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.