What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. – Morpeus, in The Matrix
My mother was a very pragmatic woman who was often displeased with my imaginative pursuits. She would frown and say, “You’ve got to live in the real world.” As a child I assumed she meant I had to grow up and learn adult conformities. But once I did grow up I became very insecure about the “real world.”
The word real, curiously, means royal. That is, it originally meant that an elite class who lived in a magnificent court in a capital city and were appointed by the gods to dynastic rule forever, decided “reality” and were the only “real” people. Commoners and foreigners, etc. were more like the walking dead, or phantoms wandering about. So when people would ask, “Is this real?” what they were really asking was, “Is this associated with the way of the kings?” If not, they ignored it as nonexistent.
That sounds terrible to us today, but for a few thousand years this was considered logical and necessary. The “real” people, for example, the pharoahs of Egypt or the heroes of Greece, would have eternal life after death since they were gods, after all. The gods ruled the celestial heavens and the stars, which the astrologers knew determined the fate of all the people on the earth. So heaven was “real” or “royal” or “ruling” over the earth. This is why the ancient kingdoms worldwide were such fanatics about recording the history and exploits of their kings and heroes on freizes, statues, paintings, pottery scenes, and of course stone tablets and papyrus scrolls. All other people did not need to be remembered because they were only mortal and therefore not “real.”
Nowadays we have this whole notion backwards and think that material things, and the physical sciences that study the material world are “real” and the things of heaven (myths, religion) are fantasy or illusion. Of course we no longer believe our kings or leaders are “royalty” in the old sense; we no longer think they are representatives of celestial events. We have lost our connection with the ancient “real” altogether, because we no longer have emissaries from that realm among our elite.
The Matrix is a Gnostic film and a whole lot has been written on that already so I will just note that, for the Gnostics, coming to the “realization” that this world is an illusion and perhaps a more celestial world is “real” but we have forgotten it, is the process of acquiring gnosis (knowing). Nowadays, we are so confused about the real that we even call our ridiculous television shows “reality.” The giant media is constantly churning out new versions of the real and it seems on any given day anything could be real that was impossible yesterday.
With no true voice, with nothing to trust, we are now building a new Tower of Babel to reconnect us to the “real.” But just like the tower of legend, this one can only be built if we all work together.