what is real?

2016.05 Montalut Doodles (5)

Classic question in college philosophy: if a tree falls in the forest, but no one witnesses it, did it still fall?  What is real?

Let’s simplify things and say that yes, it’s the witnessing that makes the falling real.

My follow up question is this: what constitutes witnessing? What does it mean to witness?

Does one witness with the senses–eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin? When we see, smell, hear, taste, touch, is it then that something becomes real to us? Or do we do it emotionally, mentally, spiritually? Is something or someone real when we feel, think, commune with or transcend it? Is it the connection that makes it real? Is to witness, to connect?

Apply this to the modern phenomenon of online dating. Online dating has opened the dating floodgates for previously unknown permutations of relationships. Nowadays, it is possible to have an everyday relationship with someone living thousands of miles away in a different timezone, and with whom we don’t share a real-life context.  It is possible to know someone and still never have met in person. Technology has given us tools to bridge the sensory gap of physical distance through the internet, social media, video calls–you name it. Presence–that space where the magic happens between two people–can now take on a non-physical form.  Or can it?

Her is a movie that presented the possibility of a relationship with an artificial intelligence, a construct. A man falls in love with a voice that talks to him.  Does the fact that the “other” in the relationship is a non-human make the connection (i.e. relationship) artificial?  If the relationship is one-sided, exists in one’s head, is it any less real?  What if it impacts that person’s life for the better, making him a more effective workmate, son, friend?  Is it real then?  One can say the same of faith, which is based on a total surrender to a mystery, unknown, unverifiable Other.  Where does one draw the line between real and imagined?

Stretching this a bit further, isn’t memory also intangible? Yesterday and tomorrow–do they belong in the realm of what is real or imagined?