I was lying in bed a few nights ago, unable to sleep when I had a flash of insight. I was thinking of the reality of the waking world and why it has such a powerful hold on our lives. We usually subordinate other forms of our experience to this world — for example, we tend to explain dreams as experiences that take place within the brain of an individual who in reality is sleeping in the real world. In this scheme, the world of the dream derives its reality from its grounding the awake world, so that, for example, dream experiences do not have real objects of their own unlike awake experiences.

At the same time, we embody the assumption that awake experiences have the magical ability to touch reality. This assumption is prior to our perception of the external world or to organized forms of reality making (like science). Scientific theories derive their force from the belief that they makes contact with reality, an assumption that if you look closely, comes from an unconscious assumption that science, unlike dreams or works of fiction is fundamentally grounded in the awake world. After all, works of fiction and dreams have all the properties of theories — coherence, unity etc, but these attributes alone do not guarantee reality making, for that is granted by the trust in the theory being grounded in the real. The thing is that coherence etc, while good principles are not really explorations of reality per se — they assume this reality.

What does that mean, for the relationship between scientific inquiry and reality? It means that competing narratives, whether scientific or otherwise, have no purchase on the reality that they derive their legitimacy from. To give an example, the question “why is there anything?” cannot really be answered by science. For science assumes that there is something, and it only spins a new narrative about how to articulate the form of the real.