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Philosophy and the Matrix

Philosophy and the Matrix

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Published by noirlecroi.com
the matrix and philosophy
the matrix and philosophy

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Published by: noirlecroi.com on Dec 23, 2007
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09/22/2013

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I
NTRODUCTION
 
The Matrix
is a film that astounds not only with action and special effects but also withideas. These pages are dedicated to exploring some of the many philosophical ideasthat arise in both the original film and the sequels. In the upcoming months we will becontinually expanding this section, offering essays from some of the brightest mindsin philosophy and cognitive science. We are kicking things off with essays from eightdifferent contributors on various philosophical, technological, and religious aspects of the film.Though this collection of essays is part of the official web site for the Matrix films, theviews expressed in these essays are
solely those of the individual authors
. TheWachowski brothers have remained relatively tight-lipped regarding the religioussymbolism and philosophical themes that permeate the film, preferring that the moviespeak for itself. Accordingly, you will not find anyone here claiming to offer
the
 definitive analysis of the film, its symbols, message, etc. What you will find insteadare essays that both elucidate the philosophical problems raised by the film andexplore possible avenues for solving these problems. Some of these essays are morepedagogical in nature – instructing the reader in the various ways in which
The Matrix
 raises questions that have been tackled throughout history by prominentphilosophers. Other contributors use the film as a springboard for discussing their
own
 original philosophical views. As you will see, the authors don't always agree with eachother regarding how best to interpret the film. However, all of the essays share theaim of giving the reader a sense of how this remarkable film offers more than thestandard Hollywood fare. In other words, their common goal is to help show you just"how deep the rabbit-hole goes."Beginning the collection are three short essays in which I discuss two of the moreconspicuous philosophical questions raised by the film: the skeptical worry that one’sexperience may be illusory, and the moral question of whether it matters. Highlightingthe parallels between the scenario described in
The Matrix
and similar imaginarysituations that have been much discussed by philosophers, these essays offer anintroduction to the positions taken by various thinkers on these fascinating skepticaland moral puzzles. They serve as a warm-up for things to come.Next is "
The Matrix of Dreams
" by
Colin McGinn
, a distinguished contemporaryphilosopher who is perhaps best known for his writings on consciousness. His essayoffers an analysis of the film that focuses on the dreamlike nature of the world of theMatrix. Arguing that it is misguided to characterize the situation described by the film
 
as involving hallucinations, McGinn seeks to show how the particular details of the filmmake it more plausible to see the Matrix as involving the direct employment of one’s
imagination
(as in a dream), rather than a force-feeding of false
perceptions
. Alongthe way, McGinn’s essay also touches on the moral assumptions of the film, severalother philosophical problems raised by the character of Cypher, and the dreamlikequality of 
all
films.
Hubert Dreyfus
is a philosopher known both for his pioneering discussion of thephilosophical problems of Artificial Intelligence, and his work in bridging the gapbetween recent European and English-language philosophy. In "
The Brave New World of
The Matrix 
," he and his son
Stephen Dreyfus
draw on the phenomenological traditionthat began with Edmund Husserl and culminates in Maurice Merleau-Ponty to discussthe skeptical and moral problems raised by the film. They argue that the real worryfacing folks trapped in the Matrix involves not deception or the possession of possiblyfalse beliefs, but the limits on creativity imposed by the Matrix. Following MartinHeidegger in suggesting that our human nature lies in our capacity to redefine ournature and thereby open up new worlds, they conclude that this capacity for radicalcreation seems unavailable to those locked within the pre-programmed confines of theMatrix.
Richard Hanley
, author of the best-selling book
The Metaphysics of Star Trek
and aphilosophy professor at the University of Delaware, again explores the intersection of philosophy and science fiction with his entertaining and thought-provoking piece"
Never the Twain Shall Meet: Reflections on The First Matrix
." In it he argues that
The Matrix
 may have lessons to teach us regarding the coherence of our values. In particular, hemakes the case that, given a traditional Christian notion of an afterlife, Heaven turnsout to be rather like a Matrix! Even more surprising is a corollary to this thesis: Jean-Paul ("Hell is other people") Sartre was close to the truth after all – Heaven is bestunderstood as a Matrix-like simulation in which contact with other real human beingsis eliminated.
Iakovos Vasiliou
, a philosopher at Brooklyn College who specializes in Plato,Aristotle, and Wittgenstein, offers a penetrating investigation into the differences (andsurprising similarities) between the scenario described in
The Matrix
and our owneveryday situation in his essay "
Reality, What Matters, and
The Matrix 
." Pointing out thatmore than we might expect hinges on the moral backdrop of 
The Matrix
plot line, heasks readers to instead envisage a "benevolently generated Matrix." Given thepossibility of such a Matrix and the actuality of a horrible situation on Earth, he arguesthat we will agree that entering into it offers not a denial of what we most value but

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