The Matrix, Truer Than you Think- Part 1

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The movie The Matrix which was released in 1990 continues to attract comment because it has become a benchmark in the movie industry for melding sci-fi with philosophy and then projecting it onto the public in the form of an action/thriller. At the time of release the movie was nominated and awarded only one Oscar for Special Effects, but since then there has probably been more theorizing and speculation about the true meaning of The Matrix than any other movie in the history of Hollywood. This movie deals with the most fundamental question of all: What is reality? The hero, played by Keanu Reeves, has a day job as a computer programmer and at night is a geek hacker on the internet where he operates under the name of Neo. The Wachowski Bros. threw in a hotchpotch of allusions to the post-modern theories of Baudrillard as well as Judeo-Christian and Buddhist teachings and to develop the action/thriller motif of the movie the public is invited to adulate Neo as the Messiah, the Buddha and the Terminator all rolled into one. In this article all this pseudo-theology is ignored and we shall address only the core issue of what the movie has to say about reality.

The nerdy, law abiding computer programmer, Thomas Anderson, is contacted by a rebel leader, Morpheus, who attempts to convince him that his everyday existence is in fact a false reality. Morpheus plays a sort of John the Baptist type role heralding the coming of the chosen one, Neo. His job is to make Thomas Anderson question his reality, which is not that difficult because Neo as a cyber-phreak already has misgivings about his everyday life, which to him is almost a torture like a ‘splinter in the mind.’ The name Morpheus comes from Greek Mythology as the god of dreams. His name is the linguistic root of such words as ‘morphine’ (a drug that induces sleep and freedom from pain) and ‘morphing’ (where computer technology enables the seamless transformation from one reality to another). Morpheus asks: “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” Morpheus is setting up the scenario where Neo will discover that his waking life which he thought was so real is in fact a virtual reality, the matrix, that is being fed directly into his mind through the manipulation of his senses by a sinister and all-powerful force referred to as AI (Artificial Intelligence) which now actually rules the human race.

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The Matrix, Truer Than you Think- Part 2

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.

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Are we living in a simulated universe? - Part 1

Are we living in a simulated universe?

By Bradley Bartholomew
February 2014

Mainstream scientists are taking very seriously the possibility that we are living in a universe that has been simulated by our own very advanced and technologically savvy descendants, presumably using a quantum computer with virtually infinite processing power.

John D. Barrow, the Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge University, wrote an article Living in a Simulated Universe. He refers to his own earlier theory about how an advanced civilization of our own descendants could be simulating us. He then goes on to talk about the ‘slippery slope’ that opens up before you once you accept that all possible real physical universes exist in parallel. “We see that once conscious observers are allowed to intervene in the universe, rather than being merely lumped into the category of ‘observers’ who do nothing, that we end up with a scenario in which the gods reappear in unlimited numbers in the guise of the simulators who have the power of life and death over the simulated realities that they bring into being. The simulators determine the laws, and can change the laws, that govern their worlds. They can engineer anthropic fine-tunings. They can pull the plug on the simulation at any moment, intervene or distance themselves from their simulation; watch as the simulated creatures argue about whether there is a god who controls or intervenes; work miracles or impose their ethical principles upon the simulated reality. All the time they can avoid having a twinge of conscience about hurting anyone because their toy reality isn’t real, is it? They can even watch their simulated realities grow to a level of sophistication that allows them to simulate higher-order realities of their own.”

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