On reality

Morpheus says, “How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

When we talk about real, we usually talk about the present physical world — the world that our senses can reach. But often, this very exclusive and limited notion on reality is problematic, because we tend to dismiss worlds beyond the physical realm as not real, and merely imaginary. For instance, we consider dreams, thoughts, feelings and emotions as mere fragments of imagination and products of cognition. We often think that just because these are only happening inside our heads, it is therefore not real. But to think about it, are we even sure that this present, physical world is the reality? If so, what makes us so sure? What are the conditions necessary to make something real? What does it mean to be real?

Going back to Morpheus’ question, how do we really define real? Linguistically, real refers to something that is a) actually existing or happening and b) not imaginary. If we refer to these two meanings, should we consider dreams as real? If we refer to definition a, should we agree that dreams as real? They are existing, and happening, but only inside our heads. Our senses cannot reach those, because dreams are things beyond the physical realm. The only problematic term in definition a is actually. Actual refers to things that are real and not merely possible or imagined. If this is the case, then what does it mean to actually exist? If we refer to the definition b, we can easily dismiss dreams as unreal. After all, dreams are only happening inside our heads. They are imaginary. But, what makes something imaginary? Are we sure that this present, physical reality, real? What if it is only imaginary, and our minds are only making things up?

In another scene, Spoon boy tells Neo, “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.” Then Neo asks, “What truth?” Spoon boy answers that there is no spoon, that it is not the spoon the bends, “it is only yourself.” This scene might be suggesting that we might just be constructing our own version of reality, and that the truth is that we are just making ourselves believe that some things are real and some things are not, to delineate our understanding of the world better. Furthermore, this scene might even be suggesting that we are so far away from the truth, and we often cannot see it, because our senses tend to deceive us, and our conception of reality, is in fact, distorted. This is also suggesting that our senses are unreliable and they do not hold the complete truth, and that often the truth is beyond what our senses can reach. Most essentially, this suggests that the truth is within us, on how we perceive reality. 

Another quotation from Morpheus ties well with these. He asks, “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you are unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?” We cannot, because even if the dream world and the real world seemed to be completely contrasting concepts, in reality, they are so closely related that we might just as well be using the concepts interchangeably.