Are we living in an artificial world, a constructed realty?
Whether you've heard of "simulation theory" or not, it's probably an idea that has crossed your mind, in some form, at some time in your life.
I know that when I was a young child I had this recurring thought/dream that we (humanity) were just characters in a book.
Later, when I was working on the HeroPress play-by-post game, I concocted an epic 'third act' for the overarching campaign where one of the superheroes would 'wake up' and discover that he and all the other players in the PBM game were in some kind of hospital, or research centre, wired into a shared universe experiment [NB. This plotline never saw the light of day and would later be superseded by the release of a certain trilogy of Keanu Reeves action films].
Even recently, after weeks of very vivid dreams a couple of years ago, I started to ask myself what if the dreams I was having were the "real world" and this reality was the dream world?
Released this week in the UK on DVD and Blu-Ray, A Glitch in The Matrix is the latest status quo-challenging piece from Rodney Ascher, the filmmaker behind documentaries such as Room 237 (about various possible 'subtextual meanings' of The Shining) and The Nightmare (about the phenomenon of sleep paralysis).
The spine of this engaging 108-minute documentary is an archival presentation by the hugely influential sci-fi author Philip K Dick (whose books inspired Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Man In The High Castle, Minority Report etc) about his own belief that we are living in a simulation.
While these ideas can be traced back to Plato's "shadows on a cave wall" thought experiment, outside of Dick's work and The Mandela Effect, many of the points the documentary makes are hung on concepts raised in The Matrix movies (hence the documentary's title, which is a reference to the film's take on déjà vu).
Around this are interviews with, and clips of, scientists and creatives discussing the possibilities of "simulation theory", what it could mean, how it cannot be proven, and then - as is Ascher's style - he lets a number of amateur theoreticians ramble on about their own ideas on the matter.
For stylistic reasons each of these latter characters has a computer avatar overlaid on their real bodies.
This is rather quirky and I get the contextual reasoning behind this choice, but it also undermines a lot of these people's points by making them seem slightly frivolous.
And while most of what they have to say is the kind of random, straw-grasping, baseless conspiracy theories you'd expect to find in the deepest recesses of the dumpster fire sections of the Internet, every so often they'll unexpectedly say something bordering on revelatory.
Which, I suspect, is how a lot of these ideas spread.
However, hidden within all this is a disturbing first-person account from Joshua Cooke whose obsession with The Matrix drove him to try and prove he was living in a simulation in the most heinous way.
Then he talks about the aftermath of of his actions, and how it brought him back to reality by paying the ultimate cost.
You almost feel as though there's a whole other documentary there just on Cooke and his life story.
As with Ascher's other work, he doesn't give us a definitive answer, but rather lays out a lot of ideas, theories, conjectures, and suppositions and allows the viewer to make up their own mind.
And, as with attributing certain meanings to a work of art by a dead bombastic auteur, there is, ultimately, no way to prove categorically one way or another whether any, all, some, or none of these ideas have any basis in our so-called "reality".
Once again, Ascher has made a outré documentary that I can relate directly to my own experiences (from sleep paralysis and extreme film analysis to questioning the nature of reality), which definitely suggests he is on to something with his style and choice of subject matter.
Personally, I'd have preferred more Philip K Dick and qualified experts and less of the "randoms" in A Glitch in The Matrix, but nevertheless this is a thought-provoking piece, asking questions about the very nature of our existence.