The hyper-reality of new media: The Matrix revisited
There was an article titled “Did the Oscars prove that we are living in a computer simulation?” by Adam Gopnik at New Yorker on Feb 27, 2017. It was a funny read, a bit philosophical. It also took a caustic political turn when it furiously precipitated to same old anti-Trump tirade, a very recurring theme of mainstream media lately, which I must say, is now getting boring. Believe me! You really don’t have to be that creative for internet-shaming a guy like Donald Trump. But anyway, here comes the interesting part; the columnist ended up conjecturing “World as a computer simulation” on following grounds: How come a person like Donald Trump ended up being the president of United States? And how a major awards function, that is Academy, pulled out a mind boggling blunder of mixing up the titles for best movie? These were some extremely bizarre and rare events. Such inexplicable events are nothing but the glitches in computer-simulation we are mistaking for our real world. Damn! That was tight! I loved it, the sarcasm of course.
Do we all remember the ultimate 1999 badass “The Matrix” by The Wachowski Brothers? The progaonist of the movie Thomas A. Anderson is a program writer for a software company with a hacker alias Neo, in a futuristic word of 2199 A.D. In one instant, when Morpheus and his team are returning after seeing the oracle, Neo sees a black cat twice, which he thinks to be an innocuous case of Déjà Vu. But in a simulated world, according to Trinity, a Déjà Vu is usually a glitch in computation. It happens when the machines change something in the matrix. So is this what happening to us and our world? Is it not scary to think that we are possibly living in a world of dreams, or nightmares to be precise?
In another instant, Neo was paid two grands for a job, which he hides inside a book that looks like a shady old scripture. If you have not noticed, it is “Simulacra and Simulation” by Jean Baudrillard. That was very neat. I found it more moving, when the book opens up at its last chapter. Guess what? It is: “On Nihilism”! I suddenly felt that I am already there; in that inter-zone, where it is hard to differentiate between dreams, illusions and reality. Abra-ca-fucking-dabra! WE ALL ARE NEO in certain ways, the archetypal post-postmodern hero who is hopelessly caught in the circularity of reality, illusions and hyper-reality. We are already in future! But one important question still remains unanswered: are we also the inhabitants of Neo-like digitally simulated hyper-world?
Personally, I see absolutely no reason to accept that we live in a computer simulation of some geeky overlords. I hate the very ideas of creator, simulator or designer. These ideas are lazy submissive, and philosophically..umm..very Nickelback. However, Neo’s world is a simulation which is programmed by machines to create the illusion of reality. The machines need humans to extract their bio-electricity to run their underworld. So they give humans a world; a world that is not real, a world that is just a simulation, a shadow.
It can always be argued that this is after all the Neo’s world we are living, but this may well be a science-project of a high school kid from a super-smart alien universe. But something different is certainly happening here; our consciousness has been so radically re-organized by information, which is mostly in the form of internet that it is simulating a hyper-world by itself! Not by machines, or aliens or gods; but by our own mind. Apart from the real world with 4 -dimensional space-time, we are also a part of a self-created hyper-reality, constantly reinforced in loops by the new media of Internet.
In “Simulacra and Simulation”, Jean Baudrillard identified four successive phases of the image: “it is the reflection of a profound reality; it masks and denatures a profound reality; it masks the absence of a profound reality; it has no relation to any reality whatsoever; it is its own pure simulacrum.”
To cite some examples, Integral Realism of Sri Aurobindo regards material world as the reflection of a deeper reality, or godhead. The second case is the “Maya” of Vedanta; where matter is an unholy veil to hide the deeper reality of spirit. The third can be our millennia old social-system, which fights the inherent nihilism of human values by applying many cultural tools, particularly language, which is the master simulator of non-existent sublimes. And the fourth one is the pure simulacrum of new media, most effectively the hyper-textual internet, which derives strength from its relational-immersive nature. It teleports the subject to an alienated hyper-space where he continuously treads on digital fabrics of a self-simulated hyper-reality, which is neither real nor illusory. You know what is the biggest hoax of our century? It is the pop-optimism that Internet has brought us closer. In truth, the new media has alienated us in an unprecedented way. All over the glitches, the new humanity is gliding on its pure simulacrum. And unlike the world of Neo, it is not a simulation being run by the machinic overlords. There is no one to fight, except our own conditionings.
Like Morpheus said, “The matrix is everywhere”. It is always there, either in the form of pop-culture, language, religions, society or Internet. The Matrix is real. And there is nothing wrong with that. The point is not to be controlled by our own constructs to the point of self-condescending enslavement.
Existentially speaking, it is not important if we are living in a computer simulation. But we are certainly mistaking the pure simulacrum of our new media to be the representation of real us, and this is something we all need to be aware of.
The writer holds a PhD in Structural-Engineering. Also a poet, he writes regularly on philosophy of religion, science and consciousness.
Published on 25 August 2019