Reality versus the Real

Reality versus the Real

It seems to me that we would benefit from using the distinction between Reality and the Real.

Nietzsche was relatively clear on this subject, writing: “The realist painter claims to paint the Real, but what does he actually paint of it ? Only what he knows how to paint of it ”.

This quote from Nietzsche makes it quite clear that Reality (which the realists rely on) is reduced to what we happen to know of the Real. That is to say to a body of knowledge that, at every moment, the Real exceeds and overflows. (As Hegel clearly puts it in the beginning of The Phenomenology, when writing that our “sensible certainty” gets rather quickly stale).

It is just as obvious that, based on  a simple application of Darwin’s thought, we only know of the Real what our “senses” manage to represent of it to us, that the said “senses “are the result of a biological evolution, in the course of which the irreducible part part played by chance cannot be denied.
In other words, we essentially only capture from the Real, what is required for us to capture in order to survive as a species. Human beings do not capture of the Real the same data as Bees do.
(Which of course does not mean that mankind, by means of tools and thought does capture much more from the Real than it used to initially do in the Stone Age for instance)

[ By the word “senses” in quotes,  I do not mean just our sense organs, since it is well known that we do not see with our eyes, but thanks to the permanent dynamic activity of our brains. I hence rather hereby mean, the entire dynamic activity of our minds, may it  be perceptual as well as reflexive or dreaming. ]

In fact, all what our “senses” teach us about the Real is that, by relying on this irremediable fiction that they construct, we do not die too YOUNG – statistically spaking – or at least not in numbers high enough to prevent our species, and beyond it Life itself, from  finally managing to “persevere in being” as philosophers quite painfully and erroneously say.

I am not saying here that our “senses” would not say anything about the Real, for if so, the Darwinian thought suggests that we would not have been around to talk about it since quite a long time.
Nor am I saying that the Real identifies with the activity of our thought (which would then be pure and simple philosophical idealism).

I say that perception and thought and dream are processes, living activities. I say that they are real and taking place within a Real of which they try to draw the outlines… And that, for example, as Bachelard puts it we do not “have a memory”, we remember, which is different. Memory is a static imprint, but (human) memories are dynamic processes, they are actions.

Hence, by identifying Reality (= what we know or think we know about the Real) and Real (= what reveals at any moment the radical uncertainty and uncompleteness of our knowledge), Realism identifies knowledge with its object, thereby asserting that all sciences have come to an end. Which, beyond the ridiculousness of the assertion and the negation of all thought that such an assertion supposes and reveals, is a pure and simple lie. The emptiness of which every passing moment demonstrates.

A person whose name I forgot once wrote: “What IS… is a lie”. In other words : what pretends just to be is a lie, since everything changes. I doubt Hegel would have disapproved.

Realism always states that this is only that.  This Real that faces you is only what I know of it. This is called “reductionism”. Realism is disenchantment in person. A pure conformism, and frankly speaking, a pure and simple form of insanity.
Whether men are “definitive dreamers” tells us little about the accuracy or even the fidelity of their nightmares.

We can oppose to Realism the clear example of Ambrose Bierce’s definition of the term “cynic” in the Devil’s Dictionary:
Cynic: Rude character whose distorted view sees things as they are, and not as they should be. Hence the ancient Scythian custom of gouging out the eyes of a cynic to improve his vision.

I have described elsewhere, about twenty years ago, the reasons why the Reality constructed by our “senses” not only was, but above all, had to be approximate.

The ideas presented in this text owe much to the biologist Francisco Varela (, a scientist of whom I of course do not share the otherwise Buddhist convictions  .

It is clear too, that my ideas are not identical to those of Varela either. Because if this had been the case, I would hardly have bothered to explain them or to try to make them known. I would have just written: “Read Varela !”.
Which I actually just did, as Lautréamont tells me. 🙂

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