Critical Section


Ceci n'est pas Mimi

Monday,  05/26/03  10:40 AM

Ceci n'est pas Mimi
Ceci n'est pas Mimi

Ceci n'est pas une pipe
Ceci n'est pas Magritte

The Human Condition
The Human Condition
(click for larger view)

I saw an interesting post on Marc Cantor's site: a picture of his daughter Mimi, next to a computer which has a picture of a computer, which has a picture of Mimi.  Marc asks "Which Reality is Real?"

Of course this is a trick - the answer is "none of the above"!  The outermost reality is just a web page with a photograph.  In fact, as you're viewing this right now you have - a web page with a photograph of his web page with a photograph!  Which reality is real, indeed?

This type of confusion of levels was the specialty of René Magritte, one of my very favorite artists.  His most famous work is a simple painting of a pipe, with the caption "ceci n'est pas une pipe" which means "this is not a pipe".  At one level you are tempted to say "wait a minute, that is a pipe!", but then you realize "oh, it isn't a pipe, it is a painting of a pipe!".  Of course this is neither a pipe nor a painting, this is a web page with a photograph of a painting of a pipe.

Lest you think Magritte was only into "thought art", you should check out some of his other work; it is visually amazing as well as thought-provoking.  You can Google for other examples of his work on the 'net. 

My personal favorite is "The Human Condition", shown below at right.  Magritte insisted that this piece be displayed unframed, giving the illusion of a "real" window with a painting on an easel in front of it.  The image on the painting appears to be identical to the view through the window, but is it?  After staring at this for a bit, you may feel "aha, I get it; Magritte is saying we are like a canvas, and the 'real' world is painted onto it by our senses."  Then you realize, "hey, this work of art is painting itself onto my brain."  Still later you realize "this work of art has a message, and its message is being painted onto my brain."  Cool.

This same confusion of levels is at the core of the Matrix movies - a reality which is a simulation within an outer reality.  At the end of the Matrix Reloaded we understand suddenly that the outer reality is also a simulation (!) nested inside a reality another level out.  I wouldn't be surprised if the conclusion in the Matrix Revolutions is that all reality is a series of nested realities, with no "outermost" level.

I urge all of you to take a screenshot of this page, and post it on your website.  Then you'll have a page with a photograph of a page with a photograph of a page with a photograph...  For even more fun, view it through a mirror.  Which Reality is Real, indeed!

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