Shaya Cohen -


In Defense of Subjective Reality

Mrs. iWe lives in a much more colorful world than I do. She sees thousands of shades of every color, filled with rich chromatic consonance and dissonance – whereas I, as a normal male with normal eyeballs, am clearly impoverished by comparison. I would go so far as to say that our relative color sensitivity gives her life meaning (such as through her museum-quality quilts) that I can only understand by feeling the joy that quilting brings her.

Pick any two people, and you will find different realities. Twins raised in the same home can have wildly divergent ideas about the nature of their home or their parents’ marriage. 2+2 might equal 4 in arithmetic, but humans are rationalizing animals, and we have no problem making all of our perceptions match what we have decided is our own reality.

I think this is not a bug – it is one of life’s features. And it is one that is divinely approved! The Torah tells us what happened in Egypt and the wilderness – and then the final book, Deuteronomy, is Moshe’s summation of those events. His summation is not merely Cliff’s Notes, and his words do not, in all cases, leave the reader with an identical impression about what happened.  

The lesson is simple enough: G-d approves of different versions of reality. The Jewish people heard things one way at Sinai – and then, years later, they heard a different version from Moshe’s perspective. Both are interesting and useful and valid (think of different aspects of the same elephant).

As you may know, I consider the idea of an Objective Reality to be part of Plato’s religious faith, since it is impervious to empirical data: it cannot be proven or disproven.  

The Torah endorses, by contrast, each person’s own thoughts and perceptions and sense of what is “real.”   To the extent that two or more people agree, then shared perceptions are useful. But the fact that different people have different perceptions is a celebration that each person has value, and, to at least some extent, is capable of creating, in their minds, their own reality.

Comments are welcome!

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