Representation + Interpretation Part IV

Read Part I Here.

Read Part II Here.

Read Part III Here.

As Descartes tells us, the only knowledge that we can trust is our own,  hence his famous dictum cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.”[1]

Descartes’ argument is that everything, including reality, is doubtful. But by thinking about, even doubting in some way, his own reality, it only affirms his existence, for once you think, you think of something. Descartes’ stance can also be seen interpreted in another contemporary cinematic piece: The Matrix.

The Matrix takes place in a cyber-punk future and depicts a world after a 21st century war between humans and machines, with the latter being the victor and enslaving humans, trapping them in a virtual simulation of 1999, in which the protagonist of the film attempt to free them from. Human existence is thus merely a façade; a ruse; a dream world. Or so we are told. It is contrary then that we are also told that if one dies in the Matrix, that person dies in “real life” because “the mind makes it real.”

So what then is real? Is it the world “re-presented” to those whose minds are still trapped in the Matrix, or is it the cold, desolate world that their bodies (and only their bodies) physically exist in? When the main protagonist ask this very question – what is real – the response he receives is rather contriving: “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.”[2] It is interesting to note then that in neurobiological terms, “‘reality’ is little more than a representational model of the world, a construct generated by multiple neural circuits acting in parallel. This model is based on sensory experiences received by the brain via the senses, which can detect only the narrowest range of stimuli.”[3] But is it truly merely a “representational model”? If so, if our reality is only a representation – an enacted matrix (the comparison to Inception is intentional) – when does our view of reality simply considered to be? I say that acknowledging that it is a loaded question, for the state of “being” is simultaneously universal and obscure. So how then can reality be framed in a term which is – and has been – so difficult to define?

As Martin Heidegger puts it, Da-sein, that state of “beingness”, is indefinable, yet, “even though we do not know what being means […] when we ask “What is being?” we stand in an understanding of the “is” without being able to determine conceptually what the “is” means.”[4] Foucault surmises that Da-sein can be described as “presence-to-the-world”[5], and though I do not attempt to analyse either Foucault’s or Heidegger’s work in depth, I do postulate that this “presence-to-the-world”, this Da-sein, is somehow located in our dream state; that state mentioned earlier where we belong, were we be. It is not a representation, meaning we cannot interpret it, at least not in the traditional sense. Of course there exists a plethora of texts, documentaries, etc, interpreting what dreams mean, but that seems to be only in hindsight. When we are situated in our dream, there is no mediate; we thus have an immediate experience, and that phenomena is quite extraordinary.

So what is real? Sadly, in spite of all my rhetoric, I still do not have the answer. Or perhaps I may indeed know the answer yet cannot articulate it in a way that is both simple and cohesive. What I am able to state with a certain level of confidence is that if we continue to postulate and find ways of representing what we believe to be real, then perhaps one day, after intense interpretation, we may discover what we have always known. What that is exactly, is left to be said.

– Peat

[1] Descartes, René. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. 4th. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 1998.

[2] The Matrix. Dir. Wachowski Brothers. Perf. Laurence Fishburne. 1999. Sci-Fi.

[3] The Philosophy of the Matrix. 4 August 2007. 10 December 2013. <http://scienceblogs.com/neurophilosophy/2007/08/04/the-philosophy-of-the-matrix/&gt;.

[4] Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Ed. Dennis J. Schmidt. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

[5] Binswanger, Michel Foucault & Ludwig. Dream & Existence. Ed. Keith Hoeller. Trans. Forrest WIlliams. New Jersey: Humanities Press International, Inc, 1985.

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