What if reality does not exist and is a creation of the mind?


Have we invented reality? Is it just the fruit of the human brain?

There is a current, based on quantum physics, that insists on removing reality from reality. The proposal is this: If a tree dies, to give an example, it will be dead no matter who observes it, and we can have empirical proof that it is. However, when we enter the territory of quantum physics, reality is not so solid. An ancient mental test called “Wigner’s Friend,” by physicist and Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner, described a thought experiment in which two observers can experience different realities. However, even quantum physics is not as strange as it is sold .

A recent book, not translated into Spanish, The Rigor of Angels , by the American academic and literary critic William Egginton , explores the nature of reality, or rather, the unreality that philosophers, physicists and literati. More specifically, a philosopher (Kant), a physicist (Heisenberg) and a fiction author (Borges).


The human being can speak, design, build, paint, make music, because in his brain he can combine images recorded in the neural circuits with new images . We call this creating.

We can all imagine men flying by flapping their arms. Or, as the Greeks did, minotaurs, pegasi, centaurs and other mental hallucinations that humans once believed were real.

But is there any way to discern between what is real and what the brain constructs? Is there any way to prove that we do not live in a world that we have created ourselves in our minds?

Lindbergh’s flight and quantum physics

The Rigor of Angels begins by recounting Lindbergh’s adventure , the first non-stop solo flight between New York and Paris , in 1927. And he compares it to the jump of an electron from one energy level to another when the electron is part of a atom.

Lindbergh also made flights to Belgium and Great Britain on the Spirit before returning to the United States. A crowd welcomed him to south London on May 29, 1927. Wikimedia commons , CC BY

The book includes the proposal of the German theoretical physicist Werner Karl Heisenberg in which he describes how the electron is at one level, receives an amount of energy, and appears at another level, but, in the interval of the jump, it has ceased to exist. Even, Heisenberg claims, the electron does not exist until it is detected. As if the pilot Charles Lindbergh had ceased to exist when leaving New York and had come back to life when he was observed on the ground in France.

Heisenberg relates, in a letter to the Austrian physicist Wolfgang Ernst Pauli :
“The trajectory of a particle emerges into existence only when we observe it.”

But the author of The Rigor of Angels forgets to mention, like many of those who then worked in particle physics, that the observer is not only the one who is at the destination: whoever detects or observes the entities, the objects, is not alone in the destination.

Electrons are entities with an electrical charge, so any other electrical charge in the universe is detecting them, constantly observing them, “feeling” them at all times, even at the moment of the jump.

As for pilot Lindbergh, he was detected by waves, air currents, seabirds, in short, all kinds of other entities in the universe, observers at the time of transit.

Kant’s centaurs

For the philosopher David Hume, the question of whether objective reality exists or not is insoluble . Hume affirms that not only do we not know what things are, but we do not even know if they exist, and that what the brain assumes to be real is another hallucination like that of the centaurs.

Immanuel Kant tried to solve it by resorting to the architecture of the human brain. It occurs to Kant to think that space and time are mental constructions similar to centaurs and pegasi, unreal.

This similarity is highly doubtful. If once we open our eyes we see a painting on the wall, and we see it as many times as we open our eyes, and it is seen by a multitude of other people with whom we do not communicate during the vision, the only possibility is that on the wall there is a certain painting

We translate the nervous currents, the units of impulses, the “bits” into representations of something real. Reality is not created in the brain, it exists independently of human beings and derives from the constant interactions between entities, the objects of nature.

Shape a universe

The problem with the human brain inventing an entire world, with billions of stars and an even higher number of bacteria, is that there are eight billion other human beings in it who understand what that human being has invented. Although for the British neuroscientist Anil Seth, reality is a controlled hallucination .

It has been almost a century since Poincaré, Heisenberg and Gödel realized that science cannot explain everything . But if we use the principle of Ockham’s razor , that is, the simplest solution is the correct one, the simplest thing is to accept that reality exists outside of us, and that each of the eight billion humans receive sensations in our senses and we process more or less the same thing in our brains, and that “same” has all the signs of being real.

Kant, Heisenberg, and even Borges, focused on individuality, on the sensation of a person, of a single atom, of a gigantic library that only received one person. But the reality is in the constant interaction between multiple individualities.

The common mistake is to idealize the human being, and believe that something as small as him is capable of creating a universe as gigantic as this one in which we live… or dream?

Author Bio: Antonio Ruiz by Elvira Serra is a Professor of Applied Physics at the University of Alcalá