I recall in my college readings a story about David Hume, a philosopher of the 18th century, who believed only what his eyes confirmed — though he was wary of that information as well. During a conversation with the literary figure James Boswell, Hume asserted a gap existed between the real world, whatever that was, and what the eyes constructed for the brain. He insisted it was impossible to know if anything was real. At that remark, Boswell is supposed to have chuckled. “When we retire for lunch, I shall be interested to see if you chose to leave by the door or walk through the wall.”
The debate about what is real and what is a construct of the brain continues today and will intensify as the virtual world comes uncannily close to mirroring the real one. Certainly, Silicon Valley is doing its best to blur the line, which causes some researchers to wonder about the effect of violent video games upon the human brain. (Click) Or, they ponder tantalizing evidence that the mind can alter its physical body. (Click)
The illusive connection between thought and reality has led some technological giants, like Elan Musk, to speculate what we imagine as reality is simply a simulation generated by a computer. (Click) In fact, some believe the idea so strongly that two tech billionaires “have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulations.” Astrophysicist, Neal deGrasse Tyson gives the theory a 50-50 chance of being correct, which may be a tongue in cheek way of saying, “I don’t know” or a polite way of saying, “I doubt it.”
Again, falling back on my undergraduate days, I recall a conversation in a philosophy class concerning whether or not we react to matter or create it. Are we victims of our fate or masters of it? In a quantum world, where the “stuff” from which reality is made is in constant flux, there seems to be some legitimacy in believing we have more control over that not-so-solid-world than we realize. If so, then I doubt it’s fair to blame machines or an ultimate being for the bit of mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
To believe the world is illusion requires a huge leap of faith and faith, as I see it is arbitrary — too dependent upon what we desire rather than what we know. Even so, If I had to choose to believe in something, I’d believe in fairies. I like the little creatures. They seem harmless enough…which raises a question. Do I want to blame them for the shenanigans of Donald Trump?
(originally published 11/1/16)