When the term reality is mentioned, many questions arise regarding what reality is and what is real originate also. Unfortunately, many of these questions are yet to be answered since determining reality and what is real are left to each individual’s imagination – for one to determine reality as he or she sees fit. A dictionary may provide a definition for the word reality, but things that constitute reality may never be entirely defined because it is one of those things that is almost completely based on an individual’s perception and interpretation. A dictionary may also provide a definition for the word perception and the word interpretation, but many individuals perceive and interpret many things very differently. With the vast variation of people, thoughts, and beliefs in our world, how should society determine the boundaries of reality? On the other hand, is it even possible to set specific limits when considering reality?
The movie chosen, as a springboard into the forthcoming philosophical discussion, was “Dark City”, A Mystery Clock Production by New Line Cinema directed by Alex Proyas. The movie raised many interesting questions and produced many engaging comments. At the very beginning of the movie, you hear the voice of Dr. Schreber, played by Kieffer Sutherland. He begins by saying, “They [the “Strangers”] had mastered the ultimate technology, the ability to alter physical reality by will alone.” If the “Strangers” are altering reality, the people of the city will never truly know what is real and what is artificial. Consequently, the city in which they live is all artificial and made up. We as viewers can see this, but the people of the city are none the wiser. At one point throughout the movie, Detective Walenski said, “None of it seems real, it’s like I’ve just been dreaming this life and when I finally wake up I’ll be somebody else, somebody totally different.” Walenski had an idea that something was going on and the city was not right, but was never entirely sure what was wrong.
For many years, people have tried to determine reality and what is real. “For centuries, the issue of what does and does not count as real has been a matter of philosophy… [W]hat is real? Is there a reality behind appearance?” There are many types of reality such as virtual reality, artificial reality, internal and external reality, etc. The list goes on; there are too many to list and with the exception of virtual reality, are more directly related to psychology rather than to philosophy. “[T]here is a reality, and…the virtual form of it…can help us recover it… Take away reality, and all that is left is relativism, a belief that truth can be established simply by asserting it, that the self is all that exists…” Although the many types of reality are interesting, they are irrelevant to this specific paper.
Is it possible to allocate one set definition to reality? The answer is no, not entirely. “Reality is an edit. People are willing to pay for the authority if those editors whose filtering point of view seems to fit best.” One’s own perception of the term or, perception of the item that may have a questionable outcome regarding whether or not it is real can only define reality; in essence, reality is an immeasurable term because reality is all about how an individual perceives or interprets something. Perception can be defined as “obtain[ing] knowledge of through senses” and interpretation can be defined as “expain[ing]; represent[ing]”. What does this all mean? People use their senses to determine what they personally view as reality and will most likely continue to do so until a better solution comes along.
Although the dictionary provides a definition for the term reality, many individuals have varying personal perceptions on how to define reality and what can be considered real. In the new edition, Collins Gem Dictionary and Thesaurus, the noun reality is defined as real existence. If the definition of reality is real existence, both of those terms need to be defined as well, in order to obtain the true meaning of reality. As you can probably imagine, continually searching for separate definitions will send one scurrying in a viscous circle and never really finding an absolute definition. By taking it one step further and searching, “The Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names”, found on the web site philosophypages.com, defined the term reality as [t]he totality of what is, as opposed to what merely seems to be”, we can begin to understand that defining reality may be an impossible task.
So, what kinds of things are reality and what can be considered real? “What is reality? Here it is…[t]he whole body of scientific achievement…brings confirmation. The great claim of science is the revelation of reality. It is not just that is shows the content of reality, it has shown the reality principle…the study of experience by means of objective procedures is profitable.” Are things real only if they can be physically touched and seen? Not necessarily, because thoughts and feelings are real, but cannot be touched or seen, but rather felt. Memories are real, but they cannot be touched or seen either. Are thoughts, feelings and memories real? Some people wonder how something can be real when they cannot physically touch or see it, such as feelings and emotions. If it is not real than what is it, fantasy? That is not necessarily true either. Is a child’s doll or play toy real? It can be seen and felt, but at the same time has no feelings or emotions; it is an inanimate object.
In the movie “Dark City”, the producers would like you to believe that memories are not real, but rather created from other sources and implanted into one’s brain. In the movie, the citizens of the city do not have real memories. Rather than having actual memories from one’s past, there are collections of other people’s memories mixed together to create different lifestyles and then implanted into someone else. The catch is that the citizens are not aware of the memory swapping. As far as everybody is concerned, any events that he or she remembers actually happened to him or her in the past. To these individuals, the memories appear to be real, but in fact are fallacies. How is one to know what is real and what is not real? That question is a hard one to answer because reality and what is real can only be what an individual believes or perceives it to be.
Technology, and more specifically computers, plays a major role in the reality debate – what is real and what is not real. “[A]n increasingly complex, artificial environment can diminish our sense of reality. And, as that sense diminishes, so innumerable troubling side-effects start to creep in.”  With both technology and computers rapidly advancing in today’s society, it is often hard to distinguish between something that is real and something that has been computer generated. For that simple reason alone, the term reality may never be entirely or universally definable. “Technology…could manipulate reality to the point of being able to create it. Artificialization is no longer just a matter of cultural observation or intellectual angst, it had become, well, real. It is for this reason that reality is no longer secure, no longer something we can simply assume to be there.” Additionally, one cannot tell or order another individual what to believe or how to perceive something because people have their own individual belief systems. Therefore, if one cannot tell or order another individual what to believe or how to perceive something, one cannot make another individual agree with all boundaries and stipulations of reality. What you see in front of you is your eyes’ perception and interpretation. Reality cannot be absolute because each person interprets things differently. Reality can be shaped and formed by manipulating one’s senses, and although it may appear as an illusion to some, it may also appear to be reality to others. Accordingly, reality is really only what one thinks or believes to be true. In spite of the fact that reality may be hard to define, it is still a term that exists as part of our society and always will.
It [reality] is, perhaps, the conceptual equivalent of unconscious motor functions such as breathing. It is vital to life – without it, we would be unable to distinguish the real from the imaginary, the true from the false, the natural from the artificial. But we do not have to think about it to use it – indeed, as soon as we do start thinking about it, it becomes extremely difficult to continue using it. For this reason, perhaps, some may regard it as a peculiar subject for any sort of analysis: it is a given, a fact of life, and best left hidden behind the curtain of unconsciousness.
If human beings all have different views, perceptions, and interpretations of any subject, reality is no different. It is hard to determine and finally conclude with one universal definition of the word reality. We, as members of society, can only individually speculate or hypothesize what can be considered reality and furthermore what is real. As of now, the questions remain unanswered and are likely to continue to remain unanswered for many years to come. It is highly doubtful the term reality will ever be entirely and unrestrictedly measurable.
 Dr. Daniel P. Schreber in “Dark City” – the movie.
 Detective Walenski in “Dark City” – the movie.
 Woolley, Benjamin. “Virtual Worlds”. P 5.
 Woolley, Benjamin. “Virtual Worlds”. P 9.
 Ludlow, Peter. “High Noon on the Electronic Frontier”. P 24.
 Collins Gem Dictionary and Thesaurus. P 450.
 Collins Gem Dictionary and Thesaurus. P 335.
 http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/ix3.htm#real – the definition of reality.
 Woolley, Benjamin. “Virtual Worlds”. P 213.
 Woolley, Benjamin. “Virtual Worlds”. P 3.
 Woolley, Benjamin. “Virtual Worlds”. P 5.
 Woolley, Benjamin. “Virtual Worlds”. P 3.