A Student’s Understanding of 'The Real'

This text involves two voices: the first representing the third person, omniscient point of view and the second, first person point of view of Student A. The characters are nameless, representative of the two views I, the writer, have used to better understand the philosophical topic of ‘The real’.


A Student's Understanding of "The Real"

Written by Kilala Ichie-Vincent


This text involves two voices: the first representing the third person, omniscient point of view and the second, first person point of view of Student A.

The characters are nameless, representative of the two views I, the writer, have used to better understand the philosophical topic of ‘The real’. Within the context of the reading, the nameless, Times New Roman voice sets the scene, includes references and explanations, but also helps Student A (written in italics) through their own thoughts about ‘The real’. I wanted to give that voice the ‘all knowing’ feel; who seems to know rather than to question. Student A on the other hand questions and thinks through the issues in a more animated, speaker-like tone. They are the one that takes the first person point of view, representative of the single eye point of view. This kind of approach was inspired by the quote Mireille(one of my professors for Design Fundamentals 1) had in lecture on Sept. 14 last year. “Is the real — rather is the representation of the real — closer by having the construction of a single eye point of view or is the schematic a closer interpretation of the real because it has distance.”

I hoped to somewhat address that question through this two-view narrative. The actual writing and what Student A explores is what reality means through the philosophical standpoint I've learned in class, but also learned on my own in an attempt to figure out what it means really all means. Inspired by class Design Fundamentals 1(316) taught by Keith Mitnik and Mireille Roddier.

Student A, in Taubman College’s 316: Design Fundamentals 1, was very compelled to explore the idea of the real. Inspired by the lecturers Mireille Roddier and Keith Mitnick, along with the book “Object Oriented Ontology” recommended by Student A’s friend, the idea of the real became a hotly contested idea that required further understanding for the student.

Yeah lol what is the real? Crazy question.... How far can I even go to unpack? Maybe I should start with some definition or a question that’ll set this idea up a little more clearly...

With a very minimal, crude understanding of the concept, Student A decided to further embark on their understanding of the idea of the real.

I suppose upon initially hearing the question, “what is the real,” my immediate response is to think of it as the things that can be accessed by the 5 senses, interacted with and shared… I know when I touch something, it’s real.

A series of objections and thoughts fire within Student A’s head. First, from lecture 09.09.20, 09.14.20, and then from Object Oriented Ontology. This statement was also addressed directly by Morpheus from the Matrix, mentioned in lecture 09.14.2020: “What is the real? How do we define the real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then the real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

Well… with that quote in perspective, it makes me question things a bit haha. Well, I guess of course the real goes past the things that are intangible, right — like letters, thoughts, symbols, ideas... not to make the big jump but society even right? All of these things are arguably real and something that have an effect on people as a whole. And despite being able to feel the effects of these things, it can't be assumed (according to OOO) that a thing can be defined and given identity through their resulting effects.

To clarify, OOO (Object Oriented Ontology), solidified by Graham Harmon, is a form of philosophy that takes into consideration reality, existence and finding a new way to understand the world. At its core, OOO rejects the hierarchy of existence (particularly the championing of human existence over other things) and puts everything at an equal scale. OOO takes everything within existence and places them under the umbrella term ‘Objects’. It is “anything that cannot be entirely reduced either to the components of which it is made or to the effects that it has on other things.”

To further clarify through example, a hammer is an object. Nothing can be added to it to change it, and if broken down to its atoms, it is no longer a hammer. It cannot be reducible upwards because despite having the ability to make a house, which colloquially might give it more meaning, it does not at all change the object. Gaining meaning in a sphere of ability and uses does not change the fact that it is still a hammer.

I think it's also important, taking the Morpheus quote in perspective especially, that what is real can’t necessarily be proven only through the human centered perspective. Just because I can access it and its part of my/the human experience shouldn't give it more ‘real’ value… Meaning that just because I can experience it through my five senses shouldnt necessarily dictate whether it's real or not. But that's kind of going into confusing territory so maybe I’ll address that later or something because there's something a little more important on my mind.

Going back to discussing the intangible (using society as my example), the effect that society has on its individual constituents is an object of existence within itself. Because events are objects themselves. But I also want to introduce the idea of society as an object. If society and individuals are independent of each other, and because either one of those can't be broken down into its constituent parts, what comes first; society or the people and culture that make up the society? I especially want to discuss words — they are intangible but they hold weight in our society as a means of communication... What is reality then, when we enter the world with others?

This statement begins to touch upon the idea of the representation; one of which is covered by the philosophy of semiotics. Semiotics (mentioned in lecture 09.14.20, Mireille) created by Ferdinand Saussure is the study of signs. These signs can be interchangeable with symbols and forms of representation. To further break that down, it also embodies the study of linguistics. Through the means of speaking, drawing, literature, cinema — these forms of art are ways in which the world around us are represented and understood.

So semiotics becomes super important and interesting here because it can begin to give explanation to the intangibility of words and representations… Specifically bringing attention to the question I asked earlier about reality when we share it with others. So like... we live in a society right (which is an object independently of anything else), but within this society, we as the constituents live together to make up this society. Well then, semiotics helps explain how we share and live together in reality through the use of codes, representations, and words right — like how do we understand that a cow is a cow… We understand and create a picture of a cow because the word cow stands in for the actual cow itself. So with this in mind, we have a signifier and the signified, the signifier being the word cow and the signified being the actual object cow. What makes this interesting though is that the signifier and the signified have no actual relationship with each other; the word is simply a cultural construction as a means of communication. This means that over a period of time and with the agreement of multitudes of different people, we have come to the point that the curves and lines that make the word ‘cow’ can now stand in for the object of cow....this then leads me to answer my question that yes, we share reality because we live in a carefully structured agreement with other people. Leading me to conclude for now thats reality right now as I know it.

This statement leads to a thought of Student A on how structuralism (semiotics included within this) now relates to the idea of perspective. Structuralism, generally, is described to be the means of which human culture relates to a broader network of systems. Something also of importance is the idea of the perspective. This will become more relevant in Student A’s point. The idea of the perspective was an especially important topic in lecture, with relevance to ‘Ways of Seeing’.

Remember — earlier on — when I was talking about how the real shouldn't be centered around the hu- man experience just because we use the five senses? Well to go back to that, while on the topic of semiotics — and for now I'll stick to the human centered experience of the real — in its most watered down version, we use words in replacement of the real deal right? In that same line, semiotics can extend to images and stories, metaphors embedded within such forms of art to convey a deeper meaning. They use the same logic of words, but in a much more complex form. For example, a story that my mom used to tell me a lot was about the grasshopper and the ants. The grasshopper would spend all summer relaxing while the ants worked hard to prepare for winter. When winter came, the grasshopper suffered while the ants lived comfortably together, eventually extending a hand to the grasshopper. At face value, this story is about an ant and grasshopper. Its deeper meaning(the reason why my mom told me this story countless times) is to always be prepared, do your work first and relax later- or else! Likewise, if we have these stories to help form our moral compass and work ethic, these same metaphors show itself in our surroundings and everyday life. I guess what I'm trying to get out of here, and this might be a bit of a jump, but these lessons and messages are not only embedded in bedtime stories, but are embedded in all of the things around us. My favorite example lies in architecture and soap.

First, I'll talk about the suburbs. The suburbs were built to uphold white power and influence. Advertisements represented the houses as clean and orderly while giving the illusion of property and wealth and were aimed specifically at white Americans. I wouldn't necessarily claim that the suburbs are architecture, but I found that example to be pretty powerful in the ways that we see suburban life today. Right now, it's like the American ideal for families looking for places to live. It's what so many middle class Americans want, because attached to the idea of suburbs are good schools, safe neighborhoods..but more cynically it's a message of success, wealth, and exclusivity. In my next example, taken directly from the podcast ‘Philosophize this’ soap is advertised in the most hilarious way possible! Take this: something as neutral as soap is em-bedded with this almost spiritual battle of good and evil; the germs, dirt, and grime being the source of evil, and your soap being the means in which you will deliver cleanliness in the form of justice. Looking at my Lysol bottle, words and phrases like ‘Kills’, ‘What it takes to protect’, ‘cuts tough grease’ and 'penetrate through dirt’ all surround the outside of the bottle. It's almost as if this disinfectant is like a weapon against the evils of bacteria. Obviously there are scientific implications and this argument isn't in support of being messy. It's more geared at the idea that despite something as uncharged as soap, there is something being said despite what's actually being said. Makes me question a lot of things actually (that I don't have the answer to), but this idea of good and evil, of justice is becoming increasingly suspicious… Are they only there to give structure to society?Anyways and finally, to bring these thoughts together, because everything around us has embedded meaning and connotations and we have some developed perspective, nothing is really real the way that we experience it. They are real independent of our ability to perceive it and understand it. Put simply, we understand the world through representations and structures given to us by society, not for what they actually are. They are representations imbued with certain mythologies and meanings that skew the way we actually perceive things. And that's what I think reality is, to my knowledge.

It seems as though Student A has come to their own conclusion. Reality, as they understand, is a representation of society and its values, completely inaccessible otherwise. The true thing in itself is never revealed. But, its important to note that despite Student A’s rambling, there are limits to all of these philosophical ideas. Finally, a key question brought up within lecture is another thing worth thinking about and maybe recognizing in what was just written: Is the real-rather the representation of the real- closer by having the construction of a single eyes point of view or is the schematic a closer interpretation of the real because it has distance?

Graham Harmon writes: "Neither the first person nor the third person standpoint gets us any closer to the true inwardness of things beyond all description: what ortega seeks instead is something I once called the 'zero-person' aspect of things, meaning their reality apart from any observation or introspection"

Kilala is a junior in the Taubman school of Architecture. She enjoys researching and understanding ways in which our society works and how the world influences people.

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