Close your eyes. Imagine a table, a nice table, the table at which, you’d like to sit to work and enjoy your meals. Is it long? Is it round? Is it wood or plastic? Is it yellow, blue, white, or polished mahogany?
Now sit a ‘real’ table, the one in in your dining room or kitchen. Describe it in the same detail as you did with your ‘imaginary’ table.
Which table can you be certain of knowing the real truth about?
Come to think of it, which table is more ‘real – the one in your mind or the one at which you’re ‘actually’ sitting?
The questions raised by this simple exercise have plagued philosophers for centuries.
So what does it ‘actually’ mean to say, ‘this is a table’?
More often than not, it’s an empty abstraction leaving each to fill in his or her own details based on his or her preconceptions of tables, much as when you imagined the table. In doing this, however, we usually fail to realise – much less question – what it is that we’re actually doing – so ‘convinced’ we are that the material world is more ‘real’ than that playing out in our ‘minds’.
Philosopher, Martin Heidegger, suggests this leaves us sleep-walking through life, understanding both our thoughts and our material world as nothing more than words. Yet at the same time we usually fail to carefully articulate the words (i.e. phenomenology) that would actually define our ‘reality’. This leaves us living purely in our thoughts and the words we choose to define our preconceptions. By contrast, Schopenhauer said that when we put our thoughts into words, they cease to be true because words never can capture the complexity of our thoughts.