You probably have one and only one worldview about your reality and the reality you inhabit. However, there are many possibilities when it comes to reality as the following hopefully demonstrates. As the question goes, from the Film “The Matrix”. What is real? How do you define real? Perhaps all is not what it seems.
In the immediate here-and-now, you exist in two ‘realities’, and here I pretty much define a reality as something you find yourself in but which you have little control over.
The first here-and-now reality is the “I am awake” reality. It’s a reality of weather, bills, noisy neighbours, cuts-and-bruises, auto repairs, work, TV programs, books and PC’s, food and drink, etc.
Then there is your asleep reality, your dream states or landscapes which can seem very real indeed. Now my initial premise for why we dream had much to do with the need for our brains to be stimulated with sensory input even though we are asleep and isolated from real sensory input. Experiments have shown that if you are cut off from sensory inputs, you will eventually go, to use a medical term here, bonkers. Since we are isolated from sensory input when we sleep, dreams are the brain’s way of keeping itself stimulated. However, that in itself could be achieved just by dreaming a random sequence of colours or sounds or smells without any pattern or coherence to it all. So, I further suggest that dreaming is another manifestation of our hardwired need to tell stories and imagine things that may or may not always have relevance to our personal awake realities.
You would be aware that your version of reality resides 100% inside your brain. Your brain receives, processes and interprets all of the information your sensory organs (i.e. – eyes, ears, etc.) feed into it. Ultimately what determines what your brain processes and interprets depends on brain chemistry; the chemistry of your neurological apparatus. The proof of that pudding is by changing your brain chemistry you change your perception of reality. You can easily change your brain chemistry by taking in various drugs, legal and illegal, achieving various altered states of consciousness. Now say you ingest some form or other of magic mushrooms and you experience all manner of alternate realities. Is that alternative reality any different from being a bona-fide reality from the reality you were experiencing prior to ingesting those magic mushrooms?
Let me put it this way. You are on drugs at this very second. Let’s change the name drugs and substitute chemicals, for after all a drug is a chemical. All those hundreds of individual chemicals present and accounted for via you eating various food products are coursing through your body and being altered by other chemicals in your system. The average urine sample apparently contains over 500 different chemicals! Carbon dioxide builds up in your system but is constantly being exhaled and replaced by oxygen – a very powerful element in its own right. Various other chemicals build up in your body during the day (i.e. – lactic acid) and get processed into other chemicals while you sleep. So, the upshot is that what you think of as really real reality is still a reality experienced while under the influence of a myriad of chemicals. Is that really a reason to say that that reality is really real while your reality under the influence of magic mushrooms isn’t really real?
Thought Experiment Number One: Take two identical twins from birth. One twin eats, drinks and breathes normally. The other twin is fed a diet based around magic mushrooms; drinks magic mushroom laced water; breathes in an atmosphere laced with magic mushroom smoke. Ask each after say 50, 60 or 70 years for their respective versions of reality. Which twin would be right? Perhaps both would be right.
Thought Experiment Number Two: We’ve often contemplated a form of extraterrestrial life not-as-we-know-it, life which is based on a different chemistry. Science fiction authors have had a field day investigating such possibilities. The question is, if E.T. isn’t based around CHON (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen), would their perception of reality, based on some other chemistry that’s part and parcel of their makeup, be considerably different from our own?
All that aside, I think there are four possible realities.
One: Firstly, there’s the reality of Mother Nature – naturalism or physicalism. There really is a real physical world of things with structure and substance and a whole series of physical laws, principles and relationships with govern it all.
Two: Reality number two is a theist or polytheist supernatural reality wherein those physical laws, principles and relationships; things with structure and substance, were created by a supernatural intelligence(s) which can on any whim override those physical laws, principles and relationships.
Three: Reality number three is a slight variation on reality number two, and that is your Simulation Hypothesis and ‘god’ is a computer programmer and we ‘exist’ as simulations in a virtual reality landscape. The essential difference is that the former (number two reality) is supernatural; the latter (number three reality) is still very much a part of the natural scheme of things and ultimately there is a top level to reality which isn’t simulated. It just happens that we aren’t in that top level.
IMHO the apex of the reality pyramid would have to be a really real reality of some kind.
Now the characters in our own simulations, like video games, while being virtual realities, still exist in a really real reality since software is real and hardware is real and programmers are real and the players are real.
Now of course our video game characters could be simulations created by higher level simulations – us humans. We could be simulations who in turn created simulations.
And whoever simulated us could in turn be simulated as well but one level even higher up the pyramid. However that progression can’t continue indefinitely. Our computers have to have sufficient capacity to simulate our video game characters. If we too are simulated, then our ‘creators’ or programmers have to have in their computers sufficient capacity to simulate us and simulate our video game characters. If our programmers are also simulated then their programmers must have computers that have the capacity to simulate our programmers and us and our video game characters. And so on and so on. Sooner of later computers are just going to run out of capacity to run simulations of simulations of simulations of simulations, etc. So, at the apex, there needs to be a First Programmer and that programmer can’t have in turn been programmed.
But if the apex beings were simulated, when who simulated them? Are we going to have to have an entire theology based around virtual reality? Well at least if we’re going to require a virtual reality theology, that theology won’t involve any money in the collection plate, worshipping, jumping through theological hoops, observing hundreds of rituals and religious holidays, reading holy books, praying, etc. Of course the upside or downside could be that if we are in a virtual reality, then when we virtually kick-the-bucket we may end up in a virtual heaven, or a virtual hell!
With software, all things are possible. Perhaps each virtual culture / society gets the virtual afterlife that’s central to that culture / society. So the ancient Egyptians really did have their virtual heart weighed against a virtual feather and if the virtual balancing scales didn’t go in their favour they got eaten by a virtual monster. Some lucky dudes really do get 72 virtual virgins. Some get virtually reincarnated back into whatever the Supreme Programmer dishes out to them. And some get to wear virtual halos and play virtual harps for a virtual eternity – now that’s hell! Of course if you don’t believe in the existence of a virtual heaven or a virtual hell then you just don’t get to pass a virtual “Go” and collect a virtual $200. That’s the absolute end of your virtual existence. So, be nice to your virtual PC and take your virtual spam like a man (or woman) and don’t download illegal software, because that Supreme Programmer knows if you’ve been virtually good or virtually bad and if it’s the latter, it’s the Delete key for you!
Speaking of the Delete Key, perhaps some might see that as a plausible or at least a possible explanation for the fraction of people, even famous people, who go missing and stay missing. Now most missing person cases are resolved, usually sooner rather than later, but a small percentage aren’t. Were they ‘deleted’?
Four: Finally, reality number four is that reality is internally generated. Idealism rules and the only reality you have is just generated in and is a product of your mind, the one and only thing you know for absolute certainty that exists. Perhaps therefore in the final analysis, your reality is just yourself.