I did not put this in the new book but we already live in the Matrix. I merely discussed there how language use is truly a virtual reality. Let me try the Matrix here…
You will recall in the movie that future people are being kept alive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland so AI machines can live off their energy. But the people are plugged visually into a huge virtual reality program that gives them the illusion of living in a ‘normal’ world (that is the Matrix). So at the start of the movie you (and the hero Neo) think there is a normal world but because everyone is seeing the world through the program it is all an illusion. They try to break through the illusion by hacking into the software and inserting themselves as characters in ‘there’ to destroy the virtual reality program/ Matrix. It is all really being controlled externally in a wasteland world run by machines.
I outlined in a previous blog (and book) how language use is a virtual reality. We learn and act as if our words are the real things. We regularly give words precedence over the actual experiences we can have, and we trust what is said over and above what we see and experience. We no longer trust observation but do trust things we hear people saying. Stories we hear are more convincing than what we see, and a good story can even persuade us that we did see or experience something when we did not. I also noted in a previous blog that when we name something we see, we stop looking and exploring our world—the naming was the goal, and we now have something to talk about and a story to tell people.
Further, our worlds are now filled with words, everywhere. Even this blog. We spend more time reading and talking than looking and experiencing. When something happens in life we can respond based on previous experiences or we can prepare to talk about whatever happened. The latter now gets priority. It is as if our first instinct now is to have something ready to say about everything around us, rather than respond in other experiential ways (aka contingencies).
Basically then, all the above suggests that words are acting like our Matrix: we live now in a world of words where the reality is what is said, and what is said gets first priority. This Matrix is here and now and we are living it. We actually live an experience-deprived existence: have you ever seen or interacted with most of the animals you can talk about (zoos do not count–they are mostly about words and telling stories later)? We can tell stories about all sorts of animals and post about them on FB but never actually interact or behave with them.
In exchange, we are given a huge comforting world (Matrix) of words that we all agree implicitly to treat as if we know them for real, and we can tell stories about them (all second- or third-hand of course), and name ‘facts” about them, and have opinions and beliefs about them although we have never seen or interacted with any of it, get sympathy and a range of emotions from the words we use about them, and be able to place most of it on FB for moral outrage. This includes fictitious characters called “pop stars” or worse, “tv personalities”, who we all talk about as if we knew them almost. They are really real to us. (One person shot John Lennon even though Lennon was only pure words for that person)
There are some benefits, obviously, to using words, but there are long-term downsides as well. Of most importance for mental health: (1) our worlds become abstract (like words are) and the concreteness of life disappears; (2) we start treating people as if they ARE the words we use about them, and no longer experience them and our relationships, and we do not see their diversity because it is not captured by words very well; (3) we start treating imaginary things that only arise from talking as if they were reality, and so anxieties, gloom and slogans become real to us far too easily and we cannot easily shake them off as merely linguistic illusions.
Luckily, and it is no accident, methods for re-prioritizing experience over words are becoming more prevalent, with Zen, mindfulness, Gestalt therapy, Third Wave therapies, etc. When you believe that your neighbor is listening to you through the walls secretly at night, this means that words have taken over your Matrix and this all appears to be the absolute reality for you. When you say to yourself (from somewhere) that you are worthless and depressed; again, words are taking precedence over experience… your Matrix is feeding you glum words of gloom that you cannot seem to shake.
But also remember the important point from all this: that your words are coming from around you, not from inside, since the Matrix is actually created out there in the external social world and is not an inner reality (also like the post-apocalyptic wasteland in the movie) . But it sure appears to be real, just as it did for Neo at the start of the movie before he saw there were cracks in this illusory world (or words in our case). He was like proper Zen, then, stopping you responding to everything around you with words and getting you to respond to the objects, events and experiences themselves. So we begin to see the cracks in this word-created world we live in. (see Bankei blog below)
“If we ask ourselves what is it that gives the character of strangeness to the substitutive formation and the symptom of schizophrenia, we eventually come to realize that it is the pre-dominance of what has to do with words over what has to do with things” (Freud, 1915/1984, p. 206).