Because Berkeley was writing before the computer age he, as well as his detractors, seemed to assume that the issue is “What is real?” Berkeley himself accepted that an external object that is perceived or observed by someone is real. The essential issue is as asked by Morpheus. “How do you define real?” Everything in consciousness is real, and because it can only exist in consciousness as processed sensory data, everything in consciousness is virtual. There is only one question. “Are there physical objects external to consciousness?” In other words, is there a physical universe that would still be there if there was not a single sentient being to observe it. The difficulty is that it is quite impossible to prove either with Physics or Logic that this is so. Just to mention one obvious problem. It is beyond question that all color is generated in the brain. So if you are certain that there is an external universe that is not being observed, then it must be colorless. Such a universe would not only be invisible, it would be inconceivable (where both these adjectives assume an observer in any event). It would just be a bunch of electromagnetic waves not in the visible spectrum. The universe would be like the microwave mobile phone network!
In this context I should also mention the teachings of Mahāyāna Buddhism which is a philosophy of mind. This is the ‘Consciousness Only’ school which, like Berkeley, asserts that the objective world we perceive to be real is ultimately a product of our minds. The mind is simply a movie projector and the external world we experience is the projection of our consciousness. Opinions differ whether this school goes so far as saying that the external world does not exist, but they do argue that every object is significantly altered by our conscious perception. We can only ever know external objects secondhand as ideas, and we can never know them before they are transformed into our consciousness. Again we find principles that were formulated before the age of computers. Ultimately things are transformed into our consciousness through no other means than the processing of sensory data. So here again we can only ever know the virtual reality in our consciousness. Whether or not a physical world actually exists external to our mind becomes a meaningless and irrelevant issue. Adherents of this school are taught to renounce the external world as illusory and enlightenment is achieved with the cessation of all desire, attachment and suffering.
This article deals only with the issue of reality as it is portrayed in the movie, The Matrix. In this movie the protagonist Thomas Anderson learns that he, along with the bulk of humankind, is living in a computer generated simulated world, that is to say he is living in a virtual reality. In the movie the computers that have generated this virtual reality and are inputting false sensory data are said to be evil AI machines that managed to take control over the humans that made them. At that point the philosophical aspect of the movie is merged into a sci-fi flick that is intended for entertainment only. But a new theory has emerged which suggests that the virtual world that the humans in the movie are living in is in fact very similar to the virtual world that all of us are living in and which we are deluded into thinking is so ‘physically’ real.
A new book, The Spiritual Genome, explains the networked intelligence in the DNA. Yes, computers that are capable of simulating our world and generating our sensory inputs actually exist internally to us in our own DNA. We are talking here about an extension to the theory of Fosar & Bludorf about a networked intelligence in the DNA. They argue that there is a networked intelligence in the DNA that sets up the consciousness of all living creatures (including plants). Essentially the networked intelligence is a hypercommunication of information in the DNA that constitutes a substratum beneath the physical world. The networked intelligence theory in turn relies on the theory of Finnish Physicist Matti Pittkänen about magnetic wormholes in the DNA at the sub-atomic level which enable this hypercommunication of information.
The Spiritual Genome adds extra grunt to the networked intelligence theory by demonstrating how the DNA can store information using memristors and furthermore by showing how the DNA can act as a quantum computer to process the information and then relay instructions throughout the brain and body via biophotons. So in this theory we actually find a more feasible replacement for the AI machines in The Matrix, and if this theory is correct then we really do live in a virtual reality as depicted in the movie. The DNA is not only capable of setting up our consciousness but also there would be sufficient computing power in the DNA to generate the sensory input for all living creatures from within in just the same way that it is described in the movie.
The book goes on to offer a completely new interpretation of the Upanishads. These are the religious texts written circa. 500 B.C. which form the doctrinal foundation of Hinduism. In The Spiritual Genome these religious texts are reinterpreted using quantum mechanics and neuroscience not only to demonstrate where the Inner Self is located in the brain, but also how the brain is capable of initiating our sensory input data from within the body, thus giving a new scientific meaning to these ancient texts which has been described as ‘Hinduism reborn into the information age’. Earlier in this article I explained the Consciousness Only theory in Mahāyāna Buddhism according to which the objective world we perceive to be real is ultimately a product of our minds. Well Buddhism is actually an off-shoot of Hinduism and it is actually in the Upanishads where this illusory nature of the external world was first formulated.
So armed with this new quantum mechanical interpretation of Hinduism we find that the Wachowski Bros. with their avant-garde Hollywood blockbuster, The Matrix, have really only presented a scenario that has been depicted in ancient religious texts for some 2500 years or more. Being for entertainment only they gave a new sinister look to the computers behind the virtual reality and called them AI machines and of course they added the obligatory bloodbath at the end, but in so far as the serious message in The Matrix is concerned – that we live in a computer generated dreamlike state that is generated from within and which we take to be real – the Wachowski Bros. have done little more than transposing the message from Hinduism and giving it a Hollywood makeover.