When human beings are young, they can barely fathom what’s happening around them. Children often have imaginary playmates. They talk with them and share toys with them. Similarly, it’s not unheard of a child to wake up in the middle of the night crying after experiencing a nightmare. Parents try to alleviate the child’s fear by explaining the difference between dreams and reality; fake and real. As the brain matures, it learns to partition the world into three basic zones; Reality, Imagination/Thoughts and Dreams.
The ability of a person to achieve this partitioning is strongly linked with his mental soundness. Take the example of a fiction writer. Tolkien’s high fantasy novel “The Lord of the Rings” continues to enthrall readers over several decades. Had Tolkien indicated believing in any part of his fantasy world, society would have been quick to label him as delusional. The thoughts of a normal person are not half as vivid as reality. One cannot feel pain just by imagining being run over by a truck. On the contrary, all the five vital senses of vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste come alive in dreams. How is it then that we manage to draw a clear line between dreams and reality?
There can be two possible explanations for how we make this distinction. Our sense of judgment is greatly affected by input from other human beings. For example, if Mr.X is going for an interview and a friend tells him that his tie looks odd, he might decide to change it. If the same comment is given by five different friends, Mr.X will certainly change it. Moreover, our faith in an idea strengthens if it is presented to us repeatedly, in an organized fashion. In the context of our argument, we can say an event is reality if:
- Overlap: People other than oneself can relate to it.
- Continuity: The actors (places, objects, people) in these events exist across subsequent and/or previous events.
Additionally, we associate certain conditions with dreams. The most dominant one is being in bed and feeling post-sleep symptoms.
What we perceive as ‘reality’ is deemed as such because that is the portion where majority of human minds overlap. Effectively, our ‘reality’ is one giant circle comprising of overlapping regions. For example, consider the following situation. I believe I work at FAST. FAST might just be my imagination. But the odds of that are very low because everybody in my family believes there is a university called FAST where I work. Thousands of people inside and outside Pakistan agree that there is indeed a university by the name of FAST. That’s a fairly large overlap area. Moreover, I go there five days a week. I go through the same routine every single day. That satisfies the condition of continuity too. So my brain reaches the conclusion that ‘I work at FAST’ is authentic information.
That said, lets zoom out a bit now. What we consider ‘reality’ might just be a figment of the imagination of an alien on another planet. Alternately, it might just be a bubble in the head of a so-called lunatic, whom we have confined to the mental asylum for digressing from our established rules of ‘reality’. Who knows?