Living Closer to Reality

A friend told me a story about two philosophers arguing about the nature of reality. The first believed reality was objective. The second countered that it was subjective, “You can’t prove to me that this wall exists.” The first replied, “Well if it doesn’t exist, then walk through it.”

The problem with the subjective philosopher is that everyone can have theories about the world. It’s only when those theories regularly make contact with reality that we gain understanding.

My philosophy has always been to try to live as close to reality as possible. Not how I want the world to work, or even how it “should” work, but how it does.

Entrepreneurs Live Closer to Reality

I love entrepreneurship because it forces you to live closer to reality. You can have theories about what the world needs, but theories don’t pay your bills—only being correct in your model of reality does.

This is a difference between entrepreneurship and many other professions. I often hear from people struggling to find a job, or claiming that they aren’t being paid enough. Embedded in these notions is the idea of fairness, or how the world should work.

As an entrepreneur, notions of fairness quickly get replaced with reality. It doesn’t matter that you worked 60 hours per week on a project and generated $100, or that someone else did 30 minutes of work that led to $10,000. Reality doesn’t care about what you “deserve”–only the value you produced.

Because your livelihood depends on directly ascertaining reality (as opposed to appealing to the filtered reality of a singular employer), you end up living closer to that reality.

Somewhat surprisingly, the more successful you get as an entrepreneur, the further you can live from reality. New entrepreneurs must be exactingly efficient to reach success. Established ones have resources and connections that afford a certain amount of slack to reach the same goal.

Professional Advice-Givers Live Further From Reality

One of my fears since becoming a full-time writer, is that my advice will grow stale because I’ve moved away from the reality I once wrote about. Struggling for success, in the moment, is quite a different experience than looking back with the benefit of hindsight.

The majority of my business is in teaching rapid-learning skills. Now that I’m no longer a student, it’s easy to live further away from the reality of students I write for. I worry about it enough that I’m taking on a big learning project in October, in part, to bring me closer to reality.

Academia and Reality

Within their chosen field, I feel academics, scientists and researchers live closer to reality than anyone. That’s why we get them to specialize in the generation of new knowledge. Physicists must live very close to reality within the domain of physics, or they won’t keep their jobs.

But I also feel academia affords a certain distance from reality in all the areas outside their field. Salaries are fixed, tenure gives incredible job security and the institutions of research isolate individuals from many of the realities outside.

In my mind, the difference is that while entrepreneurs must be somewhat close to reality on many issues (psychology, industry, technology, economics, etc.), academics must be even closer on their chosen pursuit, but have comparatively more slack in the others.

The Luxury of Fantasy

I’ve been equating here the necessity to live in reality with actually living in it. Of course, this isn’t entirely true. You could be intelligent and evidence-seeking in all areas of your life, even if life doesn’t necessitate it.

However, I feel fantasy, or the ability to have theories which aren’t thrust into contact with reality on a regular basis, is a luxury many of us enjoy. We like our superstitions, especially when they don’t cost much.

In many ways, the career path I’ve chosen suffers from this more than any other. Being a writer with a relatively stable business allows me to generate the impractical theories of an academic, without the rigor and methodology of peer-reviewed journals.

Trying to Live Closer to Reality

A broader goal of mine is to live as close to reality as possible. I want to actively remove my false beliefs, not accumulate feel-good falsities simply because I can afford to.

The scientific approach to this would be to run experiments, or at the very least, watch other experiments and interpret those results. That’s why I try to read as many science books from different disciplines, to remove the folk intuition and stay closer to the reality that people spend their entire careers seeking to discover.

But there’s also a much more pragmatic way to live closer to reality. Doing projects, whether that’s starting a company, living in a foreign country or training a skill, all force you to live closer to reality. It’s sitting back, well within your comfort zone, that allows you the luxury of unprovable hypotheses.

Living smart means exposing your ignorance. The way to be right, in the long-term, is to be shown to be wrong every day.

Quick announcement, friend and fellow blogger, Adam Baker, just released a course to help people get out of debt. I’m not an affiliate or anything, I just like his stuff (check out his free blog too).