You Can't Know What Reality Is

You Can't Know What Reality Is

How do you know that you know things?
Jake VP.
Jake VP.

How do we know what we know? Personally, this question has become important as we in social work look at what theory or model best explains human behavior, and what theory to use as we do therapy, or other interventions, etcetera. But it applies in other fields as well, and just in life as well. From politics to relationship with friends and family, knowing what policies we should support, and being able to understand each other's lived experiences. How do we know what we know, how do we respond when our lived experiences, and perspective is in violent contradiction with another person's perspective?

Famously, Descartes said “I think, therefore I am” meaning that since he thinks, he knows that at least he exists, and I think that this is a conclusion that we all have reached. We all start off knowing that I think, I know my thoughts. We live life from our own subjective point of view, and to ignore that, to ignore the fact that we are individuals navigating life would mean to make the rest of our conclusions on false premises

From here we begin to venture out, and realize “hey, other people are here too”. Usually, it starts with our parents, in our early stages we rely on them a lot, and so we acknowledge their existence for rather selfish reasons.

From there our lives and our thoughts can be boiled down to a mix of biological and chemical processings, which interact with our experiences, which further affect our chemical balances, and so on. Looking at us this way it makes you wonder, do we have any agency? Why do we do what we do?

Freud thought it could all relate back to your relationship with your parents, while if you look at Cognitive Behavioral Therapy then your feelings don’t have to do with your past experiences, but what you think about those experiences. Then again if you ask a social constructionist and they’ll tell you reality doesn’t even exist!

With so many different viewpoints, it leaves me wondering who’s right, or if it’s even possible to come to any objective answer. For the most part I’ve felt the best answer lied in empirical data, or research. If it wasn’t proven in a lab, then it doesn’t exist. For me though, this leaves out something.

Namely what is left out is one’s own personal experience. What if my lived experiences lead me to a different conclusion than what a study says? Bias is a real thing, am I to assume I am wrong? What if it’s the study that is wrong? Also, what about things you can’t test for, like the existence of the human spirit?

Some people might be ready to throw away their belief in the human spirit, but other people have lived their whole life with the idea. If you were to talk to a devout, deeply spiritual person, now at the age of 90, who lived their whole life knowing, knowing, that they lived their life so that their soul could got to heaven, would you tell them that you believed they didn’t have a soul?

I’m not sure I have any answers. Ultimately I feel both are important. One’s own life experiences are important, and so is having empirical data. We are likely to meet people who have different stories than we do. Maybe somewhere between all of our stories there is some kind of answer. At the end I guess all I have is a kind of cliche quote, “It takes two to speak the truth - one to speak and another to hear.” - Henry David Thoreau.

Cover Image Credit: Ryoji Iwata

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Austin Alexander Burridge, Volunteer Advocate, Shares 3 Great Reasons to Volunteer and Help Others

Austin Alexander Burridge is an avid academic who studies Environmental Science at Winona State University and believes that work in the service of others is a key pillar to personal development.


Sometimes it's easy for someone to adopt a "me, me, me" attitude. While focusing on oneself, a person may feel nice in the moment, but serving and helping others will bring lasting benefits. While there are many great reasons to serve and help others, there are three universal truths that resonate with volunteers around the globe.

Austin Alexander Burridge's 3 Reasons to Volunteer:

1. Accomplishment

Often, people fall into a trap of focusing on themselves when they are feeling down. Maybe someone did not get a job they wanted. Or perhaps a person gets dumped by an expected lifelong companion. Maybe someone feels they have underachieved after looking at Facebook and seeing great things a high school classmate has accomplished. When feeling down, helping others is a proven way to improve one's mood and attitude, and it can provide a sense of pride and accomplishment. The act of giving to those in need is an inherently good action and leaves people with a wonderful feeling of joy.

2. Gratitude

One can become more appreciative of life by serving others that have less. Whether volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting the elderly at an assisted living center, or helping families after a natural disaster, service enables people to be grateful for what they have. Seeing people who have fewer advantages, especially those who are spirited and thankful for small things, allows one to realize just how fortunate he/she is in life.

3. Friendships

Volunteering is a great way to build meaningful friendships, not only with other volunteers but also with those who are served. One of the most profound and fascinating aspects of these relationships is how volunteers will learn from those served and vice versa. As these special bonds are built, they lead to impactful connections that last for years to come.

Of course, these are just a few reasons to volunteer and serve others. One can never go wrong by helping others as opposed to merely focusing on oneself. Volunteering invariably and inevitably contributes to personal growth, development, and satisfaction.

About Austin Alexander Burridge: Helping others has been of paramount importance to Austin, and as a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Austin gave back to the community around him. He also has participated in annual peanut butter drives, The Minnesota Sandwich Project for the Homeless and collected canned goods for local food shelters. Additionally, Austin has a passion for the environment, which he pursued when visiting the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, and the Amazon Rain Forest while studying at the School of Environment Studies, which investigates ecological systems and their sustainability

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American Or Christian?

Can you really be both?


This is a thought that has lingered in my mind for a very long time.

Personally, I hate news and politics. It's depressing and it seems like both parties (and people in general) just don't get it. Political conversation gets on my ever-loving nerves and literally gets me down in the dumps for the day.

I just simply don't watch it anymore. There is too much negativity.

That doesn't mean that I am uniformed. I am not advocating for ignorance or anything like that. I prefer to read and figure out my information from sites "in the middle."

As I was eating dinner with my wife the other day we started talking about the new Abortion laws in Alabama and Georgia. As a Christ-follower and a staunch defender of Biblical inerrant, I detest abortion.

Before you read any farther, you must understand something: This article is not about my defense of my beliefs regarding hot topics like abortion or homosexuality. I do not have the time to write about said topics now. I am just asking you to accept what I believe for the sake of the article.

But, anyway, these abortion bills. I can make a pretty good case that they are Constitutional because they are protecting the Life (one of the Rights given to American Citizens) from others. Yes, I know the arguments against said point but continue with me please.

This led our conversation to talk about Homosexual marriage, something that I am against as well. And not just because of Leviticus but because of the New Testament as well.

But, shaking my head, I said something that my wife seemed to agree with:

"As a Christian, I know it's wrong and I cannot agree with it. As an American, I see no reason why it should be illegal. Unless your choices infringe someone's Rights, you should be free to do what you wish (technically speaking)."

This is my dilemma. Well, actually it's not a dilemma. I know that I am a Christian before I am an American. I love this country greatly, and I know how blessed I am to be born here. For all the hate this country gets (and some of it is deserved) and all the problems we have (and we have a lot), we are shoulders above other countries in many ways. I am so thankful for all the men and women who have served to protect me and keep me safe. I'm thankful for a lot of things. And I am proud to be an American.

But my identity in Christ comes first. This is why I do not get into politics much. I don't really care at the end of the day. Because while America has been blessed, we still have work to do here. And this is not my forever home. This is not where I will spend eternity.

I try and respect everyone's opinions, and I earnestly try to love everyone, even when they trash and disrespect my beliefs and convictions. But I must put my call to Christ about anything that has to do with this nation. I will pray for ALL our leaders because I was told to do so (I prayed for President Obama when he was in office). And I will be here to support this nation. But I cannot put it above Christ's commands.

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