Levels of reality

water oceanic
Are there levels of reality?

I have often seen people talk and write about various levels of reality. Typically, they talk of the level of the absolute and the level of the relative. On the level of the absolute, everything is one, so they say. Whereas on the relative level, the level of being a person different rules apply. On the relative level differentiation exists, we talk to each other, we love one another, we get annoyed and irritated, we buy fast-food from time to time, and yet ultimately, at the highest and truest level we are told this is all oneness.

Well let me start off by saying that I reject the notion of levels of reality. I think reality has various aspects, but not levels per se. Now this may seem like a minor difference, a play of semantics if you will, but let me explain the difference.

Talking about the same thing in different ways

When I say reality has various aspects, all I really mean is that there are various ways you can talk about reality – actually there are various ways you can talk about anything. That doesn’t mean there are different levels of reality.

Lets take a simple example: lets take a human body. You can talk about a human body  in different ways. You can talk about it in terms of its size: you can say it is big, small, medium. You can talk about its age: is it a young or older body. You can talk about it in terms of organ systems such as the cardiovascular system or digestive system and how they function and describe the body that way, or you can talk about its anatomy and how various parts of it fit together. You can talk about the body’s name and culture – eg. maybe it is called John and it comes from the United Kingdom, you can talk about its occupation. You could talk about its fashion sense, its muscularity…

…ok ok, hopefully you get the idea: there are different ways you can talk about things. There are different conceptual frameworks from where we can view the body. And this is true for anything. We can talk about a pebble in terms of its age, size, geology or how good it would be to skim on a lake’s surface. We can talk about a lake in terms of its scenic beauty, how choppy its water are, its phosphorus content, or remark how it is all made up (mainly) of water.

Now, how many levels does a body or a pebble have? It doesn’t actually have any levels at all – there is only one body or stone (in the above examples) – it’s just that we can talk about them in various ways. In the same way there are no levels in reality, just different ways of talking about it.

No particular conceptual framework is intrinsically higher than another

Also note that no particular way of talking about the body or a pebble is intrinsically better that any other way. It just depends on what you want the conceptual framework to achieve. For example, if you want to skim a stone on the surface of a lake, then it’s less useful to talk about the geology of the stone, and more useful to look at it in terms of its shape and size with respect to achieving your goal (skimming it across the lake). You can’t legitimately claim that one way of viewing something is intrinsically higher and another way is lower, which is something you often hear when talking about ‘ultimate reality’ or the ‘highest level’. It just depends on how well the way you are conceptualising and viewing the object(s) in question fits in with your goal.

It depends on what you want to achieve

Similarly, it is not necessarily better to talk about the body in terms on physiology or organ systems compared to it’s occupation or fashion sense. As previously stated, it just depends on what you want to achieve. If the body has a disease, then understanding the physiology and how to correct any imbalance or defect in this is useful. Conversely if you are going out on a first date, then perhaps a degree of fashion sense would be useful.

No paradoxes, no contradictions

Also there in no contradiction in talking about a single object in different ways depending on the context. There is no paradox that a stone has both an age and a shape, or that a river is a single system made up of a variety of different things, all of which are in motion. There is a consistent underlying reality that underpins the various ways we talk about it. No contradiction or paradox at all.

Different ways of talking about the same experience

Remember, what we are talking about here is our experience of reality. Our reality is our experience – that’s all we know. We can talk about how everything we perceive is non-different to our consciousness, and we can also talk of how things interact within this consciousness, and the rules and consequences thereof. These are just different ways of talking about our experience and our experiences. No particular way is higher or lower, and there are no actual ‘levels’ that exist apart from our conceptualisations.

The description is not the described

We can chose how to conceptually carve up and talk about our experiential reality in order to achieve certain specific aims. To that end these conceptual maps are useful and often necessary. However we must not mistake any particular conceptual map of (our experience of) reality for reality, just as no particular way of describing the body is the body itself.




4 thoughts on “Levels of reality

  1. Hello Tom, thank you for your post and website! It is nice to have interaction. These are my thoughts in reading your post.
    So the reality is absolute then? Only perceptions is relative. One reality and many ways to look at it. It feels that way to me. You say that there are no higher realities than others, but being higher does not mean being better, it just means being higher, in a venture point that allow to embrace a whole that we could not see before. It sometimes requires time to understand the whole. Like in a company with its hierarchy, an employee does noy always have the venture point of its manager, and the manager of its boss. If my job involves to work on a small part of a machine, my world revolves around my issues making this work, my task is to get it done. But i may have no comprehension of its relative importance at a higher understanding of the project. Unbeknown to me the manager may decide that my part may not be required in the end…what was my whole world, is shattered for reasons that i may refuse to aknowledge for a while…i would be angry, in denial of these higher viewpoints.
    Same for the body, i usually get a lower back pain when something is not done in my life, (if the procrastination takes me to that extent, it happens and i know intuitively the two are linked). I could go to see a back specialist and pretend that my back is an external issue to my internal issues or i could get this stress issue sorted and get a instant release from my back. It is more about accepting, aknowledging and being aware that there are higher truth? In that instance, if i was stuck in a paradigm that says my back is not related to my state of mind then surely i would not relate it to the issue i should be dealing with (like a financial e.g). I feel that lots of people do not relate their health to their state of mind, mostly because we live in a paradigm that make little effort to spread this awareness (not talking about GP ☺) This is for me “realities” that affect people physically or emotionally everyday, it is above concept.
    I feel that sometimes words are poor translator of one’s mind, i hope i use words in a way their meaning is more or less equivalent. 😊. I hope all is well. I could not make yesterday unfortunately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stephane. Yes, you were missed yesterday. You make lots of good points: in some places we are saying the same thing, and in others it is just that we are talking about slightly different things – parallel tracks, if you like. I’m not going to address all your points online, but we can chat about it next time we meet if you like, take care ❤


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