I may have the wrong end of the stick here
Not at all. It is a very tricky thing to consider.
If perception (in the human sense) has only been around for the last 200,000, since the evolution of H.sapiens, how did 3.5 billion years of evolution occur if reality does not exist independently?
I think the trap is that if one says 'reality is a construct of consciousness' then the conclusion seems to follow 'well then if no-one is conscious does this mean reality does not exist?'
But really to do this is just to imagine the 'non-existence of reality'. You are thinking 'OK, then, if reality is something that exists in perception, and perception is something that exists in my mind, then prior to the existence of mind, nothing existed.' But that period we are referring to that existed for billions of years prior to existence of H. Sapiens - this too is now being considered, measured and imagined by the mind - your mind, in this case - as is also the idea of it not-existing.
So in this sense, 'mind' or 'consciousness' or 'conscious consideration' is actually one step back, so to speak. To consider the existence or non-existence of something, one obviously has to be conscious, and able to 'construct' its nature, dimensions, its existence OR non-existence, and so on, in one's mind
So I guess I am saying, we can imagine the non-existence of the universe, but this is really just its 'imagined non-existence'. You're imagining this non-existence because you think you know what existence really is, therefore you think you know its opposite ('non-existence'.) But really the existence or non-existence of anything is created out of something prior to either.
So - whether the universe 'really' existed prior to emergence of H. Sapiens, or not, is not really knowable. What we have is our consciously-constructed knowledge and image of the universe present and past. And this is pretty good, and thoroughly consistent, and even 'real' - but it is not really, or utterly, 'objective'. The idea that reality is 'completely objective' is just a piece of modern dogma. it's kind of our substitute for what the Ancients would have called 'Truth' with a capital 'T'. But I don't really think it is holding up too well.
The point I was making about Locke and the 'tabula rasa' idea is that fact that the human mind is not
a 'blank slate', not even when it is first born. It has the capacity to learn, to interpret, to do all kinds of things, and, most importantly, many of the things that different minds can do, are different. People are born with an aptitude, and talents, and different kinds of ability. Some are even born with memories of their previous existences; this has been proven. This supports Plato. So again, it really undermines a dogma that underlies a lot of modern epistemology and our current attitude to life, the universe and everything.
According to Wikipedia,
In Locke's philosophy, tabula rasa was the theory that the (human) mind is at birth a "blank slate" without rules for processing data, and that data is added and rules for processing are formed solely by one's sensory experiences. The notion is central to Lockean empiricism. As understood by Locke, tabula rasa meant that the mind of the individual was born "blank", and it also emphasized the individual's freedom to author his or her own soul. Each individual was free to define the content of his or her character - but his or her basic identity as a member of the human species cannot be so altered. It is from this presumption of a free, self-authored mind combined with an immutable human nature that the Lockean doctrine of "natural" rights derives.
And a lot of 'modern life' hangs off this!
I am not pretending to have any final explanations for anything. I am just playing around with the idea.
---------- Post added at 02:59 PM ---------- Previous post was at 02:37 PM ----------
Interestingly, Steven Pinker has written a book called The Blank Slate, arguing against the idea of Tabula Rasa on the basis that much of our psychology has been shaped by evolutionary forces. So in some ways this supports what I have been saying but for a different outcome.
Noam Chomsky also rubbishes the very idea of Tabula Rasa on the basis that language skills are obviously innate (e.g. try and teach words to a non-human).
However I am not an empiricist, and am more interested in re-interpreting some ideas of 'traditional philosophy' (which admittedly I don't understand very well yet) in support of the understanding of 'spiritual enlightenment' (which is largely taboo in a lot of places).