Matrix and Descartes
"Je pense, donc je suis."
"Cogito ergo sum."
"I think, therefore I am."
---- René Descartes
I was reading about René Descartes at my favorite creative spot in Bangkok--- Open House @ the Central Embassy. His philosophy ideas sound so familiar with quantum theory's philosophical implications, that our observation is always potentially misleading by our consciousness (having an awareness of one's environment and one's own existence, sensations, and thoughts.) and reality only exist when it is observed. So there are multi-realities out there beyond our observation? We are trapped in the reality we are living now!? Twisted...right?
And I just realized Hollywood has translated Descarates's philosophical ideas into one of the most mind-blowing movies. < Matrix>.
In the movie, the reality that most people observe is actually a dream that is created by a powerful being (God?) to deceive humanity. People think that they live in a city, breathe air and the year is 1999. However, in reality, the year is approximately 2199, there is no air and the world is in a bad situation like is attacked by war. As it is indicated in <Meditations on first philosophy>.
How often at night, I've been convinced that I was here, flying over the sky grabbed by an Owl. I was taken to a secret library beneath the forrest. There were dictionary like books piling up and sizzling fire in the stove, when in fact I was lying on my bed. That's the most vivid and exciting dream I have ever had. When I think twice about this, I see so plainly that there are no reliable signs by which I can distinguish sleeping from waking that I am stupefied-and my stupor itself suggests that I am asleep.
People live in a dream and can not distinguish it from reality. It is obvious from some scenes of the movie that Neo also has doubts about it. In one of them, agents take Neo to interrogate and convince him to work for them to defeat Morpheus. Agent Smith made Neo's lips be locked in order not to make him speak and put a transmitter in him which is like a spider. Then the other scene stast with Neo's waking up. The first thing that he does is to check his mouth and it is normal. However, the transmitter is in him and he gets rid of it my the help of Trinity who is one of the characters in the film. If all the things he has seen are a dream, then why is there a transmitter in him? In addition, if all the things are real, then why is there anything with his mouth? This is why the world that people live is a computer simulation called matrix. Some events can occur in matrix and in order to make people believe everything that they perceive, some impossible things that are hard to believe can be seen as dreams.
Descartes mentions that there are no certain differences between a dream and reality. When someone dreams about something, he is not aware of doing it exactly, thus there is an impossibility in ignoring that what people perceive as reality is not a dream. Descartes has doubts about being aware of whether you are in a dream or in real which is the dream argument and in another scene of the movie, Morpheus concludes the same doubts as he asks:
"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to awake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream and the real world?"
In another scene, Morpheus asked Neo what reality really is. Are there the things that we comprehend?
If we think about the movie, people believe that the world that they live is real and most of the things that they have leraned are coming by the help of the senses.
According to Descartes, "Of course, whatever I have so far accepted as supremely true I have learned from the senses or through the senses. But I have occasionally caught the senses deceiving me, and it's prudent never completely to trust those who have chetaed us even once. "
Things that we get by our senses are the impulses that are conveyed to brain by the nerves and interpreted by it. There is no exact way that we can know that someting real is created by our experiences or knowledge or it is just a general idea that we believe. Our brain may deceive us and it may just dream by itself. I can give an example from the scene that Neo sees the woman in red. His senses trick him and when he turns back to see the woman again, he faces with an agent.
On the other hand, there is another thing said by Descartes, " Similarly, while things like eyes, heads, and hands may be imaginary, it must be granted that some simpler and more universal things are real-the "real colors" from which the true and false images in our thoughts are formed. "
According to Descartes, I can say that the images that the matrix created or the woman in red exist, and in their creation, there are some bases on the production of them. Even if the images are imaginary, their bases are real. The human figure or especially a woman figure, the color red are all real. Thus, we can tell that Descartes' ideas about senses are supported in the film by this scene.
Descartes continues and further states that since deception exists, there must be some evil responsible. However, rather than attributing this evil to God himself, he blames some malevolent demon. This "demon" in this movie is obviously the artificial intelligence responsible for the creation of the matrix. The Matrix was created to control humanity for the intelligence's own gain, so it is inherently evil. Descartes proceeds to talk about how in order to truly be free, one must do his best to resist deception and know what can truly be known. Neo and the rest of the ship's crew are doing their best to free humanity, but humanity in general continues to be deceived by what appears to be so real.
The Matrix simulates reality so well, that it never occurs to humanity to doubt what they see. Even Neo, the character the story centers around is clueless at the beginning. Only once he is confronted with the truth does he begin to doubt, but even then he attempts to deny it.
Descartes ponders this in his meditations as well. He reflects on humanity's tendency to believe the uncertain based on comfort with the idea. Once someone is used to an idea, they tend to resist letting it go because it is so ingrained in them. He continues to state that one should treat any idea that can be doubted as being absolutely false so that no belief is built upon an uncertain foundation. However, some choose to go back to the comfort of believing that which is not true, such as Cypher deciding to go back to the Matrix. He chooses the comfort of the deception over the harsh truth, and opts to prolong his deceit. He conspires against humanity's freedom for his own personal gain.
Obviously, there is a much deeper side to this movie than the action scenes and special effects. (Keanu Reeves looks like the best Neo ever). There are some very noticeable parallels with the <Meditations on first philosophy> of Descartes as well as other works like <Principle of philosophy>. <Matrix>, when viewed in the correct light, really brings into the fundamental questions of philosophy. (what's the first cause? what is reality? what exists? )
"Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum"
("I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am")