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Intro to Philosophy, Courtesy of The Matrix

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The Matrix is a film that stands up to multiple viewings, and not just because the elegant martial arts choreography is such a joy to watch (as is Keanu Reeves).  Scattered throughout the riot of special effects and portentous quasi-religious dialogue are liberal doses of philosophy, both ancient and modern.  In the collection of essays The Matrix and Philosophy, Slavoj Zizek compares the film to a Rorschach test for philosophers, with something for every discipline.

For instance, there’s the matrix of the title: a sophisticated program created by angry space robots that fools people into thinking they’re walking around, doing stuff, when they’re not. It’s a futuristic take on Plato’s allegory of the cave, which imagined a group of prisoners confined in such a way that all they could see were shadows cast on a wall in front of them.  The prisoners named what they saw, but what they called a bird was of course not a bird, it was merely the shadow of a bird.

That idea is central to The Matrix — for the unenlightened, reality is a construct, and knowledge is constrained by perception.  It’s awfully difficult to separate what exists from what we believe exists, and something is not necessarily true just because everyone thinks it’s true.

More than a millennium later, Rene Descartes worried that a malicious
demon might be messing with us (angry space robots hadn’t been invented
yet).  This demon could deceive us into thinking that what we saw was
real, when it wasn’t.  It could also deceive us into thinking that we
had successfully proved that what we saw was real, when we hadn’t.

And
late last century, Jonathan Dancy presented his version of what’s come
to be called the “brain in a vat” hypothesis, which suggests that you
cannot know that you are not simply a brain connected to a computer,
being fed sensations by an operator.  That’s extremely similar to the
post-apocalyptic human condition envisioned by the Wachowski brothers, as they freely admit.

Dwelling too heavily on this is likely to induce both confusion and paranoia.  The Matrix
makes the point — perhaps not wholly on purpose — that it is not only
possible, but perhaps desirable, to live in blissful ignorance of your
true surroundings.  Therein lies the seduction of the blue pill.  Given
the option, would you choose too much awareness, or not enough?

The Matrix airs tonight Thursday, February 7 @ 8 PM | 7C on AMC. Click here for the full schedule .

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