What Is Reality?
What Is Reality?
Am I really living? How do I know that my waking moments are my true reality? Are my senses deceiving me? These longstanding philosophical questions are not by any means simple to answer. Plato, Descartes, and the makers of The Matrix all attempted to answer them and the similarities and differences in their insights reflect the different understandings of what one believes to be reality, that is, if he can really know what reality is at all. In examining the similarities and differences of these works, I am able to explore the various reasons these authors believe reality to be the way they do, how they are able to know it is real or not, and determine for myself whether the harshness of reality or the blissful ignorance of illusion is a better way to live.
Descartes’s Meditation I of the Things of Which We May Doubt, Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave, and The Matrix reveal differences in the answers to the questions of truth and reality. Descartes determines that it is not possible to have perfect knowledge. He believes that the senses cloud the perception of reality and questions how one can truly know he or she is not deceived even when answering simplistic questions such as two plus three equals five? In contrast, the people of The Matrix who have discovered the state of their physical bodies, are aware of their reality when living in the real world in comparison to their world controlled by the Matrix. Descartes would argue that although they see the difference, they still cannot know which one is reality, if either are really real reality at all since their senses can deceive them. In The Allegory of the Cave, it was concluded that the freed inhabitant, after experiencing reality outside of the cave and comparing it to the memories of the shadows inside, would be pleased that he discovered true reality and would feel sympathy for the inhabitants still shackled in the cave. In The Matrix, Cypher reflects the opposite in that many people are not ready to accept what is revealed to them. Being controlled by the Matrix, is a hard truth for them to grasp and some, like Cypher, would choose to live in ignorance accepting their sensory reality to be real. Although this reality is preferred by them, Descartes would argue that it is not real and they are living in deception. These scenarios all reflect the differing ideologies of the authors on the question of reality and how one knows if it is true or if one’s senses are deceiving his or her experience of reality.
In terms of similarities, when answering the question of one’s knowledge of reality, the Meditation I of the Things of Which We May Doubt by René Descartes and Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave can be compared to The Matrix in several ways. Descartes’s writings offer reasoning to doubt sensory input as reality. He mentions how the senses can be misleading, which would ultimately alter one’s reality and knowledge of what an individual knows to be true. The people in The Matrix fall under this fallacy and they live their lives under the impression that each sensory event is true. They are unaware that their bodies are in a laboratory hooked up to the computer simulation known as the Matrix that is providing the input of what they feel, touch, smell, see, hear, and therefore know to be reality. In the same way, the inhabitants of the cave in Plato’s work have been shackled up only able to view the shadows on the wall of the cave from the light of the world that resides outside of it. They have only ever known their permanent narrow view of what is real, which has consequently limited their knowledge of reality. As the inhabitant of the cave is freed from the shackles and ventures outside of the cave, reality beyond what he has ever known is revealed through new sensory input. Similarly, as Neo takes the red pill, he discovers the truth about reality outside of the Matrix. Each of these works brings conditions that reflect the questions of how one can really know if he or she is truly living and if it is his or her true reality.
The harshness of reality is a better way to live. It is better to live in truth than to be blinded by illusion and falsehood. As described, one difference between The Allegory of the Cave and The Matrix is that Socrates assumed most men would rather be freed from their shackles and experience reality in comparison to Cypher who would rather live in blissful ignorance with his reality controlled by the Matrix. The reality Cypher and the other people controlled by the Matrix as well as the inhabitants of the cave experience is due to their lack of awareness of their restraints. In the case of The Matrix Morpheus explains how one’s mind, and thus, reality is controlled by the computer simulation to blind him from the truth and in the case of The Allegory of the Cave an inhabitant is chained up to only see the shadows on the wall from the light outside the cave unaware of what these figures look like beyond their shadows. These restraints permit them to only understand reality to be what they have experienced it to be. Freeing one from his restraints enables him to choose to live in the harshness of reality or choose to live back in ignorance controlled by the restraints. Is living controlled by something else that limits your perception of the world and knowledge of reality really living? No. As Plato described the sun’s blinding rays causing discomfort to the newly freed cave inhabitant and Morpheus revealed to Neo that discovering the truth of the Matrix was not easy, one can understand that reality reveals truth, but does not always promise pleasure. Although the blinding exposure of reality can be too much to comprehend for some at first, it is still the truth. I do not think those living in ignorance are truly living even if they consider it bliss.
The similarities and differences of The Allegory of the Cave, Meditation I of the Things of Which We May Doubt, and The Matrix all reflect the different considerations to answer the philosophical questions of true reality, how one can know of it, and if senses are deceptive in this endeavor. In examining the similarities and differences of these works, I am able to explore the various reasons these authors believe reality to be the way they do, how they are able to know it is real or not, and determine for myself whether the harshness of reality or the blissful ignorance of illusion is a better way to live.
Descartes, R. (1641). Meditation I of the Things of Which We May Doubt. Excerpt from René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy. Retrieved from https://learn.liberty.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-26316674-dt-content-rid-317682086_1/xid-317682086_1
Plato. (n.d.). The Allegory of the Cave. Excerpt from Plato, The Republic, Book VII, 514A1–518D8. Retrieved from https://learn.liberty.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-26316673-dt-content-rid-317682088_1/xid-317682088_1
Wachowski, A., & Wachowski, L. (1999). The Matrix. Directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Los Angeles: Warner Bros. Pictures. Retrieved from https://learn.liberty.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-26316672-dt-content-rid-317682168_1/xid-317682168_1