Type of paper: Essay

Topic: World, Plato, Philosophy, Reality, Doubt, Descartes, People, Cinema

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/02/20

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The history of philosophy is filled with thinkers who made great efforts to find out what reality is. Most people would believe that what they experience, feel, perceive, and remember is what actually exists. But it has been proven that if the right questions are asked, this certainty starts to waver.
In recent years these doubts have begun to impregnate the popular culture through a series of movies that question the nature of reality. One of the most popular films within this trend is called The Matrix. In it, many doubts about reality expressed by classical philosophers are given a modern science fiction touch. This paper will compare and contrast the ideas of Plato and Descartes with the cosmology shown in the mentioned movie.

In one of his most famous dialogues, the Greek philosopher Plato explains how the senses could be deceived, and how reality could be hidden away from most people. He describes a group of individuals which are held captive at the bottom of a dark cave. They can only look to a wall in front of them, where shadows of objects are reflected. Since they cannot turn their heads, and have lived their whole lives looking at these shadows, they believe this is the real world. However, one day one of their captors grabs a prisoner and releases him. He can now turn his head and see something he had never seen before: light. His eyes hurt and it takes him some time to get used to the light, but he slowly recognizes objects that are moved in front of the light, generating the shadows he used to see reflected on the wall. He now witnesses the real world and realizes he was being deceived, but now his mind´s eye is open. Plato warns that this cannot be taught, as one cannot put sight into blind eyes. If this person tried to tell the other prisoners about the real world, they would mock him or even put him to death . One persistent idea in most of Plato´s works is the need for introspection in order to learn the truth. For the philosopher, all truth is inside the mind and not out of it, so everyone can reach it, or open their mind´s eye, if they ask the right questions.
The Matrix shares many of these elements. In the movie, people unknowingly live in a simulated world and they all believe it is real. One day, Neo is awakened by Morpheus, who shows him that he lives in a computer simulation modeled after what used to be the real world. Neo finds it hard to believe and denies it at first. He even finds it hard to use his real senses, which had been dormant all his life until then. Morpheus warns him that the only way for him to explain what the Matrix is, was to wake him up and let him see for himself. Regular people would not believe they lived in a simulated computer program, and many would kill them to defend the alternate world. Through the movie, Neo is also enticed to search the truth within himself, and Morpheus is constantly trying to make knowledge reveal itself to him by making questions, which is similar to the Socratic Method. Finally, during his interview with the oracle, she tells him that he knows the answers she would give him .

Descartes

In order to get rid of doubts, the French philosopher René Descartes performed a thought experiment. He wanted to find out if he could be certain of at least one thing. He questioned reality itself and realized that he could not tell if he was dreaming, or if his senses were deceiving him. He even speculated that there might be a higher evil entity that could be feeding him sensations and memories directly into his mind, which made him doubt even of his own body and senses. However, there was one thing he could be certain of: he was thinking, so there must exist at least an entity doing the thinking .
The film presents elements that are reminiscent of these doubts as well. Morpheus asks Neo if he can tell the difference between a dream and the lucid state. He also makes him doubt about the nature of reality and the certainty of what his senses perceive. The film ultimately shows that some higher entities control the sensations, experiences and memories of all the people connected to this simulated reality .
The Wachowski offer a grim utopic vision, set on a hypothetical future filled with machines that breed and enslave humanity. It might differ greatly from what Plato and Descartes imagined, but it basically serves the same purpose: to explain that the senses can be deceived, and experiences might not tell us anything certain about the world.

Works Cited

Descartes, René. A Discourse on Method. London: Everyman, 2004.
Plato. The Dialogues of Plato. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. V vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1892.
The Matrix. Dirs. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. 1999.

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