The 1999 movie the Matrix was filled with puzzles. In some ways it was really mind blowing. For instance the biggest question, stolen from Alice in Wonderland was this:
What is the Matrix?
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.
A good film, and, despite the fact it was a big budget blockbuster and had Keanu Reeves’ rather wooden performance, it asked interesting questions. The Matrix was indeed the world that people thought was real. Life, all of it, was a dream. Nothing one ever though was happening, was actually happening. So the question might be asked is this : What if we are in the matrix? What if none of this is real? Or more to the point, what if reality is being controlled? The notion behind the movie is one of the oldest puzzles known to sceptics like myself. What if we are not living, but dreaming we are alive in a world with a life and a partner and a career and a history? What if we are simply brains in a jar being fed impulses by mad scientists performing a devious experiment? The mad scientists in the movie were machines using people for an energy source, people who were living out their lives inside a vast machine that was feeding them impulses. By extension the jar that I am envisaging is rather like a skull, your skull, and my skull, and we are experiencing a delusion. I am not really here. I exist merely in your mind. So if we think about it, the ‘world’ or what the think is the world, is electrical signals feeding our brains impulses all the time and we are reacting to these impulses, living and thinking and reading and sleeping, and we have no way of ever getting past our senses to check to see if anything we know or think we know, including all the scientifically verifiable knowledge that we have collected, or indeed think we have collected, for the past number of millennia, is true or real. Scary stuff.
Now I want to make clear I don’t for a moment think we are all brains in Jars. Besides it being paranoid thinking, the problem is this: If a mad scientist put my brain in a vat and hooked me up to a vast computer and fed me a fake reality, how would I know? Its impossible to know or ever realize or even conceive of being a brain in a vat if one actually is. It would be a delusion within a delusion, and it could never lead to anything other than an infinite regress of thinking. It would involve my own consciousness being able to examine itself, realize somehow that everything I was perceiving and experiencing was all fake, Maya, and then unplug myself. One has to be shown something like that. Reality has to be disconnected, then another, ‘real’ reality has to be re plugged in. The question then arises, how do we know the difference between the former real and the second supposedly ‘real’ reality? A devilish problem. The simple fact is that the real is what we have been given before our eyes as real. Reality is as we have been given it. It is what our senses and our knowledge gives us, with all the misconceptions and faulty thinking attendant to that. Now we all live with various degrees of misconceptions about reality, and I agree, there is a lot of delusion going around and mistaken and faulty thinking, all of which we try to correct but to draw from that we are all sitting in some lab somewhere being fed illusion, is besides being unhelpful (except as a thought experiment perhaps), its something of a road to nowhere.