Apr. 2001 - Red or Blue? What kind of life would you choose?
This thread is for discussing Massimo Pigliucci's Rationally Speaking
article entitled Red or Blue? What kind of life would you choose?
N. 9, April 2001
Red or Blue? What kind of life would you choose?
Is it better to live a harsh reality or a comfortable fantasy? And why? This is one interpretation of a key question faced by Neo, the hero of the movie The Matrix. Neo has a conversation with the rather enigmatic Morpheus, who explains that what Neo has always perceived as "reality," including his friends, his job, and his entire existence in 20th century America, is actually a simulation caused by a race of computers that has taken over earth long ago and has enslaved human beings. Our brains, according to Morpheus, are simply kept alive in a fantasy world so that we can provide electricity to the machines. But a few individuals are occasionally able to disconnect themselves from this matrix of fantasy and regain control of their body, thereby fighting a desperate battle for supremacy on the planet. Now, Morpheus says, Neo has two choices. If he takes a blue pill that he is being offered, he will forget about the matrix and go back to his illusory but relatively safe and predictable life. Take the red pill, however, and you will see the world as it really is. The trade-off is clear: comfortable fantasy or harsh reality? What would you choose, and why?
Some philosophy students, who essentially questioned the assumptions underlying the choice, have proposed a radical way around the dilemma. What makes us think that Morpheus is telling the truth? What if it is the red pill that leads to an imaginary world? This is a valid epistemological point. How do you know what is real and what is not? What kind of evidence do you have that you were dreaming last night of being a butterfly, and are you not in fact a butterfly who is now dreaming of being a human being? There are some reasonable, though by no means foolproof, ways out of this basic dilemma. For example, dreams