What is real?

As children, the fantasy inhabits our imagination and we do confounding between real and fantasy. As adult, reality sometimes seems so hard we want the fantasy turns to real world. We create fantasies to tolerate reality. Religions fulfill this role on the one side. But one branch of academic thought seems to be committed to the acceptance of many different realities and not one in particular. Some argue there’s one reality and that’s absolute. Some argue that there are two realities like Plato, a sensitive (from experience) and another intelligible (a priori knowledge). I’m not inclined to accept any of the two. I sympathize more with Karl Popper view on the possibility of three worlds: one objective, one of our thoughts and one product of the interaction between the two.

This is a more sophisticated understanding of what is real, known as the thesis of the three worlds of Popper. However, I’m interested in a somewhat different approach. It looks more like the proposal of Richard Dawkins in his book “The Magic of Reality“. I Judge Dawkins did his job very well and I not want to repeat it here. I want to present an explanatory model developed by graphic artist Tracie Harris. The “Tracie’s fallacy model” works very well to demonstrate the need of presence of certain features that, synthetically, give meaning to the concept of existence.

In the model are shown three glass bottles with the same characteristics but with different contents. The first bottle contains some dice (bottle of existing dice), that’s right, those dice of board games, the second bottle has no content (dice missing bottle) and the third also has not (let’s assume that this is the bottle of transcendental dice). When placed in this way it is easy to assume that the bottles contain what has been proposed. However, when mixing the three bottles and remove the labels the Tracie’s model becomes interesting. If the observer is asked to identify which of the bottles contains existing dice he quickly distinguish the bottle whose dice presence is remarkable to sight, shake the bottle observing that the dice produce sounds on contact with the glass surface, or even take the weight measure of the bottles identifying those with the bigger mass. What interests us is the existence of features in addition to those that can be seen, whose measure allows us to infer its existence. If we ask the observer to identify the bottle of non-existent dice he will struggle to distinguish it from the bottle transcendental and eventually resorting to kicking or simply to faith.

We could represent these elements via ensembles. Ensemble containing “x“, empty ensemble, and ensemble containing “y” with attribute of empty ensemble, but I think that would make the explanation less attractive. However, it provides a good math demonstration of how transcendental attributes are inconsistent with nature. The bottles of Tracie reveal the problem of distinguishing between what is transcendent and what is not real or not exist. There is no features or attributes that enable us to differentiate them. Thus, transcendental entities, with respect to attributes, are equivalent to non-existent entities.

We further request that the observer make an estimate of how much dice there are in the bottle of existing data. With any luck the observer not hit the number on the first try, but present an approximate value. We’ll tell him that our estimate is ten thousand times greater than the value presented by him. To our embarrassment, the observer will laugh our absurd assumption. The aim is to demonstrate that, although both presented nothing more than hunches about quantity, it is not allowed any kind of assumption only by restriction tests. This is because there are certain things we know about the volume of dice and the bottle, which makes certain kinds of supposition simply absurd.

Finally, it is requested that the observer risk in a guess on the amount of transcendental dices in the bottle of transcendental dices. After hearing the observer’s hunch, we tell him what we believe is the number of dice present there ten thousand times greater than their guess. Considering we are talking about bottle transcendental dices our assumption no longer seem absurd. That’s because, indeed, we know nothing about the transcendental dice. There is no way to distinguish them from nothing.

Many atheists hesitate to use arguments similar to the Tracie’s fallacy model believing that would be providing concessions to theists. Theists, for their part, believe that this argument demonstrates the impossibility of proving the non-existence of God and unadvisedly conclude that God must exist. What, indeed, Tracie, Smith, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and many others have demonstrated is, we cannot assume the veracity of hypotheses without it may be subjected to tests or, as Sir Karl Raimund Popper emphasized, refutation.


Richard Dawkins. A magia da realidade: como sabemos o que é verdade.
Karl Popper and John Eccles. The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism.
Tracie Harris. Modelo da Falácia da Tracie (1/5) – The Atheist Experience #593.

Creative Commons License
This work by Alison Felipe Alencar Chaves is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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