Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix By Glenn Yeffeth

    Some of these essays were very interesting and thought provoking, others more grasping at straws. I've had the book for over 10 years and I'm glad I finally read it but I won't be keeping it. 298 I watched The Matrix in full for the first time in 2019. Twenty years after it came out. Wow. I understood the references I always heard about it even before I saw it--the humans vs. machines, the questioning of our own realities, and the power of the mind over matter. And the special effects weren't as spectacular as they would have been in 1999. But still a powerful movie overall. I'll need to watch it again. I enjoyed these essays overall, reading about the varying perspectives and stories that people pulled from the movie. Too bad it was all (white?) men in this book and no women authors. I'm sure there were women who wrote about The Matrix as well, right?? So why weren't their essays included here?

    Bill Joy's essay was the longest and he brings up ideas about humanity and machines similar to what Yuval Noah Harari does in Sapiens and Homo Deus, though several years before Harari. I'm sure Harari must have read and referenced Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil in his books.

    Book coincidences: I was watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory in its first season and Sheldon references Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, which he didn't say what they were. Well, I found out in this book, in the footnote of page 204.

    “Just prior to his rebirth, Neo turns aside and sees a fragmented mirror, which becomes whole as he looks into it. He is about to make the journey into the self, or psyche, and the metaphor of a shattered universal mirror is one that Huxley and others have also used. He reaches out and touches the mirror, which then becomes whole, nicely referencing I Corinthians 13:12, ‘For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.’ The mirror then liquefies and swallows Neo, confirming for us that this is essentially an inward journey he is making. Upon being reborn, Neo asks Morpheus why his eyes hurt: ‘Because you’ve never used them,’ comes the reply. Or, as Willian Blake put it, ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.’ In one of the first scenes, we see Neo sell a software program to a character named Choi for two grand, while Choi comments, ‘You’re my savior, man, my own personal Jesus Christ.’ Choi’s reference to mescaline in this conversation is a reference to Huxley’s mescaline experiment book, The Doors of Perception. Huxley’s title is drawn from the William Blake quote and was also subsequently the source for the name of Jim Morrison’s rock group, The Doors. In Greek mythology, Morpheus was the god of dreams, and his name is the linguistic root for words like ‘morphine’ (a drug that induces sleep and freedom from pain) and ‘morphing’ (using computer technology to seamlessly transform from one reality to another). This resonates with the ability of Fishburne’s character to morph back and forth between the dream world (the ‘real’ world) and the waking world (the Matrix). Morpheus asks, ‘Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?’ The stage is now set for the film to equate the dream world with the digital world, the world of pure consciousness that exists in infinity. It is an equation that works, because life on the screen is a disembodied life, a virtual existence where the rules of society and the laws of physics don’t necessarily apply, which is why online relationships are so intoxicating and addictive. It’s also one reason why they fail so completely when the people actually meet. Like a movie version of a book, the real version of an online person’s self cannot help but disappoint simply because the codes and conventions of space and time are so constrictive of the power of imagination.” pg. 7-8

    “Upon rising from the dead, Neo experiences the cosmic revelation of his identity, similar and yet dissimilar to Superman. Superman has an Achilles’ heel in the form of kryptonite and is also powerless to save his father from dying—despite all his other strengths. Neo’s realization, however, is that he has no weaknesses, no fatal flaws, that he is in fact an infinite being. Having had the doors of perception fully cleansed, Neo can now ‘see’ things as they truly are—which is in binary code. He looks down the hallway and sees the three agents as a series of flowing digits, meaning that he alone is now able to bridge the gap between analog and digital realm, able to control the digital rather than be controlled by it. Like the previous messiah that Morpheus alluded to, he is now able to remake the Matrix as he sees fit. He is a bulletproof Christ, not dying for our sins and coming back, but dying for his unwillingness to believe in his own power, who comes back to life through the power of someone else’s belief, and who then asks us to join him in the fight against the Matrix. Like Jesus, he is the intermediary between our ‘bound’ selves and our free selves. His is the example we are called on to follow in order to remake the Matrix with him.” pg. 11-12

    “Unlike any of the dozens of other films it pays homage to or appropriates through intertextual reference, The Matrix is doing something absolutely unique in the history of cinema. It is preaching a sermon to you from the only pulpit left. It is calling you to action, to change, to reform and modify your ways. Can a movie successfully do this? Or is a piece of cinematography, by the codes, conventions, and conditions of attendance that surround it, also and necessarily just another part of the Matrix? Jacques Ellul said that the purpose of one of his books (The Presence of the Kingdom) was to be ‘a call to the sleeper to awake.’ I don’t know the answer to the question, and it probably ultimately hinges on the individual viewer’s pre-existing awareness, but if a film can wake us up, then this is it.” pg. 16-17

    “‘What is the Matrix?’ is a question that never stops being asked because it is as old as humanity itself. We have always used technology to improve our condition in life, yet in the embrace of each technology we find the classic Faustian bargain, a gaining of one thing at the expense of another, often unseen thing. And it is the unseen thing that then comes to dominate our lives, enmeshing us in a network of technological solutions to technologically-induced problems, forbidding us to question the technology itself.” pg. 17-18

    “According to the protagonist’s guide, the Matrix is the ‘world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.’ It is the construction the world has become to hide what we’ve known all along: we are slaves to a force much larger than our individual actions. It is the collective illusion of humanity sharing an artificial reality created by machines to keep them docile and helpless against their captors. But, in plain English, the Matrix is simply the Technological Society come to its full fruition.” pg. 18

    “These books [Bias of Communication, Orality and Literacy, Technological Society] cast light on the question of ‘literacy as the base and model of all programs,’ but also on the critical point that what McLuhan means by the term ‘matrix’ is precisely what the Wachowski Brothers take it to mean: a system of control. Neo’s initiation into understanding the Matrix in the move is a literal step into a fragmented mirror in which he discovers just how profound the control of modern society really is.” pg. 19

    “Sprinkled liberally throughout the movie are hints that the Matrix is really our present world. How better to control millions of people than to convince them that they are living a ‘normal’ life in 1999? When Morpheus is giving Neo his long explanation of the Matrix, he says, ‘It is there when you watch TV. It is there when you go to work. It is there when you go to church. It is there when you pay your taxes.’ These are all components of modern life that serve to control us and can easily be abused to the point of enslaving us.” pg. 21

    “The reasons we accept this control vary, from watching TV because we like entertainment to paying taxes because we feel we have no choice in the matter. The message of The Matrix is that we are already pawns in a modern technological society where life happens around us but is scarcely influenced by us. Whether it is by our choice or unwillingness to make a choice, our technology already controls us. In an attempt to wake us up, the movie asks us to question everything we believe about our present circumstances. Even if it feels good, is it good for us? Are those things that seem beyond our control really untouchable? If we do not want to wake up, then the answer is yes. However, for those with a splinter in the mind that will not go away, the challenge has been made to open your eyes and seek true reality, and ultimately to escape from the Matrix.” pg. 21

    “The rebellion started when ‘there was a man born inside who had the ability to change whatever he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit.’ Neo, the hero, is supposed to be another person born with this special ability. Morpheus tells him that to access this gift from his genes, ‘You have to let it all go, Neo, fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.’” pg. 29

    “Descartes’s answer to his conundrum is well known: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ By this, Descartes meant that it is impossible for someone to doubt the contents of his own conscious experience—nor can anyone doubt his existence as a ‘thinking thing.’ As for the evil genius, ‘Let him deceive me as much as he will, he can never cause me to be nothing so long as I shall be thinking I am something.’ For each of us, our own consciousness is indubitably real, whatever is the case about the external reality that our consciousness seems to represent to us. Descartes proceeded to develop a complete epistemology (theory of knowledge) on this basis, which ended by endorsing the reality of a world external to our consciousness.” pg. 36

    “Berkeley’s claim, then, is that to be real is to be perceived. Physical objects are real, to be sure. But that’s because they’re part of our experience. There is nothing beyond our experience. Indeed, we have no idea of physical objects except as a collection of sensations, and sensations cannot exist without a mind. The idea of a world external to our experience is a self-contradiction.” pg. 38-39

    “Thus, a better interpretation of Morpheus’s statement is that your mind’s image of reality affects your body—similar to the myth that if you dream you are falling, and do not wake up before you hit the ground, you will die for real when you do.” pg. 40

    “Indeed, the word robot was coined in a work of science fiction: when the Czech writer Karel Uapek was writing his 1920 play RUR—set in the factory of Rossum’s Universal . . . well, universal what?—he needed a name for mechanical laborers, and so he took the Czech word robota and shortened it to ‘robot.’ Robota refers to an obligation to a landlord that can only be repaid by forced physical labor. But Uapek knew well that the real flesh-and-blood robotniks had rebelled against their landlords in 1848. From the very beginning, the relationship between humans and robots was seen as one that might lead to conflict.” pg. 46

    “What the AIs of The Matrix plainly needed was not the energy of human bodies but, rather, the power of human minds—of true consciousness. In some interpretations of quantum mechanics, it is only the power of observation by qualified observers that gives shape to reality; without it, nothing but superimposed possibilities would exist. Just as Admiral Kirk said of V’Ger, what the matrix needs—in order to survive, in order to hold together, in order to exist—is a human quality: our true consciousness, which as Penrose observed (and I use that word advisedly), will never be reproduced in any machine, no matter how complex, that is based on today’s computers.” pg. 54

    “Behind its complex plot line . . . lie two basic science-fiction questions: what is the fundamental nature of reality? And how can we be sure?
    These questions have been asked by science fiction almost from its beginnings. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction opens its discussion of ‘Perception’ with the explanation: ‘The ways in which we become aware of and receive information about the outside world, mainly through the senses, are together called perception. Philosophers are deeply divided as to whether our perceptions of the outside world correspond to an actual reality, or whether they are merely hypotheses, intellectual constructs, which may give us an unreliable or partial picture of external reality, or whether, indeed, outside reality is itself a mental construct. Perception is and always has been a principal theme of [SF] …’ That is, what do we know, for certain, about the world in which we seem to exist, and how do we know it?” pg. 60

    “The Matrix interacts with the brain, but the brain in turn affects the body. . . Mental states and beliefs can affect the body in several ways. In the placebo effect, the belief that a pill is a medicine can cure an illness; in hypnosis, imagining a flame on the wrist can induce blisters. In total virtuality, the mind accepts completely what is presented. If the Matrix signals that the avatar’s body has died, then the mind will shut down the basic organs of the heart and lungs. Actual death will inevitably ensue, unless fast action is taken to get the heart pumping again.” pg. 115-116

    “Intelligence is the capacity to solve problems, while consciousness is the capacity for the subjective experience of qualities.As we shall see, intelligence can be attained without consciousness. A digital computer can be programmed to perform intelligent tasks such as playing chess and understanding language by well-defined deterministic processes, without any need to introduce enigmatic conscious experiences into the software. On the other hand, a conscious being can have subjective experiences—such as seeing the color red, or feeling anger—without needing to use intelligence to solve any problems. An android could be vastly more intelligent than any human and still lack any glimmer of interior mental life. On the other hand, a creature might be profoundly stupid and still have subjective experiences.” pg. 118-119

    “It should be evident by now that Buddhism is in many ways a philosophy of the mind. The fundamental problem is not ‘of the world,’ as it clearly is for those that perceive the world as a battleground between good and evil forces. Rather, the problem is in the (deluded) way we perceive the world. Thus, the solution is rooted in a transformation of one’s consciousness and the way one processes reality.” pg. 134

    Book: borrowed from the Little Free Library on Evergreen.
    298 ok, which one would you choose?
    reality? or

    knowing the truth isn't always convenient... and being fooled isn't always that bad 298 I'm classifying this as art because the subject matter, a film, may be so classified and because the essays about this film come from several disciplines.

    Uneven in quality, the Boettke article being pretty poor, this book presents a number of different takes on the first movie in The Matrix trilogy. Having written a lengthy piece on the film myself (posted here in Goodreads), I was happy to see that my analysis--focusing on the 'gnostic' Christian elements--was not completely covered by these other authors. I was also happy to discover a few details of symbolism which I'd missed. 298 São várias interpretações fisiológicas do filme. Umas são mais atemporais e concisas; outras se perdem em muita ciência e pouca filosofia. Vale a pena ler se vc é um fã do filme. 298


    Definitely going to come back and write an interesting review of this!!! 298 Taking The Red Pill is a collection of essays inspired by The Matrix that are as varied in quality as they are in topic. There are a few excellent essays on subjects such as the benefits and risks of nanotechnology, and humanity's thoughtless march toward weapons of devastating power, and then there are some essays that are ill-informed and jump to conclusions with no attempt to back up the argument with logic let alone proof.
    While there is a pretty good essay about the philosophical concepts present in The Matrix, if it is a thorough analysis of such concepts in the movie you are looking for, or an introduction to philosophy using The Matrix as a vehicule for discussion, then this is not the book for you.

    Oh and the glossary at the end of the book is weak to the point of being outright wrong. 101 is binary for One? Uhh...not last time I checked! 298 This was a nice balance between commentary and interpretation of the movie along with discussion over the questions raised and the direction humanity is marching towards with technology's exponential advancement towards intelligent self-replicating sentient machines, our convergence with technology, and the post-human world that may very well turn the Matrix into reality. There are two essays in the middle of the book that examines Jean Baudrillard's Simulation and Simulacra which inspired the film that was very difficult for me to wrap my head around. I appreciated the essays and comparisons to the world religions. I thought the essay that compared genetic imperatives to replicate to the machines in the Matrix and that the charade of our normal life being analogous to the simulation in the movie was interesting but flimsy. I also think that making the claim that we're currently in a simulation is plausible, but i'm just not buying it. Overall, it was an enjoyable read that really illustrates the power of sci-fi as a genre to get discussion going in an entertaining way along with providing us a glimpse to what the future may possibly look like and all the ethical questions that it raises. The Matrix for me is a masterpiece and holds even MORE value as of today in this tech-heavy world we're building and living in, and all the dangers (and wonders) that may ensue. 298 I went to a 'writer's group' last night and all they did was talk about writing and I'm thinking to myself - 'if you're going to be a writer then you should be writing - but if you carry on talking like this then you're going to end up being a talker.' As soon as the half time break came around, I went home.

    The matrix is pretty much like that. If you think that this is a trap then it will be a trap and if you think you're in heaven then you will be in heaven and if you are reading this thinking it will teach you something about what you want to know then you should know that it won't and should stop immediately - and that means now.

    Just in case you read this far then let me tell you about this book.

    First of all - it's not a book in the sense of being a body of writing written by one writer. Instead this is a collection of essays about a movie called 'The Matrix', which I'm guessing you must have watched because otherwise why would you be bothering to read this?

    Anyway - the articles/essays do not all seem to have been commissioned by the editor, although some must have been because they reference other articles in the book. Maybe they were amended afterwards. People can do that you know.

    Actually, going back to the point about having seen the movie - you could actually do much worse than reading the articles in this book before seeing the movie because it (both the book and the movie actually) would make much more sense to you if you did.

    The first time I saw the movie I loved the screen antics of the actors and caught the basics of the philosophy behind it all.

    The second time I saw the movie I imagined that I came out with a fairly good understanding of the philosophy.

    But it was only after reading this book that I understood just how much I missed when I watched the movie (and the sequels and the animated shorts).

    If you are at all a fan of seeing the world in a different light then I would recommend you read this book, then see the movie and if that doesn't enlighten you - then don't take acid - it'll mess you up dude. 298
    If the words on the cover interest you at all, this is well worth the time! It is an excellent foray into the world of The Matrix. While it is certainly a little dated, and it would be nice to see an updated version including the sequels, it remains a fantastic read which may teach you more than you imagined. Just for one example, included inside is one of the most concise and illuminating descriptions of Buddhism I've ever read. Some people discount The Matrix as Hollywood balderdash. Well, there's an essay on that too. Most views are represented here -- take a look! The star rating is slightly biased as I am a big fan of The Matrix myself...

    *********WARNING!! LOTS OF SPOILERS BELOW!!**********

    Here is a breakdown by essay, with a very brief summation and editorial:

    1) 'What is the Matrix?' - Read Mercer Schuchardt
    - Acts as a large introduction to the essays that follow and frequently references contemporary pop culture, Marshall McLuhan, William Gibson and other Matrix-related thinkers and influences. Really highlights some basic parallels between our world and the Matrix, focusing on the power of media and positing that technology controls us - that The Matrix has us (eg on pages 20-21).

    2) 'Was Cypher Right Part 1: Why We Stay in Our Matrix' - Robin Hanson
    - Champions the selfish gene argument and posits that we are all slaves to our DNA. A strong, often depressing argument for genes dominating us and the therefore even more pronounced pointlessness of our existence...

    3) 'Was Cypher Right Part 2: The Nature of Reality and Why it Matters' - Lyle Zynda
    - This essay examines what the nature of reality is. What is 'really' real and how do we know? Makes you wonder if we are in the Matrix right now. Also analyzes Cypher's choice. Would you stay in the Matrix? Should you/we? Very thought provoking, like the previous essay.

    4) 'Artificial Intelligence, Science Fiction and The Matrix' - Robert J. Sawyer
    - This is an odd essay. It mostly consists of rambling on about various science fiction ancestors of The Matrix, although the author's view of HAL from 2001 Space Odyssey completely messed with my mind. Also attacks using humans as batteries and makes the case for literal cattle instead.

    5) 'The Reality Paradox in The Matrix' - James Gunn
    - Not terribly great, rambling look at perceptions of reality in science fiction. It's a skimmer.

    6) 'The Matrix: Paradigm of Postmodernism or Intellectual Poseur?' - Dino Felluga
    - This essay explains how The Matrix relates to Baudrillard`s theories and his book, Simulacra and Simulation. This includes suggesting that we don`t live in an artificial world, because we`ve gone beyond the ability to even determine artificiality from reality. Heavy stuff. Posits postmodernist views that there is no escape from ideology because language itself is ideological. One powerful quote: Disneyland is presented as imaginary to make us believe the rest is real. In this view, reality is finally encountered only while you are breathing your last and facing death itself. Like I said, heavy stuff!

    It also examines whether or not The Matrix was an attempt to `wake people up,` or just Hollywood BS, and if that is even possible.

    7) 'The Matrix: Paradigm of Postmodernism or Intellectual Poseur, Part II' - Andrew Gordon
    - In this essay, Gordon argues that Baudrillard`s theories aren`t even really relevant to The Matrix because they didn't consider computers and the internet age. It then presents a weak list of popular culture films and elements which may have influenced The Matrix, examines it in the context of the standard Joseph Campbell hero mythology, and concludes, weakly, suggesting The Matrix`s intellectual component is overshadowed by its special effects, which is obvious and did not require an essay to point out.

    8) 'Glitches in The Matrix and How to Fix Them' - Peter B. Lloyd
    - This is a fantastically-interesting scientific essay which examines what appear to be blatant logical and scientific flaws in The Matrix and proves them to be both logical and scientifically possible (at some point). It is presented in a clear and unbiased fashion, pointing out other instances when The Matrix is indeed flawed in its science, such as using humans as a source of bio-electricity instead of a more logical parallel computing source. Lloyd even presents a detailed and stimulating argument on the nature of consciousness in The Matrix, such as the classical 'can machines be conscious' argument, although his conclusion on this subject is (ha) quite debatable and hurts for not considering, or being able to consider, events in The Matrix`s sequels.

    9) 'Buddhism, Mythology and The Matrix' - James L. Ford
    - Ford begins his piece with a wonderful basic explanation of Buddhism - one of the best I've ever seen in fact - as well as explanations for the sects of Buddhism most pertinent to The Matrix. The ideas presented really gave me pause, and had me thinking like a Buddhist. The second part of the article is less interesting, and more or less lists perceived instances of Buddhism in The Matrix.

    10) 'Human Freedom and the Red Pill' - Peter J. Boettke
    - This is a sham of an essay. Complete false advertising! It begins with an interesting analysis of human freedom and the beautiful, classic, 'cave analogy' of Plato (in relation to The Matrix), before illogically descending into a Neo-Liberal diatribe against liberals, communists, anarchists and everyone and thing not pro free market capitalism. Compares 'the blue pill' with socialism and 'the red pill' with dog-eat-dog market corporatism. While true in some sense, this is not the way the world needs to think. Phooey, tripe and garbage. [EDIT: Years later, and this argument may be more persuasive to me]

    11) 'Finding God in the Matrix' - Paul Fontana
    - This essay actually makes Christian comparisons in The Matrix relatively interesting. It is well-written and goes well beyond the obvious messiah/neo comparison, but in the end, it is too nit-picky theological and just too Christian for me. Good effort though. Theologists might like it.

    12) 'The Human Machine Merger: Are we Headed for The Matrix?' - Ray Kurzweil
    - Very good essay by a very interesting futurist. Kurzweil largely quotes his own books in this essay, while writing in the unique style of a mad inventor [as that's what he kind of was]. He brings up relevant concepts such as Moore's Law, nano-tubes, human minds as parallel computers, virtual reality and biomedical systems etc. He takes a very positive outlook, and sees our civilization adopting a number of Matrix-like technologies in the next 30 to 50 years give or take, with mostly happy results for mankind. [EDIT: Years later, I know more about Kurzweil and his vision of the technological singularity etc.]

    13) 'Why the Future Doesn't Need Us' - Bill Joy
    - Bill Joy, while agreeing with much of Kurzweil's theory and technology forecasts, takes a more negative approach to the future, arguing that we are all doomed and that our technology will probably kill us. Most of the essay is poorly written, rambling and amateurish, but the beginning contains a phenomenally thought-provoking quote by Theodore Kacynski, which, on a tangent, gets the mind working in the psychological realm. It also came as a surprise to me that Kacynski was a brilliant mathematician, and the eloquence and logic of his prose may shock you too.

    14) 'Are we Living in The Matrix?' - Nick Bostom
    - I couldn't really get into this essay, because the question was already examined by other authors in the book, Bostom writes like an old professor of philosophical logic, and there's no way to prove the answer one way or the other, which was more than I could take by the end of the book.

    This thought-provoking examination of The Matrix explores the technological challenges, religious symbolism & philosophical dilemmas the film presents. Essays by scientists, technologists, philosophers, scholars, social commentators & sf authors provide engaging perspectives. Explored in accessible fashion are issues such as the future of artificial intelligence & virtual reality. The film's symbolism & some glitches are revealed.
    What is the Matrix?/Read Mercer Schuchardt
    1Was Cypher right? Why we stay in our Matrix/Robin Hanson
    2Was Cypher right? The nature of reality & why it matters/Lyle Zynda
    Artificial intelligence, science fiction & The Matrix/Robert J. Sawyer
    The reality paradox in The Matrix/James Gunn
    1The Matrix: paradigm of post-moderninsm or intellectual poseur/Dino Felluga
    2The Matrix: paradigm of post-moderninsm or intellectual poseur/Andrew Gordon
    Glitches in The Matrix & how to fix them/Peter B. Lloyd
    Buddhism, mythology & The Matrix/James L. Ford
    Human freedom & the red pill/Peter J. Boettke
    Finding God in The Matrix/Paul Fontana
    The human machine merger-are we heading for The Matrix?/Ray Kurzweil
    Why the future doesn't need us/Bill Joy
    Are we living in The Matrix? The simulation argument/Nick Bostrom
    The Matrix glossary Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix

    Summary Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix