This big-picture notion of reality, existence, and the world as it is dates back 2,400 years to the Greek philosopher Plato. Plato believed that what’s real isn’t the things you can touch and see: your computer, your desk, those empty barrels in Iraq that Bush thought were full of chemical weapons. What’s real is the general idea of these things. The idea of a computer. The idea of a desk. The idea of an Iraqi threat to the United States. Whether you actually have a computer or a desk, or whether Saddam Hussein actually had chemical weapons, is less important than the larger truth. The abstraction is the reality.
Plato’s successor, Aristotle, took a different view. He thought reality was measured by what you could touch and see. That’s the definition of reality on which modern science was founded. It’s the definition Colin Powell used when he told the world Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. It’s the definition David Kay used when he set out to find the weapons. Kay and Powell are dismayed by our inability to see and touch the weapons. But Bush isn’t. He isn’t going to let Aristotle’s reality distract him from Plato’s.