On Reality

What is reality? I suspect this is a question that crosses many minds over the course of their lives. The success of films such as The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor would seem to suggest that many people have struggled with that question.

In The Matrix, the real world is a situation where humanity is held slave to machines on a dessolate planet. Humanity, however, is not aware of this and believes that it is living at the end of the twentieth century in a giant computer simulation called The Matrix. The main character, Neo, must come to terms with what is real and what he has always believed to be real and also with his destiny to free humanity from the slavery.

In The Thirteenth Floor, a group of scientists has created a computer simulation of New York in the 1930s. One of those scientists is murdered, however, in an attempt to get a message to the main character (I forget his name). This message appears to refer to the simulated nature of the simulation (and one of the characters in the simulation discovers that it is, indeed, a simulation). It refers, however, to the 1990s New York of our main character. Meanwhile, our main character is experiencing blackouts and is incriminated in several murders and ultimately discovers that his world is only a simulation.

Since The Matrix deals with a single simulation which exists directly in reality, we can deal with it much more easily. It is a single added level of complexity to our existence. There is the issue of life in the Matrix being much more pleasant than life in reality which creates a moral dilemma which is difficult to reconcile, however. On the other hand, The Thirteenth Floor suggests that our reality could be a simulation inside of a simulation inside of a simulation…. This is a much harder concept to handle as it has the potential to add infinite complexity to reality as we perceive it. It also has the added bonus that in its simulations, there is no particularly noticeable difference in quality of life.

Most people believe that reality is what they can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. However, in the two films discussed above, this is not the case; the characters still experience the world through their senses, but they are experiencing a complete fabrication. This begs the question of how do we know we are experiencing reality. Since we only have our senses to determine what is real and what is not, we are not equipped to tell the difference between a simulation and reality if the simulation is advanced enough.

I leave you with the following: are we living in a simulation or reality? Does it matter?

William Astle
July 20, 1999 CE… UTC

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