One of the most popular philosophical theories says that the reality around us is an illusion. Most often, they refer to Buddhism and other Eastern teachings, but similar views are present in other philosophical traditions. How likely is it that the world around us is not real?
Take Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. This ancient Greek thinker believed that all the objects around us are just shadows (ideas) of forms. This is how he describes our false perception of the world.
In the allegory “The Cave”, Plato describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall.
The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality, but are not accurate representations of the real world.
The shadows represent the fragment of reality that we can normally perceive through our senses, while the objects under the sun represent the true forms of objects that we can only perceive through reason.
According to Plato, the objects of experience are imperfect imitations of forms. Let’s say that a mathematical triangle in abstraction looks perfect, but in fact there are no perfect triangles in nature.
Therefore, those triangles that we deal with in the so-called real world are only imperfect reflections of the ideal form. And the same with other things. Even what we perceive as beauty is just a reflection of true beauty.
Only information is real
An interesting concept on this topic is put forward by modern physicists. This is the idea of information realism. Such an article was recently published in Scientific American.
Information realism theory argues that the objects that we perceive in the course of everyday experience are just a derivative of the information that underlies them. And everything else is just an illusion of perception.
There is also such a point of view that the true reality is beyond experience, and the human mind is not able to cognize it. Therefore, we cannot say anything about it, because it is inaccessible to us.
Are we in the Matrix?
The theory of the “Matrix” fits into this worldview: it is possible that we can perceive only one fragment of reality, and the rest of it lies outside of it. Perhaps the inhabitants of this outer part can control us, but we cannot control them.
There is also a fairly high probability that we are created by them as information units and do not actually exist. But even for them, their reality may be “non-existent”. And the world in general can be an infinite “matryoshka” (a traditional Russian toy made out of wooden adorned dolls that are inserted one into anothe), and none of us is able to imagine infinity.
In a word, the answer to whether the world around us is real may never be received.