t. And as our technology improves, we know that seeing isn’t good enough. I’ve seen Pokemon in the real world via augmented reality.
And if you think about the lessons you learned in grade school, it becomes even more apparent that we don’t necessarily have a very strong grasp on what it means for something to be “real.”
One of the most basic principles of science is that all matter is made up of atoms and molecules. We know this because we can use microscopy to observe atomic structures.
Think about a banana. You grab it off a tree, peel it, and eat it. The banana exists. But what if you took a banana and separated each of its molecules out and laid them in a line?
You wouldn’t have a really long banana that stretched out in a straight line, you’d have a bunch of molecules that, theoretically, could possibly be repurposed for something other than a banana.
What if we separated all the molecules in every single object in the universe and then put them in a bag? If we shook up that bag and then dumped it out, there’s no reason to imagine the molecules would all form into their original objects again.
After all, oxygen and hydrogen are perfectly useful on their own as gasses we use for one process or another. And in the right combinations they make water.
A god’s eye view
Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli recently published a book titled “Helgoland: Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution.”
In this book Rovelli argues that all of reality is relational. That means that, counter to what Sir Isaac Newton thought, if every object in the universe were to suddenly disappear there would not be an empty universe left behind.
If you take way the stars, black holes, planets, and everything else that exist