Published: October 18, 2006
A Splinter In The Mind
Over the ages, philosophers have debated the concept of our world being an illusion. Is our reality real? Is it a dream? Are our brains held in vats wired to a giant, evil computer? The pop-culture phenomenon The Matrix brought the illusory world idea to a huge audience when it hit theaters in 1999. I personally adored this movie and the thought-provoking philosophy it introduced to my mind. But how much truth does the illusory world concept hold? Truth is a big word in philosophy, and not to be used lightly. Let us see if we can see even a glimmer of truth in the line of thinking I would like to present to you. I will use the idea of the computer-created Matrix world over other the illusory-world theories for one reason: convenience. I am actually more inclined to believe Descartes' "malicious demon controlling our world" theory over all the others, but the reasons for this are best left for another discussion.
I hate peas. I will eat them if I have to, but I dislike them based on flavor and also their texture, the concept of a skin layer surrounding a spherical center that bursts when eaten. I don't like cherry tomatoes, cherries, and all berries in general due to this same tendency to "burst in your mouth." Ironically, I also dislike those foods on grounds of taste as well. Beyond regular cooked peas, I don't like other forms of that vegetable either. Split pea soup is a disgusting mush and it is hard for me to be in the same house when it is being cooked and served. Fresh peas are not quite as bad, but I wouldn’t mind if I could get away with never eating another one for the rest of my life.
You may wonder if I am a particularly picky eater based on the things I have already listed as unpalatable. You would be correct, but I was much worse as a child. In the end I discovered that I have something called Asperger's Syndrome (or AS), which is relevant to this subject in that one of the symptoms is oversensitivity of the nervous system, including the nerves responsible for taste. Many people dislike peas (or at least children seem to reject them) but not many will turn down a strawberry shortcake or a hot slice of blueberry pie. There are many other foods that make me cringe, but that is to be expected with my particular syndrome.
Let's assume for the moment that the Matrix really and truly is our world, surrounding us and fooling us into thinking we're living our lives in the year 2005 of the earth we think we know. Does the Matrix know what peas taste like? Did it choose how my personal nervous system would react to that flavor, or was that just a natural reaction to the default taste by my body's oversensitivity? This thought becomes more complex as we ask, what is AS (Asperger’s Syndrome) in relation to the Matrix? Am I being fed too much information through my brain plug as opposed to the average goo-pod inhabitant? Or does my real body, floating asleep and oblivious, actually have AS, and the Matrix's controllers did not adjust the information feed for my particular sensitivity levels, in effect making me feel my AS symptoms in the Matrix world?
Or is it all just made up here in the Matrix world, a decision that random people should have AS in order to better simulate the world at the end of the 21st century and into the next? Did the robots who enslaved us even know about AS? Perhaps it is just an over-feed of information to certain individuals, by mistake or on purpose, and our fellow Matrix-bound psychologists and psychiatrists have merely made up a syndrome name for what they think is going on with these oversensitive individuals.
At this time I should point out that AS is so much more than simple oversensitivity; it is actually part of the autism spectrum of disorders. I used the nerve sensitivity issue because of its thought-provoking relevance to the Matrix. The other issues, including difficulty with social interaction, black-and-white thinking, tendency to "overload" when faced with too much stimulation, and many other symptoms, could also prove insight into a Matrix-type world. But such a discussion could easily become book-length, and I have chosen only the nerve sensitivity idea as a focus and have only one last question to ask.
Are AS people more likely to believe in a Matrix-like world? I have read many times that other AS individuals feel like they are living outside the "normal" world, that everyone seems to be aliens speaking an alien language and living alien lives. I have felt this too, that either I am missing something or the world is crazy and contradictory, a concept that doesn't fit well with my over-literal thinking patterns. Something seems vitally wrong about this world from the AS perspective. Does the AS person have that special splinter in their mind, begging them to make the intuitive leap that this world is not real, that we are all perhaps trapped in endless towers built by an artificial intelligence our ancestors created?
Or is it all a bunch of hooey, and people with AS are merely individuals with autistic traits, and the world is as real as real gets? Who knows. I just know I hate peas. Or whatever flavor it is that the Matrix picked for peas.