The Dreaming Reality - An essay on The Matrix movie and the philosophical debate of reality and illusion
YouTube: PHilosophy and the Matrix - Descartes
The Dreaming Reality
Written by Vera Lin, 2012.
Social studies discuss every aspect of our human society and about the individuals behind it. In my view, any discussion about social science without first examining its fundamental premise about human existence is not going down the rabbit hole far enough. It is my belief that consciousness is the only thing that’s real in this world, and everything we see “out there” is a mind projection like that in a dream state. When I say “this world”, I mean it as an illusive mind construction, not dissimilar to the computer-generated dream world in The Matrix (1999). Humanity are asleep in a dream and our external reality, even though it seems real by the judgement of our senses, actually does not exit in the strictest sense of the word. There are basically two types of human inhabitants in this world, the ones who know it is a dream matrix and the ones how don’t. In this essay I present ancient and modern evidences from the fields of philosophy, religion, neuroscience and Quantum theories towards this fact and discuss what this knowledge entails about our unique human position.
Eastern philosophers have known and taught about the dream-like state of our human existence over thousands of years. Whether it is Buddhism, Taoism or Hinduism, there is a general consensus that our human life is basically an illusion (Wikipedia, 2012, para. 30). Just about every Chinese adult will be able to quote 色即是空空即是色 (Embodiment is emptiness, emptiness is embodiment) due to the frequent use in public culture media, although not all of them understand its implication. As I was growing up in the eastern society, it just sounded like pretty philosophy, words uttered by the idealists who were out of touch with everyday reality. Little did I know that the more I sought to learn about human reality, the more I would discover its un-reality; the more research I unearthed for the sake of this essay, somewhat tentatively as I feared the unsubstantiality of my thesis, the more substantial evidences I was presented about this strange phenomenon.
Roughly 140 years after Buddhism was formed, the western philosopher Plato alludes to reality as illusive shadows on the cave wall of those who are enslaved from birth and never learn the truth of what’s real. The reality we experience through our physical sensory is but a poor imitation of a higher reality, which Plato calls “the Forms” (Irwin, 2002, p.13). Solipsism is an epistemological position that believes the mind creates everything , and that the external world and other minds do not exist (Wikipedia, 2012, para.1). Rene Descartes, the seventeenth century French philosopher, is well known for his thought experiments on dreams. He believes the experiences based solely on our sense perception are not trustworthy. He can feel his hands and feet as if they are real when he is awake as well as when he is asleep, therefore sense perception does not prove anything. (And modern neuroscience is finally agree with him). According to Descartes, “all external things are merely the delusions of dreams” by an external source, which are designed to ensnare our judgement (Erion & Smith, 2002, p.19). Kant, in the following century, puts forward sophisticated arguments that the world we perceive around us is in fact the subjective projections of human consciousness. “We human beings deceive ourselves” and that in projecting the world of appearance, we give it an independent reality “and thereby alienate our own freedom” (Lawler, 2002, p.138).
The Matrix DVD
SOME HARD EVIDENCE:
Philosophy is all very well, but what about hard evidence? In fact, the scientists have been developing subatomic quantum physics for over a hundred years. Ironically, the more they look they more they find no evidence of material existence. Atoms are 99.999999999999% empty space. And what’s left is more of a vibration then a thing. It is uncannily conscious. It operates in wave form until it is being observed then it instantaneously turns into a particle. It is connected to everything else simultaneously regardless of physical distance. The field of quantum waves is conscious like and links all of existence and is where forms are called forth by the observer. (GeraldP1983, 2011) (Talbot, 1992). “In a holographic universe, consciousness pervades all matter” (Talbot, 1992, p. 145). Their discovery has prompted Marx Planck, the founder of Quantum Theories and Nobel Prize winner for physics, to say in a 1944 speech:
There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter. (Planck as cited in Braden, 2007, p.1)
Theoretical physicist and string theorist, Brian Greene, states in his new book The Hidden Reality (2011) that over 30 years of quantum theoretical studies on black holes has proven that our physical reality is but a “holographic movie” projected by events that is happening on “some distant surface that surrounds us” (Greene, 2011, para.6), much like Plato’s shadows on the cave wall.
Studying the relationship between brain and memory leads neurophysiologist Karl Pribram to the conviction that there is no “out there” out there. He arrives at the discovery of a holographic brain and universe quite independently of yet concordantly with the quantum physicists. Pribram believes that we perceive of our physical objects and surroundings very similarly to the way an amputee senses his phantom limb, by ways of an illusion caused by neuron activities instead of a concrete reality (Talbot, 1992, p.54). Astonishingly, neuroscientists have all but agreed that “it’s a fact of neuroscience that everything we experience is actually a figment of our imagination” (Martinez-Conde & Macknik, 2008, para.2-4). They have discovered that the way the human brain constructs a reality is exactly the same as the way it orchestrates a dream or an illusion, and frequently, visual illusions occurs when the brain fails to recreate what is really out there. Apparently, we have “selective seeing’ (emphasis mine). The nodal point of neuropeptide receptor in our midbrain, called superior colliculus, controls the muscles behind the eyeballs and selects only images that we are prepared to find (Pert, 2003, p.147). We can’t see what we don’t want to see.
What is grasped only by transcendental spiritual seekers, arrived at by logic by western philosophers, uncovered by hard evidences by the scientists, is finally broadcasted to the mess by the loudspeaker of public culture in 1999, in the form of The Matrix. Now, everyman could embrace this knowledge should s/he chooses to. Still, the majority of humanity behaves as if their material life is all there is. A huge percentage of modern civilized human will still tell you (rather proudly) that if they can’t see or touch something then that thing must not be real. Why are we such die-hard head-in-the-sand ostriches? The only logical explanation I could think of is that humanity at large is mostly unconscious, which circles back and proves that humanity operates in a perpetual dream state. We are sleepwalkers who could not recognize the truth even if it is blatantly staring at us in the face. Perhaps this particular knowledge has not reached “the critical mass” as described in The Tipping Point (Gladwell, 2000) as a necessary mechanism to overthrown any old paradigm and bring in new behaviour based on new awareness. Perhaps the knowledge can only come when an individual wants it, just as Kant argues that true liberation can only happen if it is self-initiated (Lawler, 2002, p.141).
What I find most satisfying about The Matrix (1999) is that it models a way of liberation from our sleeping enslavement. Even if we were only enslaved by none other then our own mind, we are prisoners nonetheless. The first step of liberation is knowing that I am asleep. It stops the mind from identifying with limiting inner or outer circumstances. The second is knowing that limitation is false and that the rules in the dream world are to be bend or broken. I have a fun time saying no to illusive mental bullets. The third is knowing that I have a far bigger capacity for new “information download and upgrade” as fashioned in the movie in the form of “the construct” computer programming machine. And in order to receive new learning, I must first rid of the old ways. The fourth is to face adversaries without fear. Fear in the dream world is only for those who are still asleep and unaware. Nothing could hurt you without your mind’s permission. The fifth is overcoming the fear of death. Contrary to the rule in The Matrix, I do not believe that death in the dream world leads to ultimate death but ultimate wakefulness.
Quantum physics teaches that our intention shapes our lives. At the level of subatomic particles, the observer shapes the outcome of the experiment with his or her expectation. The quantum field is a sea of possibilities until you enter with your mind. Quantum physicists even believe that they might have “created” some subatomic particles simply by expecting and predicting about their existence (Talbot, 1992). This interesting fact brings new light to how often we are our own worst enemies by harbouring negative mindsets and expectations. Meanwhile, it gives back our power as creators of our dream reality. In quantum physics, science is finally linked back to the human individual and the social studies of the working of the human mind. The development of human potential will be more enriched while taking its findings into account.
In this essay, I put forward ancient and new evidences of the dreaming nature of our reality across several different academic fields. I propose a new way of being from the point of our new understanding. In the human dream world where our very consciousness has the tremendous and immediate power to create, Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” suddenly takes on a new and exciting meaning. Buddhist doctrines describe how a liberated human become free of the encumbering rules of human existence, including the restriction of time, space and physicality. Becoming aware of our dream reality and our infinite potential liberates our identity and society construct beyond the three-dimensional world of solidity and limitation.
Braden, G. (2007). The divine matrix: bridging time, space, miracles, and belief. California, CA: Hay House.
Erion, G. J., & Smith, B. (2002) Skepticism, morality, and The Matrix. In W. Irwin (Ed.), The Matrix and philosophy: welcome to the dessert of the real. (pp.16-27). Illinois, IL: Open Court.
Gladwell, M. (2000). The tipping point.: how little things can make a bit difference. New York, NY: Little Brown.
Greene, B. (2011). Our universe may be a giant hologram. Retrieved June 11, 2012, from http://discovermagazine.com/2011/jun/03-our-universe-may-be-a-giant-hologram
Irwin, W. (2002). Computers, caves, and oracles: Neo and Socrates. In W. Irwin (Ed.), The Matrix and philosophy: welcome to the dessert of the real. (pp. 5-15). Illinois, IL: Open Court.
Lawler, J. (2002). We are (the) one! Kant explains how to manipulate the matrix. In W. Irwin (Ed.), The Matrix and philosophy: welcome to the dessert of the real. (pp. 138-152). Illinoise, IL: Open Court.
Martinez-Conde, S., & Macknik, S. (2008). The neuroscience of illusion. Retrieved Jun 9, 2012, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-neuroscience-of-illusion
Pert, C. (2003). Molecules of emotion. New York, NY: Scribner.
Silver, J. (Producer), & Wachowski, L.,& Wachowski, A. (Directors). (1999). The matrix [Film].Warner Bros Pictures, 4000 Warner Blvd, Burbank, California, USA.
Talbot, M. (1992). The holographic universe. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.
Wikipedia. (2012). Solipsism. Retrieved June, 10, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solipsism
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