I like watching movies and reading books that question the nature of reality.
The Matrix was a very popular movie, and probably my first exposure to the idea that reality might not be what we have been lead to believe. In this case it was the evil machines subjugating the human race in a virtual reality while they harvested the bio-energy to keep themselves running.
While I do believe that reality isn’t what we have been taught to believe, I don’t think it is as dark as what The Matrix makes it out to be.
Another movie that I enjoyed is The Thirteenth Floor and the book that it is based on, Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye. I just finished reading the book yesterday and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The movie tracks along with the basic idea of the book pretty well while the details are significantly different and updated from when the book was published in 1964. If you have the time, I highly recommend the book because the author investigates the ideas more thoroughly than they could in the movie.
In Simulacron-3, the main character, Douglas Hall, is working on developing a simulator that is populated with virtual people to make opinion polling a lot quicker and easier. Eventually he learns that he himself is just a virtual person living as electrical impulses in the wires of a larger simulator, also created for the purposes of opinion polling.
The author then explores ideas about what meaning is there if you and your world aren’t real? Another point that he makes is, if you were able to rise out of the simulator that you live in, as does happen in the book and in the movie, how do you know that the “outside world” isn’t just another simulator in an even bigger world?
From both The Matrix and Simulacron-3 you might get the idea that the true reality is rather bleak. In Simulacron-3, Doug decides that he is “real” whether he lives inside a simulator or not and that is simulated world is worth saving when it looks like it is going to be shut down.
I like the conclusion they came to in the movie Source Code.
In Source Code, Colter Stevens finds himself reliving the last eight minutes of Sean’s life before he dies in an explosion on a commuter train. Colter’s mission is to find out who planted the bomb so that the authorities can prevent a larger explosion that the perpetrator plans to set off in Chicago.
Colter relives the same 8 minutes over and over until he gets the information that the authorities need. Throughout that time he finds that his real body is being kept alive by artificial means so that he can be used by the Source Code system to solve these crimes. Every time he repeats the 8 minutes as Sean, he changes some of the outcomes. He also gets to know and falls in love with the girl across from him. After he solves the crime, he asks to be sent in one more time because he believes that he can prevent the bomb and save the girl.
The people in charge tell Colter that he can’t save her because the event has already happened. He can’t change the past and anything that he changes only exists in his experience and will end when the 8 minutes ends. It turns out that each time he repeats the 8 minutes, a new parallel reality is created with slight differences.
Colter’s existence in the “true” reality is very bleak. He decides to see if he can create a parallel reality where he does catch the villain, prevent the explosion, and save the girl.
I believe that the message here is, it doesn’t matter if it is “real” or not. Colter is able to take control of the events in his new reality and make it something worth living. Regardless of whether it is real or not, we are here. While we are here we might as well enjoy ourselves, so make your reality worth living.
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