On Living in Reality


सत्यमेव जयते
The real alone triumphs.

— Mundaka Upanishad

If what separates amateurs and professionals are the fundamentals, and if fundamentals are the principles that apply across time, space, and scope in the games of life, the question remains: what are the most basic fundamentals, and how do we apply them?

As an exercise, I'd like to take the fundamental of living in reality, which I think is the most basic of all, and systematically think through it and concretize it.

Per my earlier post, I define reality as the rules that constrain our games. So living in reality means to know and respect the rules of the game.

What are the rules? Ultimately our knowledge of the world is grounded on experience and reason, and the formalizations of these are philosophy, logic, mathematics, and the physical sciences. Even traditional or inherited knowledge must ultimately harmonize with our reason and experience.

But since this is too much to use practically, we have more concrete fundamentals we can work with. I'm especially fond of this one:

If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science.

Richard Feynman

The test of knowledge (at least, of the world) is experiment, not authority or beauty or preference or sancity. And from this follows some mental dispositions that let us apply this principle:

  • curiosity to investigate the idea and discover the unknown
  • pragmatism to create the experiment in all of its detail
  • integrity to do so fairly
  • diligence to run the experiment properly
  • dispassion to accept a disliked result
  • courage to overturn established convention
  • self-possession to avoid being cowed by authority or tradition

But nobody can be a master of all things; ultimately, we must rely on others to understand our world. From this follows other more social dispositions:

  • trustworthiness so others want to talk with us
  • friendliness (or maybe charisma) so others like talking with us
  • openness to listen to information we don't like

And these imply attendant abilities and competencies:

  • knowledge to know what is real
  • expertise to internalize that knowledge
  • skill to apply that knowledge
  • communication to know how to share and receive it
  • self-regulation to manage our mental and emotional state

Which are all attendant on how well we can practice and learn.