Riddle of the Senses
Information and Theories 6/26/10
By: Chris Capps
It's often perplexing when looking at the world of the metaphysical and the physical to look at any phenomenon and attempt to ascertain whether it holds validity on its own account. An interesting and perhaps disturbing realization held by one of the founders of the most basic principles of philosophy, Rene Descartes, was created purely as an act of skeptical inquiry and resulted in a realization that is entirely immutable by any external or internal force: the very fact that you exist. This fact stands alone as the only thing in the universe that is entirely provable. All that follows is merely an assumption that this reality is not mere illusion. And the greatest horror is the inability of the thinker to actually demonstrate through pure logic that there is anything more than illusion.
Those who first came to Descartes after his statement was made and proposed that an external object, such as a book or a doorway was just as real as they were because it could be touched and seen were met with a proposition that has spawned much pondering and a number of speculative works of fiction. Let's say for a moment, that at the moment of your creation an unseen world was created around you with the intention of deceiving you in every way. A universe was created, possibly from an unknown ether, that carried with it a basic system of understanding. Laws of physics were instituted to govern the universe that could eventually be discovered and even exploited for the benefit of humanity. And mathematics were designed to be discovered as a way to prove basic ideas within that universe. But what if mathematics held no meaning outside of the simulated reality itself? If we lived our entire lives in the four dimensions of space and time, and could only move in heavily regulated ways in these dimensions, then we would be unable to escape this boxed in simulation. And yet an ignorance of anything aside from the simulation would leave us feeling free even if we were confined. And a mere lack of understanding of any other universe would be sufficient in shackling us to this universe.
The concept was one of the basic points of several films and books, but the most commonly drawn parallel is the 1999 film The Matrix. Of course even the film The Matrix presupposes that the universe working outside of the simulation is similar in nature to the universe of the simulation itself. In Descartes view the world outside may be quite different. One of the most easy to understand ways graspable in understanding this would be to suggest what sight would be like to someone who had never seen before and had no idea what it was like. Imagine if a functioning person, blind from birth had never even heard of sight or color. Alternately what if a person saw a new primary color for the first time?
In the functional day to day world does this hold any importance? The answer to this question must be ultimately decided by the individual. If there were a way to prepare for a universe outside of this one, it would seem prudent to possibly prepare for one, but as there isn't the question proposed by Descartes serves only as food for thought and a tool to bridge the gap between the observable universe and any potentialities that may arise in the future. Of course this is also assuming that memory is even possible outside of the 'simulated reality' we would currently be inhabiting. In other words, Descartes statement may be the only thing we can prove, but his statement can only truly serve us in the realm we currently inhabit as far as we can tell.