What is reality?
The question what is reality has been studied and discussed for millennia. Despite of our attempts to understand reality through meditation, prayer, philosophy or science, there is still no clear answer. One thing’s for sure: We’re living in a Matrix of sorts. We take in over 400 billion bits of information per second, while our brains can only process up to 60 bits per second. This basically means, there’s a lot more happening than we perceive. As Steven Kotler said in his talk on Engineering Super Humans, “So almost everything that we think of as reality, is not reality.”
We only see a fraction of colours in the spectrum. We race cars at 300kph thinking we’re moving fast, oblivious of the 1,600kph orbit of our Spaceship Earth around the sun, and 828,000kph orbit of our solar system around the Milky Way. Our universe is expanding at faster-than-light speed, and yet, we are but goldfish in a bowl.
The Wachowski’s 1999 film The Matrix is one of my favourites movies. The Matrix was revolutionary in so many ways both visually, and philosophically. The dystopian-future film brought to attention ideas and constructs that were up to this point, not popular to the general public. Using sci-theory as a backdrop, the overarching concept The Matrix tackled was that of reality. The film got a lot right, but a few things wrong.
This article is about the nature of the Matrix, virtual reality, and that it’s not a prison but an expansion of our minds. Let’s jump in.
01. We will be aware of our Matrix.
In the sci-fi film humanity is unaware of the virtual reality it’s plugged into; with exception to a few ‘anomalies’. In sci-fact, this will not be the case. It is naive not to admit that there will be many moments that we forget our physical world, but at the end of the day, we will inherently know that we are plugged in. This is a major difference between the blue pill of ignorance and the red pill of knowledge that is offered by Morpheus. Unlike Neo, we will, and currently are taking the purple pill. One foot into the virtual universe, and one foot in this physical.
We’re already down the rabbit hole
We choose to take the purple pill every time we play video games. Brain scans show that we experience and feel with our avatars on screen. Our video game characters’ failures and triumphs are our own. Our brains cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not, regardless of our conscious awareness of the games we play. This is not limited to video games. This happens when we play and watch sports, enjoy live theatre, or roleplay to spice up our sex lives. We are fully aware when we let our roleplaying become reality. And so, unlike the movie, we will not need an Operator to get us out, nor will we be unconscious of the environments we play in. In fact, I believe we will become more self aware.
02. The Matrix will not be a prison.
– Cypher, AKA Mr Reagan
We will knowingly and willingly plug in. And why the hell not?
Reality is subjective and deserves to be manipulated and altered to our choosing. Our brightest and smartest know this. Our prophets and shamans knew this. Whether we alter our reality through drugs, meditation, cold showers, video games, or getting a runner’s high, one thing is clear: we are reality-jumping junkies. We love our altered states, and rightfully should.
We crave altered realities
It is in these altered states that we experience our other selves. It is in these moments that we come up with our captivating sonnets, breakthrough discoveries, and make our greatest gains. From Shakespeare to Sagan to Jobs, it’s no surprise that our brightest and boldest have indulged in altered states of reality. Virtual realities will simply allow more of us to do the same; to experience universes unbound by our human condition, only limited by our infinite imagination. It is in our human-made Matrices that we will experience the vastness of abundance and no longer crave for more than our brothers and sisters. It is in our virtual realities that we will shed our anxieties and perceived shortcomings, and build greater things as a global collective.
03. There is no ‘One’. We are all Neos.
In the film, the character of Neo was the “Chosen One”. Neo had the ability to stop bullets, toss hundreds of enemies across the sky, fly upon will, and bend the laws of physics to a certain degree. Unfortunately for the rest of humanity that was plugged in, these super powers were not options, but in fact intangible and miraculous feats only reserved for the Chosen One.
We will be Gods
In the Matrix we create, we will all have Neo-like powers, but able to do more, and with greater ease. We will travel across thousands of miles of ocean at faster than light speed, fly through the sun, and bend the spoon of reality at our beckon. We will destroy and create worlds upon will. In our virtual worlds, we will be Gods. All the while, never needing to take away from anyone else. We will choose to be Gods in isolation, or participatory citizens in a infinitely-connected Matrix.
We’ve already begun creating virtual worlds. Some examples include multi-player first-person shooter games like Call of Duty, fantasy games like World of Warcraft, and sandbox games like Minecraft. Millions of people live in virtual worlds through their avatars. New games like “No Man’s Sky” pushes the boundaries even further, in which “players are free to explore the entirety of a procedurally generated deterministic open universe, which includes over 18 quintillion (10^18) planets each with their own set of flora and fauna.”
Metaverse = Matrix
The convergence of these games coupled with virtual reality will bring us the metaverse: “A collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet.”
– A Maker’s Guide to the Metaverse, Rod Furlan, Computer Scientist and Founder at Lucidscape Technologies
Regardless of your belief that virtual reality will be the doom or savior of our society, you can’t ignore that it’s arriving, and fast. In time, our Wachowski-like Matrices and Roddenberry holodecks will be just as real as the current reality we experience. Rather than living in denial, better we prepare ourselves and invest our time answering philosophical questions.