The Subjective Nature of Reality

Musings Dec 6, 2020

I wanted it out of my sight. The stuffed toy that used to inspire affection and a sense of warmth in me failed to do so lately, having lost its plastic nose after my dog did a number on it. I couldn’t throw it in the trash can or let my dog murder it. You would be sorely mistaken to think that I had a heart. I only wanted to recess it into the dark and lock it up from which I might one day rediscover it and give it life again.

I first set my eyes on the doll on a trip back home from school when I was a kid. For a little kid, everything in this world teems with life. It had large eyes, void of any colour but soulful nonetheless. It looked very real to me and so I bought it. Well, I had my father buy it for me. Being a shy and unnaturally quiet kid, I didn’t have a lot of friends. And something about the doll told me I could count on it and that was invitation enough for me to talk to it and play with it. I dare not say what I named it as it is a stupid name. In this matter, you and I are not in the least any different. It quickly became my confidant. It was the silent voice I talked to when scared and alone in the dark. It was my only best friend.

But as time went by and I grew up, it grew smaller. It grew more insignificant and lifeless as the years passed. Now, it looks the ugliest thing to me.

If I remember correctly, the first comic book I read was an issue of Archie Comics. Knowing a book or two wouldn’t last me more than two days, I often borrowed books by the dozen from the library I frequented. Boredom still got to me just after reading every book the third time. That was when I discovered the comics section in the newspaper. That was when I first met Calvin and Hobbes.

Calvin is a bratty little kid, ever curious about the natural world. In contrast, Hobbes, his mischievous stuffed tiger (who magically comes to life when nobody but Calvin is around) “has the patient dignity and common sense of most animals”. Not always are their adventures light-hearted and rib-tickling. Some are undeniably poignant and depressing. But you could always rely on them to say the right things that will leave you full of hope. Bill Watterson, the author of Calvin and Hobbes describes in The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book that his strips are “about private realities, the magic of imagination and the specialness of certain friendships”.

I often wonder about the reality of Hobbes’s existence. If you have ever read Calvin and Hobbes, you would know. You even might have wondered the same thing. Is it out of curiosity that we search for clues that will lead us to the truth about the tiger? Maybe so. But I also know that we all fear we would lose a friend if we ever came to know the truth. We fear that Calvin would eventually figure it out and lose his only best friend. Comforting a friend who has lost someone special is one of the hardest things I could ever do; I always struggle to find the right words to say. Does Calvin think that Hobbes comes to life whenever it is just the two of them? How crazy is that? How special is that? Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, said:

The so-called “gimmick” of my strip—the two versions of Hobbes—is sometimes misunderstood. I don’t think of Hobbes as a doll that miraculously comes to life when Calvin’s around. Neither do I think of Hobbes as a product of Calvin’s imagination. The nature of Hobbes’s reality doesn’t interest me, and each story goes out of its way to avoid resolving the issue. Calvin sees Hobbes one way, and everyone else sees Hobbes another way. I show two versions of reality, and each one makes complete sense to the participant who sees it. I think that is how life works. None of us sees the world in exactly the same way, and I just draw that literally in the strip. Hobbes is more about the subjective nature of reality than about dolls coming to life.

(The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book has been used for reference here)

These words of his have left me with a new and weird sense of hope I quite can’t describe. His words require no criticism but only mute reflection.

I have been wracking my head for the past one month to give this article a worthy conclusion but I fail. I am starting to understand that not everything has a conclusion and I wish to leave it at that.

If you have never read Calvin and Hobbes before and you would like to, you are in for a treat. The link below will take you to my personal favourite.

If you already are a fan and got some weird theories, feel free to share them with me. That will make my day!


Nikhil Siva Narain

His idea of a perfect day is one with a gloomy sky...a book in hand and Karen Carpenter singing on the stereo.