MATRIX PHILOSOPHY: NEVER THE TWAIN SHALL MEET
REFLECTIONS ON THE FIRST MATRIX 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
Revelation 21:4, King James Bible
Hell isother people.
Garcin, in Sartres 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, hes 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 Twains 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 its a "computer-generated
dreamworld," and a "neural, interactive simulation";
it is, in other words, a virtual environment.2
Agent Smith assures Cypher that he wont know hes 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, Ill be concentrating on pure Matrices (and in
the case of the Matrix depicted, on the condition of the benighted).
Since well 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 lets call the one we see the Second
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. Thats 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 realat 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 beingscall 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 communalevery 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 withand unlike the training program, its 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. Theres 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 youit is like taking up Mouses
invitation to enjoy the woman in the red dress, except that you wont
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
Our ordinary intuition is that theres 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 its a certain
time and place when it really isnt, that a certain sequence
of physical events is occurring when it really isnt, and so
on; or you arent, 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, its 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, theres a good sense in which you really
did have sex with that other person, though in ignorance of the whole
If connection with truth matters so much to us, why not have the best
of both kinds of existencewhy 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 cant 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 Smiths 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 usin
our notion of a perfect world. On the other hand, Agent Smiths
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 necessaryit
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 cant 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 couldnt exist without
suffering, eitherare they necessary evils, too?
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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 its 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 willrequiring causal indeterminismis
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 desireone person getting what they want means that another
doesnt. (Presumably, God could not arrange a concordance of
willssubstituting for conflicting desires, or deleting them altogetherwithout
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 resourcessometimes
others are the resource, as the sexual intercourse example
shows. If you badly want sex with another person and they badly dont
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 wont solve the
The creators of the First Matrix tried to produce a relatively good
existence for Matrix-bound humans. (We neednt 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 Gods problems. They presumably lacked some
of Gods 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 Smiths remark, "No one would accept the
programming." Lets 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 individuals desiresperhaps
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 lets suppose notclearly its
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 Matrixs
capacity to satisfy them; hence some suffering is inevitable. This
would partly explain Agent Smiths 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 Smiths
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.
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
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
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 mans 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
Satans 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, Twains
Puzzle. In Mouses 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. Satans 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 Mans 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
isnt true (and Christians seemwiselyto think it
isnt 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
Leaving aside what you would do there, believers in Christian Heaven commonly
hold the following four theses about it:
(1) Its 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
(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.
Its 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 existencesperhaps 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 onesbeing sad, not for them,
but for yourself, that they are not around. Even if you dont
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 Im in Heaven, and I really
want to meet Twain, then I will be sadly disappointed if he isnt
there (and angry, if its 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 cant wait
to tell her so. However, you find out shes not really a saintindeedquite
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
universalismthe doctrine that everyone gets into Heavenis
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
aboutour desireswill change, so that good Christians no longer
will mind the fact that otherseven loved onesare suffering
(they might even take pleasure in it). But to accept this raises an
acute version of Twains 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 its not possible for all suffering
to be absent in Heaventhough this requires taking Revelation
less literally than many Christians do.
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(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 Twains 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 mindbe 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. Theyll think they are in Heaven, along
with everyone that they want to be there, and nobody that they dont
want there. They will think they get along with along with everyone
else just fine; that theres 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 its 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 Gods 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 doesnt. 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 deservingthose
who actually dont 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 wont
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
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 didnt God just turn this trick to begin with, and spare
all the lost souls? Perhaps we should also consider Mouses point.
If our desires change too radically, will we still be human beings,
as (1) would have it?
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 Smiths 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
If the real deal includes libertarian free will, then so does the
Second Matrixour 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. Its 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 Twains 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, Gods
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 twainTwain and Ishall meet (in Heaven,
anywaytheres always the lake, I suppose.)
A relative of Twains 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 Zionnamed ironically, if I am right,
for Gods Holy City in Heaventhe place in the bowels of the
Earth where human beings not in the Matrix dwell.
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Christopher Graus essay, "The Experience Machine."
Indeed, I recommend you read Graus essay in its entirety before
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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 Gibsons
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 inso
to speakMatrixvision. Its concrete-world-like appearance seems
an inferior perception. (The Matrix thus seems allegorical in turn
of Platos 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 Im concerned with here, so lets
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. Heres an
interesting question: which is better, the Second Matrix, or a systematically
deceptive personalized non-virtual environmenta Truman showthat
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
5. The Second Matrix
may connect with the truth in some unnecessary ways. Ones 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 ones 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 offhappierbeing 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" Morpheuss mind to gain the access codes to the Zion
mainframe computer, so in interpreting the story we should take everything
he saysand so, even the very existence of the First Matrixwith
a grain of salt. For my purposes, though, we can pretend that hes
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 Ralphs desire to kiss the girl next door, are
importantly independent of beliefthey are had, so to speak,
for their own sakeand seem to constitute what we refer to by
10. Is this a theological
guarantee of the real deal? The Christian can surely deny this. The
existence of the Matrix seems compatible with Gods 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 Gibsons 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 unnecessarycommon
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 Neos 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.
Christians have had this revelation available to them all along. Luke
10:20 has Jesus telling his disciples, "
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 Jesuss message, lost in translation, was
that Heaven is a Matrix!
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. Ill
just concede this, since it doesnt affect the argument, Gods
desires presumably being compatible with yours. (Real interaction
with angels likewise presents no problems.) A fascinating further
suggestion is that you couldnt 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 individualssuch as your imaginative sexual partner(s),
if there is sex in Heavenwhich are arguably persons you really
interact with. (Agent Smiths 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 cant interact with them either, without someone
eventually suffering. So we might have another argument that the Christian
Heaven is an incoherent notion.