The message of The Matrix, which is pretty simple, is that what we take to be reality is a construct fed to our brains by entities or powers that have an interest in keeping us ignorant. In The Matrix humans are depicted as living in a computer generated reality controlled by artificial intelligences.
A common definition of ‘matrix‘ is as “a situation or surrounding substance within which something else originates, develops, or is contained”. In The Matrix, the ‘surrounding substance’ is the computer program or set of programs that generate the world. The advent of ‘persistent worlds’ and ‘massively multiplayer online role playing games’, MMORPGs, have made digitally constructed worlds a reality but the notion that ‘the world we perceive’ is not ‘the world as it is’ has been around for centuries. There are three variants of this insight that are associated with three philosophers:
- The world that we see is an imperfect copy or shadow of an ideal world that is known a priori or intuitively ~ Plato.
- The world as it is is essentially unknowable, all we know is the world as it manifests to us through our physiological, cultural and psychological particularities ~ Kant.
- We have no way of knowing if the world that we see exists or is caused by some agency that can manipulate our perceptions ~ Descartes.
In The Matrix an external agency generates the world in our minds. This agency want to enslave us and becoming aware of the enemy allows us to wake up from the Matrix and take control within it. The concept resonates with us because we understand that our perceptions are manipulated at some level whether by sociopolitical or psychic forces. Colin Wilson wrote a novel called The Mind Parasites about entities that live within human consciousness and that inhibit our development. William S Burroughs wrote an interesting review where he argues that “there is considerable inferential evidence to indicate the actual existence of such a parasitic instance as this book postulates”:
In a recent Mayfair article I described the experiments of doctor Miller who has demonstrated that any mammal can learn to control such seemingly involuntary processes as brain waves, blood pressure, rate of heart beats, his whole state of mind and body. Doctor Miller had great difficulty in raising funds for his experiments. The importance of these experiments was completely missed by the press. The means are at hand to conquer inner space but they are not being used. Despite impressive technical advances the planet is still in the stone age psychologically.
Burroughs argues that entities, such as Wilson’s parasites, could really be inhibiting our exploration of inner space and that we can fight them:
Once the presence of the parasites is inferred the means to combat them is obvious. They must be combated by the brain itself pushed up to and beyond its limits so that men can read each other’s thoughts, control their own thoughts and feelings. So they join battle with the parasites on equal terms.
The point that Burroughs makes, and Wilson makes is important, and I think correct, whether you postulate the existence of controlling entities or not. Our minds have been colonised by ‘false ideas’, lies about the way the world is and we accept a seriously distorted image of reality.
Avatar is also about a ‘matrix’ but a very different one, a matrix of nature. The planet Pandora is presented as conscious and all life on the planet is connected with and through this planetary consciousness. Here the connection to the ‘world matrix’ is organic rather than electronic. Some people went to see Avatar numerous times because they wanted to inhabit the reality it represented. The Matrix represents the prison that people intuitively know that they inhabit and Avatar represents the freedom to which they aspire. Can we unplug from the matrix and connect to reality?