Thoughts are included within the broader definition of reality and are regarded as "things". However, many philosophers and mathematicians such as Aristotle, Plato, Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein have attempted to make a fine distinction between thought corresponding to reality, that is, "coherent abstractions", and those ideas which cannot even be rationally thought of, or expressed in common language. Some delusions and hallucinations seem real at the time they occur, though. It's all just a matter of perception, really.
Just a few short years ago, for example, if a person talked about spirits and a belief in ghosts, then they were considered by some to have lost their grip on reality. Now it seems cable television programming is filled with a plethora of "reality shows" dealing with the subjects of the paranormal, haunting, and ghost stories. Today, they saturate prime time television as a popular form of accepted entertainment. More people believe in ghosts now than ever before.
Existence, by contrast, is that realm of reality that is often defined as that which only has physical existence or has a direct basis in it, much in the same way thoughts occupy the brain. One school of thought believes that there simply and literally is no reality beyond the perceptions or beliefs we commonly hold in agreement about reality. This attitude can be summarized better by the popular statements, "life is how you perceive reality" or "perception is reality" or "reality is what you can get away with". Basically they indicate "anti-reality", which is the view that there is no objective reality, whether explicitly acknowledged or not. Yet, contrary to this view, some scientists and philosophers, including Albert Einstein, have had lots of abstract thoughts that were used as building blocks to completely redefine our definition of reality and existence. You might say, from their perspective, reality is a work in progress, constantly being redefined, changed, and in a constant state of flux as the nature of the universe unfolds and human intellect reaches out to grasp the emerging subtleties of knowledge.
Reality, in a conventional, day-to-day, feet-on-the-ground sense, is often contrasted with things that are considered "not real" such as: imaginary concepts, delusions, dreams, myths, what is only in the mind, what is abstract, what is fictional, or what is false. Reality, in this case, is defined by what it is not. The truth, on the other hand, refers to what is real as perceived and defined by the collective mind; the hive mind if you will, and agreed to en masse by what people can authenticate from the realm of their five senses and what is processed by their level of intelligence. Around the periphery of this collective notion, the borders and boundaries start to get rather fuzzy and this is the gray area that spawns innovation and interpretation. The more one looks at it, the more the fractals increase the definition, and the more detailed the boundary lines become, on into infinity. Reality is just a moving target.
Theories can be real ideas and yet remain unproven. Reality is itself a theory because some of it is unproven and subject to speculation and interpretation, while some of it is very simple, matter-of-fact, and concrete. It's a moving target to be sure, and reality is different from culture to culture and individual to individual.
There are certain ideas from physics, philosophy, literature, sociology, and other related fields that shape various theories of reality. They are working tools, or formulas, or definitions that can perform useful functions, or help postulate and predict outcomes, yet cannot be proven mathematically or physically by themselves. There are things like black holes, dark energy, Bigfoot, and spontaneous human combustion, for example, that are real "theories", or conditions, in themselves, and they describe real concepts or situations that are accepted in academia; but yet no one has really ever seen them, or touched them, or fully explained them, or proven they actually exist at all beyond just being an interesting idea. Bigfoot may be the exception here because I once thought I heard him outside my door while I was watching a video of his cousin walking across a river bottom, but you get what I mean, don't you?
In our society at this juncture in time, we are asked to believe that one moment there was nothing and in the next millisecond, there was the expansive universe, in what physicists call the Big Bang Theory; now known as the common accepted definition of causality and the reality paradigm to explain our existence. One moment there was nothing, physicists tell us, and in the very next nanosecond, there was everything that now exists in the known universe. All the matter and energy and space that makes up billions of suns, stars, solar systems, galaxies, black holes, dark matter and dark energy was created out of a single, tiny sub-atomic particle; i.e., a singularity, in less time than it takes to sneeze. Try stretching your mind around that one. That is certainly one interesting view of reality for whoever wants to subscribe to it.
As I stand out on my back deck drinking my first cup of morning coffee, the air is still and quite, except for the birds and bugs making a soft background noise. On a technical level, the scientists would say I am being hurled through space at an amazing speed, but from where I'm standing; there isn't even enough of a breeze to blow my hair back. Which reality do I exist in? Both? This is what Einstein must have meant when he said it is all a matter of relativity.
The speed of an object cannot be measured by itself; it has to be measured relative to something else. The diameter of the earth at the equator is 12,756.32 kilometers or 7,926.41 miles. Each day, a person standing on the equator travels all the way around this 24,926.41 mile-long circuit in a 24 hour period (0.99726968 days to be exact). So, the speed of a person at the equator, with respect to the earth's axis, is calculated accordingly: 24,926.41 miles divided by 23.93 hours, equals 1,041.6385 miles per hour. So, for the sake of this discussion, the equatorial person travels around the surface of the earth at about 1,042 mph.
Now, of course, people located closer to either pole travel at slower speeds the closer they are to the pole, and people located directly on the pole itself do not move hardly at all relative to those at the equator. For example, I presently live near the Canadian border in the USA. Now with a little research, I have found that, using the following formula, I am able to determine my speed relative to my position on the earth with respect to the axis: Speed = (24,926.41 miles [cos(latitude)] ) ÷ 24 hours, so in my particular case, (24,926.41 [cos(47.65676)] ) ÷ 24 = 698.82520804 miles per hour; call it 700 mph. So, in reality, even though my senses tell me I'm standing still out on my deck enjoying the stillness and calm of a brand new day awakening in a very peaceful country environment, I'm actually spinning around in a cold sea of vacuum and darkness on a large blue ball, close to 700 miles per hour, and I haven't even spilled a drop of my coffee yet. Imagine that, but that's not all.
The annual orbit of the earth around the sun is called one "earth revolution" and the earth takes 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds (365.242199 mean solar days) to complete a full revolution, or one cycle around the sun. The earth orbits in an elliptical path and the distance between the earth and the sun varies throughout the year. At its nearest point on this elliptical path, the earth is 91,445,000 miles (147,166,462 km) from the sun. This point in the earth's orbit is known as perihelion and it occurs on January 3. The earth is farthest away from the sun on July 4 when it is 94,555,000 miles (152,171,522 km) from the sun. This point in the earth's orbit is called aphelion.
Now on average, the earth's orbit is 92,955,807 miles (149,597,870.691 km) from the sun (defined as one Astronomical Unit (1 AU) in the scientific community), taking one solar year to complete one revolution. It takes light from the sun only about 8.317 minutes to reach the earth. The earth revolves around the sun at a speed of about 18.5 miles/sec (30km/sec). So in addition to spinning around the earth's axis at roughly 700 miles per hour, I am also traveling around the sun an additional 1,110 miles per second, and yet, even at this incredible speed, it doesn't appear to make me dizzy or make my cheeks flutter like when my dog hangs his head out of the car window. My sense of reality just tells me I'm standing still, sipping on my coffee cup.
If that isn't enough to upset my equilibrium, there is still a third gear speed applied to our bodies and starship: that of our solar system rotating around the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Most astronomers believe the Milky Way Galaxy is moving at approximately 630 km per second relative to the local co-moving frame of reference. At this speed, the earth travels 51.84 million km per day, or more than 18.9 billion km per year, which is about 4.5 times its closest distance from the former planet, Pluto. At the speed of this third high gear, I can walk over to the edge of my deck, taking about three steps, and at the same time cross through several million miles of the universe. It's quite a nice stroll actually. Maybe all this traveling through space explains why I feel so tired these days.
So at any given moment during the course of our lives, when we are standing still, we are all actually subjected to ever-increasing centrifugal forces, circular paths within larger circular paths, not linear forces as we often think. So, I am always in motion and never standing still, contrary to what my wife says.
Now there is a fourth gear speed I was saving for last which is the speed of the Milky Way Galaxy rotating around the center of the universe. That is quite a fast speed, to be sure, but since no one has really measured it accurately yet, and I'm already starting to feel a little dizzy from all that other motion; I think I'll save it for a later time to add to my reality. You would think with all that speed we would leave a contrail behind us someplace, wouldn't you?
So there you have it. What school of thought on reality do you subscribe to now? I think Michelangelo best captured this complex concept in his depiction of the creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome during the Renaissance. He illustrated God as a gray-haired old man extending his finger toward Adam. Truth be told, though, the reality of what God was really doing in that gesture, was not conveying the gift of life to mankind, but rather directing Adam to "pull his finger". That's my opinion of reality and I'm sticking to it.