Diary of a Layman #14 (Spring): Proof That We’re Living a Life of Illusion
When I first saw The Matrix back in 1999, I instantly became fascinated with its “virtual reality world” concept. At the time, and for many years afterwards, I saw the theme as a metaphor for the illusionary material world we live in—a world of time, space, and the assumption that we are all separate individuals. My belief, in line with what I had taken from kabbalah, was that in reality, we were all one united energy force. Call it God, the light, Buddha, Allah, the universe, sentient energy, whatever. The point was that this energy created our illusionary world in order to experience itself. After all, since it was an all-knowing, all-powerful energy, existence was pretty boring. This energy wanted to experience the one thing it couldn’t know: what it was like to not be it. So, it created an imaginary world of time and space and separated itself there into different material elements that eventually evolved into human beings.
The reason The Matrix worked so well, I felt, was because its alternate reality storyline fit so perfectly with this illusionary world concept. Being connected through the world wide web in the computer world was a metaphor for how we are all part of one energy. The glitches of this simulation is just like the déjà vu we experience in our world, which, I’ve always thought of as our mind recalling pieces of our predetermined destiny. The signs and clues in the programming of this simulation are just like the clues the universe gives us to fulfill our destiny. Everything fit quite uncannily into place. A computer simulation was the perfect metaphor for the world we lived in! More recently however, I’ve got to thinking if it is actually a metaphor after all.
Besides The Matrix, there are a number of mind-expanding movies that share the “simulated world” theme: everything from Tron and Total Recall (pre-Matrix) to The Thirteenth Floor and eXistenZ (which both came out around the same time as The Matrix). These latter two films are particularly good at making us question what reality truly is. They make us wonder if it’s even possible to know whether the world we live in is actually real or not. While I first heard about it many years ago, I finally got a chance to see eXistenZ (pronounced eggs-a-stenz) in April when a co-worker lent me her copy on DVD. Funny how that always happens. Even though I was already well acquainted with the alternate reality concept (having written about it thoroughly for my book, The Myth of Lost), the film still managed to blow my mind. The reason, I think, is because it got me wondering whether the alternate-reality theme is simply a metaphor for how the universe actually works, as I had always assumed, or, if we quite literally all do live in a computer simulated world. A short time later, I got my answer. Funny how that always happens.
A friend of mine invited me to the Tribeca Film Festival and we picked out two movies to see. Unfortunately, she became sick but I went anyway. One of the films was Transcendent Man, a documentary about the beliefs of the brilliant inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil. The film presents what Kurzweil’s calls, the singularity: “a point in the near future when technology will be changing so rapidly, we will have to enhance ourselves with artificial intelligence to keep up.” One of the themes of the film is that once the singularity arrives (which Ray predicts will happen as early as 2045) in addition to our ability to live virtually forever and cure world hunger and poverty, there will be “no clear distinction between human and machine, real reality and virtual reality.” Of course, critics point out The Matrix and Terminator themes of not being able to control machines once this happens, but that’s a discussion for another day. The point I want to bring up here is the epiphany I had while watching Transcendent Man, and the question I asked Mr. Kurzweil who was at the showing.
In the film, technology is referred to as evolving exponentially because new technologies are continually used to create the next generation of technology. Looking at how much the world has changed in the last 25 years alone, there’s really no arguing this point. The film also brought up alternate reality Internet games such as Second Life. Now, since technology evolves exponentially, it is very probable to assume, as Mr. Kurzweil does, that within just a few short decades such virtual worlds will be so realistic, they will be indistinguishable from the real world. My question began my making these points and then one more. Once these alternate reality worlds get to this stage, isn’t it very likely that new alternate reality worlds will be created within these worlds. In fact, this has already happened. I’ve played many video games where there were other games within these games. (Final Fantasy VII for example had an entire arcade where you could play games within the game.)
With me so far? Good, because here was the kicker. Since technology evolves exponentially, and alternate reality games will eventually create other realities inside of themselves, isn’t it highly unlikely that the reality we live in is the very first, original world? Isn’t it much more probable that The Matrix got it right and that we too live in a simulation? Isn’t it a bit egocentric to believe that we are the very first reality in existence in the history of creation? Seems like the same odds of us being the only planet with intelligent life out of the billions upon billions of galaxies that exist out there, each one with billions of planets. Kurzweil agreed with my point about the virtual reality worlds becoming indistinguishable from reality, but stopped short of agreeing that our world was already a simulation.
Several days later however, someone on my Myth of Lost Facebook page serendipitously directed me to a website by someone who wrote an entire book (The Universe Solved) filled with tons of evidence supporting the very same conclusion I’d just reached. (Funny how that always happens.) I contacted the author of the book, Jim Elvidge, and he replied with the following: “Your argument is exactly the argument that philosopher Nick Bostrom made in his paper “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?”
Considering that his paper was presented to the department of philosophy at Oxford, I felt like I was in good company. Still, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, possibly because I noticed it contains formulas like this:
Now, I’m not saying that these endorsements from two very smart guys (Jim got his masters in electrical engineering from Cornell) prove anything, but it does give the theory a lot of weight. The question I had next however, is that assuming we are actually all in a simulation, why are we here? I whittled the possibilities down to the three that made the most sense.
- Through pollution, war, or overpopulation, the first generation of humans made the planet they were living too unbearable for any decent standard of living. Their solution was to create a simulated world filled with characters created in their own image and to plug themselves into it and live their lives within this realm.
- The humans that exist in the outside world live in a very advanced society. Those who do not fit within it, either because they have committed crimes or simply can’t cope, are hooked up to a correctional simulation program designed to help rehabilitate them to re-enter society.
- Much like The Matrix, humans have been put into the simulation program against their will either by our own machines uprising against us, aliens, or a sect of humans who overpowered the rest of us.
While I’m sure all this sounds completely fantastical and close to impossible, if you really start to think about it, you realize that the world we believe ourselves to live in is no less improbable. I don’t know about you, but I have absolutely noticed bizarre serendipitous occurrences in my life that lead me on my path. This includes everything from getting messages from the radio and strangers on the street to chance meetings and “coincidences” with such impossible odds of occurring you have to laugh. After noticing these occurrences in your own life, ask yourself which is more likely: that we are all part of an artificial reality, programmed to direct us on a certain path, or, that everything we see around us happened either completely by accident or was created by an almighty being who micro-manages the lives of every creature in the universe. I’m going with simulation.
The other cool thing about the simulation theory of our world, is that it plugs so neatly into the beliefs of most world religions. The Judeo-Christian idea that God created us in His own image is just that the creators of this program made us look just like them. The Hindu concept of reincarnation translates to dying as one computer character and then coming back as another. The Buddhist concept of us all being connected just means that we are all literally plugged in to the game. Most religions believe in destiny, which simply relates to the programming code of the simulation we are in. Even the beliefs of quantum physicists come into play since they believe time is an illusion. Yes, because everything that has happened, is happening or could happen is already programmed, existing all in one moment (think of a computer game that takes months for you to clear all existing on a CD-Rom or DVD that you can hold in your hand.) Then there are concepts that exist within the real world or our mythology that have similar metaphors in the virtual world. Viruses that make us sick and computer viruses are almost the exact same thing. An avatar is a god that takes some form in our world, not unlike an avatar that represents you in the online world. And coming soon, just as we update our computer files, we’ll probably be able to plug into something that’ll update us. Imagine being able to update your brain’s memory or processing speed. This is all part of the singularity that Ray Kurzweil is talking about.
So, there is definitely a lot of evidence that we may be living in a simulation. Now, once you accept that, there’s another question which may pop up and nag at you so ruthlessly that it forces you to write a 2,000 page book called The Layman’s Answers to Everything which you are hoping to one day get out into the world. Or maybe it’s just me. Anyway, this question originally hit me in regards to the illusionary nature of the world more so than it specifically being a computer simulation, but it works either way. The question is, if our world is an illusion/simulation, is it more like The Matrix, and we’re all in it together in an interactive game so to speak, or, is it more like The Truman Show, and you are actually the only real being and everything else is simply part of the illusion designed to help you on your path? In other words, are we all playing together on the Internet, or solo at home…by ourselves…with no one else in existence at all? The sad truth is that there is actually no way to prove whether or not you are the only real consciousness within this simulated world. Imagine if after you die you find out that YOU were God and you just created this illusion because you were lonely. So if you think that the world sucks, really, you have no one to blame but yourself.
So, what’s to be made of all this? Does any of it matter? Whether this world is real or not, it seems pretty real to us so we might as well make the best of it. Yet, if we knew that it wasn’t real, perhaps we could take advantage of that fact. Perhaps we could use our minds to impact our characters’ realities. Maybe we could take advantage of some kind of glitch and win the lottery or in Las Vegas. Or, maybe we could find a hidden Easter Egg or secret cheat code that enables us to make this world our bitch and do whatever we please with it—time travel, reading minds, turning invisible, flying. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be on the lookout for that secret cheat code. According to The Thirteenth Floor, the first place to look is the last place you’d ever go. Hmmm, perhaps there is an accountant’s convention coming up…in Mongolia. I might have to look into that.
May your inner spark grow to light your way,
PS: For those of you who would like more information about what’s going on with The Myth of Lost book and why I always seem so busy even though I’m done writing, editing, and creating it and mostly done publicizing it, I invite you to explore any or all of the links below that have occurred since the last update (March 16th, 2009).
The Myth of Lost page on Amazon.com (includes new review from Aimee Noto of The Lost Initiative podcast!)
The Myth of Lost Facebook Page (updated notes and discussion board):
“What LOST Is Telling Us About the World Today…And Tomorrow” presentation highlights on You Tube (Presentation & Book Signing at East West Book 3/8/09):
The Myth of Lost Prizes for Jay and Jack Lost Podcast Contest (Mentioned in Lost Podcast (AAC): Ep. 4.33 “The Ee-Saw”from May 18th, 2009 @ 1:09:03 (about five minutes from the end).
Marc Oromaner’s “Lost in Myth” weekly columns posted on Doc Arzt& Friends’ Lost Blog
Marc Oromaner’s “Lost in Myth” weekly columns posted on When Falls the Coliseum blog
JOpinionated Interviews Marc on “Get Lost” blog (May 3, 2009)
The Myth of Lost posted on Authors Press Releases
Lazlo Interviews Marc on 96.5 FM The Buzz (This is one of the interviews I did weekly, commenting about each episode after it aired.)
“The Mythology of LOST and Other TV Shows & Movies” presentation for the 6th Annual Rutherford Multicultural Festival on May 16th, 2009.
“The Mythology of LOST and Other TV Shows & Movies” presentation highlights on YouTube (Presentation & Book Signing in connection with GainVille Cafe 5/16/09)
If you aren’t familiar with the story, here’s a brief synopsis:
The Layman’s Answers To Everything is a spiritual comedy (or spiromedy) about an unlucky guy who believes he’s meant to do something amazing, but has no idea what it is. After experiencing many challenges and meeting a bizarre cast of characters, he stumbles upon secret messages hidden in TV, movies, and music that are aimed at guiding humanity. Using these messages, he starts a new religion which changes his life, and ultimately, the world. This is so much more than just a story though, because throughout the journey, we learn how to discover and fulfill our own destiny using the clues of the universe that are all around us.
I truly feel this book is going to make a real impact on the world, and set into motion a spiritual domino effect that’ll help change it for the better. And judging from the way the world is heading, I’m thinking that changing the way we’re heading would be a good thing, no? If you don’t agree, or would just prefer not to get any further emails from me, just let me know, and I’ll take you off the list—no hard feelings. Of course, I can’t promise that my book won’t track you down and find you anyway, but you have a while yet to worry about that.
**The LOST book is called, The Myth of LOST: Solving the Mysteries and Understanding the Wisdom. It not only reveals a solution that explains all the mysteries of the show, it also explains how the show’s wisdom can be applied to our real lives.