The Matrix, as I am sure you know, is a SF film based on the idea that the world we live in is no more than an illusion, and that in the real world - one that is hidden from us - we are existing in life support tanks and being used as a power source for our masters, machines with artificial intelligence. All very amusing and great special effects.
But could there be just a hint of truth to it?
Can we be sure that what we consider to be reality, really is reality? Or is it just a fleeting illusion, like the black dots in the grid? The more we try to pin it down, the more elusive it becomes?
What test can we apply to determine if our reality really is reality? One way is to compare it with what we know to be an illusion, our dreams.
How do we know our dreams are an illusion? Because we compare them to what we call reality!
When dreaming we are not generally aware that we are dreaming, although on occasion we are. But when we awaken we always realise that we were dreaming, we realise that it wasn't real. We realise that nothing in our dream could actually hurt us, but does this mean it wasn't real? It seemed very real while we were dreaming it. They were real experiences taking place within our brain, the same brain that processes our all experiences, our only contact with the world around us. Dreams are so real to our brain - to us - that they can cause our heart rate to double, our blood pressure to rise, make us break out in a sweat, physically lash out against 'attackers', get out of breath and even make us scream - every physical reaction you would expect in real life. If our brain is experiencing it, and our bodies responding to it, doesn't that, for us, make it real? However, it comes back to what I said before, our dreams can't hurt us, only reality can. When our dream attacker hits us we do not have any injuries when we awaken. Why? Our bodies physically respond to our dreams, why not to what is inflicted upon it in our dreams? The answer is of course that as we were not 'really' hit we did not suffer any 'real' injuries, we only imagined that we did. From this we are able to deduce it was just a dream and not reality. If it were reality we would bear the injuries.
How else can we tell when we were dreaming? Very often by reflecting upon the events of the dream we can see how events were not logical, that impossible things happened. Thus when we awake and recall flying unaided through the air, leaping tall buildings in a single bound etc, we know that it was a dream and not a real event that happened yesterday. We can use common sense and logic to determine the obvious, to differentiate between dreams and reality. Dreams do not have the restraints of the physical laws of nature, follow the principle of cause and effect, and are not required to make any sense.
When dreaming we tend to believe it is reality, but when awake we know it was just a dream, we can distinguish it from reality. But dreams are a kind of reality, we cannot just dismiss them as though they do not exist, they do exist, dreaming is a real phenomenon, even though the dreams themselves are only an illusion. So perhaps dreaming can be considered a type of reality, if not actual reality.
Starting with dreams as a type of reality, our next step obviously is to call our 'real' reality, the reality we experience when awake, 'actual reality', not being aware of any stage in between being asleep and being awake. (The thought occurred to me of being in a coma, but as that is a form of damage to the brain I decided to ignore it.) We are now in the happy situation of knowing that our 'actual reality,' is the genuine article, that this really is reality, we know it is not a dream. Great. But........
But suppose this reality is just an illusion that only appears to be reality. After all, we think our dreams are real until we wake up. Could there be another - higher - level of consciousness that is 'the' reality? What test can we apply to prove or disprove this idea? The answer is that we cannot test this reality, we wouldn't know it wasn't the real thing until we 'woke up', as it were, and reached the real reality and were thus able to make the comparison.
Are there any grounds for believing that a higher level of consciousness exists, that there is a higher level of reality? Can reality have levels? If dreams can be considered a level of reality, then the answer must be yes, we can have levels of reality. Big 'if' there though, accepting dreams as a level of reality.
What else do we have that may support the idea of other realities? How about other dimensions? Theorists have long suggested that other dimensions must exist in our universe, See Can anything 'real' be infinite? Why not other levels of reality? The problem here is that other dimensions can (apparently) be proven mathematically, and perhaps experimentally eventually, but we cannot prove reality.
How about death? Could death be the gateway to the next level of consciousness, to the next level of reality? Could death be a kind of awakening? Is death the moment when we finally wake up to the truth? Wake up to the real world? This is becoming eerily close to how many religions describe death. Could this be the answer then?
Could what we are experiencing now be only one level of reality, of which there is another - higher level - the gateway to which is death? Could death be not the end of life, but the true beginning?
Many faiths would argue this is indeed the case. Perhaps they are right.
If then our lives are not the true reality, but only an illusion, a glimpse, a fraction, of the true reality, then just how important is this life of ours? See Is there a reason for our existence? We tend to cling onto life by every means at our disposal, because we fear death, because we fear the unknown. This is not surprising, not only is death the great unknown, it can also be preceded by pain and suffering, something that we are naturally programmed to avoid. It is perhaps the sensation of pain, or indeed any sensation, that convinces us that this is reality. But what if it isn't? What if this reality is nothing more than our starting place, where we are initially created, a necessary beginning which eventually leads us to our death, where we discover the true reality? Where we find an understanding of the timeless infinity that in this life is beyond our comprehension?
What does the bible have to say on the matter? I think that depends on how we interpret the bible. For example:
"And I saw a new heaven and new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. " Revelation, 21.1
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away." Revelation, 21.4
Maybe we should look at religion in a different light? Admittedly, the bible quotations above are not meant to be taken as our individual passing from this life to the next, but in the more general context of judgement day. In other words perhaps, our 'real' death, not just our mortal demise.
If we view the bible as the literal truth, then we would have to believe that we were created by a superior being, as was the entire universe, and that when we die we shall merge as one with the universe, and all pain and suffering will end. Perhaps we are looking at existence and reality from the wrong perspective.
For example. Is it possible that when and if scientists actually manage to achieve their aim of creating a black hole singularity in a laboratory they will create a new universe? This is believed to be a possibility. Lets look at the bible again and see how it connects to cosmology.
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" Genesis, 1.1
Is this then how God created the universe, by creating the singularity that created the Big Bang?
"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." Rev.22.13 Is this a biblical description of the Big Bang singularity?
Perhaps by creating a black hole singularity we will create a universe that will spawn life that will regard us as God? Perhaps we are just existing in another being's black hole singularity created in a laboratory? God's laboratory.
Then there is the question of Virtual Reality, an artificial 'reality' created within a computer programme, consisting of nothing more than electrons pursuing paths along a specially designed and constructed circuit, as in The Matrix. How real is virtual reality? Its real, that's for sure, it does exist. But where does it exist? Only within the confines of a computer programme. Does this make it any less 'real' than our reality? Could our universe, designed and created by God, be termed a 'virtual reality' universe from God's perspective?
Would computers possessing true artificial intelligence be able to create virtual reality to the extent that the virtual creatures that 'live' within it consider themselves to be 'alive', just as the computer would consider itself to be 'alive'? (Define 'alive'). See Will computers become self aware? Could our universe be nothing more than a computer simulation and not a 'real' universe? Could we be no more than virtual beings who believe that we, and the universe, are real? Some very well respected scientists have suggested that the universe is far too well designed to be a lucky accident, that there has been some 'tinkering' with the laws of nature to make conditions so perfectly suited for the development of life. Could they be right? Could our universe be artificially constructed. Is this virtual reality?
This all comes down to how you define 'reality'. If God designed and created the universe, does not that make it artificially constructed, as opposed to one that developed naturally? Is this reality no more, or no less, real than 'artificial' or 'virtual' realities?
So just what exactly is reality? Which of the realities is the 'real' one? I think that just depends on the one you happen to exist in. See What is reality?
Is this reality? Does this page really exist? Or is it just a collection of electrons on your computer screen?
Interesting film, The Matrix....
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