The Thirteenth Floor

Before anything, I want to share this link:

This is a four-hour PBS documentary called “The Fabric of the Cosmos” – you can read the description at that link. I haven’t watched the complete four hours; in fact, I’ve only ever seen bits and pieces of the documentary. But what I have seen of this program seemed to fit in with what we saw in The Thirteenth Floor. For those who don’t feel like clicking on the link, here’s a brief line about the documentary:

“Much of what we thought we knew about the universe- that the past has already happened and the future is yet to be, that space is just an empty void, that our universe is the only universe that exists- just might be wrong.”

In this first episode, physicist Brian Greene makes an astonishing statement. He says,

“Our picture of space has gone through a remarkable transformation… Surprising new clues are emerging that everything, you and I, and even space itself, may actually be a kind of hologram. That is, everything we see and experience, everything we call our familiar three dimensional reality, may be a projection of information that’s stored on a thin, distant, two dimensional surface- sort of the way the information for this hologram is stored on this thin piece of plastic.”

Obviously I’m not really qualified to talk about the science they’re discussing, and I don’t really understand much of what the physicists are saying about black holes and space as a hologram. So instead I’ll quote some more.

“Space within a black hole plays by the same rules as space outside a black hole or anywhere else. So if an object inside a black hole can be described by information on hte black hole’s surface (as science has proven), then it might be that everything in the universe, from galaxies to starts, to you and me, even space itself, is just a projection of information stored on some distant two dimensional surface that surrounds us.”

What does this mean for us? I’m not in any way qualified or knowledgeable enough to say. But it is really, really interesting to consider. And I highly recommend watching at least the first episode of this groundbreaking documentary.

But back to the movie. The Thirteenth Floor, like Ubik,¬†left me with many questions. While the movie was definitely easier to understand than Ubik, it did leave me wondering. Both Jerry Ashton and Douglas Hall found out that their worlds- that they themselves- were simulations. Jane Fuller explained to Hall that his world was created by a computer in her 2024 world. On the surface, the ending seemed neat: Hall joined the 2024 world and became a “real” person, while David died in the 1990s world. This begs several questions. The first, most glaringly obvious was this: who is to say that 2024 is the real world at all? Could it be that the 2024 world was a simulation in itself? I’d been viewing the worlds as layers- with the 1930s on the bottom, the 1990s on top of that, and 2024 on top of that. Could it be that 2024 wasn’t the end of the line? There’s really no way to know. This, of course, is the point of the movie: we can never know if our reality is “real.”

The second question is a product the first question. What makes someone or something real, anyway? This is a deeply philosophical question and it’s beyond me to go into a discussion about it on this blog. But just like Ubik, The Matrix, and other such books and movies, The Thirteenth Floor‘s biggest strength is in forcing the viewer (or reader) to ask the question “what defines reality?”

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