Are we living within a simulation? Some answers

A popular topic today1 is whether we live in a Matrix-like simulation or not2.

As usual, there are several answers.

AN EXISTENTIAL QUESTION?

If we take ourselves as primarily this human self or something else within the content of experience, then it becomes a vital and existential question. It becomes a matter of what we most fundamentally are.

Whether we’ll ever be able to find an answer is another question. I somehow doubt it.

OUR NATURE IS THE SAME IN EACH CASE

If we take ourselves as primarily what our experience happens within and as, it may still be an interesting question but it’s not existential in the same way.

Our nature is the same anyway, whether it’s a simulation or not.

To myself, I am what the field of experience happens within and as. To myself, I am consciousness, and this consciousness forms itself into any content of experience.

THE SIMULATION IS ALREADY HAPPENING

As many point out: we already live within a simulation.

The consciousness I am forms itself into any and all content of experience. It creates a simulation of the world, and that simulation is all I ever know.

Said in a more limited and biological way, the brain takes sensory input and creates its world. We never experience the world directly. We experience a kind of synthesis created by our brain based on very limited sensory information.

A POINTER TO OUR NATURE

Do we live within a Matrix-like simulation?

To me, what’s most interesting and useful about that question is that it can serve as a pointer to our nature.

Everything we know may be a Matrix-like simulation. We may not fundamentally be humans at all. That is a very real possibility.

In either case, we know that the world we experience – including this human self – is created as a kind of simulation by the consciousness we are. (Or the brain if we like more biological language.)

What does that say about what we more fundamentally are? This helps us open the door for the possibility that we are not fundamentally this human self or anything within the content of experience, including a doer or observer.

So what are we, more fundamentally?

At a thought level, we may realize that what we are is consciousness – independent of any particular content of experience.

That may lead us to explore it in direct noticing, and explore how it is to live from and as it, and also getting and living from it more viscerally.

MAKING USE OF THE QUESTION

Questions like these can remain an intellectual curiosity. Something we cannot find any conclusive answers to, and they may seem removed from and irrelevant to our daily lives.

I prefer to make practical use of these questions. I know I cannot know the answer to whether I live in a Matrix-like simulation, and it doesn’t matter so much. Other sides of that question are more important to me. For instance, it’s a pointer to and reminder of my more fundamental nature.

DIFFERENT VARIATIONS

I should mention that there are different variations of this question.

For instance, when Chuang Tzu asked his question about butterflies and dreams, he pointed to our nature as consciousness. Night dreams and waking life both happen within and as the consciousness we are to ourselves.

When some today use the Matrix analogy and computer simulations, that’s a more updated version specific to our times and culture. It likely says more about us today than the nature of our world. And it too can be used to point to our more fundamental nature. (I suspect the Wachowski siblings were quite aware of that when they made the movie.)

(1) Among the few of us privileged enough to have the life and relative comfort to consider these things. Most people around the world have more immediate and important things to take care of.

(2) I regularly see articles on this topic even in mainstream media. The most recent one is from NRK in Norway: Flere anerkjente fysikere: Mener det er sannsynlig at vi lever i et dataspill (Several physicists say it’s likely we live in a computer game).

Image by me and Midjourney

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The Matrix: There is no spoon

Boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Boy: Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

– The Matrix, about 1:11 in

As so often, there is some truth to this and it’s easy to misunderstand.

This is not about bending spoons. It’s about realizing what we are.

What are we in our own first person experience? What are we if we are honest with ourselves, and set aside what others have told us we are?

We may find that in our own experience, we are capacity for the world. We are what our field of experience happens within and as.

There is a spoon in a conventional sense. And when we notice what we are, we also realize that the spoon is not what we thought. It happens within and as what we are. Any boundaries and labels come from our own mental representations and are not inherent in what they appear to be about.

Since the spoon happens within and as what we are, if the spoon bends, we are the bending.

In the movie, this is about bending spoons as a way to discover and explore how the matrix is created by the mind. For us, it’s about noticing what we are.

Noticing what we are doesn’t give us any special powers. It’s about noticing what we already are, and if we continue to notice, it’s about our human self transforming within that noticing.

It may seem that it gives us something. But it ultimately doesn’t give us anything. What we notice is that we are not anything in particular within our field of experience. There isn’t any separate one to gain anything.

Also, the process of transformation is, as Adya says, a destructive process. It’s not really what our personality wants.

The Matrix and our world

The Matrix – with its real and virtual worlds – is explicitly an allegory for our world.

In what way is our world like The Matrix?

In a literal sense, it’s theoretically possible – although probably unlikely – that this world is created by some beings like in The Matrix. And in a metaphorical sense, we all believe things others may want us to believe and we can wake up from those illusions.

There is also another way, and one I find equally or more interesting.

Our world is created through an overlay of thoughts, of mental images and words. This overlay is what makes sense of this world and also helps us visualize a past and future and a wider world beyond what’s here and now. It’s where all labels, assumptions, values, and so on come from.

This overlay is virtual. It’s imagined. It’s created from thoughts to help us orient and function in the world. It’s completely essential for our survival.

And it makes our world quite a bit like The Matrix.

How can we take the red pill?

The safest and most lasting and effective way may be through inquiry, and especially sincere inquiry over time.

Through headless inquiry, we may discover that we are capacity for our world. The world, as it appears to us, happens within and as what we are.

Through traditional Buddhist inquiry, and modern variations like the Living Inquiries, we may discover how our mind creates its own reality. How it associates sensations with thoughts… so the sensations lend a sense of solidity and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts give meaning to the sensations.

Through The Work of Byron Katie, we may discover that the thoughts and assumptions we held as true are not as true as we thought, and not true in the way we thought.

Through basic meditation – notice and allow what’s here – we may come to hold our thoughts a little more lightly which supports these forms of inquiry.

And so on. There are innumerable forms of inquiry and supporting practices that can be helpful here.

I am personally not interested in the path of psychoactive drugs. Although they can give us a glimpse of this, it’s dependent on chemical, it’s often transient, it may come with side-effects, and there are other approaches that are more reliable and thorough.

Why would we want to take the red pill?

There is some inherent suffering, discomfort, and struggle in taking our virtual world as inherently true and real.

Taking the red pill may not remove the suffering, discomfort, and struggle, but it can make it much easier. It can help us not struggle with it, and that – in itself – is a big relief.

Also, some of us seem drawn to truth, or love, or returning home, no matter what the cost may be. In that case, it seems we don’t have that much choice.