THE REAL VERSUS MULTIPLE REALITIES

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Some one responded to my blog “Beware the Truthmakers!” with the question – why don’t I go along with the post modern concept that there could exist multiple realities that we can pick and choose from?

I will try to explain my position by briefly talking about Jacques Lacan’s concept of the three registers of the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary.

There clearly is a shared experience of what we call reality because events happen and we can agree that we experience them concurrently. However we do experience them in different ways; from our particular vantage point.

Instead of addressing the question is there one reality or multiple realities, Lacan makes an unusual move to make a coherent meaning of this dichotomy by dividing our experience into the three registers.

The Real, strangely , is the most difficult to comprehend. In fact we generally only experience it as an ‘encounter’ or what we call ‘a brush with Real’ – when something unusual happens in the Symbolic or Imaginary; when there is a break or a tear revealing the Real. For instance a traumatic event like an accident that upsets the unfolding of events in normal life for example.

The Symbolic register represents the workings of language and symbolism – culture as relayed and expressed in symbols. That could also be mathematics, geometry, movement measured in space, time and so on and so on.

The Imaginary register is how we individually give the information we experience a coherent meaning. That includes how we experience who we are. However this experience of who we are is also a misunderstanding or a mis-recognition. We notice our mis-recognition when for some reason we see ourselves unexpectedly in a mirror and we think to ourselves “Is that really me? I don’t recognise myself”.

Lacan says that how we link the three registers together is particular to the individual and he represents these links with what a geometric figure called the Boromean Knot -three interlinked circles. If you take away one circle, they all fall apart.

We only experience the Real by the way we bind it to the Symbolic and Imaginary registers and part of the work of psychoanalysis is to intervene in the way they are tied together so they have the possibility to reform differently. And this is mirrored in science, where for instance Newton will make formulas about the movement in space, only to be reconfigured by Einstein and then later by subsequent theories.

 

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