Our Hypothetical is not Our Reality (Republic)

Our Hypothetical is not Our Reality (Republic) October 15, 2020

Houston: if you are not here, you live in yesterday.

Games are brilliant. Every year at Christmastide I try to play through some adventure that tells a story and lets me experience some of that story by the choices I make. My favorites so far are the three Bioshocks, though I am enjoying Knights of the Old Republic. I am not (exactly) on the cutting edge of contemporary gaming! This is great good fun as my adult children and I have gone on King’s Quests and solved many Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

We live in the best of times.

Yet I have noticed that there is a tendency in me to think that after I play a game long enough, that somehow the hypothetical society, a society in pixels, is real or at least possible. This is foolish, but after you invest enough time in a game, the tendency is to think some alternative reality is real.

This is not good. I know this, because philosophers, my profession by training, love hypothetical situations. They are valuable tools in deflating false certainty. If some local intellectual says: “This must be true.” then a philosopher surely will say: “What if this particular situation were true?” Wouldn’t that alternative show this is not a necessary truth? A hypothetical is not reality, but a way of seeing how reality could or could not be different from what it is.

When something is happening now, then we might think that this must happen or that this change was inevitable. The hypothetical allows us to see an alternative reality and so God bless the hypothetical.


Yet if we see too may hypotheticals, alternative realities, some quite improbable or even impossible, then we might forget the difference between a hypothetical and what is. The city that is has an importance that the hypothetical city does not have. Houston that is has faults, but also the virtue of actual goodness, truth, and beauty. The person proposing the alternative city might find the alternative horrible (if made actual). He might even accept this is so, but since the “hypothetical” will never be really, he can be using a city in words to make a point. We do not want to live in the underwater or airy cities of Bioshock. We would never wish to live in Plato’s Republic. We use these “cities in words” to look at the city as the city is.

We cannot live in Middle Earth, but use the Shire to see what might be to make what is better than it is.

This is so obvious, I am not sure that this truth needs to be said. Still we are inundated in alternative realities. Everyone writes an alternative reality, even me. 

We need to tell these stories, so we can see justice, a better beauty, or a greater good. We pause as we write to acknowledge that mayhap the cities we propose would be, on the whole, impossible or worse (overall) than our fictional stories.

Our hypothetical is not our reality and perhaps should never be. One can learn a lesson from a story without wishing the story incarnate. I learn from the pride of Atlantis, the glory of Minis Tirith, and the bravery of Barsoom without wishing to make them real.

*Devotional reflections inspired by Republic 544 at The College at The Saint Constantine School. 

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