When Neo chose the Red Pill, he acknowledged that the life he knew was meaningless. He chose to venture into the potential nightmare of living outside the matrix, rather than continue in the world that he knew, a world that, to be fair, wasn’t that great anyway. The dingy, depressing environment created by the Wachowskis for The Matrix fell short on sunshine and hope, which perhaps contributed to our protagonist’s choice. Why not take the chance? What could be worse than living in a (pretty crappy) world that isn’t real?
The world may very well be divided by Red Pill and Blue Pill people. Those who would jump at the chance to rid themselves of a meaningless world if given it, and those who wouldn’t humor the offer it; those who are happy to be happy even if happy isn’t real. There has always been a question of whether or not this world is real.
Philosophers, scientists, writers and filmmakers have discussed it for centuries, though maybe not in terms as reduced as a choice between red and blue.
Albert Camus, the 20th century philosopher and writer, described this choice in the allegory of Sisyphus. The difference being that Sisyphus isn’t given the option of choosing the red pill. Or even that of the blue pill. He isn’t permitted to escape the Matrix, or forget – he is bound to live inside the Matrix aware of its absurdity. The takeaway from Camus’ story is a cheery one – When you realize that life is meaningless you have three choices.
One: Commit Suicide. The knowledge hurts too much, nothing has meaning, so end it all. (Though he is astute enough to recognize that death itself is meaningless, so the problem is not solved!)
Two: Commit a sort of philosophical suicide, meaning to pretend that you didn’t figure out that life is meaningless. Lie to yourself, maintain the charade, and maybe achieve “happiness.”
Three: Live the rest of your life (or eternity, in the case of Sisyphus) recognizing the meaninglessness of life, but keep living it. Live honestly and bravely, and maybe find real happiness in the task.
The Gods cursing you to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity, or Morpheus telling you that your reality is a simulation may feel like hypotheticals, however some scientists think these thought pieces Camus’ and the Wachowskis have given us may not be that far off.
A recent New York Times article penned by Edward Frenkel asks if the universe in which we live might actually be a simulation.
Another thought experiment? Apparently not.
In “Is the Universe a Simulation?” Frenkel highlights the immutable truths of mathematics (how scientists around the globe and across the decades reach the same mathematical conclusions, for example) as one of the tenets some scientists are using to support this hypothesis. We did not create mathematics. Somehow mathematics already exists in our world, waiting to be discovered. How is this possible? How is math the same across cultures and generations? How is math already here?
One creepy and awesome theory goes like this: the computer programmer of the future has built a simulation (our world). When we “discover” mathematic formulas, really we are just uncovering bits and pieces of planted code in the simulation.
You may not take kindly to the idea of living inside a real “Matrix,” or consider the concept far-fetched, but some scientists say that the probability is actually quite good. Frenkel paraphrases Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom on the subject:
“Bostrom has argued that we are more likely to be in such a simulation than not. If such simulations are possible in theory, he reason, then eventually humans will create them – Presumably many of them. If this is so, in time there will be many more simulated worlds than nonsimulated ones. Statistically speaking, therefore, we are more likely to be living in a simulated world than in the real one.”
For me, the reality of this world doesn’t matter. Would a simulated universe make my coffee less soothing, my friends less caring, my partner’s eyes less blue? I know what I know, and in that case, “real” is indefinable. Even in meaninglessness, we can all choose to find happiness. In Camus’ words:
“Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”