Reality: What Is Real?

What is real? That is a question that man has seemingly been unable to truly answer. The answer may be a bit more complicated than the human mind is willing to wrap itself around. It may be entirely plausible that man has allowed their mind to become accustomed to a world that is simply an illusion of sorts. There have been many movies and philosophers that reference the struggle to define what is real and what is simply fabrication. Among the movies are The Matrix in which Neo discovers that the world he has been living in with the rest of mankind is simply a computer simulation[1]. For Plato, perhaps man is sitting in a cave facing a wall simply getting glimpses of reality’s shadows as they pass by.[2] For Descartes, perhaps the senses we rely on for observation and conclusions on life have been simply misleading us all along.[3] These three insights greatly challenge the notion of reality as we know it today.

The Matrix presents us with the story of a man who goes by the hacker name “Neo” who runs into a man named Morpheus who offers Neo the option to follow him and see how man has been duped into believing the reality we know is real.[1] The idea is simply that man’s life is artificially guided by an outside source. In this case we are presented a computer. The movie presents two contrasting characters. On the one hand is Neo who receives the revelation of The Matrix, accepts it, and decides to help Morpheus get the word out. On the other hand is Cypher who rebels against Morpheus and decides that “Ignorance is bliss”[1] while he voices his desire to return to a state of unknowing the existence of The Matrix itself. Important to note that while the machine man is hooked up to in this movie represents our senses, Neo still has to use his senses to observe the new reality.

In the “Allegory Of The Cave”, Plato puts forth the idea that man is merely confined to a chair with their backs to the outside world in a cave witnessing shadows of objects passing along the cave’s wall. He presents the possibility of one of the men getting free from his constraints, turning around, and being overwhelmed from seeing the world for what it is beyond the shadows in the cave.[4] Not unlike The Matrix, Plato presents the idea that man is seemingly oblivious to the truth of reality and we form our conclusions based only on the glimpses we get from reality itself[5]. In contrast with The Matrix, man has no guide but himself in the cave. Whereas Morpheus is able to assist Neo, the man in the cave must rely entirely on his senses to gain knowledge of the outside world.

This means that Plato’s premise can be challenged. Descartes wrote “Meditation I Of Things Which We May Doubt”, in which he proposes the idea that our senses deceive us and lead us to inaccurate conclusions about reality. [6] Where The Matrix and Plato still rely on senses to take in, examine, and analyze the new found realities, Descartes says that our very senses themselves are wrong. Not unlike the aforementioned works, Descartes also shows that man has no concept of true reality. He proposes that our dreams and what we experience in reality could be one in the same. In such a thought, he proposes that we still observe the realities in a similar fashion and truths such as “two and three make five” are constant[7]. In The Matrix, man is asleep in a chair and guided by a computer.[8] That idea is seemingly echoed by Descartes in his reference to dreams[9]. The only difference is that, in The Matrix, Neo still has to use his senses to observe a new reality whereas Descartes seemingly longs for a life without such constraints.

This leads us to the question of whether the world we are experiencing now is real. In short, is this life we are living reality or something that is produced by the very senses that deceive us? I believe both could possibly hold true. Consider a religious argument for such a claim. God’s creation of man is said to have come about to bring glory to Him. Yet, man chose to eat from The Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil[10] and give more power to our senses and instinct rather than the revelations of God.[11] Could we correctly assert that the Garden of Eden was or is true reality? For the Christian, this is quite possibly represented by the idea of Heaven. Therefore, because we are guided by senses in this world, and they deceive us as Descartes believes[12], it is seemingly impossible to experience reality at its fullest.

The above is well and good if one is a Christian or believes in God in general, but what of the atheist, the agnostic, or those who simply avoid religion all together? For them, perhaps our senses are the way we experience reality. After all, is science not simply a study based on our senses? We must acknowledge that there are atheistic philosophers who believe our senses deceive us just as there are Christian philosophers who believe our senses may be reliable. Man has relied on these senses for such a long period of time, that it has become somewhat accepted that using them is the only accurate way to assign definition to objects and the world around us. Clearly it comes down to a Dualism vs. Materialism argument. If the mind is a separate entity from our body, does it simply present another realm of knowledge and reality we must strive to obtain? If the mind is not separate, then the brain’s reliance solely on senses may be said to be entirely valid.

There is a common ground to be found in the form of faith. For the Christian, faith is put in God to guide their lives and reveal to us His will and better glimpses of what life and reality really are[13]. For the non believer, faith is that their senses are accurate guides as they try to discern what life and reality really are. But for both, faith is an everyday occurrence. Consider if you will that you are at home and you open your refrigerator to find there is no more mayonnaise to put on your sandwich. Your response is to get into your car, drive to the local grocery store, obtain and purchase the mayonnaise, and return home to make your favorite sandwich.

What just happened in the above proposal is faith in action. It would require a degree of faith to believe your car would be operational and suitable for transportation. It would require faith to believe that your local grocery store was not shut down, on fire, or that they changed their operational days. It would require faith to believe that they had the mayonnaise and the price had not drastically changed since your last visit. It would also require faith that your car would start to head home and that your home was not on fire or somehow demolished in your absence. The general point is that nothing in life is guaranteed and it requires faith to believe that the world itself will continue to operate by the same laws it operated by a day ago, an hour ago, or even one minute ago. If someone claims to know these things with certainty, I believe they are clearly misguided in their findings.

My proposal therefore becomes that faith is the window that allows us to get a glimpse of reality as it engages the mind and the heart to see beyond our inherent senses which seem to be flawed at best.

In The Matrix, Cypher states that “Ignorance is bliss”[14] in regards to not knowing what the true reality is. His position seems to come from the notion that challenging the normal occurrences of society does more harm than good[15]. He could not be further from the truth. If man makes a discovery as significant as the one presented in The Matrix, he must share the information, even if people mistake him for a fool. Consider the witnessing aspect of Christianity; there are plenty of people who assert that Christians are foolish for believing in God and Jesus Christ. Does their belief determine the validity of God’s existence? Not at all. Cypher’s desire to go back to how he was before he knew the truth of reality does not change the fact that what he found was real and still exists as fact. We must pursue knowledge with the tools God has provided us. As Galileo Galilei said: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”[16]

As demonstrated prior in the paper, our senses form a great deal of our perceptions. The senses we have are flawed and corrupted by greed, pollution, and our own experiences[17]. Therefore we can never be truly certain that our beliefs are ever true. It comes back to the idea of faith in several aspects as presented prior. In the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Conway puts forth: “Although the term “reality” as denoting the totality of things existing independently of mind is usually identified with reality as perceived by the senses, one cannot arbitrarily restrict the scope of existing things to the sensible world alone. If immaterial things such as SOUL, ANGELS, and GOD, exist, they too are real and actually constitute, by their plenitude of being, a superior realm of reality.”[18] Therefore, the only thing that drives our thought that the beliefs we have are true is faith alone be it religious or practical application.

The conclusion one must draw from the entirety of this presentation is that experiencing reality in full effect is next to impossible. Our senses seemingly dictate everything we do and we give them precedence over our thoughts and our actions. Embracing faith in the uncertain and the unknown ultimately allows us to get a greater understanding of the world around us. Where our senses fail us, faith provides comfort. Simply put, faith in God and His plan is the only true route to the revelations of reality. The alternative route is seemingly tainted by sin[19] that is driven by our senses. We must teach ourselves to follow our minds and hearts more often than we do our immediate senses and instinct.


[1] Wachowski, Andy, and Lana Wachowski. The Matrix. Directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Los Angeles: Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999.

[2] “The Allegory Of The Cave”. Excerpt from Plato, The Republic, Book VII, 514A1-518D8

[3] “Meditation I Of Things Which We May Doubt”. Excerpt from René Descartes, Meditations on First

Philosophy, 1641.

[4] “The Allegory Of The Cave”. Excerpt from Plato, The Republic, Book VII, 514A1-518D8

[5] He also notes that once the man gets a glimpse of the world outside of the cave, he changes his ideas, observances, and classifications. (The Allegory Of The Cave)

[6] “Meditation I Of Things Which We May Doubt”. Excerpt from René Descartes, Meditations on First

Philosophy, 1641.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Wachowski, Andy, and Lana Wachowski. The Matrix. Directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Los Angeles: Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999.

[9] A flaw in Descartes’ dreams approach is that often times in dreams, the laws of physics and gravity are ignored. Dreams often involve flying without assistance. However, these occurrences are still in the presence of facts such as his “two and three make five” reference. One must assume that such occurrences would have a rational explanation.

[10] Genesis 3

[11] The eating of the apple opened the doorway to sinful nature (Genesis 3:7). Before this event, it could be argued that man may have had no need for a sophisticated moral code. That moral code is prescribed by God, but it relies heavily upon our senses and their nature to give into sin.

[12] “Meditation I Of Things Which We May Doubt”. Excerpt from René Descartes, Meditations on First

Philosophy, 1641.

[13] James 1:5-6

[14] Wachowski, Andy, and Lana Wachowski. The Matrix. Directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Los Angeles: Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999.

[15] The normal occurrences of society are also known as the “status quo”.

[16] Drake, Stillman. Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo. Anchor, 1957, p183

[17] Separation from this corruption is impossible. Another name for the corruption is “sin”.

[18] CONWAY, P. “Reality.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 945.

[19] “tainted by sin” in regards to our senses implies that sin has corrupted the way we experience the world. Examples such as Greed and Lust are the two most viable examples. These two sins in particular seem to go a great length in forming how we view things and live our very lives.

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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