Philosopher David Chalmers is often asked if the so-called real world we live in is actually a computer simulation created and run by a hidden, god-like overseer.
This is not surprising, since he was one of many consultants in 1999 The matrixprobably the best-known popular medium for tackling the subject.
Pop culture, and science fiction in particular, has hosted many of philosophy’s biggest questions about life, the universe and reality itself that can date back thousands of years, says Chalmers, a professor of philosophy and neural sciences at New York University.
“We have Plato recounting his allegory of the cave, where…we could be prisoners just inside the cave watching the shadows while the true reality is out there. It certainly recalls The matrix and the idea of simulation,” said Chalmers Tapestry Mary Hynes.
But lately, he points to a more recent entry into pop culture as a better marker of what life in a simulated or digital world might look like: free guythe 2021 action comedy starring Ryan Reynolds.
“At one point, there’s a big conversation between two of them. One of them says, ‘Does that mean none of this is real? The other says, “Listen, I’m sitting here with my best friend trying to help him through a tough time. If that’s not real, I don’t know what is,” Chalmers said.
Reynolds plays the titular Guy, a non-player character (NPC) – little more than a background face in the player’s story – in a chaotic video game similar to Grand Theft Auto.
Eventually, Guy gains sensitivity, realizing that the world he thought was real is actually a digital fabrication. But instead of trying to escape to the physical world, he fights to defend it and his NPC friends from being suppressed.
It is a stark contrast to the Matrix film, in which Keanu Reeves’ character Neo finds meaning and freedom to escape the virtual world created by malevolent machines.
This world was seen as fundamentally false, or unreal. But Chalmers, whose latest book is titled Reality+argues that a virtual or digital reality can be as “perfectly real” as life in a physical reality.
“In virtual reality, you can create real communities, have real relationships, have real projects, seek real understanding,” he said.
“There may be some things that you won’t get. Some people, for example, find meaning in communing with nature. But I still think that a lot of what we get meaning from in the physical world, you can also get a sense virtual world.”
The future of virtual spaces has been on the minds of many, thanks to big tech names like Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg laying claim to the future of the so-called Metaverse.
We are, however, far from realizing the worlds envisioned in science fiction. Some critics have said it will likely be decades before consumer technology advances to support the virtual reality-powered huddle rooms seen in Zuckerberg’s Meta brand presentation videos.
Life as a non-player character
Matt Lieberman, free guy screenwriter, told Hynes that he had gone through periods in his life where he felt like an NPC himself — especially when, like Guy, his life revolves around repeating tasks over and over again, without even thinking about it. .
“I wake up. I pull up all the curtains. I have my morning routine. At night, I have a blanket routine. And life goes by,” he said.
Lieberman never went so far to question whether real life is a simulation, even if the drudgery of everyday life feels like a video game NPC or extra background in a time movie. in time.
free guy might hold part of the answer, as Reynolds’ character succeeds with the help of his fellow NPCs.
“I think the bigger message is that, like, it’s easier to break those constructs with more people, letting more people into your life,” he said.
And like Chalmers, Lieberman sees the potential to find meaning in life, whether you’re made of flesh and blood or pieces of code like Guy.
It is a profound lesson that refutes one of That of Matrix pivotal scenes, where a boy tells Neo that before he can bend a spoon with his mind, he must accept that in the digital world, there actually is no spoon.
“I’ll say yes, there’s a spoon. It’s just a digital spoon,” Lieberman said.
Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Arman Aghbali and Jacob Henriksen-Willis.