The empiricist definition of reality is “what can be proven.” The problem with this definition is that by itself it leads to nihilism. If reality is what can be proven, then if something cannot be proven to just one person, it is not real. Not much can be proven to a person with brain damage or to a person who believes that the earth is flat. This leads, logically, to the conclusion that nothing is real.
I went through a nihilist stage when I was a teenager. Some people thought that I was on drugs, and others thought that I was escaping reality. The real reason was this cognition.
The nihilist conclusion is corrected through a better definition of reality. This definition puts the cart before the horse. Proof does not pre-exist reality; reality pre-exists proof. Reality does not exist in reference to a method of discerning it. Reality exists in its own right, and the method exists to discern it.
While not much can be said in favor of nihilism itself, it can however be a useful pathway into other systems of learning. There are any number of spiritual disciplines that claim that the true world is that of God, or that of higher consciousness, or that of perfect forms. Much can be learned from these spiritual disciplines, practised as they have been for centuries to enhance wisdom and understanding. The flaw with many of these systems is that, when left to their own devices, they start to militate against scientific fact and against “the world”; and that is not the rightful path either.
I want to see people be able to have the benefits of both science and spirituality. Both the material world and the spiritual world should be in the best shape that they can be. People have both the physical and the spiritual existence; and depriving them of either impoverishes them.
The real reason for the conflict between the materialistic and the spiritual worldviews is that they are describing two different things. When one blind person holds the trunk of an elephant and the other its tail, they think that they are describing two different things; yet what both of them are describing are different aspects of the same reality. Man the “rational animal” or “social animal” and man the spirit are both man. They are just different aspects of man.
What is reality? Reality is what exists. This is the case for both the material and the spiritual aspects. Any true system of learning will have to be consistent with scientific knowledge, while also accounting for all the spiritual experiences that people have without branding them as mental illness or worse. The spiritually inclined will have to acknowledge scientific fact, and the materially inclined will have to acknowledge spiritual phenomena. And then people will be able to have the benefits of both approaches without killing one another over them.