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The Matrix is a 1999 science fiction film released by the Wachowski Brothers. It presents an artificial world called the Matrix, in which humans are trapped without realizing their predicament. These people are actually stuck in vats of pink goop, and electrical impulses manipulate their minds into thinking that they are living normal lives in a modern society. This unreal world has been pulled over the eyes of mankind so that the machines can eat away at their energy. Few humans have escaped the Matrix and continually fight to free their kind from the dream world.
Metaphysics plays a large role throughout the film, and can be distinguished by two categories: the real and the unreal. The real world is dominated by artificial intelligence, which enslaves humans for energy, and the unreal world is where humans believe they are living their lives in liberty. From this, three components of metaphysics come into question and are both explicitly and implicitly explored in greater detail: dualism, anti-realism, and materialism.
Metaphysical dualism is a recurring concept in this film, that which is a dualism of the deceptive world that is the Matrix, and the real world, where machines hold humans hostage. The human mind is what connects these two fundamentally different categories, and it explains why death in the Matrix also means death in the real world. Minds are real and have the ability to produce unreal concepts. Dreaming can do this, or, as is done in the Matrix, electric impulses are sent to the brain in order to create an image. The real affects the mind directly, while the unreal can only affect it indirectly. At the point when the mind is deceived, it takes the unreal to be real.
The main protagonist Neo and his companions live in the real world, except when transported to the Matrix. The prisoners of the Matrix live in both worlds. The only way for the prisoners to be freed is if this metaphysical dualism was reconciled. As shown in the movie, this can only be achieved individually, with someone else facilitating guidance outside of the Matrix. Otherwise, it is not possible for anyone to exist in the Matrix or even to dream.
Humans of the Matrix are considered to be anti-realists, and the reason for this is that there are no ultimate truths or universals. The only existing truths are the ones that humans create; thus, the world they live in is a world of deception, since their lives are fabrications of what they want to believe rather than accepting reality for what it is, and how it plays out as a result of their real actions.
The machines possess this same thought process, even if it is with an artificial mind. They are the perceivers and creators of truth, similarly to humans. In the film’s case, the difference is that the machines are completely aware of what the Matrix is and are responsible for perception, as well as its inception. The truth of the unreal world changes, depending on what information the machines deem as valid to send through electrical impulses to the humans.
As observed in The Matrix, the laws of the real world cannot be applied to the unreal. The artificial intelligence is able to alter the physical characteristics of the unreal world, as shown in the scene where an AI member of the Matrix, known as Agent Smith, tries to persuade Neo to fight against the refugees of the Matrix. When Neo refuses and requests a phone call, Smith replies, “What good is a phone call if you cannot speak?” leaving Neo shocked that his lips have been pressed together as if he never had them at all. This is also a solid example of the machines silencing any person who attempts to go against their will. They will stop at nothing to push all of mankind towards robot-like conformity.
The obvious absence of physics is felt while in the Matrix, when Neo is able to bend spoons, stop bullets, and fly. After being shown what the Matrix is and what he is capable of doing while in it, he can choose to perceive these actions in his mind. The Matrix seems to assert a materialist conception of the mind. As stated before, machines deceive humans in the Matrix by inserting electrical impulses in their brains. There is no need to go beyond the physical to explain the sensations and perspectives that humans in the Matrix experience.
Death in the Matrix supports this idea. If one dies in the Matrix, they die in the real world as well. There is no separate spirit-like mind that perceives the deception of artificial intelligence. The mind cannot live without the body, and in death, the senses have told the body to shut down. Neo feels discomfort prior to being freed from the Matrix. Before Neo learns the truth about the Matrix, he feels that something is wrong with the world that he is presented with. Neo’s mind is aware that something is off.
Despite the electrical impulses fed to Neo’s brain outside the Matrix, his mind is still not completely deceived, even if his body is. The other characters he encounters know this as well. When Trinity, Neo’s love interest, first meets Neo in the nightclub, she tells him, “I know why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night you sit at your computer.” The Matrix may deceive the senses, but not necessarily the mind. It looks as if that what is needed to “feel” the deception is for an individual to be independent in nature and highly intelligent. Trinity and Neo display both of these attributes not only because of what Trinity tells Neo in the nightclub, but it is also due to the fact that they are both successful hackers while living in the Matrix.
The content, as well as the The Matrix's presentation of the metaphysical relevance, can be of universal significance as modern technology continues to advance, reaching the point where artificial intelligence is capable enough to think and function in the same way humans do. Because of this, as demonstrated in the film, it will know how impressionable humans can be, and will try to eliminate free forms of expression, thought processes, and emotions. It then has the potential to manipulate the human mind into perceiving what it wants it to believe as reality and acting upon it, whatever the reality in question may be.
Credits: Gracia, Jorge, Sanford, Jonathan. “Metaphysics and the Matrix.” The Matrix and Philosophy, 2002, 55-65.