Is reality an illusion?

Since ancient times, people have searched for an explanation of everything around us. From celestial bodies to the quantum world, science has sufficiently explained several observable phenomenon in our universe, yet the very nature of reality of which these are a merely part is something that is still beyond us for the most part. The paradox of questioning reality, has it roots in several religious theories and spirituality(the Sanskrit word “maya” which means, illusion), yet its foundation in scientific studies is equally powerful that further re-inforces this theory.  So how does science explain reality?

Through several experiments conducted in the study of quantum physics, scientists have witnessed particles at sub-atomic levels behave in a rather “odd” manner, as its behaviour couldn’t be explained through the previously discovered theorems of classical physics . One of such groundbreaking experiments that ultimately led scientists to question reality itself is the famous Young’s Double Slit Experiment. Before delving right into YDSE let us understand how ridiculous this theory is.

Imagine looking up into the sky and see birds flying from one corner of the sky to another. For a brief moment, shut off all your senses and turn them on again. You will see the birds reaching a different point in the sky. In both the cases, when we had our eyes opened, the birds most definitely were flying, though they were in different corners. But what happened when our senses were shut off? Our common sense might suggest that they were still flying, but what if I told you that the world around us ceased to exist in that brief moment right until you opened it again?Sounds ridiculous?

YOUNG’s EXPERIMENT

One of the most significant experiment conducted was by Thomas Young, who through his experiment Young’s Double Slit Experiment demonstrated the wave-like nature of electrons. In doing us, he opened up new vistas of scientific thinking leading to several discoveries in the following years. Not only did the experiment reveal a lot about electrons in specific, but also matter(and reality in general) that constitutes these very particles. It bridged the gaps between matter and wave, revealing them to be the two extremes of a continuum. In essence, tangible objects are merely more matter-like, than they are a wave.

For e.g. A tennis ball exhibits more matter-like properties, whereas electrons lies somewhere on the scale, to be considered both(Although, it can be said that it’s wave characteristics are slightly more prominent).  Through the wave particle duality of an electron, we have understood the significance of probability or chance, when it comes to the definitive nature of every observed phenomena.

Before the discovery of quantum physics, reality was considered an entity separate from its viewers. The world around us was thought to exist even if we weren’t there witnessing them.The incomplete and ambiguous nature of QP gave rise to several interpretations and debates. One of such important interpretation is Copenhagen Interpretation. It says that the observer and the observed are essentially the same!

Copenhagen Interpretation of QP backed up a mind-bending claim that has changed the entire way we view the world around us . Reality relies on pure chance no different from throwing a die.

Instead of delving further into the details of Y.D.S.E(discussed in details in a previous article), let us discuss the significance of “Schrodinger’s cat” that captures the paradigm-shifting, yet simplified essence of what Y.D.S.E tries to convey .

NATURE OF REALITY THROUGH SCHRODINGER’S CAT EXPERIMENT

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Here’s what the missing poster would look like if Schrodinger’s cat went missing!!!!

In this famous thought-experiment , Erwin Schrodinger placed an imaginary cat inside a tightly sealed, perfectly sound-proof and opaque box along-with a vial of poisonous gas. If the cat were to knock off the vial, it would release the poison killing the cat eventually. The whole point of this experiment was to demonstrate that until the box was actually opened, the ambiguity of the situation could only be resolved by considering the cat to be both “dead” and “alive” as opposed to considering “neither” of the states. Quantum particles are said to exist in multiple superimposed states, until it is measured into one single state.Everything else we observe in the world is no different. It essentially says that an observed event has occurred by virtue of an observer observing such an occurrence i.e. the moon exists because we observe it. Birds in the sky are flying because we are there to witness it.

ROLE OF EXPECTATION IN PERCEPTION

Our senses play a critical role in shaping our reality. The world we observe is nothing more than sensory experiences fabricated by our brain based on our experiences and expectation.  The combinations of all possible stimulations gives us experience of reality.

The subconscious mind can’t tell the difference between what is “fake” and real, as long as our senses receive the proper stimuli.  For example, the world inside our dreams and hallucinations are perceived as reality. A real life accident and a one inside our dreams could force similar physiological response, leaving no scope for us to tell one from another,except perhaps in hindsight. Take visual illusions for example, and you’ll understand how easy it is for our senses to be betrayed. Expectations plays a critical role in perception.

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That being said, quantum physics is incomplete and is a breeding ground for contradictory theories and debates. Perhaps we are an experiment of highly advanced civilization, a consequence of some advanced technology or perhaps creation of some higher power. But, whatever explanation we choose to believe, this theory teaches us a powerful lesson with regards to the role of our existence, beyond just witnessing reality. Next time, we’re feeling insignificant or low, we should remind ourselves of the role we play in shaping our reality, which is not limited just to the small decisions we take on a daily basis .The world around us exists because we are ‘observing it’ and that should be enough to empower us beyond any further reasoning.

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