You’re not imagining things. We may not be living in the world we “think” we’re living in.
Have you ever asked yourself, “What’s real and what isn’t?”
It’s a question that probably passes through your mind whenever you hear people talk about “fake news,” Russian troll bots, or the 2016 election. But we don’t just live in a world of fake news. Today Hi-tech forgeries can mimic faces, body movements, and voices with stunning accuracy. “Deep fake” videos have even convinced viewers that they’re seeing people say and do things they really aren’t.
So if we’re living in this kind of world, why are we only questioning whether our news is real? Why aren’t we questioning other aspects of our reality?
One of my favorite movies of all time is The Matrix. If you’ve seen it, you probably remember the scene where Morpheus offers Neo the red pill to take him “down the rabbit hole.” Here’s how Morpheus describes the Matrix:
MORPHEUS: It’s that feeling you have had all your life. That feeling that something was wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad, driving you to me. But what is it? The Matrix is everywhere, it’s all around us, here even in this room. You can see it out your window, or on your television. You feel it when you go to work, or go to church or pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
The Matrix stuck in my mind for months after I saw it. I think the film struck a chord with so many people because it invited us to do something we’d never done before: question the nature of our reality. Obviously, no one believed we were under the control of greedy machine overlords. But was it possible that we weren’t living in the world we thought we lived in?
In the movie, an interactive virtual reality program called the “matrix” concealed the dystopian reality of Neo’s “real” world. I believe something similar is happening in our world now. I believe we’re living in a manufactured reality created by illusions. Creating illusions really isn’t that hard. Magicians do it all the time by distorting the reality of their audience. This means it would even possible to distort the reality of millions of people. As long as they all believed the same illusions, they would be plugged into the same manufactured reality.
The idea that millions of people — even an entire society — could be convinced to embrace a faux reality might sound outrageous, until you understand how our reality is actually created in the first place. As crazy as it might sound, our reality isn’t fixed; it’s created. This means our understanding of “what’s real and what isn’t” can change. It can even be shaped.
Science tells us that our reality is defined by our five senses. The information they receive is relayed to our brain, which then tells us what’s “real.” So if our brain receives partial or incomplete information, this will change our perception of the world around us. Let me show you how this plays out. There’s an ancient Buddhist parable that illustrates how the information we receive from our senses can change our perception of reality.
Four blind men came across an elephant, an animal they had never seen before. Eager to investigate, each man decided to feel a different part of the beast and relay his findings to the others. The first man felt its tusk and determined the animal was smooth, long, and pointed at the end. The second man touched its trunk and concluded an elephant was like a giant python. The third man felt its leg and thought the beast was like a large, hairy tree stump. The fourth man explored its tail and decided the elephant was like a thin snake with a brush on the end.
Each man gave a different description of the elephant that was partially correct. But since each had only touched a single part of the elephant, they had a limited perception of what the entire animal looked like.
Let’s give the parable a tweak. Imagine the blind men asked someone they trusted — with perfect vision — to describe ALL parts of the animal to them. This way, they would have a complete picture of the elephant.
But what if this person was careless and told them about all of the animal’s body parts except its tail? The blind men would confidently tell everyone that an elephant was a big, hairy tree stump-like python with a long, pointy spear at one end. They would have no clue about the thin, hairy snake attached to its other end.
Their reality would be distorted. And if someone they didn’t trust told them about the elephant’s tail, they’d probably call them crazy.
It’s possible to convince millions of people to embrace an illusion — if you distort their reality.
Now, let’s give the parable one more tweak. What if the person describing the elephant to the blind men didn’t tell them about its tail because he didn’t want them to know about it?That would obviously be a pretty messed up thing to do to someone with a handicap, wouldn’t it? But I think that’s what’s happening to me, you, and everyone else who’s “plugged in” to our current reality.
We’re not blind, but it’s hard for us to get the information we need about things that affect us. So we rely on our government to tell us which laws are best for us. We rely on political parties to choose candidates who best represent our interests. We rely on economists to tell us what’s best for the economy.
But if we’re given incomplete information, we’re like the blind men in the parable who have no clue about the elephant’s tail. Our reality will be distorted, and we’ll laugh at anyone who gives us information that doesn’t “match” what we’ve been told by the people we trust.
I believe our leaders and the institutions we trust have been giving us incomplete information about our world.This has allowed us to embrace a reality that doesn’t really exist. A reality that tells us we live in a democracy, even though we actually live in an oligarchy. That tell us our economy operates based on free market capitalism, even though it’s manipulated to favor elites. That tells us we live as free people, even as we’re being stripped of our civil liberties.
The problem with these distortions is that they’re dangerous. They keep us from understanding what’s really going on around us and how our world really works. They convince us we live in a world we don’t really live in.
There are no limits to reality distortion.
It can encourage us to accept whatever we’re told by anyone with power, authority, or influence. I believe our collective reality has been distorted for decades — maybe even centuries. To get us to cooperate, to get our support, to keep us quiet. Or more often than not, to just keep us content.
So reality distortions aren’t new. But what’s different now is their scope. They’ve become so glaring that more people are noticing them. I think this is why the world has stopped making sense for many of us. Like the blind men, we were never told about the elephant’s tail…except now we’re catching sight of the long, hairy snake behind the beast, swishing and flapping.
It’s getting our attention, and it's confusing the hell out of us. We don’t know what to make of it. We don’t want to believe what we’re seeing.
Because we’re seeing a lot of things now that don’t match the reality that’s been described to us by the people we trust. The reality we’re still “plugged in” to. We see institutions doing things they “shouldn’t” do in a democracy. We see money flowing in ways it “shouldn’t” flow in a capitalist economy. We see people who lead us taking positions they “shouldn’t” take if they’re looking out for our best interests.
We’re doing our best to make sense of it all, but if you’re like me, it’s getting a lot harder to do this.
In future articles, I will explore how reality distortions play out all around us every day — in our government, politics, media, economy, and even our relationships with one another.
I believe the key to fixing what's gone wrong with our world is to collectively acknowledge these distortions and “unplug” from our manufactured reality. Because we can’t solve the “real” problems facing us if we pretend to live in a world we don’t really live in. Our problems will just keep getting worse, which is what’s been happening for years.
But if we can find the courage to unplug from our distorted reality, we can change everything. Anything is possible.
We absolutely have the power to do this. We just need to free our minds.