Nothing unreal exists.
This is one of my favorite quotes, coming from the very underrated Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (alternatively known as Star Trek 4: To Pay for Shatner’s Beach House). In the movie, the resurrected Spock credits this quote to T’Planahath, the Matron of Vulcan Philosophy. Neat nerd trivia there, although here on Earth, the origin of the quote might well be Helen Schucman in her book, A Course In Miracles. Whatever the origin, it’s a good quote and one that I ponder from time to time.
As a writer, I traffic in what many people would say is unreal. Fiction, stories, tales, these are all made-up. But does ‘made-up’ mean the same thing as unreal’? Does ‘false’ and ‘fiction’ mean the same thing as ‘unreal’?
Just because something is incorporeal doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Just because something is intangible, unable to be seen or touched, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. A related quote might be from Death in Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather: “Take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy”.
We must distinguish between real – meaning to have mass, to take up space – and real – meaning to have an impact, to have an influence. South Park addressed this issue in their acclaimed Imagination Trilogy. Bob Chipman touched on it in his review Really That Good: Transformers the Movie. What it ultimately boils down to is just because something might be nonphysical, that doesn’t make it real.
I like to discuss affairs in terms of their importance because of my Depression. Mental illness is a heavy weight to carry and we often have to distinguish between what is thought and what is felt, what is real and what is not. And a thing that is important is real, even if it isn’t tangible.
Some interpretations of ‘nothing unreal exists’ suggest that it is a warning, a caution against exploring irrational and absurd concepts. There’s some merit to that thinking, certainly. Going back as far as Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol, we see warnings against absurdist thing. I can write 1+1=3, but that has no bearing on the world. This might allow us to explore fascinating logic puzzles and thought experiments, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the reality around us. Not bad advice, that. I think it was Tom Morello who said something to the effect of ‘you can argue whether or not The Offspring sold out when they signed with Sony, it’s not going to feed the homeless guy on your doorstep’. Good stuff.
Whether we’re talking about fictional monsters that haunt out consciousness by hiding in our closets and under our beds, or even in our apprehensions about the work day, or we are remining ourselves to not mistake hypotheticals for the real world, it remains an important reminder to me: nothing unreal exists.
A similar statement, attributed to Spock from one of the novels whose title I forgot, is “Nothing that is, is unimportant”. Not exactly the same thing, but it is a statement that always inspires in me, at least, care with how I handle those around me and how I handle the world.
The list of thoughtful quotes goes on and on. Pilot in the stage musical Jesus Christ Superstar has my favorite line, “But what is truth, not easy to define, we both have truths, are yours the same as mine”. In some versions of the show, the line is changed to “But what is truth, is it unchanging law, we both have truths, are mine the same as yours?”
It all boils down to perspective. It all boils down to the validity of what is perceived, but also the mindfulness to not mistake perception for reality.
But then we go to Morpheus, from the Matrix: “What is real? How do you define it? If real is what you can feel, smell, taste, and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain”.
So much musing. So many ideas and interpretations. But again, none of it does that hungry homeless guy on your steps a whole lot of good.