Entering the Matrix: Does Reality Actually Exist?

25 February, 2021
The question of whether reality actually exists, or is as we perceive it, is something that's concerned human beings for some time. That's why the philosophy of mind has theorized about it. This article narrates the hypothesis of thought developed by Hillary Putnam.

One of the most transcendent questions that have concerned human beings relates to the following questions: Do we know what reality is? Is it possible for us to know what’s true and what isn’t? Does reality actually exist? Are we, in fact, living in something similar to The Matrix?

Philosophy of mind has dealt with these questions from different standpoints. In this article, we’ll be bringing you the hypothesis developed by Hillary Putnam, one of the most important contemporary philosophers.

Let’s imagine that someone has transferred a human brain to a vat, a vat filled with a fluid capable of keeping it alive. They’ve connected the nerve endings of that brain to a supercomputer whose function is to send electrical impulses.

These impulses make the brain experience a false reality in which everything seems perfectly normal, as the computer is able to simulate reality. The question of who created the computer and what their intentions are can be dealt with another time.

The point here is that neither the thoughts nor the mental images that the brain sees have actually come from that brain. Complicated? Here’s an example.

Let’s imagine that some extraterrestrials, who know absolutely nothing about our planet, come across the image of a cat. They could theorize about what it is and have hypotheses about its origin. However, they’d never know what it really represents, because they’ve never experienced the reality of what a cat is.

Brain waves.

A parallel reality

Just like with our imaginary aliens, if our brain were never to come out of the bucket, then it’d never experience reality. Immersed in a prison of its own thoughts, its senses would only experience the delusions of that simulated reality.

Of course, the brain thinks that everything it experiences is true, but the reality is quite different. Nothing is real because everything is the product of a programmed simulation.

Entering The Matrix and its simulation of reality

Doesn’t this hypothesis remind you of the well-known movie The Matrix? The main plot of this film is that one of the characters, Neo, discovers that the world he thought he was living in is nothing more than a virtual simulation, which he’s connected to by means of a cable plugged into his brain.

The millions of living people connected around him are being cultivated in the same way in order to power the machines. This collective illusion is known as The Matrix.

The eye and the Matrix.

What about everyone else?

Based on the brain-in-the-bucket hypothesis, we can consider several explanations as to who other people are. If they’re also part of a simulation, then we can never be sure of their existence. This approach is known as solipsism.

Whether the reality we experience is real or not, what is certain is that we feel that it’s real. If we have a headache, then we really feel the pain. Even though these hypotheses are unlikely, it’s also true that they’re impossible to disprove.

We must be careful here, as depersonalization disorders can lead to insanity. This happened in the case of 19-year-old Joshua Cooke, who took a 12-gauge shotgun and shot his father seven times and his mother twice.

As soon as their bodies fell to the ground, Cooke called 911 and explained what he had done and waited for the police on the porch of the house while drinking a soda.

Obsessed with The Matrix

As soon as the investigation started, officers could see that he was obsessed with The Matrix. The walls of his room were lined with posters from the movies and he often dressed in black capes and clothes to simulate the characters.

In his statement, he said that he lived in a virtual reality world similar to The Matrix, and that the people he shot weren’t really his parents.

This is just an example of what a defragmented mind can do. Questioning if reality is really as we perceive and feel it is one of the most disturbing ideas around. It implies questioning everything we experience, who the people around us are, and who we are ourselves.