Saturday, June 13, 2009

"How do we know what we know?"

Years ago I remember hearing about a group known as the Flat Earth Society. I don't want to spend any amount of time talking about this society - though if you're interested, you can check out the webpage: What I remember is that this group challenges conventional wisdom by asking the question, what do we REALLY know and how do we know it? I remember thinking that no one in their right mind would actually believe that the earth is flat - and that got me thinking, what do we KNOW and how do we know it and which is more important: the way something REALLY is or the way we THINK it is?

So fast forward about 20 years and there's the popular movie The Matrix - a movie about layers of reality. There's the world as we experience it with all of its drama and intrigue, but then there's the "matrix" which is the engine or blueprint for the experienced world. Or - come to think of it, maybe the children's book, Alice in Wonderland, was an earlier attempt to capture the same thing. And then there's The Truman Show, about a guy whose entire life is a reality tv show and everyone knows, except him.

These, and probably many other artifacts of popular culture, have challenged our thinking about what's real. We watch the movie, read the book and are momentarily intrigued by the mystery of knowledge - a "cloud of unknowing" (to quote an anonymous 14th century author). Although maybe the cloud of unknowing had more to do with the cloud between humanity and divinity rather than the distortions within humanity... a topic for another day.

The point that I'm trying to get to is this: there seems to have evolved a whole genre of thinking (and probably it has a name - please advise...) that is based on this idea that things are not only NOT what they seem, but the "what they seem" is actually a massive hoax, perpetrated on ignorant, somewhat dull-witted and unsuspecting humans, by a force of ambiguous origin. There are various conspiracy theories but it seems to me that it goes even deeper than this. For instance, some of the titles I've watched that would exemplify this genre are Zeitgeist, The Movie, a couple of BBC documentaries - The Century of Self and The Power of Nightmares. Even some of our mainstream North American documentaries might fall into this category: The Corporation and Who Killed the Electric Car?, for example. Some of these examples are really just exposes - they look at something very much rooted in the world as we know it and expose the layer that is often just beyond our vision. But, if that layer has a sinister, manipulative quality, maybe there are darker layers below that one...

I'm a Prison Break fan, and "the Company" is another exmaple - or take Lost - here again there's a well coordinated and complex plot. So - I'm just saying, this genre is interesting and I'm starting to see it's imprint in a variety of places. And, I'm also beginning to suspect that the people who are most likely to be knowledgeable and drawn to this genre are highly intelligent and very articulate young adults. Interesting. I actually think that we may be on the verge of a new era of "enlightenment" (does that mean that these years of incredible, obscene affluence have actually been a "dark age"?) - and that's pretty exciting and maybe more than a little frightening at the same time. For you Matrix fans (and here I'm only talking about the FIRST movie), red pill or blue pill?

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