A Most Welcome Invitation Down the Rabbit Hole #35 #cong23 #reality


This theme invites deep exploration—venture down the rabbit hole and explore the many paths available, from the philosophical to the technological to the ethical. The rapid growth of digitalization and virtualization provokes many questions about how we define, understand and embrace reality.
The arts of provided many fascinating interpretations and provocations about reality, which make the topic all the more interesting to explore. What are your favourite references– pop culture or otherwise?

Total Words


Reading Time in Minutes


Key Takeaways:

  1. There’s more than meets the eye to this theme—explore the many facets that have engaged our species since even before the ancient philosophers.
  2. Reality is not synonymous with physical existence, and our reality is increasingly virtual in nature.
  3. Do we create reality, or do we simply observe or interpret it through our own filters and lens?
  4. Be mindful of the reality you create.

About Paul Ellingstad:

Paul accompanies leaders who want to innovate and grow while effectively navigating personal, organisational, societal and planetary change. He is a lifelong learner and loves systems level thinking as much as simplicity. He’s passionate about mentoring and intergenerational collaboration, particularly the diversity of ideas and experiences it offers and the opportunities it creates to achieve amazing outcomes.

Contacting Paul Ellingstad:

You can connect with LinkedIn, X or send him an email.

By Paul Ellingstad

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality…

Somehow, I doubt you’ll curse me for planting a melody in your mind, care of the amazing Queen and their Bohemian Rhapsody.  I suspect I’m not the only one who reacted to this year’s CongRegation theme with the Pavlovian reflex to sing the opening lines of this treasured tune.

But this theme also conjured up so many ideas and wonder that Lewis Carroll ignited with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  And many other artists, musicians, writers, film-makers have also made amazing contributions that further explore, provoke and excite conversation about reality.

Having worked in the tech industry for many years, it’s tempting head down the path of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) – obviously rich territory for this theme. But before starting my career, my very first course in third level education was a philosophy course, and I’ve been fascinated and progressively curious and amazed the more I’ve learned and lived since that early enlightenment. And at a time when technology has become so pervasive and we embrace of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) competencies as the key achieving economic growth and prosperity (for individuals as well as for nations), a bit of philosophical perspective blended into the discussion might be a useful addition to the conversation.

Wikipedia, offers a useful entrance to the rabbit hole of this theme. There, reality is defined as:

the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent within the universe, as opposed to that which is only imaginary, non-existent or nonactual. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In physical terms, reality is the totality of a system, known and unknown. 

‘Real or existent’ versus ‘imaginary’… how do we differentiate one from the other in our digital, hybrid world??  In a classic scene where Morpheus reveals the Matrix to Neo for the first time: “This isn’t real?” … “What is real?  How do you define real?”  With our increasing time and experience spent online, are those experiences as real as the ones we have in the physical world??  As Sean Parker exclaims (c/o Aaron Sorkin) in The Social Network: “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” Do we conflate reality and the physical world, or is our increasingly digital existence simply another part within the totality of the system?  Perhaps real or imagined doesn’t have much to do with physicality at all.  Interestingly is you wish to dive deep on this particular thread, Plato argued in the Theory of Forms that Forms (ideas) are more real than the physical world.

Perhaps a bigger question and provocation about reality is that of acting… the authenticity of character, of behaviour, and even of being. In a world rife with imitations of everything from ideas to physical things (including counterfeit goods), is our definition, understanding, (and acceptance(?)) of reality more a matter about knowing what is… real? Is that a more useful way for us to frame reality? There is a popular motto adopted by many groups and that personally resonates which seems apropos: Esse potius quam videri (“To be, rather than seem”).  Yetvas the popular refrain “Perception is reality” also springs to mind, who’s to judge the sincerity/authenticity of our actions and our character, and by what means?

Wrestling with what seems like one of Plato’s Forms and a very philosophical issue, there is an inescapable realism that arises the more perception and performing come to mind.  The band Rush captured this reality well (from my perspective anyway) in their song Limelight:

Living on a lighted stage
Approaches the unreal
For those who think and feel
In touch with some reality beyond the gilded cage

All the world’s indeed a stage
We are merely players
Performers and portrayers
Each another’s audience outside the gilded cage

Perhaps the daily performance, however authentic, is reality—period.  A parting thought, care of the legendary  Kurt Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”   Sage advice, at least in the reality I embrace.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *