Deception is Reality

contradictionToday’s post is by Sarah Abbey. You can read more of her work at her blog, A Penny of A Thought.

“Deception is Reality.” I saw this phrase in bold letters on a man’s t-shirt on a recent trip to Starbucks. While my first reaction was to dismiss the t-shirt’s philosophy without a second glance, on further contemplation I realized that its message was deeply important.

The t-shirt’s slogan actually raised profound life questions about the nature of reality and the nature of truth, including, “Is it true that deception is reality?” “How can we know anything for certain?,” “How do we discern what is true from what is a lie?,” and “What is reality?”

In order to know if deception is reality, we first need a working definition of “reality” and “deception.”

Being a product of the Google Generation, I typed “reality definition” into the search engine and this is what I found:

Noun. The world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them: “he refuses to face reality.” A thing that is actually experienced or seen, esp. when this is grim or problematic: “the harsh realities of life.” Synonyms: actuality – fact – truth – verity.

In other words, reality is what is real; it is the way things are. Reality is something that is true. We can run from it, accept it, or question its existence, but reality stays the same.

What is deception? A working definition of reality, the state of things as they actually exist, is what enables us to discern a working definition of deception. Deception is defined as follows:

Noun. The action of deceiving someone. A thing that deceives. Synonyms: deceit – fraud – delusion – cheat – trick – trickery.

Deception is a distortion of reality. It twists and mutilates the truth to the point where it’s no longer recognizable.

To put it another way, that which is deceptive is a lie. Deception lies about the way things really are, the way they actually exist. So in order to know deception, one must know truth.

A Self-Defeating Claim

So is deception reality?

Think it through. If reality is the way things are and deception is the distortion of reality, it is not, and cannot be, true that deception is reality. The claim is self-defeating. It violates a crucial law of logic, the law of non-contradiction, which tells us that something cannot be both true and false at the same time.

If we reword the phrase this becomes more apparent. Substitute ‘deception’ and ‘reality’ with ‘lies’ and ‘truth’ and you get the following equation: Lies = Truth. This is literally impossible. To claim that lies are truth, or that deception is reality, is to affirm that which you deny, namely truth and reality. You must know something is true in order to claim something is false. You must know reality in order to know deception. Deception cannot be reality.

This is why I wanted to dismiss the man’s shirt. Its claim was self-defeating.

Rewording the Question

So then it is not true that deception is reality. Yet that doesn’t negate the fact that deception is very…well… deceptive. Reality may exist, but can we know anything about it? We live in a skeptical society that questions if this is really possible. When you are deceived, the deception certainly appears to be reality. So can we know the difference between truth and deception? Can we know what is real?

Yet in asking the question, “Can we know what is real?,” we find our answer. The only answer is yes. If you answer by saying, “No, you can’t know anything about reality,” then ironically, you’ve just affirmed that you can at least know that you can’t know anything. Yet if you can know at least this, isn’t it possible you can know more?

The fact that we ask this question at all demonstrates that we intuitively know that we can find or search for an answer, because an answer exists. Why do we study science, philosophy, religion, literature, or any subject that captures our interest and imagination? Why are children so inquisitive? Because these studies and these questions continue to lead us to a better understanding of reality.

The Search for Reality

At this point you may be thinking, “OK, sure. We can know reality and we can know truth. But how?! How do we know what’s really real and true?” This is a great question because each of us is on a search for reality. We’re looking for truth and living our lives accordingly. Even if you still affirm that deception is reality, that belief is shaping the choices you make every day.

President Obama affirmed our search for reality and truth in his speech after the tragedy in Newton, CT:

All the world’s religions — so many of them represented here today — start with a simple question: Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?

The challenge is that my idea of reality may be vastly different than your idea of reality. It may even contradict yours. For example, my understanding of reality says God exists. An atheist’s understanding of reality says that God does not exist. As much as our pluralistic society would like, we cannot both be correct.  So how do we sift through the various views about “the way things really are” and discover the truth?

I would like to suggest that this journey begins with asking the right questions, questions that form our worldview and the way we interpret reality. To find the right answers we need to ask the right question. The questions to begin with include the following:

  • Where did I come from? (Origin)
  • How do I separate good from bad? (Morality)
  • What is my life’s meaning? (Purpose)
  • What’s going to happen to me when I die? (Destiny)

Answering these questions is where the search for reality begins. How does our understanding of reality answer these questions? As we determine if the answers we come across are true or deceptive, we need to ask these questions:

  • Does it really work? (Pragmatic Basis)
  • Can I sense it in my experience internally? (Experiential Basis)
  • Does it fit the big picture? (Cosmic Basis)
  • Did what it says really happen? (Historical Basis)
  • Does it provide relational support? (Community Basis)

These questions will lead us down a path that challenges our intellect, moves our heart, and calls us to live in light of the truth we discover.

I wish I could run into the man with the “deception is reality” shirt again. I’d love to sit down with him and begin a conversation on the search for truth and reality. It is my hope that each of us takes this search seriously. Reality, truth, is out there; it may be closer than you realize.

Did you enjoy this post? Be sure to check out Sarah’s blog, A Penny of A Thought.