Plato against the Postmodernists, or why Santa Claus is Real #52 #cong23 #reality


The talk explores the nature of reality, delving into diverse philosophical perspectives. It contrasts empiricism, rationalism, idealism, and realism while questioning whether reality is solely phenomenal or extends to a noumenal realm. The speaker advocates Plato’s position, asserting that reality is unchanging and can be known. Plato’s three levels of reality—being, nonbeing, and the ever-changing phenomenal world—are discussed. The narrative navigates through the limitations of human perspectives and presents the idea that ultimate reality lies in unchanging forms. Analogies illustrate the unity of diverse objects in universal truths. The talk concludes with a profound reflection on death and philosophy’s role in understanding it.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Nature of Reality:
    • Exploration of reality through contrasting philosophical perspectives.
    • Empiricism, rationalism, idealism, and realism examined in relation to the knowability of reality.
  2. Plato’s Position:
    • Advocacy for Plato’s view that reality is unchanging and can be known.
    • Plato’s three levels of reality—being, nonbeing, and the phenomenal world—are discussed.
  3. Limitations of Human Perspectives:
    • Recognition of the subjective nature of human perception.
    • Acknowledgment that personal beliefs and experiences shape individual perspectives of reality.
  4. Universal Truths and Wisdom:
    • Presentation of analogies illustrating the unity of diverse objects in universal truths.
    • Emphasis on reason as a means to access objective, unchangeable reality, and wisdom’s role in understanding eternal truths.

About Stephen Costello:

Dr Stephen J Costello is a philosopher, psychoanalyst, the founder of the Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland, author of 16 books, and an Enneagram coach. He also consults to the corporate sector in the areas of leadership, meaning at work, communication, and decision-making.

Contacting Stephen Costello:

You can connect with Stephen via his website

By Dr Stephen Costello

What is reality and can it be known? My thesis is that reality is that which is unchanging, and it can be known.

Empiricists will say the only reality is that which can be known through the senses.

Rationalists will argue that reason rather than experience is the foundation of knowledge.

Idealists will hold that objects of knowledge are in some way dependent on mind (on the activity of thought, therefore).

Realists view a thing’s existence as being mind-independent.

It seems obvious that some knowledge comes from the senses even if such knowledge can be mistaken.

It also seems obvious that some knowledge comes from the mind, for example, the truths of mathematics which are not empirical.

It also seems sensible to say, to me at any rate, that the external world exists but psychologically that I impose categories of thought on this reality even if it can’t be reduced to an idea in my mind.

Is reality just what we see or taste or touch or smell or hear – what philosophers call ‘phenomenal’ reality or is there more going on – what philosophers call ‘noumenal’ reality? Is the meaning of being just what appears to me to be? This smacks of subjectivism.

Psychologists talk about thoughts, feelings, the psyche, the self, and the ego etc, none of which can be seen. Mystics talk about the soul, God, and angels, which are not observable. Physicists talk about atoms, molecules, and quarks which aren’t visible to the human eye. And mathematicians act as if numbers exist – they do, of course, just like Santa Claus is real … as an archetype!

Psychologically, we all see the world through a set of lenses. We see from where we are. There is no view from nowhere. My beliefs, desires, attitudes, expectations, prejudices, projections, class consciousness, ideology etc – all my ideas or conceptions get in the way of my perceptions. My personal ‘story’ superimposes itself on reality. So what we call reality – this stream of life in which I participate is only known, it seems, at first glance at any rate, from my perspective.

One line of thought proceeds thus: at any given time, we are in possession of only a limited number of cumulative views of reality. These views are aspects of a thing. The aspect of a thing is inseparable from the observer. Only an aspect of a thing is revealed to us; it is the face, as it were, shown to us, like a round orange that contains segments we don’t see or like a Russian doll which hides deeper layers and levels of reality. Our ideas of things are formed from these aspects.  But the thing in its entirety is surely not only its partial perspective? If we go along this philosophical path, it looks like we’re saying that the essence of a thing is a mere construct or schema so that knowledge is perspective, just an interpretation of the thing but not the thing. So, that every ‘thing’ only appears under various aspects and that the thing is the sum (or integral) of all its aspects. But if we add up all the aspects of a thing, are we really any closer to ascertaining the essence of a thing? Is it not the case that if we add up all the viewpoints, all we are getting are more viewpoints?

Many will agree that we can know only aspects, that we can never know THE Truth. It can certainly seem this way. Imagine the number ‘6’ drawn on a page. From one angle, it’s a six; from another angle, it’s a ‘9’. And thus we appear doomed to a conflict of competing interpretations. Life is just a point of view directed upon the universe. This position leads to relativism, perhaps even nihilism. It’s really the postmodernist viewpoint, which is the dominant epistemology of our day.

Diametrically opposed to this worldview is Plato’s position, which I am advocating for, and endorsing.  He maintains that reality is that which doesn’t change. The truth of things can’t be found in a world that is constantly changing, he contends. Plato distinguishes three levels of knowledge of reality:

  • that which exists and which can be absolutely known – being.
  • that which does not exist, and which can’t be known – nonbeing.
  • and things which don’t exist absolutely, but which don’t not exist either (i.e., objects in this ever-changing phenomenal world).

The first can be labelled knowledge, the second ignorance, and the third opinion.

‘Phenomenal’ reality is the manifest world of change and movement and multiplicity. We see that things come into existence and things pass out of existence. We experience the comings and goings of men. Nothing is constant or permanent. Everything is ephemeral. It seems so real but is only relatively real. Why? Because it gives the illusion of permanence and stability and unity which it doesn’t possess. But what is ultimate is being not becoming. Being is what is; it is not (just) what appears to be. Becoming is change; more precisely, it is the movement from potential to actual being so that a caterpillar is potentially a butterfly, and a butterfly is an actualised caterpillar. If Socrates changes, becomes sick, for example, Socrates is still Socrates – the substance of Socrates is the same. Change is accidental, devoid of primary reality, whereas substance is essential.

Science describes this world of becoming and behaving very well. Philosophy, by contrast, concerns itself with being as being, with what is ultimate, therefore. In a way, the debate can be seen to be one between Platonists who believe in ultimate reality and postmodernists who don’t.

Take, as an example, a few blindfolded men surrounding an elephant. One touches the tail and proclaims the thing he is feeling is rope; another touches the skin and proclaims it to be leather; while a third touches the tusk and is convinced that it is ivory. These men know only aspects of a thing, not the thing itself, which is an elephant. But the elephant exists! The elephant is the truth or reality; the viewpoints are subjective perspectives on objective reality.

For Plato and for Eastern philosophy, especially the branch of Indian thought called Advaita Vedanta, the phenomenal world is ultimately illusory (maya). It is a deceptive prison-house, only relatively real. What is relatively real is that thing which depends on another for existence. Our bodies are relatively real too because they need food, water, and oxygen from outside to sustain them. We don’t have independent or ultimate existence. We have relative or ‘contingent’ existence because I didn’t create myself. However, every relative assumes an ultimate. The ultimate, by definition, can exist by itself without support. So contingent beings such as us obtain existence from non-contingent or necessary being, that is to say, from an ultimate source whom some might want to call God, or the Absolute. If the contingent is that which exists but need not have existed, ‘necessary’ being is that which has to exist, that which cannot not exist. A contingent truth is one that is true but could have been false, while a necessary truth is one that must be true.

So is Plato denying that objects such as tables and chairs exist? No, but they don’t have absolute reality/existence because they are not permanent. It’s like we are all prisoners in a cave (Plato’s analogy) or cage of our own construction.

In a sense Plato comes across as a dualist, believing in this world of change and corruption and the intelligible world of universal forms but he’s not. This world is copy, an image, a mirage of the really real world of Ideas. Plato is really a monist – he holds a unitary view of reality – that all is one. How so?

Let’s take as an example three beautiful objects: a book, a sunset, and a human face. They’re all different (at the level of manifestation).

A question for you: are there three different beauties?

Or would you say there are, rather, three different objects that partake in beauty?

Is beauty different or the same?

If it’s the same, we’re talking of the Idea of beauty, of Beauty Itself, of what Plato calls the Form of beauty. This isn’t seen in the world but grasped by the intelligence. Couldn’t we say that they’re beautiful because they participate in Beauty Itself? The idea is like the idea a painter has before he paints; the painted object is a mere reflection – a copy or imitation – of the Idea.

Men and women are different but they both partake of Humanity.

But where, I hear you ask, do these ideas exist? Let me answer with a question. Can you draw a perfect circle? (No).

Do you know what a perfect circle is? (yes).

My instruction to you to draw a perfect circle presupposes you know already what a perfect circle is even if you have never seen it.

Is a perfect circle different from one to another or the same? (It is the same for all – one substance. one source).

You all have an idea of a perfect circle – you understand this, even if you have never seen one and even if you can’t draw one. But a perfect circle doesn’t exist in empirical reality. Indeed, lots of things exist that we can’t see as I said, from gravity and time to electricity. Speaking of electricity, let me give another analogy.

Imagine a fridge, a TV, and a music system. They are all different objects but the source that runs through them – which is electricity – is the same for all. The substances are many; the source is one. It’s limited not in itself but by the substance it’s working through. There is the same consciousness (animating life force or electricity in this analogy) in a tree, a dog, and a fridge. The electricity is not affected by the fridge or what’s in the fridge or where you bought the fridge or even if it’s working; in fact, the fridge could be big or small, broken or in full working order. Reality is consciousness.

Let me pose another question – really, it’s the same question:

Can you have two without one? (No).

Can you have one without two? (Yes).

-One single substance – this is primary; in a way, this is all there is.

Two only has contingent existence; one, by contrast, exists independently. There is just ‘one without a second’ (which is the meaning of ad-vaita). Not two.

Mind can be compared to water. Water can exist in three states: solid, liquid, and gas. In the solid state, water is called ice; in the liquid state, it is water, and in the gaseous state, it is vapor. Three seemingly different things; but in truth only one.

My watch is gold, so are my mother’s earrings. Seemingly two objects but one substance uniting them – gold.

Waves and ocean are one; they are both water. There is no substance called Ocean or Sea. It’s just water. We can distinguish between subjective reality – all our perceptions, and thoughts and feelings; empirical reality – the world of appearance; and ultimate reality – the one consciousness running through and permeating – suffusing – all things, what Wordsworth calls a ‘presence’ – ‘a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused, whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, and the round ocean, and the living air, and the blue sky and in the mind of man – a spirit that impels all thinking beings, all objects of all thought, and rolls through all things’.

One final question:

-Can you have a lie without the Truth? Can a lie exist, in other words, without the Truth? (No).

-Can you have Truth without a lie? Does Truth exist, in other words, without a lie? (Yes).

So, what’s the difference between Truth and a lie, would you say?

-Truth exists independently; a lie has only contingent existence. There are things that definitely exist while other things seem to exist but don’t exist absolutely, like a lie. The sceptic’s denial of the truth presupposes the existence of the truth to be denied. An absurdity results. It’s like the relativist (who, by definition, is one who denies the existence of absolute truth) saying ‘all truth is relative’, which is an absolutist statement!

Let’s raise an objection to my Platonic position: Does anything more than Plato justify Plato? A contemporary critic might say: aren’t your so-called Platonic Ideas merely your ideas? How can they be part of the real world? The modern view is that the real word is just the world we see and touch, known by science – the so-called objective world. The inner world of personal thoughts and feelings is the subjective world. But both worlds change and are imperfect. They have relative existence.

So, what follows from all this theorising?

We see the Forms (essences) with the eye of the mind but they’re not in the mind any more than rocks are in the eye. We might say: the choice between believing that the world outside the cave (which is Plato’s analogy for our world of opinion) is only subjective or believing that it is objective is itself only subjective! But if that’s true – if our choice is purely subjective not objective – then there’s no real reason why I should believe any one idea rather than any other, including that idea! If there are no Platonic Ideas, only my ideas, then no idea I have can ever be known to be either true or false. If Mind is only subjective and Reason only how my brain works, why should I think the computer, or its software, corresponds to reality? If reason is only subjective, then that piece of reason is only subjective too: it’s only subjective that it’s only subjective. It refutes itself, like the examples I gave above which have us going round and round the Mulberry bush in circles.

Reason must be in touch with objective reality – sometimes at least. If it weren’t, we could have no standard for judging when it wasn’t. In other words, if there’s no real money, we have no right to judge that any money is counterfeit. So some kind of thought/reason must get us outside the cave. Plato’s Ideas are not subjective psychological entities but objective realities.

There is a world of eternal, objective, universal truths outside the cave of our sensations and opinions and their material objects. How so? We experience it! Our minds bump up against the objective and unchangeable reality of ‘2 + 2 = 4’ or ‘triangles always have 180 degrees’ or ‘justice is a virtue’ or ‘effects must have causes’ all of the time. Where do we discover this? In the world outside the cave. How do we discover it? Through reason. Now, reason is not cleverness. Reason is wisdom.

And wisdom is understanding, insight into the Forms.

If all holy men disappeared, holiness would still be, and redness too (though nowhere in the universe). The whole world we see is an image of a world we do not see.

Beasts have senses better than us. Computers can do reasoning quicker than us. What can we do that neither cats nor computers can do? We can understand eternal truths. We can know the essential nature of things. That’s what it means to get out of the cave and into reality, into that which is.

One final point: Carl Jung’s archetypes are Ideas in the Platonic sense. This is where Plato’s Forms ‘go’ in the twentieth century. That’s why, just as Plato is the greatest philosopher, Jung is the greatest psychologist, because they reveal the truth of things. Both of them want us to get in contact with the primary Reality behind the (secondary) reality.

Permit me to conclude:

What finally gets us out of the cave, for good? Death. Presumably that is why Plato described philosophy as learning how to die.

In the year 399 BC Socrates, who inspired Plato, was executed by hemlock. In Plato’s dialogue called the Phaedo, he relates Socrates’ last conversation with his friends. Socrates addresses them just before he dies from poison, thus: ‘To fear death is to be unwise, because it is to think you know what you do not know: namely, that death is something bad. Who knows that death is not perhaps the very best thing?’

Reality from Dreaming #51 #cong23 #reality


Dreams and thoughts can stimulate emotional reality from fantasy.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. We can make emotional reality through our thoughts
  2. We cannot assume that reality is thus beyond our control.
  3. Happiness can be made through thought.
  4. Emotional reality is sometimes founded in the unreal

About Richard Millwood:

I am an educational designer, having made everything from apps to universities. I am now finding fulfilment with families in rural places all over Ireland, trying to encourage an interest in creative computing. The job is as a Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin tied to an SFI ‘Discover’ project – OurKidsCode –  to design and develop workshops which encourage parents to see computing as a fulfilling choice for their children’s future.

Contacting Richard Millwood:

You can connect with Richard via email, Twitter or via his website

By Richard Millwood

Come to me in the silence of the night;
   Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
   As sunlight on a stream;
      Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.
Oh dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
   Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
   Where thirsting longing eyes
      Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.
Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
   My very life again tho’ cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
   Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
      Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago.
Christina Rossetti, 1862
I woke at 1:30am from the most warm of dreams.
I started on a train a bit like the old tram in Antalya, Turkey I had recently been travelling on.
Like a London bus, in my dream I had to pull a red cord running along the ceiling to make it stop, a block after where I so wanted it to.
My brother Seán brushed past me to get off and then I found myself walking back to where I was going, through rooms in an old building where they were filming for a TV programme. Young men were sitting on the floor in the first room, then as I entered a second room, a young woman producer glared at me as I walked past rows of clothing items arranged on the floor in small bundles in a grid.
I knew all that was irrelevant, as it was a family celebration I was attending in rooms further on.
As I walked, my aged and experienced Brentwood Labour comrade, David Minns appeared at my elbow walking alongside me – in real life he often shares his advice and experience, particularly in my role as chair of the local party.
In the dream he was urging me to allow time for my grief (I assumed regarding my family deaths). Then I saw my late sister Liz across the room, too far away to speak  and instead approached my late father.
I was filled with enormous warmth as I pulled David and my father into an enormous hug, declaring my father to be amongst the finest men who lived. I squeezed my father so hard I could hear and feel him grunt with the pressure – then I woke, as ever, sorry not to enjoy even more!
I report this rather personal dream, because of the effect it had on my continuing emotional reality over the next few days. It says to me that not all of our reality is externally constructed in a physical world, some is made by ourselves either by being in the grip of a careering out-of-control dream or by employing rational thought to reassure ourselves that all is well.
It can go wrong, but it can go so, so, right.

The Most Late Submission EVER …. REALITY #50 #cong23 #reality


Humanness is reality. We can’t escape reality being human!

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Key Takeaways:

  1. How much do family bring you to present time?
  2. What is reality?
  3. Humanness = Reality
  4. What’s your reality? RIGHT NOW

About Ginger Aarons:

Ginger is the founder of Time Travel, LLC … often called Time Travel Tours. She offers bespoke travel to Ireland & The British Isles. Also offering personal, bespoke requests for family genealogies. Passionate about what she does by offering a way to learn while you travel, introducing the best of the best in Ireland in what they do, offer and teach with common philosophies, ethics and goals for the world. She is also a travel and foodie writer for several magazines and online magazines. Often referred to as the one that knows everyone, she is a connector and one that is always making a connection for someone, because to her, that is what it’s all about.

Originally from South of the Mason-Dixon Line, and after 30 years, she has become an all-around Portland girl that loves the fact that she gets to live and work in two of the best places in the world, the Pacific Northwest and Ireland … what could possibly be better?

Lover of music (it DOES make the world go ’round.. not money), a supporter of the arts, do-gooder, Masterpiece Theater watcher since the age of 12, a supporter of the historic house, genealogy nut and avid antique collector..

Contacting Ginger Aarons:

You can connect with Ginger on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Time Travel Tours or you can email her.

By Ginger Aarons

I’ve struggled lately to try to finite my expression of REALITY when it changes every day. We are faced with unprecedented changes and challenges to our everyday reality. But when we get quiet, it is just that … what we have reality on in the present time is humanness. At its finest. At its FINITE. HUMAN EXISTENCE … is what reality is at present.

Early in my career, I worked with a group of Scientologist that challenged the reality of any given situation. What was your reality and what did you experience. Was it real, how did you feel, and could you experience it again? Reality was just that, what was real. A small quirk of the cult that could be honed into everyday life. It gave you a clear agenda on life. What is reality? PRESENT TIME. In the words of Sammy Hagar … RIGHT NOW. THERE’S NO TOMORROW, RIGHT NOW MEANS EVERYTHING.

As I have struggled to identify the reality of today in the world view, I hone mostly into X. It seems to be the most real, right about now, up to date information from those on the ‘street´, but are they? I questioned last night’s rampage (looting) of Dublin and the footsteps it has followed from my own hometown of Portland, getting caught up in the next protest, riot, or good thing to protest when it all comes down to reality, and that is to humankind. We are all human, wanting the same things of family, close friends, companions, community. We all strive to be a part of reality and when we are not, there is no base of reality. Everything is at a whim. We need the reality of belonging. It gives a foundation to build upon.

Tonight, I watched a movie called Ruby Rossi. Independent film about a girl that could hear but the rest of her family couldn’t … what better dictation of reality is there? She can hear and her family can’t. They can’t relate, they can’t feel what she feels because they can’t hear what she is hearing. She can’t experience deafness because she can hear. Reality is very different, even though we are all side to side, space in space, face to face, arm to arm, brother to brother, sister to sister …. and so, reality in some form must communicate what is important to all of us, and that is of humanity. Inclusiveness and in relation to each other in a very human sense. We all relate and have reality as humans, living in very different times. But still, human. That is all. No matter what, we are human. And that makes us all relatable. Reality. What are you waiting for?

Reality Explored: Truth, Nature, and the Diversity of Perspectives #49 #cong23 #reality


The article delves into discerning truth amid distortions, advocating nature for authenticity and acknowledging human skepticism. It introduces faith’s role in shaping perceptions, affirming individual power in constructing diverse realities.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Struggle to discern truth in a world of falsehoods.
  2. Grounding in nature for an authentic connection.
  3. Introducing faith’s role in shaping perceptions.
  4. Embracing diversity and happiness in varied perspectives

About Cathy McMahon

Coming soon

Contacting Cathy McMahon

Coming soon

By Cathy McMahon

Reality to me is trying to live in the now, to live in the real world rather than the world that is perceived around us. Our world seems to be normal for so many people and others so messed up because of falsities and untruths. Some people see the Reality, and some don’t. The Reality -the difficulties of living in my world is to try to figure out what is true and untrue.

I find myself yearning to be grounded every day and try spending more time in nature and the unspoilt things in life which were given to us, free to enjoy through nature.  The joy of the reality around us is so beautiful and a gift from our creator. You are told things and see photos but you yourself must decide is this really the reality I am living in.

Humans are all doubting Thomas’s! It is human nature.  We must see and feel to really believe. That is where faith comes into the equation, whether it is faith in believing in Jesus Christ or the weather man we see on our tv screens. We all must ask ourselves; do we believe and is it real?

We must make up our own reality and how we do that is up to every individual. Everyone’s reality is different. That is the happiness and diversity of living in this amazing, complicated world.

Changing Reality #48 #cong23 #reality


Our perception of reality is changed and influenced by many things but what’s real stays the same – or does it.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Our senses help us experience reality
  2. Education changes perception of reality
  3. Reality can be distorted
  4. Dreams can be a gateway to alternate reality

About Ronan McMahon

I am a husband, father of 5 treasures, businessman and councillor. Born and always lived in Dublin. I love work, thinking, people and I love Ireland.

Contacting Ronan McMahon

You can connect with Ronan on LinkedIn or send him an email.

By Ronan McMahon

Well, the theme for this year’s Congregation has perplexed my mind for the last number of weeks…..and still I have a difficulty in putting thoughts on paper (well text on screen). It has raised more questions for me than answers.

My first thought and source of inspiration was the internet. Isn’t it ironic that is where I head for initially – isn’t that the epitome of the opposite to reality!

When I think of reality, I think of something that I can use my senses to understand ie to see, to hear, to touch, to smell or to taste. I can’t use any of my senses to understand the internet. It is just “out-there”

Take it a step further and I ask myself the question, if I can’t see, hear, touch, smell or taste it, does that mean it’s not real? Or is it just not real for me and therefore not my reality.

Many years ago we had not got the equipment or technology to see things as they were, for example the infinite number of stars and galaxies in our skies – however they were real, we could not see them but they were there and therefore part of our reality – but not in our minds or the mind of people who lived 1,000 years ago. Which leads me to the point that, what we believe to be our individual and group reality is forever changing, but the reality is not. This changing perception has been and is being brought about by knowledge, experience, belief, thoughts and education.

We have heard the phrase that “dreams become reality….when thoughts become actions”. Dreams are not real, but they can give us a thought and a belief in something, which if we harness our motivation and others and take action, we can take a step closer to them becoming a reality, and eventually a reality. Again, this brings me back to the internet, which is a modern tool to help bring dreams to reality.

Another point I would like to make is that in a non-physical sense, Our reality is purely only a perception of reality. It may not be true, but if we believe it to be true, then it becomes our reality, but it may not be reality. And as we gain more experience and knowledge, it may change our perceptions and hence our reality – without anything changing except what we had believed.

In this modern world where we are bombarded daily by so much information and misinformation, real and unreal, our perceptions often change and hence our reality. We need to be mindful of this as a weakness in our makeup and be careful that we don’t rely on what we believe as reality, as if its real reality. The world has got so complicated with so much information available and thrown at us, that I wonder are we any better off than our ancestors, be it a century or a millennium ago, where their reality was less complicated and probably as close to real if not closer than ours is today with more perceived knowledge.

When the Covid pandemic hit, the one thing that struck me is the amount of people in Ireland who could continue to work – remotely. It was an eye opener to me to see the transformation, not the fact to see that it could be done, but what were these people producing – by sitting in front of a screen, tapping a keyboard, talking into screens, or clicking a mouse. What does the modern worker now produce? And these are real jobs. Society has developed so much that the number of people really producing something that we need is diminishing to a very small number. Perhaps the world needs a good reality check and who is brave enough to make a start?

And what does the future hold in this space, now with the advent and prolification of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the subject of reality is and will only get more complicated and harder to define. This is one aspect of the future, which I am not looking forward to and have my reservations about whether it is a positive for the world we are living in.

I think the subject matter “Reality” for congregation 2023 has thrown up more questions than answers for me, which I welcome, because there is nothing like a thought provoking subject to open peoples minds to their own and others reality.

My Mental Break Down #47 #cong23 #reality


What a breakdown can teach you about reality and perception.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Our sense of Reality can rapidly change
  2. We can occupy multiple reality states
  3. We interpret the same thing differently
  4. Reality is perception

About Richard McCurry

Richard – who has apparently made Chinese more fun to learn than skiing through his startup Newby Chinese – enjoys the odd nappy change, while also revelling in the fact that his ginger-gene has triumphed over Spanish blood.

Contacting Richard McCurry

You can reach Richard by email

By Richard McCurry

Mirror, mirror, on the wall… …should this guy get bail or not? #46 #cong23 #reality


My contention is that even though AI (Generative AI) can’t draw a realistic hand to save its life, it is a powerful window into a reality we might otherwise not see.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. AI is not just a bad renderer of human hands.
  2. AI is a mirror that shows us truths we might not want to see, but should.
  3. The material we use to train AI is a fair representation of ourselves. And the cold, unbiased eye of AI is the perfect way to see the truths contained in it.
  4. AI can show you the truth, but it’s up to you to do something about it.

About Richard Ryan

I have worked in Advertising for approximately 30 years. I am a copywriter, which means I wrote the very words that made you choose that specific box of cornflakes, or cellphone plan or midrange server.

I work in a small, full-service ad agency in Brooklyn NY, called Something Different. What actually makes us something different is we solve your business problems with smart, plain-spoken, deeply human ideas. It what every agency should do, but sadly doesn’t.

I live in New Jersey, where I enjoy having four distinct seasons.

Contacting Richard Ryan

You can check out Richard’s personal site, and the Something Different Agency or send him an email.

By Richard Ryan

We’ve all sniggered at the oddly-webbed, six-fingered hands that AI draws for us. Or laughed at ChatGPT when it tried to gaslight a New York Times reporter and convince him to leave his wife for the program. And then there’s the Pepperoni Hug Spot commercial.

But don’t let that sideshow fool you.

I think AI is a powerful window into our reality. Or, to be more precise, a mirror. A mirror that shows us truths we might not want to see, but should.

Consider how Generative or Creative AI works. We feed it a set of things. The more the better. Things we write, draw and create. Images. Books. Letters. Scientific papers. Greek poetry. Whatever we want. And it absorbs them all. Then, using its super complicated algorithms, it “learns” what we’re showing it. It sees the patterns in what we’ve done. And then tries to recreate it. By guessing. Based on what it saw. It’s a hugely powerful trick. This way it can learn to code. Or converse in Chinese. Or if we give it millions of mammograms and medical data it can learn to spot breast cancers with uncanny accuracy

You could argue that it doesn’t actually understand anything. It’s not filtered or underpinned by emotion or beliefs or context. It just spits back the reality of what it sees.

So to my point. What does it see? Well, it was recently reported that when you ask Midjourney (which is a picture-generating AI) to create pictures of doctors, what it sends back are images of white men.

Possibly not what you’d expect, but it’s reflecting back what it has seen. It’s the truth.

What do those images tell us about our reality? Or about opportunity? Or about whether we really value diversity?

Admittedly, although it’s a thought-provoking fact, those are just pictures. No harm done. But that’s not always the case.

I said AI has taught itself to read mammograms. It’s way better and much faster than humans. It’s so good, doctors don’t quite understand what it’s seeing, or how it does it, but it has saved people’s lives. The problem is, while it’s very good at spotting cancers in white women, it’s not so good at spotting breast cancers in people of color.

That also teaches us something about our reality.

Because – just as with the doctor pictures – the data sets we’re using to train it are from real life, taken from a health care system that is biased and skewed.

The reality our AI is reflecting back at us is a reality where we don’t treat people equally. We treat some people worse.

That’s what the mirror is showing us.

In March of this year a judge in India couldn’t decide whether to grant bail for a murder suspect so he just asked ChatGPT to give him the answer. Chat GPT said the guy didn’t deserve bail because the program considered him “a danger to the community and a flight risk.” So the judge said fair enough and sent him back to jail.

Of course that’s a story of one lazy judge. That behavior would never become institutionalized, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, it could.

Right now, if you’re booked into jail in New Jersey, the judge when he’s deciding whether to send you to jail or not, has a small black box that uses risk-assessment algorithms to help him make his decision. Not quite autonomous. At least not yet. But when that AI does come on line, what data sets will be used to teach it? Whichever they are, they won’t be equitable. The data sets that comprise all the information on the US incarceration system were built up over centuries of hugely racist government policies.

So the decisions that AI will return – either go to jail or go home – will reflect and reinforce a reality that isn’t remotely fair.

That won’t be a few harmless pictures of white doctors, that’ll be someone’s life.

So the next time your AI doesn’t send you back quite what you’re expecting, don’t blame it for not getting reality right. Consider that, in its unvarnished, unemotional way, it may be getting reality exactly right.

Then, once we see that reality, consider what we want to do about it.

Can we build healing and harmonising homes? #47 #cong23 #reality


Embarking on the quest to construct homes that blend with nature and enhance well-being, this research explores the intersections of natural world, neuroscience, and integral sustainable design. From mimicking nature’s harmony to understanding the neural responses to design elements, the journey looks to being pull together patterns that can be used for creating nurturing environments. Integral sustainable design emerges as the guiding principle, emphasizing a holistic approach that considers ecological, social, and economic aspects. Can we set the foundations for healing and harmoinsing homes for the generations that follow?

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Nature as a Blueprint: Drawing inspiration from nature’s wisdom, emerges as a fundamental principle in sustainable design.
  2. Mind-Body Design Harmony: Recognising the impact of design on mental health and well-being. The impacts of design go beyond the physical space into subtle realm.
  3. Holistic Sustainability: Integral sustainable design provides a comprehensive framework, considering environmental, social, and economic dimensions. Balancing ecological sustainability with social and economic viability is crucial in creating homes that positively impact individuals and communities.
  4. Leveraging a cross-disciplinary approach in design amalgamates diverse expertise for comprehensive problem-solving. Coupled with community involvement, it offers an inclusive and informed approach to community development.

About Aimee Hartshorn

Aimee is the Founder and Creative Director of Anima Lunar Collective, an interior design practice. Growing up on a farm in Ireland, Aimee was blessed to be surrounded by the beautiful natural landscape from a young age. Born into a family of builders and makers, she was immersed in an environment that nurtured her personal passion for design and craftsmanship. Aimee’s enthusiasm for creating beauty in the world truly blossomed as she entered the world of design in her late teens, following her curiosity and passion. Her work has taken her around the world, where she has visited design exhibitions, specialist suppliers, and artisans.

Always curious, Aimee continues to explore the world, gaining invaluable knowledge about materials, cultures, crafts, and community living. As she has grown, so has her interest in understanding the world. She deeply cares about how design can positively nurture growth and development for our evolutionary path. Aimee had the unique experience of being part of ‘Generating Transformative Change,’ a course that brings together thought leaders looking to make a positive impact in the world.

Contacting Aimee Hartshorn:

You can check out Aimee’s work on her website, connect with her on Instagram or send her an email.

By Aimee Hartshorn

Creating healing and harmonising homes represents a multifaceted challenge that requires an interdisciplinary approach, drawing insights from biomicry, neuroscience, and integral sustainable design. This research delves into the exploration of whether it is feasible to construct living spaces that contribute positively to occupants’ well-being, emphasizing the interplay between design, nature, and human physiology.

Biomicry, as a guiding principle, suggests that we can find sustainable solutions and design inspiration in nature’s intricate systems. By mimicking the inherent harmony found in ecosystems, the goal is to create homes that seamlessly integrate with the natural world. This approach emphasizes sustainability and ecological balance, recognizing the potential of nature-inspired design to positively impact human health.

Neuroscience, on the other hand, provides valuable insights into how the human brain responds to the built environment. It acknowledges the profound connection between our surroundings and mental well-being. By understanding the neural responses to various design elements, we can tailor residential spaces to promote a sense of calm, reduce stress, and enhance overall mental health. Elements such as natural light, greenery, and ergonomic design are explored to create environments that resonate positively with occupants.

Integral sustainable design serves as the overarching framework, weaving together various dimensions of sustainability – environmental, social, and economic. It acknowledges that a truly harmonising home should not only be ecologically sustainable but also socially and economically viable. This holistic approach considers the long-term impact of design decisions on both individuals and communities, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all aspects of sustainability.

The exploration of these concepts has led to a series of interviews with experts in diverse fields, including architecture, interior design, and neuroscience. Through these conversations, the researcher seeks to understand the practical implications and challenges associated with implementing healing and harmonising design principles in residential projects.

Experts unanimously acknowledge the significance of nature in sustainable design, emphasizing the need to learn more from nature’s resilience and efficiency. Integrating natural elements, Biophilla and using sustainable materials, emerges as a promising avenue for creating homes that align with the principles of the natural world.

From a neuroscientific perspective, experts highlight the importance of sensory experiences in design. Natural light, ventilation, and views of greenery are identified as key contributors to occupant well-being. The interviews underscore the idea that a harmonising home should engage all the senses, creating a nurturing environment that promotes both physical and mental health.

Integral sustainable design principles means, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive and balanced approach. The experts stress that sustainable homes should not only minimize environmental impact but also contribute positively to the community, fostering social well-being and economic resilience.

However, challenges emerge, particularly in the realm of interdisciplinary collaboration and implementation. Experts discuss the inherent silos within different disciplines and industries, making it challenging to bring diverse professionals together for holistic projects. Overcoming this requires a shift in mindset and the development of collaborative frameworks that encourage the exchange of ideas and expertise.

Cost considerations also loom large, with experts acknowledging that sustainable and harmonising design often comes at a higher initial expense. Innovative financing models and incentives are suggested as potential solutions to offset these costs and encourage broader adoption.

Regulatory and policy barriers pose additional challenges. Experts highlight the need for supportive regulations that incentivize sustainable practices and penalise unsustainable ones. Overcoming resistance to change within the industry is identified as a crucial aspect, requiring education and advocacy for the benefits of healing and harmonising design.

Looking ahead, the research aims to contribute to the growing body of knowledge in residential design. By examining the intersections of biomicry, neuroscience, and integral sustainable design, it seeks to provide insights into creating homes that not only minimize their ecological footprint but actively contribute to the well-being of those who inhabit them.

Reality has Become Fuzzy #45 #cong23 #reality


My understanding of what is real and what constitutes reality seems to be constantly shifting these days… reality is getting fuzzy and I’m just learning how to deal.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Reality no longer means what I think it means.
  2. I think I’m going to have to deal with life being a little more fuzzy

About Clare Dillon:

Clare loves Congregation, and the discussions she has there. She is currently researching how developers can better collaborate to create and maintain software. She works with InnerSource and open source communities on the side.  She’s very sorry her submission came so late this year.

Contacting Clare Dillon:

You can connect with Clare on LinkedIn or send her an email.

By Clare Dillon

One of my favourite movies is The Princess Bride. I often find the characters inhabiting my head when their words appear relevant. When I heard of this theme, I could hear Inigo Montoyo say “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”.


And fundamentally, I agree with Inigo. I used to think I knew what reality meant – but there have been so many times in the last few years where my perception of reality has been challenged, that at the moment, I think my understanding of the word is a little fuzzy.

Here is a list of just some of the times when my understanding of what “reality” is has been challenged…

  • Learning about quantum theory and entanglement and how a quantum system can exist in a combination of two or more possible states at the same time. Mind blowing.
  • Experiencing augmented reality for the first time with a Microsoft Hololens and “seeing” large mech invaders emerge from the wall of the room. As I started ducking and diving I had that peculiar experience of both knowing they were not real even as my body and mind was reacting like they were being attacked.
  • That time in Cong when I was introduced to the idea from James Joyce of “two thinks at a time” and “twosome twiminds.” That started me thinking about how two seemingly contradictory perspectives can be held as true at the same time.
  • Donald Trump becoming president. Who would’ve thunk that was possible when we saw him in Home Alone 2.
  • Thinking about just how “real” some artificial intelligence output seems.
  • Learning about all the cognitive biases at play in our minds that mean we rarely make decisions based on rational thinking. Realising just how little control we have about what we think in the world.
  • And that time, just a little while I ago, when I woke up from a particularly vivid dream of talking with my mother and believed, in that moment, that she was still alive and with us in this world….

My understanding of what is real and what constitutes reality seems to be constantly shifting these days…

After hearing there is a poetry jam once again at this Cong, here is a short poem ChatGPT came up with on the topic I quite like:

Reality is fuzzy, we are just going to have to learn how to deal

With the uncertainty and ambiguity that we often feel

Sometimes we think we know the truth, but then we find out we were wrong

Sometimes we see things differently, but then we have to get along

Reality is fuzzy, we are just going to have to learn how to cope

With the complexity and diversity that we often hope

To understand and appreciate, but then we face some challenges

To communicate and collaborate, but then we need some balances

Reality is fuzzy, we are just going to have to learn how to grow

With the creativity and curiosity that we often show

To explore and discover, but then we have to make some choices

To create and innovate, but then we have to use our voices

My Life Experience + Technology + Bravery = Inclusive Reality #44 #cong23 #reality


The reality for carers is that decisions are made by others and carer burnout is high. Self-directed care offers a new reality for putting people at the centre of their own lives. It’s complicated and challenging but transformational at individual and community level. Technology has a role to play to enable people to get back to living their best lives.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Lives are complex
  2. Carers are undervalued and over relied upon.
  3. Self directed supports offers hope.
  4. Bravery is required to make this a reality!

About Karen McCormick:

I am a mammy of 4 kids and married to George. We live in beautiful Inishowen.
I enjoy swimming in the sea as much as I can.
My lived experience of being a working carer has motivated me to now work for myself. I split my time three ways: I am founder of inCharge – enabling better self-directed care; I am lived experience engagement lead at IMPACT, the UK implementation centre for evidence in adult social care; I am a personal assistant employer and I manage my daughters personal budget.

I am looking forward to actually getting to Cong!

Contacting Karen McCormick:

You can reach me on email, LinkedIn  and X

By Karen McCormick

I wrote a submission for last year’s CongRegation and life circumstances deviated me from getting there.

A lovely wedding invitation was the initial detour on my 2022 journey to Cong but on the same morning of the wedding I had a mammogram – 8am, plenty of time to get home and get ready. Odd-looking cell formations showed up and I had a biopsy. So, in effect, I missed most of the wedding ceremony. Those of you who were in Cong last year will know it was on 26 November. This happens to be my mammy’s anniversary having passed away at a young age of 49, the age I am now. A sad reality for me but feeling very much connected to her that day. Every day.

I was sitting in the pub in my hometown in Donegal after the wedding ceremony that I mostly missed, waiting to go to the reception. I was feeling a bit fragile from the unexpected biopsy and my husband was getting me a glass of wine (doctor’s orders). I glanced up and there in the pub in my hometown of Moville was a fingerpost sign for Cong.

I can’t quite take it in, so I sent a pic to my friend Ailish as proof!

Now back to Reality.

The reality for people, like me with caring responsibilities, is life is much harder than it needs to be. Decisions are made by others about people not with people. Carers are burning out. We are on duty 24/7, 365 days a year. We can dress it up however we like but that’s the reality of it!
We decided to change the experience in terms of decision making for our daughter. We opted for a personal budget when she left secondary school rather than tradition disability day services on offer. Our goal was and is to put her at the centre of her own life, empowering her to have as much choice and control as possible.

This decision had big implications for us as a family.

My professional life took at twist.

I was now going down the path of becoming a personal assistant employer – a micro care provider.

The reality of self-directed supports for my daughter? Transformational!

She does regular things in our community supported by people chosen by her and who understand her evolving needs. The community impact is palpable. More inclusive, thoughtful and considerate. More aware.

The reality of me becoming an employer? How hard could it be! There would be lots of support, advice and guidance. This is international best practice after all.

There would be technology solution or system that I could buy? Right?


Lots of bits of solutions and lots of systems for service providers but none for people with care needs and their families. Families like us. So not only was I on the journey to becoming a micro care provider, I was researching to develop person centred technology. An entrepreneur!
I’m not a technologist. However, I have lived experience and a deep understanding of the problem I am working to solve. I naturally connect with empathy to other carers and people with disabilities. I suppose it’s the reality I have known for the 22 years of my daughters life so far. I also know that lives are complex as you will see from my opening paragraph. I have a skill in joining the dots or unpicking the complexity. I can understand it from many perspectives. Ultimately, strip it all back and it’s simple really. People supporting people.

I know that technology is not the panacea to self-directing supports. I do believe that with the right digital tools and supports, people can be less restricted and more free to live their lives as they see fit.

It also gives us the opportunity to store our personal story and care needs in one place, a place that we have access to and can choose who to share our data with. I see this is future proofing for my daughter. Information and data about her care needs, likes and preferences, schedule and people that are important to her. If anything should happen me, then others of our choosing will know what to do and how to approach it.

It’s not rocket science but it is a departure from how we traditionally organise care.

Bravery is needed to break down barriers and rebalance power. Changing the culture of authorities from a traditional systems focus of power and control to person centred approaches will be slow and difficult. It is possible to have a society and structures that see individuals and families as equals and architects of their own lives irrespective of what needs they have. Bravery is also needed from us. Individuals and families need to believe and trust that we can do it for ourselves.

A new inclusive reality.