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Friday, July 29, 2011

Essay on the movie Matrix - Analysis of Matrix the Movie

There are movies and TV series that have dealt with the dichotomy between reality and imagination.  Among these movies and TV series are The Thirteenth Floor, Harsh Realm, Vanilla Sky, Total Recall, the Truman Show, and Strange Days.  Yet none of these movies and TV series has generated so much interest and appeal than “The Matrix.” 

The Matrix is about the story of Thomas Anderson who lived what appeared to him as a normal life.  He worked as a program writer for a software company and at the same time worked as a hacker under the alias Neo.  One day he received a cryptic message on his computer monitor.  His search for the origin of the message led him to Morpheus the leader of the secret resistance group. His normal life was suddenly rocked by Morpheus who revealed to him that reality is actually different from what he perceived it to be.  Morpheus explained that human existence is nothing but a fake and a computer-generated dream world.  Humans have long been captured by supercomputers which detained them inside pods and fed their brains with sensory stimuli.  Neo and the other humans think these stimuli as a reality.  The movie revolved around this story line. 

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The idea upon which the movie was based is actually not new.  There have been other philosophers who questioned the nature reality.  Among these philosophers were Plato, Carl Jung, Rene Descartes and Gardner.  Yet, the philosophical foundations of The Matrix is so much nearer to the philosophy of Rene Descartes who argued in favor of the dual nature of reality and the superiority of res cogitans over the res extensa. (Erik Davis 1)  This comparative argumentation essay seeks to prove that Descartes’ Philosophy is much closer to the philosophical foundations of the Matrix compared to the other philosophers such as Plato and Carl Jung.

Morpheus explained to Neo that the human race is inside the world of the Matrix, to wit:
            “It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes, to blind you from the truth ... that you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.”

Implicit in Morpheus explanation to Neo about the nature of reality is the concept of the belief in the transcendent things.  The transcendent thing is the thing in itself.  It is that which exists independently of a person’s perception of the thing.  It is that which has objective existence apart from our own subjective interpretations of the thing. The transcendent thing is the humanity’s life outside the Matrix which is considered superior as it is the real reality.  On the other hand, what the rest of humanity perceives and which appears to them as the reality is nothing but the creation of supercomputers 

Descartes philosophy is closer to the Matrix because a similar concept of the nature of reality can be found in Rene Descartes’ philosophy of dualism.  He thought that the human world is sharply divided between the reality of thought, otherwise known as res cogitans, and extended reality, otherwise known as res extensa.  (Gilbert Garza 436) The res cogitans is superior compared to the res extensa because the former is the only thing we can have certainty. 

Secondly, Descartes himself belied that the physical reality cannot be trusted.  In arriving at this conclusion, Rene Descartes argued that we should doubt everything.  While he agreed with the idea that it is not possible to doubt everything, he declared that in principle it is possible to doubt everything.  Doubting everything is only means by which we can reach certainty about the nature of life. (Gerald J. Erion & Barry Smith 17)  Consequently, he doubted not only what he perceives with his senses but even his existence.  He thought that it is possible that he could only be dreaming as there is a thin line that separates the state of dreaming from the state of being awake.  He however could only be sure about one thing – the fact that he doubts could only make sense if he thinks.  He is therefore a thinking being.  He concluded that aside from the principles of mathematics which are absolutely indubitable, the fact of that he is a thinking being is also beyond doubt.  Since he knows with certainty with the use of intuition that he exists, this could only mean that the thinking being that he is was more real than the external material world which he can only perceive with the use of his senses.  Thus, he reached the conclusion that the reality of thought has superior existence than the extended reality.

Thirdly, he also conceived of the possibility that a malicious demon could be playing a trick on our mind similar to the powerful supercomputers which came up with various stimuli to control humanity. 

Fourthly, truth can only be attained by overcoming our tendency to pass off what we perceive as reality.  Despite the superiority of the intellect, some still prefer to live a life distorted by sense perception.  Our senses are like the supercomputers in “The Matrix” which can give us a distorted view of the reality.  Those who prefer to trust their senses are trapped in their own distorted world.  Just like Neo before he found out the truth, those who continue to believe in what their senses tell will continue to live a lie.  Truth can only be attained by following Descartes’ method and by overcoming tendency of the senses to deceive us.  This is what Neo did as he tried to overcome his physical limitations and became what Morpheus called “The One.” 

On the other hand, it can also be said that The Matrix shares similarity with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in his work The Republic. (Colin Colvert 1). The Allegory of the Cave speaks of the story of cave dwellers who live inside a cave.  Their neck, hands and feet are tied such that they could not turn their heads or even decide to leave the cave.  Behind them is a burning fire which is their only source of light.  Further behind is the mouth of the cave.  These cave dwellers have lived their lives thinking that the only world is the world of the shadows.  They are not familiar with the reality outside of the cave, the real world.  Plato theorized that these cave dwellers think that the only reality is the shadow that they see inside the wall of the cave.  They therefore have an imperfect idea of reality as what they see are mere images of the reality.  The situation of Neo is similar with the cave dwellers who had an imperfect vision of reality until he managed to escape from the cave.

The difference however is that these two worlds, the real world and the world of the shadows, are continuous.  Even if the world of the shadows is inferior to the real world, the former is still a reflection and derives its existence from the real world.  On the other hand, the world of make-believe by the Matrix is not a reflection of the real world but is a simulation.  Moreover, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave does not purport to discuss something about the nature of reality but rather it is a myth used by Plato to talk about how his teacher Socrates was killed by the people whom he tried to help.

The same is true with Carl Jung who was one of the pioneers of the field called analytical psychology.  Analytical psychology focuses on humanity's unconscious self and its motivations and forces behind individual thinking.  Carl Jung thought that the unconscious mind holds the answer to man’s problems and the cure for man’s sickness.  While it is true that the supercomputers were able to subdue man by feeding man with subjective impulses making it appear that man is still living a normal and real life in his sleep, the storyline of the Matrix does not center on man’s dreams but rather on the dual nature of reality.  Indeed, the unconscious mind is only one aspect of the movie which also deals with deception, delusion, control and power struggle.   

How does a person know what is real? How can a person tell which is real and which is not? Though these are indeed simple and basic these are the ones who are very difficult to answer.  This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that we have been very accustomed to our everyday existence that we have neglected even to entertain these questions.  While I would not go as far as Descartes in doubting everything, I commend him for going further than the earlier Skeptic philosophers who refused to take a stand on the nature of reality.  If I were to answer the question, my simple answer would be that I know that something is real because I have faith.  My faith tells me that there is a God who exists and that he is Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient.  These characteristics entail that He will not delude me into thinking that something is real when it is really not. 

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