In the 1999 action blockbuster The Matrix, Morpheus asks these seemingly simple questions “What is real? How do you define real?” As students of anthropology these questions intrigue because it is our job to observe and analyze people and their culture. Yet, in order to do this we as observers have to answer those very questions.
Morpheus continues by offering an explanation of sorts saying “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.” For now let us center on the experiences that we observe in the people we watch. If a young man must pass a test of manhood to be earn his place as adult, and the young man invites us to observe him as he slays the beast. Did we experience the rite of passage as our subject did, or was our experience different? Was it a lesser experience, was it less real?
Later in the film Neo, meets spoon boy; a bald headed young man that appears to be bending a spoon with nothing more than the sheer force of his will. He offers the spoon to Neo and this conversation ensues.
“Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”
So I guess it does not matter what is real or how we define real, all that matters is that we find the truth. The truth is something that can only be understood by going through our journeys both as people and as observers of people. It is in these times that we can really free ourselves from that which holds us back.
Remember these parting words from Morpheus as you decide whether to seek the truth or not. “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
All quotes taken from The Matrix and provided by