Is there an external reality? By Armando Massarenti

This post is also available in: Spanish

You finish one of your pieces saying “welcome to the real world”. But is there a real world?

Welcome to the real world is a joke from The Matrix. But what issue does this -sometimes too much- explicitly philosophical movie raise? It does not suggest a point, but a mental experiment in which the viewer is immersed. What if life was but a dream? How could we distinguish dream from wakefulness? What if we lived in the Platonic cave and we didn’t see the reality of things but only their shadows? What if there was an evil genie who made us believe the world is real, but in fact it was him who provided the impulses that make us perceive it as such? What if we were “brains in a tank” that receive impulses from a mad scientist? Or if, like in The Matrix, the world that appears real to us was the result of a computer program?

Mental experiments of this kind are a fundamental ingredient in Philosophy. They help us to think with greater depth about something which may seem obvious. Like, precisely, the existence of an external world. Do we have conclusive evidence of its existence? In order to tackle this it is useful to think about all the hallucinatory and illogical consequences the contrary hypothesis implies. Also in this way our world and our experience shall be enriched. Maybe we will better appreciate the difference between a real cappuccino and a drink that “tastes like” cappuccino.

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