Here’s a purported conversation that the philosopher William James had with an old lady.
‘Your theory that the sun is the centre of the solar system, and the earth is a ball which rotates around it has a very convincing ring to it, Mr. James, but it’s wrong. I’ve got a better theory,’ said the little old lady.
‘And what is that, madam?’ inquired James politely.
‘That we live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle.’
Not wishing to demolish this absurd little theory by bringing to bear the masses of scientific evidence he had at his command, James decided to gently dissuade his opponent by making her see some of the inadequacies of her position.
‘If your theory is correct, madam,” he asked, “what does this turtle stand on?’
‘You’re a very clever man, Mr. James, and that’s a very good question,’ replied the little old lady, ‘but I have an answer to it. And it’s this: The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him.’
‘But what does this second turtle stand on?’ persisted James patiently.
To this, the little old lady crowed triumphantly,
‘It’s no use, Mr. James—it’s turtles all the way down.’
In the blockbuster move, The Matrix, Neo takes the red pill and enters the ‘real’ world, where he lives inside a spaceship in hiding in a post apocalyptic world. Once he has seen this world, he realizes that he has lived all his life in a computer simulation.
This movie is so popular because we can all relate to its plot. Sure, most of us might not believe that we live in a computer simulation. However, we are part of several other simulations – the world of our workplace with colleagues and hierarchies, the world of sport with elaborate make-believe games played on the international stage, the world of video games and internet porn, all of which we know aren’t real but we often find ourselves lost in.
However, here is the catch. Even after going back to the spaceship and into the real world, Neo continues to live in a simulation – one that is created by his own mind and that of the minds of the people around him. In this world as well, he faces the same struggles – of self-doubt, betrayal, jealousy, love and every other problem that he tried to escape by plugging out of the simulation.
We come to realize that every problem that we struggle against isn’t created by the world outside, but the world inside our heads. As long as our minds are with us, they create a little simulation bubble that we inhabit. It is possible to imagine a world without our minds?
Here is an alternate ending to the movie – one that would certainly have been more befitting than the movie’s lackluster sequels. In the spaceship, Nebuchadnezzar, Neo would be eventually confronted with yet another choice – red pill or blue pill?
It is matrices all the way down!
Inspiration: 21 lessons for the 21st century