Monday, July 30, 2007

What's so bad about being in the Matrix anyway?

So, I've started a new book called "Philosophers Explore the Matrix" in which a bunch of philosophers and students of religion take it upon themselves to flesh out all the tricky questions The Matrix poses, and it's blowing my mind.

So far I've read all about solipsistic views of reality (if you get a chance, examine the verificationist's point of view. Tell me what you think is wrong with it) and what exactly constitutes "real," which is a much more difficult question than one might originally think. I think I've lost a little respect for the Wachowski brothers in reading this book. The entire philosophical background for the movie has been in existence for hundreds of years and debated on so many levels. All they had to do was write the script and sell it off. Oh well. Shakespeare said, "nothing is new under the sun," and he continues to prove himself correct to me.

Enough Hollywood ranting. Here's my question of the day:

Can one change history?

Let's begin with a quote from one of my very least favorite books, 1984:

"Then where does the past exist, if at all?"
"In records. It is written down."
"In records. And-?"
"In the mind. In human memories."
"In memory. Very well, then. We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?"
-1984 by George Orwell

Okay, so if something is forgotten by a every single person and all records of the event have been lost forever, did the event ever occur? Let me put it another way.
Suppose Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity didn't decide to liberate everyone in the Matrix, but instead decided to strike up a deal with the Machines.

Suppose they say,
"Look, keep doing what you're doing because people in the Matrix seem to be enjoying themselves. What you need to do is make up a likely story for why you decided to plug everyone into this 'false reality.' Make yourselves look like benevolent heroes by putting the human race into a false reality instead of this dark, dank world. Then, destroy all records and databases, including the city of Zion, that would give evidence to the human vs. machine war. Everyone is happy! You look like heroes, the humans are content in their fish tank. What do you say?"

What would be wrong with this? Would you be able to argue that the war ever occurred, and supposing the machines erase and reprogram themselves to make even themselves think they're creating the Matrix for benevolent purposes, would they still be doing wrong? There are so many sticky situations going on here.

I just thought I'd give you all an insight into my latest line of thinking and see if anyone has any constructive ideas to put forth on the matter. Fun stuff, eh?


lindsey said...

There is no spoon.
Oh and because I am not currently perceiving you, you do not exist.
I like my epistemological solipsism...sorry. ;-)

Not to prove you wrong, because you're never wrong, but isn't your little scenario pretty much what we find out in the second and third movies? That the machines (Specifically the Architect and the Oracle) keep on erasing history and trying over again, trying new ways to make the humans believe that the Matrix is real. Neo, the One, is simply a program created to test the limits of the system.

I always wondered if they actually unplugged from the Matrix, or if the Matrix was really a matrix within a matrix.

(Once, in my past life at William Woods, I led a whole discussion on the philosophy of the Matrix for our nerd club- Plato's Retreat. You're making me want to pull out my book and re-read it.)

Anonymous said...

Zen and the Art talks about Hume and his view on solipsism. In Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, he establishes that there are certain "a priori" constructs in the world that defeat the notion of solipsism. Time and space, for instance, are two of those a priori constructs. We have no recognition of time according to our five senses, but we still hold the idea of time in our heads, blending each iota of sensory input into the next. Also, all of our sensory input would amount to nothing but a jumble of color and noise if we didn't have the construct of space to categorize these senses into. In the book, Pirsig says that looking at the left handlebar of his motorcycle while riding produces one sensory image, then closing his eyes and looking at the right handlebar produces another, but without the Kantian a priori construct of a motorcycle he holds in his mind, there would be no evidence that the two sensory instances are looking at the same object. Does that make sense at all? I'm trying to relate a concept that I only just read today, so hopefully I did it justice.

I want to say that the same sort of construct exists for events in the past. If I say hello to myself in the mirror one morning while no one is around, but I don't write it down and I forget about it later on in the day, obviously it doesn't mean that I didn't say hello to myself, there's just no recollection or proof that I did. It might make the gesture less meaningful, but no less real.

In your plan for the Matrix, the only harm I see is killing the people in Zion. The relationship between humans in the Matrix and the machines seems more like commensalism than anything (look it up on Wikipedia, I don't think I can link it). Ultimately, the "real world" of the Matrix is uninhabitable, and the aim of Zionists to free everyone from the Matrix is unintentional suicide, considering the lack of nutrition on the dead Earth. The way the system works currently, the machines take energy from the humans, existing in the post-apocalyptic world with impunity, while the humans live a relatively comfortable life in a world that--while artificial--is not any less believable or preferable.

Of course, the concept at work in the Matrix seems backwards from most of the philosophical discussions about ours being the "fake world," as the proposed real world is usually ideal. There's my two cents!

P.S. I've never sided with the Machines before... I feel weird.

lindsey said...

So the humans in the Matrix are like the Oompa Loopmas of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. They're slaves, busy producing for someone else, but their conditions in slavery are preferable to the other options (a nutritionally devoid Earth or being eaten by Vermicious Knids). But does that really justify slavery?

Does it make it better for the humans who are still plugged into the Matrix that they have no concept of their other option? No idea they're slaves?