When I first watched The Truman Show I was already an adult, but the kid in me felt a powerful tug of recognition. I was reminded of when I was around nine years old, and I would often wonder whether the ostensible reality around me was merely a cover for a deeper reality.
Maybe, my child self had thought, everybody is just pretending, putting on a show for my benefit. At school I would find myself carefully watching my classmates and my teachers, waiting for some false move, a telltale rip in the fabric of so-called reality.
But at the same time, another part of me was wondering why I was doing all this. I did not yet know the phrase “Occam’s Razor”, but the principle would have made perfect sense to me. Why postulate an elaborate ruse, when directly perceived reality is already so wondrous and amazing?
Eventually I came to a different conclusion about my wish to uncover a deeper truth behind so-called reality. I decided that this wish did not come from an intellectual place. Rather, it came from an emotional place, out of a desire for some sort of transcendence.
Rationally, of course, such “reality is fake” theories don’t really add up. Once you start looking for a “truer” reality behind this one, where do you stop? Wouldn’t it just be turtles all the way down?
Science fiction and many religions share this idea of a “deeper” reality beyond the one we see. From the Hindu concept of Maya to the Christian belief in a Heaven that awaits us after death, through mystical thinkers from Siddhartha to Teresa of Avila to Meister Eckhart, in popular fantasies from The Wizard of Oz to Dark City, eXistenZ, The Thirteenth Floor and Inception, we are perpetually drawn to the idea of drawing aside the veil of our perception to discover something deeper and more real.
I’ve long concluded that this phenomenon, this burning desire to ask, in essence, “What is the Matrix?”, is a side-effect of macro-evolution. For whatever reason, a social species capable of bonding through grammatically evolving spoken language apparently has a better chance of survival if its members question the reality of their own perceptions.
I’m not sure why this is a survival trait for our species, but on balance I’m sort of glad it is, since it makes life a lot more interesting. Now excuse me while I look for the door in the back of that wardrobe…