24 January 2011

Reality used to be a friend of mine

Imagine a cave, says Socrates, inside of which there lie two prisoners chained since birth and forced to stare at a wall. Behind the prisoners lies a large fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a path along which pass people and animals going to and fro. The prisoners can only see the shadows of the passers-by cast upon the wall in front of them, and can only hear the distorted noises they make reflected off the walls and roof of the cave, but with no other evidence to the contrary around them the prisoners believe that shadows are reality and not mere distortions of the Real. So too in this way, argues Plato in 'The Republic', are all that we see and hear around us but distorted images of the Real; our "reality" is no such thing, being but the shadows cast by the Really Real World that exists elsewhere.

In the 12th and 13th centuries CE in France the Cathars arrose and for a time looked set to sweep aside the primacy of the Catholic Church. A gnostic movement branded heresy by Rome, the Cathars rejected the biblical portrayal of Yahweh as a just and loving god. They held that two equal divine beings existed, one good, one evil, and that the physical world was created by Yahweh, the evil being, to imprison the souls of the pure and prevent them from achieving union in the spiritual world with the god of Good. Our "reality" is no such thing, being but a physical prison to hold us trapped away forever from the Really Real World that exists elsewhere.

In 1981 Stephen Hawking gave a lecture in San Francisco that suggested that Black Holes eventually disappear over time, sucking in information and destroying it forever. But according to accepted theory at the time, information, like energy, can never be destroyed, just transformed from one form to another. In the audience was Leonard Susskind, now known as the father of String Theory, who would spend almost the next thirty years or so of his life trying to prove Hawking wrong. Susskind's resulting counter-theory revolves around the Event Horizon, the boundary line of a Black Hole beyond which it becomes impossible to escape its gravitational pull. He argues that the Event Horizon is akin to a massive hologram, just as a hologram appears to portray three dimensions in a two-dimensional environment so too does the Event Horizon capture the three dimensionality of objects that fall into a Black Hole, preserving the information associated with the object in two-dimensional form even after the Black Hole consumes the object itself, destroying it forever. Susskind's subsequent Holographic Principle states that all three dimensional objects can be encoded in only two dimensions, and this has led him to suggest that in fact our own universe is but a two dimensional representation of events that are happening in three dimensions beyond our own Event Horizon, at the edge of our universe. Thus our "reality" is no such thing, being but the Holographic image of the Really Real World that exists elsewhere.

I do not know enough about the nature of our "reality" to refute or endorse any of these theories, but given the events of the last ten days it would come as no surprise to me to learn that somewhere else, in the Really Real World that exists elsewhere, there is a functioning Irish Democracy with a functioning Irish Parliament in which sits a functioning Irish Government, for what we are lumbered with here is clearly but shadows on a cave wall, a prison to entrap our tortured souls, or a cheap hologram that came free in a pack of Corn Flakes in which a functioning Government is portrayed, moving their heads in an almost realistic manner when you tilt it back and forth.

To paraphrase another great philosopher, "Worst Government collapse, ever."

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