May 02, 2019

Your feelings are not your feelings

What if I told you that reality is different from what you see with your two eyes, hear with your ears, feel with your skin, and smell with a nose that has a perpetually blocked nostril (try taking in a deep breath, you'll find out). What if I told you, you cannot refute the argument that right now you might be living in a simulation. What if I told you yes, I am late to the game, I hadn't watched The Matrix, until recently.

If you still haven’t had the pleasure to spend time with one of the most iconic sci-fi franchise of the last century–the one that inspired this article–The Matrix is the story of how Neo—the protagonist—discovers that the life he has been living every day is just a simulation, a dream. In reality, he’s asleep in a pod with his body being used as a battery by the robots. The rest of the plot is about how Neo is able to see through the system, called The Matrix, that runs the simulation and how he is able to bend the rules of the simulation and defeat it.

You should watch the entire thing if you haven’t yet, as for me, I decided to finally watch The Matrix after reading about something called Hyperreality. Now I warn you, don't take my words for the exact definition of hyper-reality, I haven't yet understood it well enough. But I will tell you what I know and if I am wrong, the comments are open and you have your freedom of speech.

Consider a copy of reality, an impression. As the copy develops and grows it'll eventually reach a point where it’ll start to get harder and harder to distinguish it from the actual reality. In the worst case, you’ll start trusting the copy just as much or even more than what you see and experience. Wikipedia puts it this way, "Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins".

It sounds sci-fi and like something that's waiting for humanity waayyy into the future, like in 3019 or something. But we're closer than you think to having Hyperrealites permeate our everydays. Google Maps for example, has mapped almost all of the human navigable paths, or at least the ones we care about, digitally, to a point wherein a scenario when it's midnight and there are no other vehicles on the road, you can safely switch the headlights of your car off and still reach your destination just by following the instructions the map gives you.

What if one day while driving you find yourself in front of a forest with no visible paths across it. But, Google Maps tells you there actually is a road 20 meters to the right of where you are. You look into the screen of your phone, then you look through the windshield, you do that again, and then there's a good chance that you will drive forward towards the path because you trust Google Maps. Which is a free service made by people you don't even know personally. That action, of trusting technology and driving forward is exactly where the line between reality and a copy of reality starts to blur.

Something like Google Maps is a technological Hyperreality. The other type, which I have taken the freedom to give a name, is cultural hyper-reality. To understand these, I am going to ask you something a little awkward. Just between you and me. What are feelings? Not in a poetic or in an artistic context but in a scientific and biological one. What are feelings?

One way to think about feelings is our brain becoming aware of the physical changes occurring in the body when it reacts to a stimulus. Another, of course, non-exclusive of the latter way is to give up the physical stimuli.

Ever experienced the feeling of your mind being dragged on rubbles to the past, without you even deliberately trying. Ever had melancholia spring out of nowhere, or a sense of joy while sitting sipping on coffee in the evening when it has just finished raining, and the birds just like you, come out of their nests to enjoy the weather the rains left behind? I bet you have.

All of this to say that feelings can also be thought of as just neurons firing in a pattern all by themselves, without the need of external stimuli. If we are to agree on this, can we say that our language, let's stick with English, has all the neuron firing patterns--potentially millions--accounted for in it? Does the English language have a word for every feeling a human is capable of feeling?

I found less than a hundred words on the internet that the English language has designated to the category of feelings. But again, how can we be so sure that those are all the feelings there are? What about the languages which have fewer words for “feelings” than English, do people who speak those languages don't feel all the feelings English speakers do? And what about the languages that have more words, are we missing out on feelings then?

So what should we do? Question? Why we feel only the feelings we know the words for? Rebel, and create new words? Like Pâro - The feeling that everything you do is somehow wrong or, Lachesism - the hunger for disaster, or Astrophe - The feeling of being stuck on earth or Koinophobia - the fear that you have lived an ordinary life. John Koenig is the author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Pâro, Lachesism, Astrophe, Koinophobia are just a few words from the same dictionary. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a bold attempt to fill holes in the English language so we know that we can feel much more than we've been told we're capable of. Yes, told.

This reminds me of Tom Hansen’s monologue in the movie 500 days of Summer. Tom works at a Greeting Cards company, after a sudden turmoil in his life as he’s losing his mental balance he picks up a Valentine’s day card, looks at it and says, “If somebody gave me this card, I’d eat it. It’s the cards, and the movies and the pop songs. They’re to blame for all the lies and the heartache, everything. And we’re (the Greeting Cards companies) responsible, I am responsible. I think we do a bad thing here. People should be able to say how they feel, how they really feel. Not some words that some strangers put in their mouths”.

Our society and languages have created a simulation. When we feel something, we desperately look for a word in our limited vocabulary to ascribe to that feeling. "I am feeling sad, depressed, delighted, crazy", which might be the closest proxy to the actual feeling, alas not quite it. Next time you feel something intensely, don't give it a word. Be with that feeling. Be with every twitch of the nerve, every rush of the blood, every teardrop that's forming, don't give it a name. It's the only way to truly feel.

Maybe there is no road ahead in the forest, maybe you’re there to make a new path, but the hyper-reality tells you that there is, this is the road you should take, this is the feeling you should feel. The simulation tells you not only what to feel or which road to take but what to do, what not to do, what’s acceptable, what’s not. What to do after school, which job to take, what kind of person to marry, what to eat, when to exercise, when to quit, when to die. You and I, we were born into a simulation. Once you know this you’ll find it everywhere you look.

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. - Oscar Wilde

Look around. Think. Yes, we are in The Matrix. And now that you can see it, you can defeat it. Good luck, Neo!