Sample Essay On Plato, Descartes And ‘the Matrix’
Plato, Descartes and the Matrix
The human perception of reality and the actual knowledge of reality is a problem that many philosophers have attempted to decipher. Most philosophers attribute human perception as part of the senses, but the senses themselves may not be accurate sensors of perception. This essay will start by comparing the Matrix (1999), to some of the writings of Plato and Descartes, and will also examine if one can prove (or not prove) with certainty that the world around us is real (or not real). Lastly, the essay will also examine how the inaccuracy of our senses results in our deception of the world around us.
This essay will now examine a point of similarity through the comparison of the Matrix with Descartes. The movie ‘Matrix’ has many essential elements that were picked out by the story writers from philosophical works, including Plato and Descartes. In the movie, Morpheus asks the audience at the beginning, “Have you ever had a dream that was so life-like that when you woke up you weren’t sure at first if the dream had ended?” In his Meditations, Descartes poses the same problem, “I have been deceived in sleep by similar illusions; .that I feel greatly astonished; and in amazement I almost persuade myself that I am now dreaming.” (Descartes, Point 5) There is an astounding similarity in the idea of perception as put forth by Morpheus and the meditations of Descartes. Both believe that the world is a continuation of the illusion and both agree with Morpheus’ assertion that the world has indeed been pulled over one’s eyes to blind one from the truth. Clearly, Descartes, in lucid terms declares that the world as well as all the creations (human or otherwise) is an illusion.
The essay will now examine a point of contrast by comparing Plato’s cave men to Cypher (from the Matrix). In case of Plato’s allegory, one sees that the character Cypher best fits Socrates’ description of the caveman. Plato’s cavemen are trapped in cave wherein they are constantly shown images on the wall of the cave and they can see each other but not the place in which they are imprisoned. Like the cavemen, he too is initially trapped inside the Matrix and fed certain information that shape his perceptions and beliefs, but he is eventually freed by Morpheus. However, unlike Plato’s cavemen, Cypher actually prefers ignorance to knowledge. In trying to go back to the Matrix and to the world of ignorance, Cypher betrays Morpheus to Smith (the agent of the Machines), and ends up killing two members and injuring one person in Morpheus’ team. The behavior displayed by Cypher is typical of a person who cannot come to terms with the truth as compared to Neo who is comfortable with the truth. Thus, the movie Matrix has themes from Plato’s allegory of the cave with characters such as Neo and Morpehus who follow the Plato’s allegory and, on the other hand, Cypher who does not conform to Plato’s allegory. In addition, the concept of God almost does not exist in the movie, although Descartes mentions it in passing reference in his Meditations (Descartes mentions it in a doubtful context) and Plato never mentions the same in his allegory. In that way, the three bear a similarity since they are largely atheistic in nature. However, on the other hand, the Matrix also examines the concept of fate and the future through the character of ‘the Oracle.’ In the works of both Descartes and Plato, the concepts of future such as fate and destiny do not find mention.
At this point, one can revisit Cypher and his desire to go back to the world of ignorance and bondage rather than stay in freedom. The choice that Cypher was trying to make was whether to stay in the harsh ‘real’ world or in the ‘make believe’ world of the Matrix. Although Socrates implies most men would want to experience Freedom and would want to escape the cave, Cypher wants to go back to bondage because he wants to experience the world of illusions, be rich and enjoy life. In this position, I would have certainly chosen the harsh ‘real’ world because the learning that one gets in the real world (although difficult) is something that one would never experience in the false and illusory world. The illusory and make believe world can only provide ignorance with no real knowledge. For this reason, my choice would be in line with Socrates’ assertion and against the choice that Cypher chose.
Lastly, this essay would proceed to examine a crucial question that arises from Descartes’ meditation. If our knowledge is based on our senses and our senses are imperfect how can one be certain that our beliefs are true? The answer to this question lies in our sense of discrimination rather than our senses. In this perspective, the term discrimination is used in a positive sense – to know the right from wrong or the truth from ‘the untruth’ in the world around us. If one develops a strong consciousness and mind that can correctly discriminate the seemingly contrasting things that our sense organs perceive, the knowledge received could be true. For instance, a rope hanging from the ceiling in a dark room leads the eye to perceive that there is an unknown object, possibly a snake resulting in a fear in the mind of the subject. It is solely discrimination; in this case, the presence of mind to illuminate the room helps the subject realize the truth. In other words, the eye perceived an illusion, while the mind’s ability to discriminate helped dispel the illusion. Thus, our beliefs acquired from the senses can be true or false depending on our sense of discrimination.
In conclusion, the works of Descartes and Plato as well as the movie Matrix talk about the world around us and its unreal nature. In reality, while most philosophers as well as religions have grappled with this question – if the world is real or illusory, humanity is really very far from the truth. In case of sensory organs, Descartes and Plato, both believe that the sense organs are not reliable sources for acquiring knowledge; one could then argue that a sense of discrimination becomes an essential factor in realizing the truth and gaining knowledge. A heightened sense of the ability to discriminate leaves a person less dependent on his sense organs to do the judging aspect of knowledge.
Descartes, Rene. ‘Meditations on the First Philosophy – Of the things which we may doubt.’ 2011. Pdf File: p. 1-4.
Plato. The Republic – Book VII. 2010. PDF File: p. 1-2.
Wachowski, Andy, & Wachowski, Lana (Wachowski Brothers). ‘The Matrix.’ Directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Los Angeles: Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999.