Sometimes I wonder, if you believe something strongly enough, what’s the difference between that and reality? From this comes another, related question: If enough people — say, 100% of people — become convinced of the truth of something that was once untrue, does it then become true?
I guess you probably think I’m talking about religion, but that’s not where I started from with this question, even though I guess it’s applicable there. I mean, for millions of people, the religion to which they subscribe is reality, even when they’re faced with contradictions from every angle — science, observation, even other religious ideas.
But one single religion won’t ever be the reality for the entire world, for the very reason that so many different religions and variations of each religion exist. It’s the reality for the world that religions exist. Religions are “real” in that there are people that practice them, and those people will never go away. For those people, for true believers, their religions are real and true.
We could talk about this in the term of scientific concepts as well. Take evolution. There are people in the world who believe in it, and people who scoff at the idea that it could be real. For some people, the fact that evolution happened is reality; for others, it’s a fantasy, or a lie, constructed in order to make alternative concepts into a falsehood.
Whether certain things are observably true or false or not sometimes doesn’t matter to those who have already decided what they want to believe about those things. We see this in action constantly, with religion and science, yes, but also with public figures. People can become so devoted to believing that, for example, a political figure is worth their respect (or their ire) that they can fail to see the negative aspects of that person (or the positive).
It’s when I think about people, and their histories, that my questions come to the forefront of my mind. I think of them specifically in regards to a person in my life, who we’ll call Greg, because I know something about him that only two other people in the world know: Greg, and another man whose name neither I nor Greg even know.
Greg is married to a woman I’ll call Gina. I’m not using their real names, because there’s a possibility they’ll read this, and I think, for the health of my relationship to them, and their relationships with each other, it will be better if neither of them knows that’s I’m talking about them. I suppose Greg could still guess the story from context, but then, he doesn’t know where to read this anyway.
Greg and Gina have been married for thirteen years. You would think that, at this point, they know everything about each other. They do not. My life experience has led me to believe that it is impossible to know everything about any one person, including yourself. In Greg and Gina’s case, there is something that I know about Greg that Gina will never know, so long as things proceed in keeping with Greg’s desires.
Speaking of Greg’s desires: he is not heterosexual. Gina does not know these. Even I do not know the exact terminology for how Greg would define his sexuality, but I suppose that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Greg, although he has a wife, is attracted to men. Whether he is actually attracted to women, or whether he’s made an exception for Gina alone, or whether he’s just using her to disguise his inclinations is unclear to me.
Gina does not know this. It is her reality that Greg is attracted to females, and, most specifically, to her. She does not know he is attracted to men. As far as I know — and I do know Gina well — she fully believes that Greg is only attracted to women.
This is despite the fact that he doesn’t tend to show much interest in women other than Gina. Gina has chosen to interpret this as loyalty on Greg’s part, or perhaps a lack of sex drive. Neither of these things are wholly true, when looked at with the knowledge that Greg and I share, but to Gina, there’s no evidence to the contrary. She has no reason not to believe in her reality, in her version of Greg.
Gina does not know that Greg has had sex with exactly one man, and that he did so while he was married to Gina. If Greg has his way, Gina will never know this. He thinks it’s easier to let her live in a lie, because as long as she doesn’t know it, he says, it isn’t a lie. It’s the truth to Gina.
This is at the heart of my questions. There are only three people in the world that know that Greg was unfaithful to Gina. The third person, who Greg and I don’t really know and who we’re unlikely to ever encounter, might as well not exist. He’s never going to come forward to Gina and reveal what passed between him and Greg. He doesn’t know her. He doesn’t even have a reason to come to our town.
If Greg and I were to die tomorrow, and Gina never found out about his infidelity, would it basically be like it never happened? Nobody else left in the world would know about it. Gina would continue on, believing she’d had a good, faithful, heterosexual husband.
Telling her about what Greg and I know to have happened would only mar the image she has formed of him. He intends never to do it again. I believe him, for what that’s worth, though if he doesn’t tell me about it, I’ll never know, and then I’m on the other end of my question — I’m the person whose reality is different from that of other people, because Greg would have knowledge that I wouldn’t.
So what’s the difference between the actual reality that Greg cheated on Gina, and Gina’s reality, where Greg has always been faithful? If Greg and I pass away, or at least out of Gina’s life, the distinction blurs, does it not? Because then there would be nobody left to maintain that alternate (true) reality, which doesn’t align with Gina’s or with anyone else on the planet. Then who could say if it’s even really true?