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by Richard Hanley
Did you know that the First Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster.
Agent Smith, to Morpheus

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Revelation 21:4, King James Bible

Hell is—other people.
Garcin, in Sartre’s No Exit

To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.
Mouse, to Neo

Cypher chooses the Matrix, and just maybe, he’s not so crazy. If real life prospects are dim, then even an apparently sub-optimal alternative like the Matrix might in fact be better, all things considered.1 But what is the best sort of existence for individuals like you and me? Philosophy and religion both have attempted to answer this question, and I think The Matrix gives us an interesting way to frame it. Is some possible "real" existence better than any possible Matrix? Or is some possible Matrix better than any possible reality? With Mark Twain’s help, I shall present an argument that one important notion of the best existence, the Christian one, Heaven is after all a Matrix. The point of my polemical approach is not so much to criticize Christianity, but rather to bring the issue of the nature of ultimate value into sharper focus.

What is the Matrix? Morpheus tells Neo it’s a "computer-generated dreamworld," and a "neural, interactive simulation"; it is, in other words, a virtual environment.2 Agent Smith assures Cypher that he won’t know he’s in the Matrix when he returns permanently, and it will simplify exposition to suppose that this is a necessary feature of a Matrix, while being computer-generated is not. The Matrix depicted is a mixed case, since the cognoscenti can enter it without being deceived into thinking it is real. Let us stipulate that in a pure Matrix, everyone is benighted, believing it is the "real deal." In most of what follows, I’ll be concentrating on pure Matrices (and in the case of the Matrix depicted, on the condition of the benighted). Since we’ll be discussing different kinds of Matrix, we need a name for the one depicted in The Matrix; Agent Smith refers to a First Matrix, so let’s call the one we see the Second Matrix.

A Matrix, then, is an interactive virtual environment involving systematic global deception. Still, there are two levels of "interactivity" in a virtual environment. Virtual interactivity is the extent to which the environment allows, and responds to, your input. Current virtual environments are not very interactive in this sense, but the Second Matrix is. That’s what makes it seem so real, at least to the benighted. (For the cognoscenti the Second Matrix it is too virtually interactive, too controllable, to seem real—at least compared with the more law-like external world.) Real interactivity is the potential for interaction with others also engaged in virtual interaction, and real interaction is the extent to which this potential is realized. Compare two kinds of possible Matrix: the Second Matrix is communal, featuring real interaction between human beings—call this human interaction; a solitary Matrix lacks human interaction altogether.

Communal Matrices differ in degree of human interaction. In the Second Matrix, billions of humans share the environment, and if we ignore Agents, it is fully communal—every virtual human in the Matrix is an avatar, a virtual persona of a real human being. In the Matrix training program created by Mouse, on the other hand, virtual humans like the woman in the red dress are simulacra, not avatars, and human interaction during the sequence we see is limited to that between Neo and Morpheus.3 On yet another hand, the fully communal Construct (loading program), where Morpheus and Neo watch TV, has no other virtual humans in it to interact with—and unlike the training program, it’s not "big" enough to be very world-like. Call a fully communal Matrix that is big enough to be world-like, and has many human participants, so that human interaction is nearly inevitable, a teeming Matrix. (The Second Matrix is all but teeming. If we removed the cognoscenti, there would be no need for Agents, and it would be teeming.)

Now we can compare three possibilities (obviously not exhaustive) for human existence, assuming that it involves physical embodiment. One is the real deal, populated by other human beings: for instance, if you subjectively experience having sexual intercourse with another human being, another individual human being shares that intercourse, from another subjective point of view, because you really have physical, sexual intercourse with them. The same goes for non-sexual intercourse. If I were to meet Mark Twain (through the time travel he wrote about, perhaps), then Twain and I both would have an experience of meeting, and we really would meet, physically and psychologically. Two is a teeming Matrix: if you experience having (intraspecies!) sexual intercourse, another Matrix-bound human shares that intercourse, from another subjective point of view. There’s no physical intercourse, of course, but there is psychological intercourse. If I have the experience of meeting Twain, then he (or some other human being) has the experience of meeting me-meeting-Twain, and there is at least a meeting of minds. Three is an apparently teeming, solitary Matrix: if you experience having sexual intercourse, no other human is having an interactive sexual experience with you—it is like taking up Mouse’s invitation to enjoy the woman in the red dress, except that you won’t know "she" is a simulacrum. If I experience meeting Twain, then there is no intercourse with another human being, and neither Twain nor any other human being need have the experience of meeting me-meeting-Twain.

Our ordinary intuition is that there’s something valuable about the real deal that is missing in a Matrix. Consider your present situation. You are either right now in a Matrix, thinking that it’s a certain time and place when it really isn’t, that a certain sequence of physical events is occurring when it really isn’t, and so on; or you aren’t, and it really is that time and place, and so on. Most of us hope we are not in a Matrix right now, which shows that, other things being equal (that is, where the experiences are identical in subjective character), we prefer the real deal. My hunch is that you also hope that, if your present existence is not the real deal, it’s at least participation in a teeming Matrix. Being in the real deal has two distinct features of apparent value: your beliefs are more connected to the truth, and you really interact with other human beings. A teeming Matrix has less connection with truth than the real deal, but has more than a solitary Matrix, and it still provides substantial interaction with other human beings.4 In the case of sex, there’s a good sense in which you really did have sex with that other person, though in ignorance of the whole truth.5

If connection with truth matters so much to us, why not have the best of both kinds of existence—why not have a virtual environment, without all the deception? Cypher can (and does) go back temporarily into the Matrix, knowing what it is, and retain that knowledge while he is in there. But for his permanent stay he chooses ignorance instead, because "Ignorance is bliss." Presumably, the knowledge that he is not in the real deal would undermine his capacity to enjoy the experiences, so he can’t have the best of both worlds.6 Intuitively, Cypher is no different from the rest of us in this regard. For a typical man, the experience of sexual intercourse with the woman in the red dress is likely to be much more satisfying if he thinks it is the real deal. Which brings us to the First Matrix.

1. What is the First Matrix?

Agent Smith’s remark in the epigraph suggests that the First Matrix was, like the Second, more or less teeming.7 Agent Smith says about the "disaster":

Some believe that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world, but I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.

The first suggestion is fascinating. Given the deadpan delivery, it is hard to say whether it posits a deficiency in the machines that designed the Matrix, or in us—in our notion of a perfect world. On the other hand, Agent Smith’s own thesis seems connected with a tradition of human thought concerning the theistic problem of evil. If a perfectly good God exists, why does evil exist? Why is the world full of sharp corners and other hazards? A standard answer is that evil is necessary—it must exist in order for certain goods to exist. For instance, it is often claimed that happiness requires suffering, though this is disputable. Even if creatures like us can’t be maximally happy, this is a reason for not creating us at all, and creating more felicitously instead. And does our happiness require so much suffering? Looking deeper, it seems clear that virtues like courage and generosity indeed require the existence of suffering. But vices such as cowardice and cruelty couldn’t exist without suffering, either—are they necessary evils, too?

The most defensible theist answer to this question is a very subtle No, But— : God had a choice between creating a world with free beings in it, or not. This choice is easy, since free will is a surpassing good. But given libertarian free will, which requires causal indeterminism, God could not know without creating the world exactly which possible world would result.8 God might have gotten lucky, and created a world in which all free beings had only virtues, and no vices. But this is incredibly unlikely, as is a purely vicious world, and it’s no surprise that He got a mixed world, with most humans having virtues and vices. The picture that emerges is that a world with human beings in it is a world with sharp corners (natural evil) to provide genuine free choice, and so very likely contains sin (moral evil) as well. Call this the Free Will Theodicy. Its assumption that free will is libertarian free will—requiring causal indeterminism—is Christian orthodoxy, so I grant it for the sake of the argument.

Filling in the details of the theodicy, focus on the will itself. Our actions are ultimately explained by what we want, most especially by our non-derived desires.9 In a world of sharp corners, not all these desires can be satisfied. Indeed, there often will be conflicts between individuals in what they desire—one person getting what they want means that another doesn’t. (Presumably, God could not arrange a concordance of wills—substituting for conflicting desires, or deleting them altogether—without eliminating free will.) Indeed, the existence of other human beings in the world is part of the "sharp corners"—a source of suffering— in addition to being a source of moral evil. And not just because others are in competition with you for resources—sometimes others are the resource, as the sexual intercourse example shows. If you badly want sex with another person and they badly don’t want it with you, then someone is going to suffer.

If the Free Will Theodicy is correct, then God can only control the non-human environment. Each human being is a part of the environment of every other human being, so as soon as you put more than one creature with libertarian free will into the mix there will, absent astonishing coincidence, be tears. You can minimize the effect human beings have on each other, but only by minimizing their interaction (say, by putting each on a separate planet). Even then, as long as human beings desire interaction (as a means to things we want, such as to procreate, and perhaps even for its own sake), mere isolation won’t solve the problem.

The creators of the First Matrix tried to produce a relatively good existence for Matrix-bound humans. (We needn’t suppose the machines were benevolent; perhaps the bioelectric-to-fusion reaction process is more efficient the happier humans are.) In doing so, the machine creators had some of God’s problems. They presumably lacked some of God’s creative abilities, but they also had fewer constraints, since God is supposed to be no deceiver.10 Why was the First Matrix a disaster? If the machines were trying to produce an existence with no human suffering, then perhaps they tried the wrong design: a teeming Matrix populated with otherwise typical human beings. Even if the machines removed a lot of sharp corners (no volcanic-eruption, or man-eating-shark experiences), as long as there is interaction with other human beings plugged into the same virtual environment, someone is going to suffer, as the example of sexual intercourse demonstrates. This attempt would not produce a Matrix where "none suffered," and the suggestion fits badly with Agent Smith’s remark, "No one would accept the programming." Let’s discard it.

Which leaves two basic choices: the machines either substantially altered the nature of human beings in the First Matrix (say by arranging a concordance of wills), or else they created a solitary Matrix for each human being. The advantage of a solitary Matrix is that the virtual environment can be completely tailored to an individual’s desires—perhaps the Matrix "reads off" the content of desires from his brain, anticipating a little, matching its programming as far as possible to the satisfaction of his desires as they develop and change.

Perhaps a battery of solitary Matrices was beyond the machines’ practical resources, but let’s suppose not—clearly it’s in principle possible for them to have done things this way. However, if Christians are correct, and our wills are in fact undetermined, then our desires cannot be fully anticipated. There is bound to be a gap between the evolution of our desires, and the Matrix’s capacity to satisfy them; hence some suffering is inevitable. This would partly explain Agent Smith’s remark, but once again would not explain why "No one would accept the programming."

We are left with two possible explanations of the remark: either humans by their nature could not be successfully altered through programming; or else unaltered humans were psychologically incapable of accepting the relevant virtual environment. The latter seems to be Agent Smith’s thesis: the "perfect world" was just too good to be true, and literally incredible.11 Are we human beings simply incapable of having a happy existence, with no suffering? Not on the standard Christian view, according to which just such an existence awaits us in Heaven.

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II. What is Heaven?

The Christian notion of Heaven is far from a settled body of doctrine. (For instance, are there literally streets paved with gold, or is this just a metaphor for some barely imaginable, wonderful state of affairs?) Nevertheless, it has been asserted with some authority that the human condition in Heaven will be very different from that here and now. It is agreed that there is no suffering (see the epigraph), not to mention "exceeding joy," (an expression which occurs four times in the King James Bible), but what exactly will we do there? Some of the common claims about this can seem puzzling. In Letters from the Earth, Mark Twain has the banished Satan report to his fellow angels on the beliefs of mortal Man:

For instance, take this sample: he has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every individual of his race — and of ours —sexual intercourse! …

His heaven is like himself: strange, interesting, astonishing, grotesque. I give you my word, it has not a single feature in it that he actually values. It consists — utterly and entirely — of diversions which he cares next to nothing about, here in the earth, yet is quite sure he will like them in heaven. Isn't it curious? Isn't it interesting? You must not think I am exaggerating, for it is not so. I will give you details.

Most men do not sing, most men cannot sing, most men will not stay when others are singing if it be continued more than two hours… In man’s heaven, everybody sings! The man who did not sing on earth sings there; the man who could not sing on earth is able to do it there. The universal singing is not casual, not occasional, not relieved by intervals of quiet; it goes on, all day long, and every day, during a stretch of twelve hours. And everybody stays; whereas in the earth the place would be empty in two hours…

Satan’s list is long, and frequently amusing:

I recall to your attention the extraordinary fact with which I began. To wit, that the human being, like the immortals, naturally places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys — yet he has left it out of his heaven! The very thought of it excites him; opportunity sets him wild; in this state he will risk life, reputation, everything – even his queer heaven itself — to make good that opportunity and ride it to the overwhelming climax. From youth to middle age all men and all women prize copulation above all other pleasures combined, yet it is actually as I have said: it is not in their heaven; prayer takes its place.

His main observations we can summarize as: (i) Man thinks he will be blissfully happy in Heaven; (ii) no activity that Man finds blissful on Earth will he pursue in Heaven; (iii) the activities that Man thinks he will pursue in Heaven are ones he avoids whenever possible, here on Earth. Call this appearance of inconsistent values, Twain’s Puzzle. In Mouse’s terms, it seems that we think we will be happiest denying our own impulses. Satan somewhat overstates the puzzle when he writes that Heaven "has not a single feature in it that [Man] actually values." Man thinks that in Heaven he will still value joy and disvalue suffering, for instance. Satan’s point is that Man appears to think that his desires will be radically different in Heaven: he will desperately want the things that he does not want at all now, and not want at all the things that he desperately wants now.

Does Man think his will is going to be different in Heaven? That depends. Psychological hedonism is the view that there are really only two non-derived human desires: to obtain pleasure and avoid suffering. If this were true, then Man’s will does not change if he merely changes his beliefs about what it is that will bring him pleasure and avoid pain. If psychological hedonism isn’t true (and Christians seem—wisely—to think it isn’t true), then a case can be made that (according to Satan, anyway) Man expects his will to be altered in Heaven.

Contrary to Satan, it can be argued that at least where sex is concerned, the Christian view is that such impulses ought to be denied, and the relentless pursuit of gratification is, in a Christian, a matter of weakness of will, not in its constitution. It might be further claimed that giving in to such impulses actually causes you suffering. This makes some sense in the case of, say, a married man tempted to adultery, whose guilt may prevent him from full enjoyment. Suppose that in Heaven, since there is no marriage (so says Jesus, see for instance Matthew 22:30), there is really no one psychologically "safe" to have sexual intercourse with, and you would inevitably feel guilty about engaging in it. Then the elimination of suffering requires the elimination of sex. (Of course, Satan and Mouse would no doubt respond, with some justification, that this is all premised on the belief that sex outside marriage is something bad in and of itself, a notion you happily will be disabused of in Heaven. But the question is what the typical Christian believes, whether it is true or not.)

Leaving aside what you would do there, believers in Christian Heaven commonly hold the following four theses about it:

(1) It’s possible for a human being to be in Heaven. More precisely, if all goes well it will be you that survives bodily death and goes to Heaven.
(2) Human beings in Heaven will experience happiness, but no unhappiness.
(3) Human beings in Heaven possess free will.
(4) Human beings in Heaven interact with other human beings in Heaven.

It’s worth expanding on (1). Christians standardly expect to recognize their loved ones in Heaven, which presumably requires remembering them.12 So it seems that they expect considerable psychological continuity between their Earthly and Heavenly existences—perhaps this is even guaranteed by the requirement that God be no deceiver. But such psychological continuity sits uncomfortably with (2). Christians on Earth are typically saddened by the fact that unbelievers will not get into Heaven. It seems that, if anything, they would be sadder still, when confronted by the wonders of Heaven, knowing that the unsaved are residing instead in "the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone." And it would seem to be cause for special anguish if one of your loved ones is absent from Heaven. (Another version of the problem arises with missing your loved ones—being sad, not for them, but for yourself, that they are not around. Even if you don’t miss sex with your Earthly spouse, it seems you would miss them.)

Heaven is also widely supposed to provide an opportunity to meet human beings you never knew on Earth. But if I’m in Heaven, and I really want to meet Twain, then I will be sadly disappointed if he isn’t there (and angry, if it’s all on account of those Letters). Moreover, certain truths will presumably be available to you in Heaven. Suppose that Mother Theresa is your idol, and you can’t wait to tell her so. However, you find out she’s not really a saint—indeed—quite the opposite, and not in Heaven at all. You may be upset not only for your own sake, but for the sake of humanity (you may respond with a quite cynical attitude toward human nature). Heaven seems on the face of it to provide many opportunities for suffering.

There are three basic ways around this sort of problem. First, suppose universalism—the doctrine that everyone gets into Heaven—is true. This will solve the problem only if, upon entering Heaven, Christians no longer believe that there ought to be any qualification for it (else they likely will be annoyed that others got a "free pass," especially a holier-than-thou like Mother Theresa). Second, God could suppress the knowledge that others are not in Heaven. But this requires Matrix-like deception (either to provide the appropriate virtual interaction with non-avatars, or else to just delete all memory of the missing), and Heaven would not be the real deal. Third, perhaps what we care about—our desires—will change, so that good Christians no longer will mind the fact that others—even loved ones—are suffering (they might even take pleasure in it). But to accept this raises an acute version of Twain’s Puzzle.

All in all, it may be better to revise (2) to:

(2*) Human beings in Heaven will be as happy as they can possibly be.

We may thus grant that it’s not possible for all suffering to be absent in Heaven—though this requires taking Revelation less literally than many Christians do.

(4) is taken completely for granted, as far as I can tell. Part of the point of Heaven is to be reunited with (saved) loved ones, and to engage in "fellowship" with the other inhabitants. But what of (3)? According to the Free Will Theodicy, free will is a surpassing good, so on the face of it, Heaven must include free will. Yet Heaven is a place without sin. And according to the Free Will Theodicy, sin is to be explained by the presence of free will in the world. To deny (3) also raises Twain’s puzzle. We believe we now have libertarian free will, strongly desire it now, and are devastated at the thought of losing it. If God is no deceiver, then if (3) is false, we would in Heaven know that we have no free will. Yet, presumably, we would not mind—be blissful, yet not ignorant.

Like the builders of the First Matrix, God has two main choices in creating a Heaven for human beings: either substantially alter the nature of human beings in Heaven (say by arranging a concordance of wills, contrary to (3), and perhaps even contrary to (1)), or else put each human in a solitary Matrix, contrary to (4). One advantage for denying (4) is that (2) has the best chance of being true, as long as the solitary Matrix provides plenty of (virtual) interaction with virtual humans. Those in such a solitary Matrix will think they are in the real deal. They’ll think they are in Heaven, along with everyone that they want to be there, and nobody that they don’t want there. They will think they get along with along with everyone else just fine; that there’s no sadness, no sin, and so on. God knows what they freely want, and tailors each virtual environment to provide exactly that, if possible. (If it’s not possible, because they freely want to be in the real deal, this lack is not experienced, and so is not a source of suffering.)

Just as it did with the First Matrix, libertarianism raises a difficulty, since you might think that God could not know what you want, when this is undetermined. Some medieval Christians resolved the problem of the compatibility of free will with God’s foreknowledge by supposing that changeless, omnipresent God knows the (causally undetermined) future by, so to speak, already having been present then, and having seen what happens. God knows what you do because you do it, and not vice versa, hence you may do it freely. The same resolution can be applied here, as long as time exists in Heaven: God knows what you will want before you want it, by having been in the future and (so to speak) looking into your mind then.13

Can (3) and (4) both be maintained, given (1) and (2*)? There is logical space for this possibility. (3) can be true, and yet there be no sin in Heaven, if Heaven is like the lucky roll of the creation die: the world where free beings always choose rightly. In Heaven, everyone will be free to sin, but just doesn’t. The immediate problem with this suggestion is that it seems incredible that such a coincidence will actually obtain. Perhaps we can appeal to a difference between this situation and that of creation: God has a chance to observe the behavior of free individuals, and only admits the deserving—those who actually don’t sin while on Earth. But this would get hardly anyone into Heaven. Worse, it seems to give inductive support, but no guarantee at all, that unblemished individuals won’t sin ever in the eternity they spend in Heaven.

It is standardly claimed that all are free to sin in Heaven, but none do, because they are in some sense incapable of doing so; no one can sin when they are at last with God. This raises two distinct problems. The first is that any such incapability seems incompatible with libertarian freedom, rendering (3) false after all. The second is that, if there is no incompatibility between human beings having libertarian free will and being incapable of sin, then the Free Will Theodicy seems to collapse. God could have just created Heaven and be done with it, a creation with all of the benefits and none of the disadvantages.

In addition to the problem of sin, we might wonder how it can be managed that free human beings, all interacting with each other, have no desires in conflict. As Satan observed, it must be that our desires change radically. But what ensures this? If it is inevitable that they change in this way, then libertarian freedom is again threatened. And if we are somehow free anyway, when our desires are radically altered, then why didn’t God just turn this trick to begin with, and spare all the lost souls? Perhaps we should also consider Mouse’s point. If our desires change too radically, will we still be human beings, as (1) would have it?

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III. Conclusion

Perhaps both explanations of the failure of the First Matrix are correct. Recall the suggestion that machines could not program our "perfect world." Perhaps our thinking is incoherent: we think that the best existence is one where human beings interact with each other and everyone has libertarian free will and nobody suffers and that someone knowingly arranges this. If this is an incoherent notion, not even God can actualize it.

In creating the Second Matrix, the machines went for interaction combined with free will (which we are assuming is libertarian), with the overwhelming likelihood (inevitability, in practice) of suffering. We can now explain Agent Smith’s remarks: if we rank the elements of our incoherent notion of the best existence, human interaction and libertarian free will rank above the absence of suffering. And since they jointly require (almost by definition) the presence of suffering, it can be said more or less truly that we "define [even the best] reality through misery and suffering." The First Matrix was an attempt to give interacting humans an existence free of suffering, but this program required a radical revision in their wills, contrary to libertarian free will, and so "no one would accept the program." Mouse might say it was an attempt to deny the very nature of human beings.

If the real deal includes libertarian free will, then so does the Second Matrix—our desires, though often enough unsatisfied, will be after all undetermined. (The sense in which humans are liberated from the Matrix has nothing to do with libertarian free will, which can be enjoyed behind bars.) The Second Matrix also features substantial variation in wills amongst its human inhabitants, and the interesting ethical choices that arise when this is so. For example, apart from the Agents, each virtual human is an avatar, and the "good guys" in the movie end up killing a lot of human beings in their fight against the Agents. It’s hard to view these human beings as collaborators, given the nature of the Matrix, so their deaths presumably are to be regarded as acceptable collateral damage, inevitable given the difference in desired outcome. All in all, the Second Matrix is the machines’ best attempt at matching what Christians believe God did for us through creation. 14

When we humans turn our eyes toward Heaven, our ranking of values seems to change, and Twain’s Puzzle arises anew. In Heaven, there is a heavier weighting given to the absence of suffering. God can knowingly minimize suffering in a real deal, while retaining human interaction, but at the cost of libertarian free will. But given that Heaven is supposed to involve no suffering at all, and given the surpassing value of libertarian free will in the Christian view of things, God’s choice is clear: Heaven is a solitary Matrix.15 The machines, not being God, did not know that Heaven is no other people. Never the twain—Twain and I—shall meet (in Heaven, anyway—there’s always the lake, I suppose.)

A relative of Twain’s puzzle emerges. We when consider a pre-Heaven existence, we seem to prefer the best real deal to the best Matrix. When thinking about Heaven, we seem to prefer the best Matrix to the best real deal. This schism in our thinking is represented by the two competing visions in The Matrix: on the one hand is the Matrix, and on the other is Zion—named ironically, if I am right, for God’s Holy City in Heaven—the place in the bowels of the Earth where human beings not in the Matrix dwell.

Richard Hanley

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1.  See Christopher Grau’s essay, "The Experience Machine." Indeed, I recommend you read Grau’s essay in its entirety before proceeding.

2.  Metaphysicians will not yet be satisfied. "Matrix," is from the Latin for "mother," and originally meant "womb" (it is used in the Old Testament five times with this meaning), or "pregnant female." In several contexts it means a sort of substrate in which things are grown and developed. Given this etymology, the Matrix might have been the concrete thing that includes the collection of deceived humans in their vats. A more modern meaning of "matrix" is based in mathematics: a rectangular arrangement of symbols. Perhaps "the Matrix" (an expression surely borrowed from William Gibson’s earlier use in Neuromancer) denotes the array of symbols encoding the virtual environment, which we might distinguish from the environment itself. But The Matrix gives the impression that the environment just is the array of symbols that Neo sees when he finally sees in—so to speak—Matrixvision. Its concrete-world-like appearance seems an inferior perception. (The Matrix thus seems allegorical in turn of Plato’s well-known allegory of the Cave; Neo is enlightened about his own nature by liberation from the Matrix, and by the end he sees the true nature of the Matrix.) Still, it is the concrete-world-like appearance of things that I’m concerned with here, so let’s ignore the possibility of a Neo.

3. I use simulacrum in the following sense: "something having merely the form or appearance of a certain thing, without possessing its substance or proper qualities; a mere image, a specious imitation or likeness, of something." (OED) It is also a nod towards Baudrillard, whose work Simulacra and Simulation both influences and appears in The Matrix. See my essay, "Baudrillard and The Matrix."

4.  Here’s an interesting question: which is better, the Second Matrix, or a systematically deceptive personalized non-virtual environment—a Truman show—that you never discover the true nature of? The latter has more veridical human interaction in one sense, because you really physically interact; but the interaction is less veridical in another sense, in that other human beings are willing participants in the deception. Another case to think about is a solitary Matrix allowing interaction with non-human participants (dogs, perhaps). Another still is a solitary Matrix without even the appearance of real interaction — call this a lonely Matrix. I don't know about you, but I prefer Sartre's vision of Hell to a lonely Matrix.

5. The Second Matrix may connect with the truth in some unnecessary ways. One’s virtual body is depicted as more or less veridical, for instance. (But this may be only "residual self image," as Morpheus tells Neo. If Cypher were put back into the Matrix as Ronald Reagan, that would be clinching evidence that one’s avatar can be strikingly different.) Breaking this connection would permit interestingly different human interaction: for instance, you could unknowingly have an experience of heterosexual intercourse with another (unknowing) human who is in fact of the same sex.

6. Sometimes it is argued that you are better off—happier—being a Christian, even if God does not exist. If Christian belief is easier to maintain inside the Second Matrix than outside it, then Cypher could have an extra pragmatic reason for going back in.

7.  Is Agent Smith telling the truth? I have no idea. He is attempting to "hack into" Morpheus’s mind to gain the access codes to the Zion mainframe computer, so in interpreting the story we should take everything he says—and so, even the very existence of the First Matrix—with a grain of salt. For my purposes, though, we can pretend that he’s telling the truth.

8. We need not fully characterize libertarian free will for present purposes. The main point is that causal indeterminism is a necessary condition of it. Causal indeterminism is the denial of causal determinism: the thesis that every event is completely determined by causally prior events. A useful and common illustration is to ask whether or not everything that happens, or will happen, is in principle predictable — this will be so if determinism is true, and not so if indeterminism is true. (Whether the future can be known by means other than prediction is a different question — see note 11.) The thesis that we have libertarian free will is called libertarianism.

9. Many of our desires are derived from other desires plus belief, for instance if Ralph desires to kiss Grandma only because he desires an inheritance and he believes kissing Grandma is necessary to achieve this. Non-derived desires, such as Ralph’s desire to kiss the girl next door, are importantly independent of belief—they are had, so to speak, for their own sake—and seem to constitute what we refer to by "the will."

10. Is this a theological guarantee of the real deal? The Christian can surely deny this. The existence of the Matrix seems compatible with God’s being no deceiver, given the Free Will Theodicy, if the machines have libertarian free will. And if they do not have libertarian free will, as long as they are the product of human free will, they are not part of the environment God knowingly created.

11. I am reminded of a passage in William Gibson’s Count Zero: "Eyes open, he pulled the thing from his socket and held it, his palm slick with sweat. It was like waking from a nightmare. Not a screamer, where impacted fears took on simple, terrible shapes, but the sort of dream, infinitely more disturbing, where everything is perfectly and horribly normal, and where everything is utterly wrong."

12. People seem to expect that their body in Heaven will resemble their Earthly one (just as their Matrix "body" seems to resemble their real one). Perhaps this is for purposes of recognition, but it seems unnecessary—common memory can do the job.

13. It would be intriguing if God could "cheat" by doing what he does because He sees, from the way the future is, what He will do. This would raise a fatalist, bake-your-noodle puzzle like the one the Oracle raises for Neo’s smashing of the vase. But God is a special case. Being unchanging, He cannot be caused to act on the basis of future knowledge, and there is little metaphysical sense to be made of "He did it because He did it."

14. The typical Christian is a Cartesian dualist, believing they are a spirit or soul distinct from their physical body, and that embodiment provides the means for human interaction. Loosely speaking, then, our physical bodies are the "avatars" of the real us, in a more or less "teeming" physical environment. The Second Matrix is in this respect almost the converse of Christian creation.

15. Perhaps Christians have had this revelation available to them all along. Luke 10:20 has Jesus telling his disciples, "… rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." In Latin, "matrix" also meant a list or register of names (also, matricula, hence our English verb matriculate). Intended meaning can go astray: according to some, the notion that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was an apple, rests on a confusion over the Latin malum, meaning both "evil" and "apple tree." In like manner, maybe Jesus’s message, lost in translation, was that Heaven is a Matrix!

16. "People" in the sense of human beings. It might be objected that there has to be at least one person you are in contact with: God. I’ll just concede this, since it doesn’t affect the argument, God’s desires presumably being compatible with yours. (Real interaction with angels likewise presents no problems.) A fascinating further suggestion is that you couldn’t be maximally happy unless the "program" was extremely sophisticated, and then it might be objected that we should regard the solitary Matrix as containing virtual individuals—such as your imaginative sexual partner(s), if there is sex in Heaven—which are arguably persons you really interact with. (Agent Smith’s impassioned outburst that he hates the Second Matrix might be evidence of personhood, for instance.) If these virtual individuals are persons with libertarian free will, then you can’t interact with them either, without someone eventually suffering. So we might have another argument that the Christian Heaven is an incoherent notion.

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