This week, I’ve been fairly busy. And yet, somewhere in the past two days, I found the time to watch a movie and read an entire novel. So I decided to write about them both, since they both made me stop and ponder. Scary.
First off, I read The Da Vinci Code over the span of about a day and a half. I stayed up last night until about 1:15 AM just to finish it. I honestly just couldn’t put it down. It’s an excellent book – I highly recommend it to anyone, as long as you are intelligent enough to understand that it is a work of fiction and therefore to be taken with a very large grain of salt. I read it primarily to see what the whole fuss about it was, way back when it first came out. The Catholic church especially came out strong against it, and whole books were written about it to show how it was wrong. And to be quite honest, I can understand why this was the case. The book is written to draw you so completely into the storyline, and yet in the middle of the book, there is a quite detailed explanation about how apparently Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and so there are a bunch of little Jesuses running around, hidden by some secret society, and how the Church tried very hard to cover up this truth and destroy all the evidence. Because it’s inserted into the book as absolute fact, and because it’s stated in a way that makes it seem like all historians have known about this for decades, it makes its impact very subtly. There were a few places (unrelated to the whole Jesus thing) where I actually sat back and said, “Wow, I didn’t know that,” and then realized that I might not have known it because it might not actually be true. Dan Brown apparently gets simple details like what painting is across from the Mona Lisa in the Louvre wrong, so everything of actual importance can only be taken as literally true inside the book – in that alternate world we love to call fiction. At any rate, it’s a fascinatingly intense story with an incredibly well-written and developed plot. For anyone who can handle the blatant religion-hating undertones, I recommend it.
The second event was less amazing and astounding, but last night (as a break between reading one of my textbooks and reading The Da Vinci Code) I also watched The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey. This was my second time watching it, but it’s every bit as good as the first time. I bought it for $6 at HMV as well – certainly can’t beat that deal, that’s for sure. But basically, the premise of the movie is that there is this guy, Truman, who is unknowingly the main character of a television show. He is part of an elaborate set built inside a dome, with thousands of actors and extras – all in order to essentially mimic real life. Everyone else is in on it except for him, and he has been brought up inside this world, and so knows nothing else. The rest of the movie is his struggle to figure out what is going on and discover the truth. It’s a fascinating philosophical thought experiment, if nothing else.
Think about it. What if the whole world around you were nothing more than elaborate plot set up by everyone around you – whose job was to keep you in the dark about the truth? How would you ever be able to figure it out? I mean, if you had literally been born into this fake world, how would you know the difference between it and “the real world”? Wouldn’t it, indeed, be as real to you as what we know to be real life out here? It is like the creator of the Truman Show (in the movie) says, “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.” It’s fascinating to think about. It brings me back to high school philosophy class all over again, which is where I first heard about this movie.
But it brings me to another strange and puzzling question – probably a question with no answer. What would we do if we learned that the world in which we lived was a lie – that all we knew, all we believed, and all we saw around us was a fabrication? What if all we saw was peeled away in front of our eyes, shown to be what it truly was? How would that affect us? What would we even do? I don’t think this question has an answer because it is simply so mind-boggling that it is impossible to fathom. We’ve been told that the world is ours to explore, and yet how often does that happen? Too often we are locked away in our comfortable little spots, doing our same daily routines, that if the world were fake we probably would never notice. Sure, we believe that we could buy a random ticket, get on a plane, and travel anywhere, but if we never do it, how can we actually know if it’s true? Cause and effect – events that occur – are what validates our beliefs, what shows them to be true or false. And yet somehow, we hold these other, crazy beliefs that we have never seen evidence for, some that are shown to be false to us every day, and yet we persist in believing them. (To give one example, there’s a self-serving bias that is well-documented in psychology, where people tend to believe that they are “better than average” – but considering everyone seems to believe it to some degree, it becomes logically impossible. Not everyone can be above average, or the average would simply be higher.) Humans are absurd creatures, and yet we accept the world with which we are presented, just as Truman accepted his world as truth.
I am getting very off-topic here, but I guess this never really had a “topic” in the first place. I suppose what I am trying to say can be summed up as follows: How do we ever know truth when we see it? Philosophers have asked this for ages, and Descartes went the furthest by trying to throw away everything that could in any way be doubted, and start building a foundation upon what he could know for certain. His famous quote, “I think, therefore I am,” was his way of saying that the only thing that he could ever be sure of was that he, in fact, existed. Because a thinking person cannot doubt that he exists – or else he may not be thinking at all. It’s a fascinating question to think about. Our eyes may deceive us with optical illusions, and yet we put our faith in them every day to show us reality. Our senses get numbed, thrown off balance, warped, distorted, and tricked, and yet it is all we have to show us our world. Who knows? I may not even actually be typing this. It could just be a trick played on me by some grand master of disguise.
Of course, no one can ever live like this in reality, and I know that. We are forced to put our faith in our senses, because a) they’re all we have, and b) they seem to be right at least most of the time. But philosophy is about asking questions that never get answered, and so I have done just that. Thinking is such a wonderful exercise. Life would be so dull without it.
But with that said, I have finished my thinking for the night, and now I must be off to bed to switch off my brain. To anyone interested in thinking about this further, try looking up some stuff on Descartes. Whether you agree with what he says or not, it’s a great read. And of course, I highly recommend the Truman Show – Jim Carrey does an excellent job, it’s a great storyline, and it’s pretty funny at parts as well. Can’t beat that combination. But really, I must be off. I’ve gone one for way too long already…